14 December: when Arsenal were ordered to play two games at once


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

14 December 1989: This was the day when Arsenal were ordered to play two “first team” games at once by two competing footballing associations.  Neither would give way, and so ultimately Arsenal obliged, using all their (not very extensive) reserve team selection, and won both matches.

The problem arose because Arsenal in the 19th century were members of two regional Football Associations.  The London FA and the Kent FA.

This came about because there was nothing to stop the club joining more than one association, and there was a logic in the matter since the Plumstead ground although technically in Kent was also in London.

And so Arsenal were entered into the Kent Senior Cup and the London Senior Cup, and on this day were drawn to play Martins Athletic at home (winning 6-0) in the London Senior Cup and Gravesend (whom they beat 7-2 away) in the KSC on the same day.

By and large it was the London Senior Cup game that got the reserves, while the Kent game got the first team.

Arsenal entered The Kent Senior Cup for the first time the previous season with their first-ever game being on 10 November 1888.  The following round was played on 29 December 1888 wherein Arsenal beat Iona 5-1, and then on 9 February 1889 we drew 3-3 away to Gravesend.

However in this game Arsenal were disqualified for refusing to play extra time, and thus they went out of the competition.  The home team had somehow turned up late, but been allowed to participate by the referee, and Arsenal are reported to have been worried by injuries in extra time in the fading light.  Their view seems to have been that Gravesend should have been disqualified for lateness, but the Kent FA saw it a different way.

Moving on to the 1889/90 season and the two games on one day, on 9 November 1889 Arsenal had beaten West Kent at home 10-1 before the double match day on 14 December 1889.

On 15 February 1890 Arsenal played Chatham away and won 5-0 before playing Thanet Wanderers and winning 3-0 in the final on 23 March 1890.

The competition however has another twist in its records, because the 1893/4 competition was won by Royal Ordnance Factories – and this was Woolwich Arsenal’s last game in the competition – although it must be said that pull-out was voluntary not forced.

I mention that because for many years various histories of Arsenal reported that when Arsenal became a professional club in 1893 they were ejected from the two FAs and so could not play in fixtures against local teams.

It takes but a moment to see that this was not true, by looking at the fixture lists.  Virtually all the clubs Arsenal played in the 1892/3 season as an amateur team, were played again in 1893/4.  But the story that Arsenal were not allowed to play these clubs was spread and repeated without anyone doing the basic checks.

As for Royal Ordnance Factories, in Arsenal’s history they are notorious.  In 1892/3 a grouping within Arsenal tried to prevent the move of the club to professional status, and tried every trick to stop this.   The owner of Arsenal’s ground massively increased the rent to insane levels, and the breakaway “amateur status” group tried to bribe the owner of the new ground Arsenal found not to lease it to the club.  In the end the rebels left Woolwich Arsenal FC and formed Royal Ordanance Factories FC, playing in Arsenal’s ground.  Arsenal moved across the road and quickly built what became “The Manor Ground” where they remained until upping sticks and moving to Highbury in 1913.

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