Football resumes – Arsenal in 1919… Ernie Williamson

By Tony Attwood

On August 30 1919, under the guidance of Leslie Knighton, Arsenal (not Woolwich Arsenal, not The Arsenal, but Arsenal) played their first match of the new era.

The war had been over for almost a year, football had been restructured, after all the rows and arguments about match fixing and expansion of the league, there had been a settlement, which saw Chelsea re-instated in the first division, Liverpool and Man U unpunished for their match fixing activities in 1915, and Arsenal promoted to the first division.

Our first game, curiously was against Newcastle – who were our first ever opponents in division 2, our first in division 1, and now our first after the war.

The results of these momentous games were…

  • Sep 3 1893 – drew 2-2 (home)
  • Sep 3 1904 – lost 0-3 (away)
  • Aug 30 1919 – lost 0-1 (home)

While Colonel Sir Henry Norris MP, the chairman, would have been fed up with the score in 1919 he would have loved the income.  He had risked his entire fortune in paying for the move to Highbury.  And it was a risk because the stadium was on a lease – the owners could demand it back at the end of the lease and the Highbury ground would have to be demolished.  It didn’t happen of course but no one knew that at the time.

And Sir Henry would have loved the income because the crowd was an all time record for Highbury at that point: 40,000

The team we put out was


Shaw Bradshaw

Graham Voysey McKinnon

Rutherford Groves White Blyth Baker

Of course it was five years almost to the day that we had last started a professional season and many of the players had be taken from the club, either in service to their country or simply because they were now too old to play.

Only Shaw, Rutherford, Groves, McKinnon, and Blyth had played in the last season before the suspension of the full-time game, and of these only Shaw and Rutherford had actually in that opening game of the 1914/15 season.  (That opening game of the last season in division 2 incidentally was a home match against Glossop North End in front of a crowd of 7,000.

If you are an occasional reader of this site you will know some of the names.  Joe Shaw for example was a major figure for the club.  Jock Rutherford likewise is a name that won’t be forgotten – not least for being the oldest player ever to play for the club.

But let’s work through the team starting with Ernie Williamson who played for the club from 1919 to 1923 and made 113 appearances in goal.

Ernie was born in County Durham and played locally before moving to London (for reasons we don’t know) and playing for Henry Norris’ third team, Southern League Croydon Common.

During the first world war he was in the Royal Army Service Corps – the body  responsible for transport and the supply of food, water, fuel, and general domestic stores such as clothing, and the administration of the barracks.  This kept him in England, and indeed it seems in London for most of the time as he made 120 appearances for Arsenal during the war years, (Norris would obviously have known of him via Croydon Common) signing for the club upon the resumption of football in 1915.

He played 26 games in the first post-war season in the first division, and 33 games the next season before reaching 41 league games in 1921/2.

Ernie was Arsenal’s first post-First World War international, playing for his country twice against Sweden in May 1923.  However, just as he received the honour of playing for his country his club position was in decline and he was dropped as the number 1 after just five games in 1922.

In June 1923 having played for his country he left Arsenal on a for transfer and went to Norwich City.  In all he played 113 official first-class matches for Arsenal, plus all those wartime games.

He retired from football in 1925 and died in 1964 at the age of 73.

As with all our player reviews if you have more information, or if you are a descendent of Ernie Williamson please do get in touch.

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