100 years ago Woolwich Arsenal were in desperate straits. One position from the foot of the table, and on the edge of administration. And today 100 years ago they went to Bradford City.
Woolwich Arsenal had been formed in 1886 of course – a prime time for the creation of clubs. Bradford City were in the next round of formations which came along at the end of the century as football really took hold of the nation.
But it is a matter of dispute as to whether that club can be called part of the current club of the same name, as the club disbanded in April 1903. However another club of the same name was created six months later.
What is interesting is that the new club managed to persuade Manningham FC, a rugby club who are proclaimed to have been the first rugby league champions in the world, to move to football, in return for a place in the Football League. Bradford therefore did a Chelsea by entering the league without ever having played a match before, without having a team, or anything else. But like Chelsea Bradford City did have a ground – that which had been used by Manningham.
The club needed funds and so held an archery competition – as one would!
From the start the club got decent crowds of over 10,000, and they were promoted in 1908 to the first division for the first time, having won the second division title.
What is particularly interesting is that the club then went on a tour of Germany and Belgium – quite a pioneering thing to do at the time. Although they never did brilliantly in the first division they did win the FA Cup in 1911, and came fifth that year – their best ever achievement. Crowds went up to over 35,000
Aside from being early developers of football tours to the continent they were also a club who suffered crowd trouble – including the abandonment of a match against Barnsley in the cup in 1912 for this reason.
Although they had hoped that the cup win and achievement of coming fifth would be the start of a new era of success, Bradford City settled into mid-table performances, and that is where Woolwich Arsenal found them in 1910.
For Woolwich Arsenal there was no particular reason to hope for any spectacular result. Bradford were not a great team ,but they were solid and they could draw a crowd as the pioneer of football in the area. But if Arsenal were to find a way out of the financial and performance mess, they had to start winning sometime.
Arsenal in the present day is covered in depth on www.blog.emiratesstadium.info
The whole of 1910 is covered in the novel “Making the Arsenal” which is available through www.woolwicharsenal.co.uk