It was an amazing moment for the club, because at the time it was under a ceaseless assault from a rival organisation – Royal Ordnance Factories FC, which had been formed by ex-members of the Royal Arsenal committee who were working in cahoots with Arsenal’s landlord at the Invicta Ground.
Quite what the rival group thought they could achieve and how they could achieve it remains unclear. Maybe they thought that when the landlord of the Invicta increased the rent of the ground, the Woolwich Arsenal club would meekly bow down and accept defeat. Perhaps they genuinely believed (as they implied in their press statements and letters) that Woolwich Arsenal was run by a bunch of nobodies and would quickly fail without the personal support of the middle-class men who attempted to take over the club.
Eventually, Arsenal left the Invicta and set themselves up on the opposite side of the road at the Manor Ground – and even then Royal Ordnance Factories tried one last trick of allowing Arsenal to upgrade the ground ready for the new season, and then attempting to buy it from the landlord – leaving the working men who were funding Arsenal, bankrupt.
But what the Royal Ordnance Factories club didn’t realise was that they were dealing with men of resilience who believed in their club. Arsenal outwitted ROF FC on every issue – buying the Manor Ground themselves, and joining the League. ROF FC were left to join the Southern League – where they survived for three seasons, before calling it a day, part way through their fourth season. Their final match was against a group of actors who played in costume.
Royal Arsenal had turned professional in 1891, and contrary to reports elsewhere did not hit the edge of bankruptcy when other clubs refused to play them. Far from it – everyone wanted to play Royal Arsenal FC, as they were by far the most famous team in the south.
Thus it was that they were the obvious candidates from the south to be accepted into the second division of the Football League on 31 May 1893, and played their first match the following September.
This is, in fact, the day the modern Arsenal started.
Henry Norris at the Arsenal: There is a full index to the series here.
Arsenal in the 1930s: The most comprehensive series on the decade ever
Arsenal in the 1970s: Every match and every intrigue reviewed in detail.
100 Years: 100 Years in the First Division
Arsenal today: Untold Arsenal