7 September: The first United League match for Woolwich Arsenal and crowd trouble





7 September 1896: Arsenal 3 Rushden Town 2. The first United League match for Woolwich Arsenal.


The United League was a 19th century league set up for clubs to get a few more matches out of the season, in addition to their commitments to the Football League, Southern League and other similar Leagues in which they played.

Clubs generally played their first team players in the United League games, and indeed Arsenal played their first game in the United League against Rushden on 7 September 1896 at home.  Woolwich Arsenal won 3-2.  That season Arsenal played 14 games in the league, winning six, drawing three and losing five.  They came third out of the eight teams in the league.

There is no record of the attendance at this first game, but the second United League game of the season (a 2-2 home draw with Luton Town on October 3) was recorded as having 8000 in the crowd – which was high compared with most of the games.

Other teams in the league were Wellingborough, Kettering, Tottenham, Loughborough Town, and Millwall Athletic.  It is interesting to note that the Tottenham games only drew crowds of 2,000.  The derby against Millwall Athletic however showed 15,000 in attendance for the home game.  Tottenham was clearly seen as being of as much interest as the further afield clubs.

Also, of interest is the collection of Northamptonshire clubs.  Rushden, Wellingborough and Kettering were all in that county, although Rushden and Diamonds did rise up to play in the third tier of the Football League in most recent times, they then collapsed along with Kettering, and both clubs lost their grounds to developers.

Only Luton, of the non-local teams, gained high attendances for matches against Arsenal.   Although their top crowd was 12,000 against Millwall (for both the home and away games), and 14,500 against Tottenham away.

In the second season of the United League Southampton joined the league and Arsenal once again came third.

By the third season there were 11 clubs in the league, with Reading and Brighton United now in the league. Arsenal this time came 4th.

The final match for Woolwich Arsenal in the United League was a 2-3 defeat away to Tottenham Hotspur on 29 April 1899 in front of 7000 spectators.  The following season Arsenal entered the Southern District Combination, a competition that lasted for just one season.

This competition also ended with a game against Tottenham on 24 April 1900 at Plumstead.  The match was abandoned after 65 minutes due to abusive language from the crowd.  The club was ordered to post notices instructing the crowd to behave properly, but the referee was also criticised for his handling of the game.  The game was not replayed.

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