29 January 1896: Arsenal’s general meeting calls for appointment of a manager

by Tony Attwood

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Can you run a football club by committee?  Certainly, in the early days of Arsenal it was thought so, and indeed thought so strongly enough, that the committee rejected all attempts by everyone else involved with the club to change the system.

And you have to remember that by 1896 Woolwich Arsenal had been a professional league club for two and a half years, playing in a league where full-time professional managers were the norm.

Arsenal had finished 9th and 8th in their first two seasons in the League and in fact were heading for 7th this season – so mid-table safety was looking secured, but now of course people were looking upwards and wondering why the pre-eminent team in the south was not following the lead of their northern counterparts.

The committee that ran Arsenal had half-yearly general meetings to discuss all matters that were placed on the agenda and on 29 January 1896 the issue of appointing a manager to oversee team affairs came to the fore once more.   But the sub-committee that ran team affairs objected most strongly.

However, this objection was not treated lightly by other committee members not on the team selection sub-committee, for the sub-committee was accused of using away games as a personal benefit since all its members were granted an all-expenses-paid weekend for each such match.

Discussions it seems became heated not least because the topic had been coming up on the agenda since before Arsenal joined the league.  Indeed as far back as 1892 there are records of a sub-committee of five elected from the general committee to manage the team selection.

On this day in 1896, Mr Evans raised the issue of appointing a manager of the team, but he was ruled out of order, for not having submitted the motion in the proper manner.

A second attempt was made at the AGM when another committee member – Herbert Chase – repeated the exercise, but in a manner, no one could explain, the issue was not printed on the agenda paper and so once more could not be debated.

However, by January 1897 feelings were running very high.  Arsenal had lost 8-0 to Loughborough in December, and although several high scoring matches that had gone in Arsenal’s favour had followed, successive 4-1 defeats to Gainsborough Trinity and Darwen caused feelings to rise.  A 4-2 defeat in the cup to non-league local rivals Millwall Athletic was the final straw.

The board of directors finally agreed to advertise for a manager – and there was no shortage of applicants, the local paper reporting that 54 men had applied for the job.  Eventually, Thomas Mitchell became Arsenal’s first professional manager.

He had been a referee and a manager of Blackburn Rovers with whom he had won the FA Cup four times.  But there was a warning that came with him.  Mr Mitchell had resigned from his job at Blackburn because of interference from the board concerning matters of training and team selection.

Nevertheless he was appointed and on 30 March 1897 he took up his duties as the first ever Arsenal manager.


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