Happy 125th birthday Arsenal. 1 December, today’s the day

By Tony Attwood

More time has been spent by the AISA Arsenal History Society debating the exact starting date of Arsenal FC’s existence than any other single topic.

We’ve looked at Dial Square Cricket Club, and the way that some members wanted to have a football part of the club, we’ve looked at the supposed game with Eastern Wanderers on the Isle of Dogs, which looks increasingly unlikely given the journey and the timings, and we’ve looked at that most mysterious of clubs Woolwich United, who are reported as having played games in the most odd places.

We’ve even had a good old laugh at Woolwich Union – which is mentioned in the rather amusing Official Illustrated History of the club.   Amusing because there never was such a club.  “Woolwich Union” was the local work house where the poor and unemployed were sent (our laughter of course at the silly mistake in thinking this was a football team, not at the tragic and awful lives of those condemned to workhouse life.)

I won’t try and go through all our findings again here, but the story so far is on this site – see the link below…

But the good news is that the club itself has now adopted our position on the actual founding day, and they reported this in the Annual Report this year.  Didn’t mention us or our research, but you can’t have it all.

Anyway, today’s the day.  Looking at all the evidence we have reached the conclusion that the club that became Arsenal FC was formed 125 years ago today on 1 December.

Happy birthday everyone.

Part 1: Arsenal the First Year

Part 2: The Confusion Deepens

Part 3: The Earliest Evidence of Arsenal’s Foundations

Part 4: Arsenal evolved from Woolwich United FC, not Dial Square

Part 5: Is it this year at all?


AISA Arsenal History Society: www.arsenalhistory.info

Making the Arsenal: the story of the club’s rebirth in 1910 (and a wonderful Xmas present) – is available from Arsenal.com, Amazon.co.uk and via the publishers.  

6 Replies to “Happy 125th birthday Arsenal. 1 December, today’s the day”

  1. Here is the earliest documented evidence of the club being formed on 1 December 1886. It was a report on the club’s annual dinner in May 1890 (i.e. 3 1/2 years after the event):

    The first time that Christmas Day 1886 was given as the date of the club’s foundation was in the official centenary book published in 1986 (i.e. 100 years after the event). It also told us that the club’s first game was 2 weeks prior to this date which seems a bit arse about face.

  2. Chaps,
    One major issue still to resolve for that meeting on 1 Dec 1886 is it’s location. There were two Royal Oak pubs in the area at the time. One in Woolwich which is usually given as the location, and one in Plumstead, near the Prince of Wales (The Dial Square Cricket Club Headquarters). On the evidence the Woolwich Pub (recently knocked down after being renamed the Pullman) is the more likely, but it is not definite.

  3. I can’t go back 125 years but I can claim to be a supporter since the mid 1930’s. In those heady days, there was really only one team that represented English football to the outside world. Arsenal were often referred to as England when the team played abroad.
    At home Arsenal were called the “Prudentials” after the Insurance giants’ heavy investment in the Club.
    Although the Club was never out of the news, those in charge were never averse to seeking publicity. Hence the re-naming of the Piccadilly Line Station nearest to
    Highbury, “Arsenal”.
    An issue of Picture Post magazine depicted a typical few days in the public and private life of Eddie Hapgood the left back and Captain of Arsenal and England and a role model for all budding footballers of the time.
    The onset of advertising had not yet reached professional football so that shirts and grounds were bare of slogans. In those days, Arsenal’s stockings were blue and white.
    Before television, the cinema was king and Arsenal were rewarded in 1939 with the film “The Arsenal Stadium Mystery”, a dubious murder story, which gave the Club enormous publicity
    via its Manager George Allison, a former journalist whose part object in life appeared to be to keep Arsenal’s name constantly in the news.
    And then came WW2 and the introduction of wartime football. No more fulltime professionals. Players joined whichever Club was nearest to their barracks or place of work and could only be paid £2.50 per game.
    Highbury was bombed and became an Air Raids Precautions centre and for the rest of the war, Arsenal shared White Hart Lane for home matches.
    Attendances at places like Wembley, where Home Internationals and some Cup Finals were played, were restricted to 75,000, a surprisingly high figure bearing in mind the danger from air raids. Match programmes bore directions to the nearest air raid shelter, for the information of away supporters, although travel in wartime was discouraged. Teams were segregated between North and South of the country.
    What was noticeable was the attitude of the crowds at matches. Always goodnatured, as though supporting their Club was a positive relief from the daily grind of long working hours, food rationing and the general malaise of a country at war. The absence of proper training meant that the football, whilst still competitive, bore little resemblance to the pre-war standard,although those players who became PT Instructors in the Armed Forces managed to retain some fitness.
    And so, in 1945, peace returned to our land…..and the history of our great Club continued…

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