5 February: the first time ever that the Arsenal crowd was counted!



By Tony Attwood

Generally speaking books which record Arsenal’s results start with 1893, when Woolwich Arsenal entered the league.   Although for six seasons before that Arsenal did play a mixture of friendlies and cup games.

Of course the FA Cup exploits of the club have long since been recorded, but the other games played – the friendlies and the games in a variety of cups – have been missed from the record books.

However through the extraordinary diligence of Andy Kelly, we now have records of each of these seasons, and so we find that on 5 February 1887, for the first time ever the crowd at an Arsenal game was noted in the media.   And it was…


Here we have the results of Dial Square FC (in match one) and Royal Arsenal FC for the season 1886/7

Date Opponent H/A Result Crowd
11 Dec 86 Eastern Wanderers A 6-0
8 Jan 87 Erith H 6-1
15 Jan 87 Alexandra United H 11-0
22 Jan 87 Eastern Wanderers H 1-0
29 Jan 87 Erith A 3-2
5 Feb 87 Millwall Rovers A 0-4 600
12 Feb 87 Alexandra United A 6-0
26 Feb 87 2nd Rifle Brigade H 0-0
12 Mar 87 Millwall Rovers H 3-0
28 Mar 87 2nd Rifle Brigade A 0-1


So, what are the key points, apart from that first ever notice of a crowd?

First, we can note the symmetry of home and away matches.  This is of particular historical importance, because it is often suggested (Wikipedia being one of the sources for example) that the notion of a balance home/away sequence came from a report in the New York Times of 27 March 1887 stating, “”measures would be taken to form a new football league…[consisting of] a schedule containing two championship games between every two colleges composing the league”.

The Football League was not created until 17 April 1888, so Arsenal’s schedule clearly was not influenced by the League.

As you may have read elsewhere, Arsenal were known as Dial Square in 1886, and Royal Arsenal for the rest of the season.

The team from the off was clearly very strong, winning its first five games.  The first defeat of an Arsenal team was on 5 February 1887, in front of the crowd of 600 – the only crowd figure we have for that season.

We don’t know why Arsenal concluded on 28 March.  Maybe they ran out of teams to play, maybe they wanted to balance the home/away symmetry, and didn’t have a way to do this in the one remaining month before cricket took over.

But whatever the reason, the founders could be pleased with themselves.  Arsenal in season one played 10, won 7, drew 1 and lost 2.

Here are the anniversaries for Arsenal for this day throughout their history.

5 February 1887: Millwall Rovers 4 Royal Arsenal 0.  This was the first Arsenal game ever with a recorded crowd number – 500 – and was played against the club’s main local rivals at the time.

5 February 1889: Matthew Shortt was born. He played with Dalbeattie Star before moving to Arsenal in November 1910.  He played four times for Arsenal, being on the losing side each time.  Later he had considerable success in the USA as a footballer

 5 February 1910: Woolwich Arsenal went to Everton for a second round FA Cup match played in front of 30,000 people and lost 0-5.  However a league match at the same venue between the same clubs on 7 March later attracted just 6000 (and we only lost 0-1).

5 February 1913  The Islington Gazette reported that Woolwich Arsenal planned to move to Islington.  Rumours had abounded about the new location for Arsenal throughout the season but this was the first correct reporting.

5 February 1916.  Expecting the war which had begun in 1914 to be over by now, the London clubs had only organised a wartime league to last until January 1916.  With the war very obviously not over a new league was quickly arranged starting on this day.  Arsenal drew 1-1 at home with Watford.

5 February 1921: Last game for Fred Pagnam: Sunderland 5 Arsenal 1.  He had testified against his own teammates in the Liverpool/Man U match fixing scandal of 1915 – and comes over in history as a man of great honour at a time when every dirty trick possible was being pulled.

5 February 1926: Joe Hulme signed by Chapman from Blackburn.  He went on to play 333 league games across a 13 year spell; a 1930’s version of Thierry Henry, an absolute master of counter-attacking at pace.

5 February 1931:  Leicester C 2 Arsenal 7, just a week after beating Grimsby 9-1, as Arsenal moved to their first championship.  Lambert (3), Bastin (2), Jack and Hulme did the honours this time.

5 February 1931: Malcolm Campbell set a new land speed record of almost 246mph, and four days later the South Wales miners strike ended with a three year peace settlement.  The mood of the country which had been bleak, lifted.

5 February 1936: For once Arsenal were not playing when an England match was taking place.  England lost 1-2 to Wales with Male, Hapgood, Crayston, Bastin and Drake in the team.

5 February 1960: Brian Marwood born.  He played 52 times for Arsenal supplying the crosses for Alan Smith in the box.  After finishing playing he worked for Nike and for Manchester City.

5 February 1966: A 1-1 draw with Burnley started another poor run of 10 without a win, and indeed there were only two wins between this game and the end the season.  Arsenal ended the season a poor 14th and Wright was sacked as manager.

5 February 1972: Reading 1 Arsenal 2 (FA Cup 4th round).   Pat Rice and an own goal took Arsenal through in front of 25,756.

5 February 1974: Arsenal lost 1-3 to Leeds United away in front of just 26,778.  Leeds were undefeated in 28 games and Arsenal took the lead but could not hold out for the rest of the game.

5 February 2005: After two defeats in last three games Aston V 1 Arsenal 3 stopped the rot and started a 13 match unbeaten run to the end of the season.  Ljungberg, Henry and Cole got the goals.

5 February 2011: Newcastle 4 Arsenal 4.  After Arsenal were 0-4 up this match went down as one of the most outrageous referee performances of all time – but was still the 8th out of 16 consecutive unbeaten matches.

You might also enjoy

The 1919 Affair: How Arsenal were promoted to the first division – the only complete and detailed history of Arsenal’s election.

Day by Day the videos – An Arsenal video for (almost) every day of the year in order. 

Day by Day the stories a key moment in Arsenal and footballing history for each day of the year

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