Stories circulate about Arsenal’s financial problems.

10 January 1910 and the death of Woolwich Arsenal gets closer and closer

The desperate hope at the end of 1909 had been that Woolwich Arsenal could return to the winning streak (well, at least, a non-losing streak) that they had had in late November and early December.

A few good wins, the crowds would rise, and maybe, just maybe, the club could find its way out of the mire.   There might even be a decent match for the 1st round of the FA Cup in mid-January which could draw in a big crowd.

But pre- and post-Christmas was a disaster for the club.

  • December 18th   Woolwich Arsenal 1 Notts County 2.  Crowd 10,000
  • December 25th  Woolwich Arsenal 0 Newcastle U 3.  Crowd 20,000
  • December 27th  Woolwich Arsenal 1 Liverpool 1.  Crowd 15,000
  • January 1st 1910  Liverpool 5 Woolwich Arsenal 1.  Crowd 25,000
  • January 8th  Sheffield United 2  Woolwich Arsenal.  Crowd 17,000

Even the FA Cup did not oblige, for when the draw was made for the first round (the equivalent to the 3rd round today) Arsenal got a home tie against Watford.

Although the FA Cup was the biggest attraction of the football year, Watford were a Southern League team of no significance at the time, and the crowd was expected to be very poor.

And crowds were becoming increasing significant, because word was spreading that Woolwich Arsenal were in real financial trouble, and could fail if new money was not found.

For the first time there was talk of an emergency shareholders’ meeting being held, and even an attempt at public fundraising to save the club.

But for the moment all the club could do was look in horror at the terrible run of results and their position in the table.  After the Sheffield United match they were 19th out of 20 clubs, with the 19th and 20th going down to the second division at the end of the season.

The position at the foot of the table was

  • Chelsea 16 points
  • Tottenham 15 points
  • Middlesbrough 14 points
  • Woolwich Arsenal 14 points
  • Bolton 10 points

which not only tells you the state of Woolwich Arsenal but also the state of football in London.   Chelsea and Tottenham were the only London teams in the first division at the time.  Woolwich Arsenal were thought of as “London” by other clubs because you had to travel via London to get there, but they were in fact playing in a small town in Kent.

Escape was not impossible in terms of points (although things were not looking good), but in terms of money it was looking bad indeed.

And the team itself was not giving much confidence. Buckenham, who was brought in, in November and scored in his first game (plus getting two in the unlikely 4-3 win over Preston) but had not scored since.  The squad was looking slightly more settled but that was probably because no more players could be found.

In fact no more new players were brought in until McGibbon at the end of March.  (No transfer windows in those days).

This in itself was odd given the massive turn around that had been going on in the first three months of the season.   There’s no financial records of the period that I have been able to find but it looks very much as if the manager had been told, “cut the squad costs”, as the seriousness of the financial situation became clear.

As you will know, Woolwich Arsenal did manage to survive, but in a way that no one in early January 1910 could ever have imagined.   I’ll be covering the story on the 100th anniversary of all these events, but if you want a shortcut to the story of this most momentous year in Arsenal’s history, 100 years ago, is covered in the book “Making the Arsenal”.

The style in the book is different from here – in that it tells the story not just of the club but of the time as well, through the eyes of a Fleet Street journalist.  The book is available world wide through the publishers (click here for full details) and through (type in “Making the Arsenal”)

There’s more about current day Arsenal on

(c) Tony Attwood 2010.

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