Arsenal does better than ever before… and everyone complains

By Tony Attwood

Does that headline sound familiar?  The club reaches heights that no one has seen before, and then everyone moans and calls for the manager to be sacked.

Sounds a bit like the 21st century at Arsenal, with an endless stream of top four finishes met with comments from the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal that this is “the worst Arsenal team I have ever seen”.

But nothing much is new in football and much the same happened when Arsenal won promotion to the first division for the first time.  Such was the enthusiasm and excitement in Plumstead and Woolwich at the time that there was serious talk of Arsenal winning the league immediately.

There was of course no reason to see why Arsenal should win the league.  They hadn’t actually won the second division (going up by coming second), and they didn’t have the financial base that other clubs with much larger grounds and lower travelling costs had.  But enthusiasm grew, and with that, expectations.

Arsenal were hampered upon getting promotion in 1904 however by the fact that they had to change managers.   And so, as it says in the Anniversary File:

? July 1904 Phil Kelso becomes Woolwich Arsenal manager

Now I have to admit I am getting a bit nervous because I can’t find a date for when he actually started as Arsenal manager, and I have a feeling that my co-authors on the new Woolwich Arsenal book are going to pop up and tell me that it is actually in the book, and I have missed it.   But for the moment I can’t see the date, so I am pitching in with 13th July at random and making this the anniversary of Phil Kelso officially starting his duties.

Harry Bradshaw had handed in his resignation in January 1904 – although agreeing to see out the season and we know that Phil Kelso was at the match against Burslem Port Vale on 25 April 1904 along with 30,000 others to see the 0-0 draw which secured Arsenal’s promotion.  For once we had a change of manager in which the new man had time to sort out what he would do.

Kelso was our fifth manager, and leaving aside managers who managed under 100 games he is our 10th most successful manager of all time, with a win rate of 41.45% achieved over 152 games.  This makes him more successful than George Swindin but just a little less than Bertie Mee.  A summary of his time at Arsenal is given here

But perhaps as we look at the stats his time should be measured by other factors.  Although he didn’t win the league for the club he managed to keep the club satisfactorily in the first division – which (given it was our first appearance in the top division) was something special.  Also he delivered two FA Cup semi finals (something we had never got anywhere near before), and in 1906/7 he actually had Woolwich Arsenal at the top of the first division (on October 6) for the first time.

Here’s his record:

Season Div 1 FA Cup Highest crowd Lowest crowd
1904/5 10th 1st (Bristol C) 40,000 A Villa (a) 4,000 Stoke (a)
1905/6 12th SF (Newcastle) 30,000 Sunderland (h) & Villa (a) 6,000 Derby (a)
1906/7 7th SF (Sheff W) 36,000, Sheff W (Cup), St Andrews 2,000 Derby (h)
1907/8 14th 1st (Hull) 65,000 Chelsea (a) 3,000 Birmingham (h)

In the FA Cup Arsenal, and the other first division teams, entered at the first round, having been excused the preliminary rounds since 1904.

There is an analysis of the statistics of all the managers of Arsenal here. 

There is also considerably more about Phil Kelso and his work before and after Arsenal in the book “Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football” – a book which traces the progress of the club from entry into the Football League in 1893 via its promotion, and the move to Highbury, and on through to its transmutation into The Arsenal FC in 1914.

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4 Replies to “Arsenal does better than ever before… and everyone complains”

  1. For some what ever Arsenal do or happens is wrong.
    We have a majority share holder who knows little about football and has no experience of English football so he leaves the running of the club to those who have the knowledge he lacks. This according to our critics is wrong. He should be hands on and interfer with the teams as happens at other clubs. Of course if he was ‘hands on’ how the critics would howl.
    We have had stabilty at the club for the last 16 years some how this is wrong. We have produced some of the most entertaining football England has ever seen and this wrong. Acknowledged that we haven’t won silver wear for a few years but in that time we have come very close and with one exception (the league cup v Birmingham the final resul has been beyond our control. We have a stadium all other clubs would love to have. And yet the cry is: we are a mediocre club who should sack the board and bring in a man with billions and almost as much to hide.
    Sack the players and sack the manager and replace him with some untried inferior.
    To all our critics I say just this: If you believe the club is as bad as you say it is, you don’t have stay, go and find yourself a better club. We don’t need you and we don’t want you.

  2. Whether good or bad, people must talk. Samir.N and Fabrigas left Arsenal, that same season, we move to Third position, instead of the usual Fourth. If RVP and Theo.W leave, Arsenal we Win the League if Mr. Wenger will bring in some worthy replacement and a quality mid-fielder, we’re good. Up Gunners…

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