The Christmas gift for the fan with (almost) everything
This is part five of the series “Arsenal, the search for the first year”. There is a link to the earlier postings on this topic at the end of the article.
By Mark Andrews, Andy Kelly and Tony Attwood
If you have been reading through the series of articles published through this week you’ll know that we have become less and less convinced that Dial Square was the foundation of the club that become Royal Arsenal.
Our basic conclusion is that an Arsenal team (often referred to as Dial Square FC) did not play its first match on the Isle of Dogs on 11th December 1886.
October 25 2010 saw us put forward a set of arguments on this point – one of which was how on earth the club could have got to the Isle of Dogs. The Illustrated Official History claims that they took the famous free ferry – this is quite wrong, since it didn’t run at the time. How the official history could make such an error is an interesting question in itself, but let’s move on…
Many questions were asked in the original article but several stand out such as:
How did the players get to the Isle of Dogs?
What time was kick off and was it viable to play even a part match before it got dark?
Why go to the Isle of Dogs for the club’s first ever match, when there were so many other places to play that were within walking distance?
We don’t intend to repeat all that debate yet again, but here is some updated information…
There was a private pay Steamboat from Greenwich (assumed to be Horseferry Place) to Isle of Dogs (probably Ferry Street) at this time. We found a letter from “A Crosser” bemoaning his lot on 19th Nov 1886 in the Kentish Mercury, which gives some details but it does not give the exact locations of the crossing. But the names of the local roads are clues.
We ran a RAC routeplanner from the Greenwich Heritage Centre which is near the old RA entrance gates (SE18 4DX) to Horseferry Place, Greenwich (SE10 9HG). It is 10.42miles using the fastest most direct route and gives a time today of 42 minutes.
Having looked at the options the only feasible way to go the distance would have been in horse drawn brakes/carriages. The speed of these varies, but looking at the varying answers on the net, it is most likely that they would travel at approx 6-8mph. So it would take approx 1hour 25minutes to get to the Ferry. Assuming the ferry was a timed crossing and not on demand, would entail at least 10 minutes waiting and 10-15 minutes crossing, with 5 minutes unloading.
The probable ground is in Glengall Road (now renamed Tiller Road) which is 1.2 miles from Ferry Street, which adds another 10-15 minutes, assuming the ferry took horse drawn brakes.
So the journey time would be approx 2 hours 5 minutes. As each of the players worked in different factories they would not have been able to get a blanket nod and a wink from the management to leave early, so we have to assume they went after the normal half day which would be at the earliest 13:00 for manual workers.
They would have got to the ground for 15:05, with no stops for food or refreshment, and assume they changed on the carriage, there would have been 10 minutes to prepare. It gets dark at 15:51 this year on the 11 December, and would have been much the same in 1886 within a few minutes which would give them a max 36 mins game.
That is not a football game but a park kick about – and it leads us back to the point: why go for a two hour journey each way for a kick about when there were places closer to home to play? Come to that, could the players really have got back after the game? Few if any of the ferries would have worked their way across the Thames after dark.
What’s more we have not added any time for getting together from work to the brakes and assume they went on the dot of 13:00.
It could only have been played as a full game if all members of the team used up a precious half day holiday and left in time to beat the dark.
But the Dial Square v Eastern Wanderers story is central to the notion that a club was formed in 1886, because it solidifies the club formation on 1 December 1886.
But there are two counter proposals. Royal Arsenal’s first match was on 8 January 1887- so this year of 2011 would be 124 years of Arsenal, with next year being 125 years.
On the other hand the evidence presented on this site in the last few days includes Woolwich United playing on 2 January 1886 which throws us out even more.
Of course it is quite reasonable to say: everyone knows it was Dial Square v Eastern Wanderers – it is in all the books. They can’t all be wrong.
And that brings us to the heart of the problem. Dial Square v Eastern Wanderers in December 1886 is not in all the books. In fact in the six authoritative sources of Arsenal information published between 1897 (the earliest reference work to cite Arsenal) and the mid 1930s only two have any mention of Dial Square Eastern Wanderers in 1886.
It looks very much as if one person wrote it down in the early 20th century and then others simply copied the story without thinking about it.
Quite how this happened we’ll deal with in the next piece.
Arsenal: the search for the first year.
This is an extensive report on a major piece of historical research by members of the society which overturns previous views on the formation of Arsenal.