13 July: Phil Kelso becomes Arsenal’s 6th manager


On this day in 1904 (or at least very close to this day, the records are somewhat unclear) Phil Kelso officially started his duties as manager.   He introduced the notion of professionalism to Arsenal, insisting that players live locally, and didn’t drink or smoke. He also got the players together for matches a day or two before, to start preparations – a revolutionary stance in those days.

Harry Bradshaw had handed in his resignation in January 1904 – although agreeing to see out the season – and we know that Phil Kelso was at the match against Burslem Port Vale on 25 April 1904 along with 30,000 others to see the 0-0 draw which secured Arsenal’s promotion.  Thus for once, the club had a change of manager in which the new man had time to sort out what he would do.

During his spell with the club Kelso had a win rate of 41.45% achieved over 152 games.  This makes him more successful than George Swindin but just a little less than Bertie Mee.  A summary of his time at Arsenal is given here

But perhaps as we look at the stats his time should be measured by other factors.  Although he didn’t win the league for the club he managed to keep the club satisfactorily in the first division – which (given it was our first appearance in the top division) was something special.  Also, he delivered two FA Cup semi-finals (something Arsenal had never got anywhere near before), and in 1906/7 he actually had Woolwich Arsenal at the top of the first division (on October 6) for the first time ever.

His results in terms of position in the league (10th, 12th, 7th, 14th do not look impressive, but we must recall this was the first time Arsenal had been in division 1, and the club did not have a wealth of financial reserves to enable to buy-in experienced first division players.

For reasons that are not clear, he left midway through the 1907/08 season, seemingly to manage a hostel in Scotland, but then returned to London to take over Fulham in 1909, and became their longest-serving manager of all time, staying 15 years. Even more curiously, during the first world war, he worked at the Woolwich Arsenal.

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