2 January: When the Arsenal manager was found guilty in court

By Tony Attwood

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On 2 January 1903, Harry Bradshaw, the Arsenal manager was charged with “keeping the Manor Ground for the exercise of a lottery,” found guilty and fined, after Arsenal’s archery tournament was found to be illegal.

The fine was £5.  There is no record as to whether the club paid the fine for him, I truly hope they did.

At the end of the 1901/2 season with the Woolwich Arsenal FC funds looking a bit dodgy, Jack Humble, a director of the club who had in fact been the club’s first chairman back in 1893, came up with the idea of organising an archery tournament as a fundraiser.

Which might seem a bit dull to you today – but stay with me on this, because this archery competition became one of the big events in terms of fundraising for Arsenal at the time.  In fact, when it was held on 29 November 1902 it raised about £1,200.

Now that again might not sound too much by today’s standards, but let us consider.  That’s about £146,000 in today’s money raised in one day. The average rate of inflation over the years since 1903 being just over 4% per annum.

OK, that is still not that much in footballing terms compared with today, but in fact, in the early 20th century, it was over one-fifth of the total yearly income for the club from all sources, raised in just one day!  This surely meant that this was the end to Arsenal’s financial problems -at least for one season.

Except that the Law stepped in at this point and after a fair amount of saying “Hello hello hello, what’s all this then?” or whatever the equivalent was 100 years ago, they decided that this was not an archery tournament at all, but a lottery – which in the law of the day had a different meaning.

So let’s see what happened…

On the day of the tournament, Arsenal opened up the Manor Ground as a funfair and showground, with various stalls and the like to occupy visitors, with the archery competition being the highlight of the event.

80,000 archery tickets were sold across much of the southeast and even up to the Midlands, in advance, at 6d each (that’s six old pennies or half a shilling, or…. well money was all a bit silly in the old days, so let’s leave that).   In the build-up, everyone who had entered was allowed to practice with a bow and arrow, although there was no prize for the best shot.

Instead, to find the winner, the stub of each ticket sold was placed on a board measuring 17 feet by 17 feet and a young lady from the town was invited to fire an arrow at the board.

There was some fun and games at this point as the lady missed the board completely, which must take some doing since 17 feet by 17 feet is a pretty big board.  And indeed she missed again with the second shot, getting it right with the third, hitting one of the stubs and thus finding the winner.

The winner was a Mr Grubb of 190 Plumstead Road who won £50 (about £6,000 today) and in total 150 minor prizes were also awarded.

Then they cleared the mess off pitch, Arsenal played Lincoln and won 2-1 and there was a concert in the local freemason’s hall where prizes were handed out to the lucky winners.

However, there was a technicality: because since the young lady was clearly not an expert shot, the event was considered by the law to be equivalent to being a lottery.  Arsenal’s manager, Harry Bradshaw, who had had no real involvement in the event at all, poor chap, was charged with “keeping the Manor Ground for the exercise of a lottery”.   And lotteries were illegal.

The week following the tournament a small group of ecclesiastics wrote a letter to the Kentish Independent newspaper expressing their distaste of the event in which they laid out the basis for the argument that said 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”.



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

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