by Tony Attwood
6 September 1913 was the day of the first league match at Highbury. Arsenal beat Leicester Fosse 2-1 in what was the first opening day victory since 1906. 20,000 present. George Jobey scored the first Arsenal goal at the ground but was later taken off injured.
The first match played by Woolwich Arsenal as a north London club was an away game played on 20 August 1913. Played at Fulham, and presumably it was Fulham v Woolwich Arsenal (unless it was Arsenal v Arsenal Reserves). This day was thus the day when Arsenal as a north London club actually began. And of course it wasn’t at Highbury because Highbury was far from ready. Indeed it wasn’t actually finished by the time of the first game – but health and safety was not as rigorous then as it is now.
The programme for the day began…
We are making our making our re-entry into the second division of the Football League with light hearts and unbounded optimism.”
Optimism for the country would have been misplaced, for within a year the kingdom would be part of the most appalling loss of human life for the country of all time. And yet for Arsenal the move to north London in 1913 was the start of a new world and a new life.
True, our first manager at the ground (then known simply as Gillespie Road), turned out to be something of a disaster on the pitch – although his infamous memoirs would like us to believe otherwise. But still it all turned out right in the end, thanks not only to the incredible investment in the club by Messers Norris and Hall, but also to the decision in 1925 which, as far as I can tell, was a Norris decision; to sack Leslie Knighton, and bring in Herbert Chapman.
But that was in the distance – here’s the starting point…
Yes… it does suddenly end there, and continues on an inside page, but you can get the gist of it from this.
Gunners’ Mate started as a column in this Arsenal programme and was written then by a certain journalist called George Allison who had written the programme in the Plumstead days, and ultimately went on to become the manager of the club. George Allison was certainly able to write in an heroic style.
Perhaps most interesting is the fact that the 1912/13 disaster, in which Arsenal got its worst ever record, is blamed largely on an injury crisis. Undoubtedly because Henry Norris was in north London sorting out the new ground, and because all finances were directed that way, there was no chance of buying in new players to shore up the team during the 1912/13 season.
And I suspect that Norris didn’t really worry too much about relegation, for he guessed, rightly as it seemed, that the new ground in north London would fill up if the club was doing ok, no matter whether it was first or second division. H
So, the opening of Highbury was also the start of a new journey. Welcome to Division 2. Welcome to Highbury.
Anyone picking up the very first programme issued by Arsenal at Highbury, and reading it through from cover to cover might well have felt that the club was going overboard a bit with the money raising activity through trying to sell shares. There were adverts on virtually every page for £1 shares in the Arsenal.
Oh for a time machine enabling one to trot back and pick up a few. Maybe a few hundred and a shake of the hand from Henry Norris! Here’s some more…
There are some nice details here as well – a recognition of the two pre-season training games that were held away from Gillespie Road because the ground was still full of builders’ rubble, and the introduction of what was the first Arsenal magazine style programme. I don’t have a Woolwich Arsenal programme from earlier than this – but it appears from this page that these were just a sheet of paper with the players’ names.
It is also nice that the club introduced the manually loaded A to Z scoreboard which lasted into the 1960s.
So there we have it. The anniversary of the first game at Highbury. 6 September.