By Tony Attwood
On this day – 22 June 1893 – Woolwich Arsenal FC held its first AGM. It was the culmination of some of the most amazing events ever in the history of Arsenal, and it signified not only the survival of the club which had been under attack from a rival breakaway club (Royal Ordnance Factories FC) but also the election of the club to the Football League.
Although as always different events happened on different days over a period of a few weeks, 22 June was the great moment when the modern Arsenal was born because it allowed the club’s first Chairman, Jack Humble, to tell everyone of the struggles of the previous weeks, and the great triumph that had arisen from those dark days.
What’s more, with the election of Arsenal to the League, national football was announced, for the Football League was no longer just a northern and midland affair. It now, for the first time, embraced the south east as well, and could truly be said to be a league for all of England.
Simply put, on 29 April 1893 Royal Arsenal FC – the club that became Woolwich Arsenal FC – played its last game, and left the Invicta Ground.
On 5 May Woolwich Arsenal Football and Athletic Company Ltd issued its prospectus, noting that the new club would play at the Manor Field.
Then on 31 May came the amazing news (the biggest news in football that year by far) that Woolwich Arsenal had been elected to the 2nd division of the Football League.
On 22 June 1893 the new Company’s first AGM was held at the Assembly Rooms with Jack Humble in the chair.
At the meeting Jack Humble (who had been with the club since 1887 and would stay until 1927) told the story of just how far Royal Ordnance Factories had gone to try to destroy Woolwich Arsenal. ROFFC it seems had hatched a plan through which, once Woolwich Arsenal had spent its money on upgrading the Manor Ground, ROFFC would then come in, buy the land, and evict Woolwich Arsenal, who would be left with no money, and no ground. It was in effect an attempt to destroy Woolwich Arsenal FC utterly.
As it was £4000 was raised by the directors of Woolwich Arsenal and the club was saved.
We can imagine what a triumph that meeting on 22 June was. Single handedly Arsenal had first brought professional football to the south (in 1891) and then become members of the elite club – the Football League – bringing League football to the south. Arsenal could look forward to local derbies against… Birmingham and Notts County. And they had seen off the biggest challenge the club would ever have.
The whole story of the dramatic events that led to the birth of the modern Arsenal are told in “Woolwich Arsenal: the club that changed football” which will be available in a few weeks time.
But for the moment, let us celebrate what happened on that day in 1893. Let us really remember Jack Humble and his fellows, who created the Arsenal.