The gulf between the top 2 divisions 100 years ago was as big as today

Woolwich Arsenal v Bolton W, 29 January 1910

After the success last weekend with a victory against low-flying Middlesbrough Arsenal played bottom of the table Bolton for the next home match.

Bolton were one of the original members of the League, having been formed 1874, 12 years before Arsenal.  While Arsenal started out as Dial Square, Bolton started out as Christ Church.

Bolton were one of the clubs that went in for the yo-yo effect going up and down four times before spending the season 1909/10 in Division I.  And in fact it is not surprising given their position by the end of January 1910, that they lasted only this year, before going back down again.

What is surprising is that Bolton did so badly in 1909/1910 having won the second division the previous year.   In that promotion season they won 24 games out of 38.  In their following year in the first division they lost 23 games.  It certainly seems to suggest that there was as much a gulf between the first and second division then, as there is now.

Indeed we can see that this is a valid point by looking at the club that came second in 1908/9 – Tottenham.  They won 20 games that season, but in their first year in the first division (1909/10) they only won 11 games, and avoided relegation by just 3 points.

Bolton has had little to commend it through its history in fact, reaching a highest position of 3rd in the first division on a couple of occasions.  Although we should always remember that they beat Liverpool 8-1 in 1931/2 which is always worth noting.

And to be fair they have won the Cup sometimes – and by the time of this meeting with Arsenal in 1910 they had in fact reached the final twice.  Arsenal’s greatest achievement to that date was that they had reached the semi-finals twice.

But thereafter the clubs went in different directions, and I have great memories of going to see Torquay United against Bolton Wanderers with my dad in the fourth division in 1987.

But there is also the odd fact that throughout the fairly miserable season of 1909/10 that Bolton, who had an even worse time than Woolwich Arsenal, actually scored more goals than Arsenal.  In fact throughout the season Arsenal scored fewer than anyone else.

Given the lowness of the position of both clubs this could be called a real “relegation battle” and a terribly small crowd was expected.

I’ll write up the report of the game in the next day or so – but if you want to follow this season through the eyes of a Fleet Street reporter who covered the Norris story, you will need “Making the Arsenal”.  More details at

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