Found – the first ever historic review of Arsenal’s foundations

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This is the third in a series of articles examining all the evidence that exists concerning the first year in the history of Arsenal.   You can read the earlier sections here:

Part One

Part Two

Found: the first ever historic review of Arsenal’s foundations

By Andy Kelly, Mark Andrews and Tony Attwood

We have argued thus far that the first real Arsenal match was played as “Royal Arsenal” and was against Erith in January 1887.  Anything before that was unheralded, unpublicised, and now, sadly, unknown.  There was a football division of Dial Square Cricket Club, and there was also Woolwich United (sometimes, probably wrongly, called Woolwich Union).

Which suggests that as the club was actually founded on 1 December 1886 and played its first formal game on 8 January 1887 that would mean that the September Dial Square Cricket Club meeting was doing little other than kick around the idea of a football club.

But we now have a local paper report on 7 January 1887 of “a meeting held during the last week or so, to which all persons interested in the game were invited,” at which the name was changed and the decision was taken to open the club to everyone interested.

The “last week or so” is infuriating, because it stops us tying up all the dates, but it is interesting that here there is no reference to the strange trip across the river as “Dial Square” to play on the Isle of Dogs or other games.  If there were other games they were informal affairs against other teams or collections of players from the Woolwich and Plumstead area.

But still we have more – and this means we now have far more evidence than has ever been presented in any book on Arsenal ever before – this really does take us into the world of exclusivity.

In the Weekly Dispatch report dated 17 Jan 1897 (so ten years after the event, and therefore a little less certain than contemporary reports, but nevertheless a hell of a lot closer to contemporary than the reports relied on in the official publications) there is an interview with George Lawrence (real name Lawrance – papers got it wrong even then).

This information has turned up in the WT Vincent papers.  WT Vincent founded the Woolwich Antiquarian society and was a reporter and editor of the Kentish Independent. He kept a chronological scrapbook of Woolwich related items from Non Woolwich papers and other publications, which is housed at the Greenwich Heritage Centre. The fact that he placed the Lawrance article in the cuttings volumes is important as there must be other reports, but he chose to insert this one article.

This is the first ever historic review of Arsenal’s foundations, and thus a commentary that we really should treat with respect.  There really is no logical reason why the Elijah Watkins story of 20 years later should have precedence over this report from ten years earlier.

And what George Lawrence says in this interview is that the first game was against Erith and he makes no mention at all of the Eastern Wanderers game or of Dial Square.

George  Lawrance sadly died in 1901 but we do know that in the early days  his wife arranged the excursions to away games. He was a committee member as early as 1890 (maybe earlier) and was elected onto the first board of directors in 1893. He remained on the board until he died during 1901-02 – and thus is clearly man in the know.  He was also a wholesale newsagent from Woolwich and was probably one of the directors that regularly loaned the club money when things got tight.

In this interview Lawrance gives a team line up which is similar to that which we have quoted elsewhere, only has Brown in for Gregory and Wolf for Crichton. No Thompson, but he does have Beardsley playing.

Now to add together some of the negatives which count against Dial Square.  We could find no mention of Dial Square FC in the Kentish Independent between August 1886 and January 1887.  Ditto the Kentish Mercury for the same period, but there is a score for Royal Arsenal v. Erith, which shows that the name was invented or changed BEFORE and not after that match.

So once again we are in the position of saying, maybe there were some games involving Dial Square Cricket Club, and Woolwich United, but they had no direct connection with Arsenal, which played its first game against Erith in 1887.

This series of articles continues tomorrow.


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4 Replies to “Found – the first ever historic review of Arsenal’s foundations”

  1. Tony, I’m just amazed that you have made a coherent article from what me and Mark have thrown at you over the last week!

  2. I have a newspaper cutting about my grandfather Mr Rainnie Dow who according to the cutting was
    financial secretary of the Arsenal Club from 1902 – 1905 when he was presented with a Life Ticket to Woolwich Arsenal Football and Athletic Co Ltd. Is there any historical record of this or information about him at the club?

  3. Rainnie Mutch Dow was voted in as financial secretary when the incumbent, Arthur Kennedy, was voted on to the board of director’s at the club’s AGM on 14 June 1902. I believe that he was only 23 at the time.

    He remained as financial secretary for three seasons. Gordon Stevens was voted in at the AGM on 24 June 1905.

    I’m pretty sure at the time, the directors and the financial secretary were rotated every 3 years so he had to stand down on 1905.

    I can’t find any information about him outside of these years. If you have any, we would be pleased to hear about him.

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