Christmas Scheduling Past: when Arsenal played four games in five days

By Mark Andrews

The upcoming threat of a tube strike has led to the Boxing Day game being postponed for 24 hours. However while travelling to the rescheduled Wolves game, spare a thought for the players, officials and fans in 1904.

With Woolwich Arsenal having been promoted to the first division for the first time, these players were scheduled to play four games in five days during the Christmas period, three of them away.

They started at home against Sheffield United winning 1-0 on Christmas Eve in front of a festive 20,000 Woolwichers. The team was graciously given Christmas Day off by the league, but were back on the train to the Midlands for Boxing Day.

The game on the 26th December was against Aston Villa in front of 40,000. Unfortunately, the result was a reverse for Woolwich Arsenal as they lost 1-3. We have to assume they stayed at a hotel in Birmingham rather than go back to South London for the next day they made their way to Nottingham to play Nottingham Forest on 27th December.

Here they won 3-0 watched by a crowd of 16,000, showing that Father Christmas’ Turkey Dinner had been well and truly worked out of their systems.

From Nottingham the next day travelling took them to Sheffield for the return against Sheffield United. An unseasonally large reverse of 0-4 was seen by 30,000 on 28th December.

 The team returned to Plumstead for a well earned rest, but was soon in action again three days later at home on New Years Eve. They played Newcastle and lost 0-2 in front of 30,000; which was the second largest crowd of the whole season.

The following season their 1905 festive schedule was similarly gruelling consisting of five games in nine days: 23rd December away to Preston (2-2); Christmas Day home to Newcastle (4-3); 27th December away to Aston Villa (1-2); 30th December away to Liverpool (0-3) and finally New Years Day away at Bolton (1-6).

These modern players don’t know what a tough schedule is!

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and hopefully we can celebrate many Premier League points over the festive period and into the New Year.


Cartoon from Kentish Independent 24 Dec 1904. 

12 Replies to “Christmas Scheduling Past: when Arsenal played four games in five days”

  1. Mark – really love that cartoon. And I think, although I haven’t checked, that the only reason we didn’t play on Xmas day was that it was a Sunday.

  2. Was it the same with other teams too? Or was it just Woolwich Arsenal that suffered the most from the fixture?

    I just looked at the Christmas fixture this season and it seems to me that MU gets more longer rest than Arsenal, City and Chelsea.

  3. Novice – I believe it was common across all the teams, but Arsenal tended to get a rougher ride because they were for a long time the only London club – indeed the only southern club – in the League.

    The League liked to schedule some local derbies over christmas, but Arsenal simply didn’t have any – as we know Chelsea weren’t invented (I choose the word carefully) until 1905 and we didn’t get a local derby over Xmas/New Year until 1911 when we played tottenham on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

  4. J – good question I will look it up. Meanwhile can I celebrate with you the fact that have so liked this article by Mark that they are linked to it from in their “Media Watch” section. The first time ever have directly linked to one of our articles.

    A good day

  5. Tony – thanks and congratulations. Well-deserved recognition for a fascinating site.

    Mark – thank you. To answer my own question, 7 (!) of the team played all 4 matches and a further 3 played 3 matches. Presumably, on cold, hard, muddy and rutted pitches.

  6. Don’t forget the balls being used would have been like a medicine ball back then!
    Merry Xmas everyone and a very Gooner new year!!

  7. Tony, thanks for this but i was wondering with regards London clubs what happened to Fulham at this point?

  8. MJB…

    Fulham entered the Southern League in 1898 and the football league in 1907, so in the period we are talking about they were a Southern League club.

    In 1904 they were in the first division of the SL – an 18 team league, but I don’t have any details of their fixtures or what happened over Xmas.

    Also in the league were QPR, Reading, Millwall, Luton, West Ham, Brentford, and Tottenham, so there was every chance of some local derbies.

    I would be interested to know if anyone has details of the sort of crowds that all-London matches in the Southern League First Division would get around 1903/4.

    Fulham Reserves played in the second division of the Southern League at this time, and Fulham won the league in 1906 and 1907

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