21 January 1893: The end of Royal Arsenal in the FA Cup

By Tony Attwood


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In the early days of the FA Cup when there were only two divisions in the Football League, the amateur and other non-league teams would play in a set of four or more qualifying rounds and then the League teams would join in, in the first round (the equivalent of the third round today).

Thus on 10 December 1892 Royal Arsenal beat Clapton at home 5-0 in the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup.   It was the fourth time Arsenal had been in the FA Cup and the first time Arsenal had won through the qualifying rounds to reach the first round.

That is not to say that Arsenal had not been in the first round proper before because for the previous two seasons Royal Arsenal had been excused qualification.  It all seems a bit erratic – a bit like the FA today in fact.

The record runs like this:

1889/90 Arsenal played in the qualifying rounds and lost in the fourth qualifying round 1-5 at home to Swifts.

1890/91.  Despite the size of the defeat upon their exit last season Arsenal were given a bye and moved straight into the first round, where they were beaten 1-2 at home by Derby

1891/92.  Although the result in the first round was poor thus far (two defeats in two games) Arsenal were again given a bye and this time were beaten 1-5 away by Small Heath in the first round.

1892/3.  Playing in the cup for the last time Royal Arsenal were put back into the qualifying rounds.  The draw gave them every game at home, and the results were

  • 14 October Beat Highland Light Infantry 3-0
  • 29 October Beat City Ramblers 10-1
  • 19 November beat Millwall Athletic 3-2
  • 10 December beat Clapton 5-0

As a result the club moved back into the First Round but on 21 January 1893 Arsenal once again lost in the first round – this time 0-6 away to Sunderland.

There is one interesting moment in the club’s qualification in 1892/3 and that was the match against City Ramblers.  Arthur Elliot  played in this game and he along with  James Henderson and Charles Booth each got three goals – the only time ever that three players all got hatricks in one game.

To give a bit of context to the time, this cup run in the qualifying round in 1892 came after the club had earlier in the year attempted to start up the Southern League.  Indeed in February of that year the following teams were elected by their peers to be part of the new Southern League:

Chatham, Chiswick Park, Crouch End, Ilford, Luton Town, Marlow, Millwall Athletic, Old St Marks, Reading, Royal Arsenal, Swindon Town and West Herts.

Although the league did not get off the ground a second tier of teams was formed as the Southern Alliance (effectively a second division):

Chesham, City Ramblers, Criterion, Erith, Old St Stephens, St Albans, Tottenham Hotspur, Upton Park, Uxbridge, Westminster, Wolverton and Woodville.

So we can start to see a few familiar names appearing.  But to return for a moment to City Ramblers, they must have got used to big defeats as Southampton St Mary’s beat City Ramblers 13-0 in a friendly in 1895/6.

After getting through the qualifying rounds in 1893 Arsenal had to play in them again in the following season, and on October 14 1893 had their record win of 12-0 against Ashford United.  Arsenal played for the last time in the qualifiers in 1903 where after two replays Arsenal beat Bristol Rovers 1-0 at Tottenham to go through.

But here’s a twist: between 1889/90 and 1893/4 Arsenal played 12 matches in the qualifying rounds, winning 11 and losing one.  10 of these games were at home, and only two away.   Of course, it might be just a quirk of the balls coming out of the hat, but I wonder if there was anything done to give Arsenal the home games, perhaps because of the quality of the ground, or the expected size of the crowd.  Arsenal did not get drawn away in the first match they played in the competition in any season in the qualifying rounds until 1900/1 when they were drawn away to Darwen.

I’m not, of course, suggesting that the draw was fixed.


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

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