It would be wrong to think that large crowds in football are a modern phenomena.
Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge was opened in 1905, and although the terraces started crumbling within a matter of weeks, it was proudly proclaimed as holding 80,000. Mind you it was built by Archie Leitch, who was always prone to such exaggeration.
Manchester United’s Old Trafford was opened 100 years ago – in early 1910, and it was said to have a similar sort of capacity (and had a similar architect).
And indeed on occasion these grounds could be filled.
But in February and March 1910 something went very wrong. For a start the weather was bad (this was the moment of terrible floods in Paris, and the bad weather spread across the channel), and of course matches kicked off earlier because there was no flood lighting.
Yet even so the decline in crowds at this time was way beyond the norm.
Here’s Woolwich Arsenal’s games over the period, with the crowds
- January 22nd, Middlesbrough (home): 8000
- January 29th, Bolton W (home): 4000 (estimate – no official figure in the records)
- February 12th, Blackburn R (away) 7,500
- February 26th, Sunderland (home) 8,000
- March 2nd, Nottingham Forest (away) 5000
- March 7th, Everton (away) 6000
- March 12th, Manchester United (home) 5000
What makes this more extraordinary is that during this run Arsenal did have one game with a big crowd: on February 5th Woolwich Arsenal went to Everton for a second round FA Cup match in front of 30,000 people.
Part of the number decline can be put down to the fact that Woolwich Arsenal were struggling with relegation in the winter and spring of 1910. But they did manage to rack up 20,000 on Christmas Day for the visit of Newcastle.
But the truth is that the last time they got 30,000 for a league game was in March 1908 for a game against Chelsea. (A bigger crowd showed up in February 1909 for an FA Cup match against Millwall – the most local of local rivals).
It should also be remembered that 100 years ago the gate receipts were shared between the clubs, a mechanism which stopped the clubs with the huge home support getting more and more income.
It was just another reason why things were looking so grim for Woolwich Arsenal in March 1910
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