The gamble of Arsenal’s move to Highbury – a success from Day One.

On this day in 1913 Arsenal finally gained possession of the Gillespie Road site which became Arsenal Stadium – universally known as “Highbury”.  Arsenal however didn’t own the ground; they had simply acquired a full repairing lease, meaning that they could do pretty much what they liked with the area (except sell alcohol therein) but they had the obligation to put it back in its original condition when the lease ended.

In fact that “original condition” clause was never implemented as Arsenal later bought the land and so were able to stay at the ground until they moved across the way to the new “Emirates” stadium.

That left the club two months and two days to convert the area into a location that could hold 40,000 spectators.

Reports from the time suggest that workmen were working on the site on the morning of the first match on 30 August, and then returned every day except sundays (and the morning of match days) still working on the ground for several months to come.

The fact that 40,000 turned up for the first home game showed that Sir Henry Norris’ gamble had paid off, and the club even got 20,000 to the second home game played on a Monday afternoon – a match which gave Arsenal their first victory of the season, and of course the first ever victory at Highbury.  Arsenal beat Liverpool 1-0.

Sir Henry’s model of improving Arsenal’s financial success by moving to an area such as Highbury was based on his observation of Chelsea’s positive financial position despite their lack of success on the pitch.  Indeed 50,000 turned up at Highbury on 6 December for Arsenal v Chelsea, while 60,000 were recorded as being at Stamford Bridge a week later for the return.

But the biggest crowd of this first season at Highury was reserved for  the visit of Aston Villa on 24 January when 55,000 saw Villa beat Arsenal 1-0.

Arsenal finished the season in 10th – and with an average crowd of 34,485.  Chelsea (London’s only other club in the top division came third).  The highest ever average crowd at Arsenal’s previous home at the Manor Ground in Plumstead was 22,745 in 1913/14.   Sir Henry Norris’ gamble of the move north had been proven a success from its very first season.

Here are the anniversaries

28 June 1913: Arsenal gained possession of the Gillespie Road site for the first time thus leaving them just 10 weeks before the first match of the season to make the ground ready.  There is no record of the club making any arrangements to have matches played elsewhere in the event of the ground not being ready.

28 June 1913: Joseph Lievesley signed from Sheffield Utd who had bought him after having been beaten by Southern League Swindon, for whom he played.  Swindon’s victory in 1908 was one of the great cup shocks of the era; Lievesley went on to play in the FA’s tour of South Africa in 1910. 

28 June 1919: Five years and a day after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand the Treaty of Versailles was signed, finally confirming the end of hostilities. 

28 June 1921: Reg Boreham joined Arsenal from Wycombe.  Although Bernard Joy said of him “His sparkling displays nearly gave him an England professional cap as well as amateur ones,” we know little of him save for the fact that he played 53 games and scored 18 goals for Arsenal.  See also here.

28 June 1922: Archie Roe signed from Castleford Town; one of eight players who made his first appearance for Arsenal in the 1922/3 season.  However he only had four games for Arsenal before moving on.

28 June 1923: Harry Woods joined Arsenal from Newcastle U.  He served his country in the Tank Corps in France during the war, and then played for South Shields before moving to Newcastle United in January 1922 for £2600  – a fee that for a few months was the world record.

28 June 1928: John “Alex” Mackie transferred to Portsmouth for whom he made 257 appearances over seven seasons, including playing in the FA Cup finals of 1929 and 1934. 

28 June 1929: Stan Charlton born in Exeter.  His father played for Exeter and Crystal Palace while Stan junior started his career with Bromley, moved to Leyton Orient in 1952, then Arsenal and played 80 league games for the club. 

28 June 1998: France v Paraguay.  Manu Petit played in the first ever “golden goal” game in the world cup.  It was an experiment that was quickly abandoned.

28 June 2000: Davor Suker joined WHU on a free transfer.  He later moved to 1860 Munich, and later became president of the Croatian Football Federation and worked as a football agent.  In 2015, Croatian Journalists’ Association accused Suker, then the president of the Croatian Football Federation of preventing freedom of information and for physically blocking journalists from reporting and doing their work

28 June 2013: Sanchez Watt joined Colchester after a period on loan.  It was the last of six loan deals during his time at Arsenal and he went on to be a regular player for Colchester. In 2018/19 he played for Hemel Hempstead.  In 2019/20 he played nine times for Wealdstone.

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