14 November: Arsenal get their first ever fixture




by Tony Attwood

How did Arsenal get their first fixture?

Imagine: you have just formed a football club.  The first thing you’d want to do would be to play another club. What do you do?

Maybe phone a local league and ask to join? Or perhaps look up the phone numbers of the clubs in that league asking if they would like to play a friendly? Or maybe do a bit of research for other teams nearby, on the internet? Or even set up your own internet page.

But supposing there were no leagues, and few other clubs around. And no internet. What then?

This was exactly the problem facing all new clubs in the late 19th century. Without Leagues to play in, without telephones and the internet, finding teams to play was tough.

Except for one thing, for what clubs did have were specialist weekly magazines and a postal system that invariably delivered letters by the next day – and so that is what was used.

And indeed on this day in 1886 a team called Eastern Wanderers did exactly this in a magazine called the Referee: they advertised for opponents.

And it was most likely this which caused some men in the Dial Square factory at the Royal Arsenal on the south bank of the Thames to set up a team to play Eastern Wanderers. Which is what they then did.

Thankfully we have proof that not only did the advert from Eastern Wanderers appear but that the game actually took place, because on 12 December 1886 “The Referee” newspaper published the results of all the matches from the previous weekend of which it had been notified. It announced that Dial Square had beaten Eastern Wanderers by 6-0.

Without that announcement in the paper it would have been a lot harder for the now well-established origins of Arsenal to be traced. Indeed thanks to the same publication we know that the club was calling itself Dial Square FC at its origins, for at the start of the following year, undoubtedly encouraged by their win in the first game, Dial Square itself was advertising for opponents.

Unfortunately, when one is relying on advertisements and reports in the media some of the background information that we might wish to see is missing: these were very functional commentaries that assumed that the readership knew about what was going on.

So for more details of the game we have to rely on notes and commentaries made at the time by others, and these are few and far between – and sometimes contradictory.

But we do have a bit of luck in tracing Arsenal’s history, for Dial Square, being set up as part of an existent cricket club, immediately started keeping its own formal records. And although Dial Square FC quickly broke away from the cricket club and became Royal Arsenal FC, and although many of the early records have been lost over time, we have enough details that survived to know exactly how the club was formed, and the results of its games in the years before it joined the Football League.

Indeed many of these details are recorded on this website – you might for example find this article on Arsenal’s early chairmen to be of interest as well as our series on Arsenal’s origins.


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