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Why Arsenal were elected to the First Division in 1919.

The Arsenal History Society is part of the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association – a body which gives positive support to the club, and has regular meetings with directors and senior officials of the club to represent the views of its members to the club.  You can read more about AISA on its website.


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100 Years in the First Division: the absolute complete story of Arsenal’s promotion in 1919.


This was the day one year ago on which Arsenal played a game to celebrate 100 years in the first division.

The first division had been extended by two clubs ready for the resumption of football after the first world war.  This was agreed not only because the clubs wanted extra revenue, which of course four more games each season would bring, but also because the League was anxious to expand itself in order to become the dominant league in the whole of England (it being rivalled at the time by the Southern League in the south of England.)

Thus in 1919-20 there were, as before, two divisions but now with each of 22 clubs.  In 1920/1, a 22 club third division was added made up entirely of teams from the south, and in 1921/2 a 3rd Division (North) completed the four division system of the Football League which has survived to this day (although with the amendment after the 1957/8 season, through which the two regional Third Divisions were reformed in the 3rd and 4th Divisions.)

Prior to the 1919 expansion of the League, the membership of the League had changed regularly with clubs within the League electing in applicants from outside the league.  As for promotion and relegation this had been through various methods, including election at the AGM, playoffs (known as Test Matches – a system which lasted eight seasons) , and finally automatic promotion.

But election in a secret ballot at the AGM was always the way of bringing in new clubs from outside the League, and generally the approach used for expanding the League.

However the 1919 situation was complicated by the fact that Liverpool and Manchester United had been found guilty of match fixing in the 1914/15 season, after which the league was abandoned for the duration.  As a result of the fixed game Manchester United had ended up one place above Chelsea, and thus avoided relegation. Chelsea who were innocent had been relegated.

It was widely recognised in 1919 as football was ready to resume, that in such circumstances Chelsea should not be relegated and by expanding the League after the war, Chelsea could stay in Division I, and the League avoided the messy business of ejecting Man U and Liverpool from the league for the crime of match fixing, which had now been proven.

That left one club to be elected to the First Division, and all 40 clubs had one vote each to find a single club from Division II to take a place in the top league.  A secret ballot was held at the League’s AGM, there were no speeches, and Arsenal who had come 5th in the league in 1914/15 won the ballot.

Although this has been cast as a surprise by 21st century commentators who like to see conspiracies at every turn, it was in fact widely expected by the football community.  To see why, and read all the details of exactly what happened and what the media said about the affair, we have produced a set of articles called “The 1919 Affair” which covers the entire series of events in far more detail than anyone has ever done before.

There is quite a bit of reading in that series – but then quite a few allegations have been made about the event, so there is a lot of myth-making and downright lying to be undone.

Here are the anniversaries…

31 July 1910: After the Metropolitan Police sent a telegraph message to the captain of the SS Montrose en route to Canada to say Dr Crippen was on the ship, he was arrested upon arrival.  It was said to be the first use of the telegraph in this way.

31 July 1914: Germany declared war on Russia and invaded Luxembourg,

31 July 1919: There were police strikes in London and Liverpool over the refusal to recognise the police and prison officers trade union.  Over 2000 of the strikers were dismissed from their jobs as a result of the strike

31 July 1931: A report of the Committee on National Expenditure recommended the slashing of government spending to try to salvage the economy.  

31 July 1951: Ian McPherson sold back to Notts County.  He had played 152 games for Arsenal, and won a league winners medal in 1958.  After County he moved to Brentford and then into non-league football.

31 July 1961: Joe Haverty sold to Blackburn for about £25,000.  Joe spent one  year with Blackburn, before moving on to Millwall, Celtic and Bristol Rovers.  

31 July 1970: Kungsbacka BI 0 Arsenal 5 (Sammels 2, Kennedy, George 2).  The third of five pre-season games.

31 July 1971: Benfica 2 Arsenal 0;  “Champions Challenge Match,” celebrating
each club’s victory in their respective leagues.

31 July 1974: Cardiff 1 Arsenal 2.  Brian Kidd’s debut, having signed from Manchester United.  He went on to play 77 games for Arsenal before moving to Manchester City.

31 July 1979: Arsenal played out a second 1-1 draw with Duisburg, (Arsenal’s goal coming as an o.g.) in front of 5,000.  Paul Vaessen came on as a substitute and clearly looked like a player with a real future at the club. 

31 July 1981:  Colin Hill signed professional terms, having played for Hillingdon Borough before moving to Arsenal as a schoolboy in 1977.  He made his debut in April 1983.

31 July 1983: Meppen (of Germany) 1 Arsenal 4; the first game for John Lukic and Charlie Nicholas who scored two of the goals.

31 July 1994: Raufoss 0 Arsenal 9 (Wright 3, Merson 2, Campbell 2, Dikov, Carter).  Having lost their first tour game against a local side, Arsenal got themselves back together in this game.

31 July 1995: Celtic 2 Arsenal 1.  A pre-season game as speculation mounted that the manager was going to be sacked.  There was talk of who might come in, but no one got anywhere near the correct prediction.

31 July 1999: Clydebank 1 East Stirling 2 attracted the lowest crowd for a league match in England or Scotland – just 29 people, as fans boycotted the game after Clydebank moved to Greenock Morton’s ground for the season.  Some claim that Stockport v Leicester on 2 May 1921 got a smaller crowd – but that game was played at Old Trafford after Man U v Derby.  Fans who had watched the first match could stay on to watch the second, and others could enter for free as the main gates were opened to let fans leave as the first game ended.  As a result only 13 entered via a turnstyle and paid specifically to watch Stockport v Leicester, but the crowd in the ground was around 2,000.

31 July 2005: Porto 1 Arsenal 2 (Ljungberg 2).  The final game of the tour meaning Arsenal had won all of their pre-season games.

31 July 2006: Schwadorf 1 Arsenal 8.  In the build up to the opening match at the Emirates.

31 July 2008: Gary Lewin left Arsenal to work as a physio for England. He later suffered a dislocation to his left ankle and a fractured fibula, back of the tibia and ligaments while celebrating a Sturridge goal in a world cup match England lost.

31 July 2008: Tottenham bought David Bentley from Blackburn for £15m of which £7m went to Arsenal.  He played just 42 games for the club (thus costing one third of a million pounds a game) before going on a series of loans to Birmingham, WHU, Rostov, and Blackburn. He later opened a restaurant. 

31 July 2011: An injury to Wilshere forced a total rethink in the way Arsenal lined up with Arteta moved to defensive midfield playing alongside Song, leaving Vermaelen more free to push upfield during attacks. The result in the Ems Cup was Arsenal 1 New York Red Bulls 1 (Van Persie).

31 July 2014: Carl Jenkinson loaned to West Ham for one season. He had played 37 league games for Arsenal, and became a regular in the WHU side playing to much acclaim for two seasons, until he was seriously injured.

31 July 2015:  Daniel Crowley loaned to Barnsley until October during which time he played 11 league games for the club.

31 July 2015: Isaac Hayden loaned to Hull City for the season.  He played 18 league games and scored one goal.

31 July 2019, Arsenal played Angers in a friendly celebrating the 100th anniversary of the start of the record beating century in the first division (not the club’s “founding” as Wikipedia amusingly suggested)..  After a 1-1 draw Arsenal won the penalty shootout 4-3 after Emiliano Martínez saved a kick from ex-Arsenal man Jeff Reine-Adelaïde.

1 comment to Why Arsenal were elected to the First Division in 1919.

  • Mukhtar Khan

    31 July 1995: Celtic 2 Arsenal 1. A pre-season game as speculation mounted that the manager was going to be sacked. Really? Rich had only been appointed a few weeks earlier.

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