When the government forced the League to stop playing games

When the first world war broke out on 28 July 1914, there was little thought of forcing the Football League to abandon the forthcoming season.  There was no precedent for this, and besides the general view was that the whole affair would be over by Christmas.

As a result the 1914/15 season kicked off on 1 September (the traditional date for starting the season – unless it fell on a Sunday) with Arsenal beating Glossop North End 3-0 at Highbury in front of a crowd of 7,000.

It was a reasonable crowd for a mid-week afternoon game, and the next home game against Fulham, pulled in 10,000.   By the end of the month Arsenal had 20,000 in the stadium for the win over Hull.

But already there were warning signs because in 1913/14, when of course there was no talk of war, Arsenal’s average attendance in the first season at Highbury was 22,745 – the highest in the second division, and indeed higher than all but three in the first division.

However as it became clear that it would not be “over by Christmas”, so the crowds declined and although Arsenal remained the best supported second division club, their average attendance sank to 13,820.  Still higher than the majority of the first division clubs, but not what they were looking for.

Although it was clear long before the end of the season that after the 1914/15 the League would be abandoned, a battle continued for much of the campaign with notables such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (author of the Sherlock Holmes stories and famous supporter of spiritualism) arguing that football was acting as a distraction, and stopping young men from signing up.

In fact this was nonsense, and was in part cover for the fact that the House of Lords refused to sanction the abandonment of horse racing, which continued unabated throughout the war.

After the 1914/15 season the government insisted the League was abandoned and Arsenal and neighbouring teams formed the London Combination.  The League resumed in August 1919.

Here are the anniversaries.

3 July 1915: After a vigorous campaign against football continuing during the war (combined with a similar campaign to ensure horse racing did continue) the Football League confirmed that there would be no 1915/16 professional season but clubs could organise regional leagues in which players would not be paid, and “guest” appearances would be allowed.

3 July 1917: Arsenal player Gordon Hoare was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Service Corps in the mechanical transport section. By the end of the war, Hoare had been promoted to lieutenant.  He football he has the amazing record of being transferred 23 times 

 3 July 1920: The UK got its first roller coaster ride, at a fairground in Margate.

3 July 1925: Charles Buchan, the man who helped develop (but did not invent) WM, re-signed by Arsenal in £100/goal deal.  He played 102 games scoring 49 goals before finally retiring in 1928.   Buchan’s first signing for Arsenal.

3 July 1933: Horace Cope sold to Bristol Rovers for £1500, having been signed by Chapman, playing 65 games for Arsenal.  Bristol R was his final club, and sadly we know nothing more of him, save for the fact that he died on 4 October 1961.

3 July 1966: George Eastham scored for England in his 19th and final international

3 July 1996 Tommy Black signed for Arsenal.  He played his only game for the club as a sub in the match against Middlesbrough on 30 November 1999 and was sold to Crystal Palace on 21 July 2000.  He played for 13 clubs, the last being Debden Sports who play in the Essex Olympian Football League in 2012–13 season.

3 July 1997: Alex Manninger transferred from Grazer AK for £1m.  In 1998, with an injury to David Seaman, Alex played six games without conceding a goal, and was then dropped upon Seaman’s return.

3 July 2000: Robert Pires signed from Marseille for the astoundingly low figure of £6m. Also that summer Wiltord was purchased for £13m and Overmars went to Barca for £25m.  

3 July 2000: Robert Pires arrived from Marseille

3 July 2000: Eduardo César Daude Gaspar (Edu) joined Arsenal from Corinthians.  Unfortunately his Portuguese passport was a fake, but he qualified for an Italian passport because of his father was Italian.  He signed again for Arsenal on 16 January 2001.  In 2019 he returned to Arsenal as a director, having worked with the Brazil national team.

3 July 2001: Sol Campbell signed after 11 years with Tottenham.  He had played 255 times for Tottenham, and stayed with Arsenal for five years before moving on to Portsmouth.

3 July 2013: Vito Mannone moved to Sunderland  for about £2m.  He went on to play in the League Cup final that year having defied Man U in the semis and became their player of the year.  However after an 8-0 defeat to Southampton in 2014 he fell out of favour for a while.

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