This event was patronised by 400 people and was organised by the club’s first great benefactor George Lawrence. It was quite possibly the first ever excursion of its type for any football club.
The 1893 split in Woolwich Arsenal FC led to Woolwich Arsenal playing professionally in the 2nd division of the Football League and the amateur Royal Ordnance Factories FC (ROFFC) playing on the ground opposite previously used by Royal Arsenal.
This split was obviously costly to Woolwich Arsenal, but thankfully they had a benefactor in the shape of George Lawrance,
George Lawrence ran a thriving newsagent and tobacconist and discount bookseller store, was a Tory Councillor on the Woolwich Borough Council and a Patron of the Cottage Hospital Committee and Woolwich Soup Society Committee. In July 1893 he is recorded as having 10 shares in Woolwich Arsenal with his wife Annie having another five.
Lawrance became interested in football when he started to watch Royal Arsenal in January 1889 and began attending away games with his wife. The couple then started to organise away excursions.
Lawrance became a committee member of the club in June 1891 and remained permanently in office until his untimely death in June 1901. He was indeed the first benefactor of the club.
He was at the meeting in May 1891 discussing and approving the adoption of professionalism, advertised in the Royal Arsenal programme in 1892, was involved in meetings to discuss the rejection of the proposed Invicta Ground rent rise, and was present at the subsequent ground and limited liability meetings in 1893.
Then, later in the month, when Royal Ordnance Factories FC were rumoured to be preparing to bid for the Manor Field, Lawrance pushed through the legal agreement and paid the deposit for the purchase of the ground in early June 1893 and secured the mortgage.
Lawrence also published the first Woolwich Arsenal Handbook, and a copy from 1894-95 called the “Woolwich District Football Handbook” is still in existence. It sold for 2d and consists mainly of fixtures for the club and surrounding area. It also contains an 1886 founding account by Fred Beardsley. The following year George Lawrance’s Football handbook also contained photos and sketches of Arsenal players.
Lawrance died on 22nd June 1901 of heart failure caused by appendicitis. His funeral was a huge event with members of Woolwich Arsenal FC, Masons, Councillors, members of the Chamber of Commerce and local businessmen attending in addition to family and friends.
It is indeed sad that Lawrence is not remembered by Arsenal, for his work in the early days of the club ensured the club’s financial survival, and allowed those who wanted professional football for Arsenal to see their wishes succeed, despite the nefarious activities of those who opposed all forms of professional football.
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