25 September: Arsenal select an injured keeper with disasterous consequences



25 September 1909: Arsenal’s keeper Hugh MacDonald was injured in 3-2 victory over Chelsea.

by Tony Attwood

That may not sound too momentous an occasion but it does give us some interesting insights into the fact that despite an injury leaving the keeper seriously immobile he nevertheless played in the next game, and perhaps not surprisingly conceded seven.  It shows that the club at Plumstead did not have a full-time backup keeper, not least because there were only friendlies for the reserves to play in.  

Hugh McDonald was a goalkeeper who signed from the Scottish club Beith in the 1905/6 season.  He is one of hundreds of players who played for Arsenal and whose lives and histories are now forgotten.

But Hugh McDonald deserves to be remembered – and he is a player of whom we really ought to know more.

McDonald was born in 1884 and died aged just 36 in 1920.  He worked his way around a range of Scottish clubs (Ayr Westerlead, Maybole, Ayr Academicals, and Beith) before coming to Woolwich.  Beith were a Scottish Football Combination club (roughly around the level of a third division in Scotland, which they later joined).

In 1905/6 he played two games for Arsenal, before moving on to Brighton and Hove Albion of the Southern League, Oldham Athletic (who were elected into the football league 2nd division in 1907 but were in the local Manchester non-league football in 1906) and Bradford Park Avenue (who won the Southern League in 1907/8 and gained entry to the football league.)  He was back at Woolwich for the 1908/9 season when he played in every game.

Thus he had been developing as a player around the clubs, before hearing that Arsenal were again on the lookout.  And to put this in context we should remember that at this time, the movement of players was massive.  There was no “loan” system, and transfers could happen any time at all.  Through the summer, players were either not paid or only paid half wages, and so had every inducement to travel and find any sort of work to keep going.

There was a huge amount of rumour and little detailed information about employment opportunities at the time, and undoubtedly Woolwich Arsenal benefited from this, since there were always stories that the armaments factories were recruiting.  This was a period when invasion stories were everywhere – there was ever increasing feeling that Germany was about to attack across the North Sea, while all the popular magazines ran stories about how village postmasters were actually Germans in disguise, and how the nannies of the rich in London were all also spies for the enemy.

In such an environment it was inevitable that people would believe that the most famous collection of armament factories in the UK (Woolwich Arsenal) would be building more and more ships in order to counteract the German menace.  There was no real way of checking the stories (and no phones of course) so there was the endless movement of young men to Kent, looking for work.  This could well have attracted Hugh McDonald back twice.

The following season (1910/11) he played 36 of the matches for Arsenal – missing two through injury.  

But then at the end of the season he was transferred again – this time to Fulham. 

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