When is an archery tournament not an archery tournament?

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Andy Kelly

When it’s a lottery!!! Ha, ha, yes the old ones are the best ones.

Those of you that have read an Arsenal history book will, more than likely, have read about the club organising an archery tournament in 1902 to raise funds. At the close of the 1901-02 season the club’s accounts were looking a bit shaky. At the AGM in May, Jack Humble suggested that the club organise an archery tournament to raise funds for the club.

Now, I’m up there with the biggest sceptics. How on earth could an archery tournament generate enough local interest to be of benefit to the club? Well, the tournament was held on 29 November 1902 and raised about £1,200.

To put his into perspective, the total income from the 1901-02 season was £5600. In one day, the club generated the equivalent of 21% of its previous season’s turnover! Can you imagine that today – £40m in one day?

These “tournaments” had become popular in the midlands and north of England during 1901 and 1902. 23 events had been held with Woolwich Arsenal’s becoming the 24th and the first in the south.

So, what happened and why was it a one-off when it was so successful?

My perception was that of a load of locals firing arrows at targets in the Manor Ground with the top scorers winning some sort of a prize. It was nothing like this. Throughout the summer and winter of 1902, the board set about selling tickets for the tournament. They sold about 80,000 at 6d each with participants living as far away as Nottingham and Doncaster.

On the day of the tournament, the doors to the Manor Ground were opened at 9.30am. A board 17 feet x 17 feet was set up in the north stand. It contained 80,000 pieces of paper representing the sold tickets. Then a young lady, standing some way from the board, fired an arrow at the board. And missed (shades of Diana Ross in 1994). She managed to hit the board on the 3rd attempt and hit number 15,055. The lucky winner was Mr Grubb of 190 Plumstead Road who won £50 (about £3,000) today.

So, now it is obvious why so many people entered. It wasn’t a tournament at all but a lottery. Those that had bought tickets were allowed to have a go with the bow and arrow. If it had been a competition based on talent, it appears that all the winner would have had to do would be to hit the target at their first attempt. Most of the arrows ended up in the stand with some ending up outside the ground.

In total 150 prizes were won.

Later in the day, Arsenal beat Lincoln 2-1 followed by a concert in the local freemason’s hall where prizes were given out. Everybody was happy.

Well, not quite. The week following the tournament a small group of ecclesiastics wrote a letter to the Kentish Independent expressing their distaste of the event which they said was lottery and not a tournament based on skill and athleticism. They accused the club of encouraging poor local people to gamble.

The police had become involved before the tournament and advised the club that they were organising a lottery. However, the club weighed up its options and decided to go ahead.

The upshot was that Arsenal’s manager, Harry Bradshaw, was charged with “keeping the Manor Ground for the exercise of a lottery”. On 2 January 1903, Bradshaw was found guilty, fined £5 and had costs of £10 awarded against him. Good news for Woolwich Arsenal, though, was that they got to keep the proceeds from the “tournament”.

2 Replies to “When is an archery tournament not an archery tournament?”

  1. Bloody hell. Quite extraordinary. It suggests that the scepticism I have had over the activities of the fundraising committee based in Rotherhithe, from 1910 to 1913, is ill-founded. No wonder Norris went out of his way to get Humble back, and then use Humble as a way of getting the committee to give its money back to the club.

    This starts to put the club’s finances in a new light.

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