by Andy Kelly
This article is appearing one day late, because there was an even bigger anniversary on 2 September, and we felt the need to cover that. Full list of anniversaries and links to the stories behind them appears on the Anniversary site.
Now, on with the show…
To celebrate 100 years of Arsenal in Islington we will be posting articles from 100 years ago that give a picture of Woolwich Arsenal’s final season in Plumstead and the move to Islington.
So here we go with 2nd September 1912, which saw the start of Woolwich Arsenal’s last season in Plumstead. But even before we do that we have to go back to the shareholders’ Annual General Meeting five weeks previous which gives a backdrop to what was to follow.
The AGM was held on 27th July 1912. The club had a new chairman, Henry Norris, following the retirement of George Leavey in April. The directors’ report showed that the club had made a profit of £183 for the 1911-12 season. However, this was a somewhat false figure as £153 of this was a donation from the Voluntary Committee that had been set up in 1910 to keep the club afloat and, later, to keep the club in Plumstead.
An operating profit of £30 was nowhere near satisfactory to operate a First Division football club especially as the main stand at the Manor Ground was in need of a necessary maintenance.
Crowds at the Manor Ground (which accounted for the vast majority of the club’s income) had improved since 1910 but were well below all but one of their competitors, and less than half of that at Tottenham. Prominent local businessman, Walter Bailey, stated that in the past 7,000 – 8,000 would travel to Plumstead by train to watch games, this was now 1,000 – 2,000. The introduction of Chelsea, Tottenham and Orient into the Football League had taken away these vital floating supporters. On top of this the Royal Arsenal had faced massive job losses over the previous ten years.
The fans’ favourite player, Andy Ducat, had been sold to Aston Villa and the only players to come in were George Burrell, Edward King and George Payne who all joined from Leyton, who had finished bottom of the Southern League.
During the meeting there was talk of the club moving from Plumstead. This was nothing new as it had been constantly in the background since Henry Norris and William Hall took control of the club in 1910. Originally the plan was to ground-share with Fulham, and in 1911 there was talk of moving to White City Stadium in West London. This stadium was constructed for the 1908 Olympics and had a capacity of more than 90,000.
All of the directors, including Jack Humble (who had been with the club since 1887), made no bones about blaming the local population not supporting the club, and that Norris and Hall would not plough money into the club because of a lack of interest by others.
But perhaps the biggest indication that the cub would likely move was that former chairman and prominent shareholder Dr John Clarke sympathised with the directors’ plight and agreed that a move would be necessary to keep the club alive. For the previous two years Clarke had been a constant thorn in the side of the directors, especially with regards to the club being moved from the area. With the likes of Clarke now changing their opinion it seems that the Woolwich Arsenal’s days in Plumstead were numbered.
2nd September 1912 Woolwich Arsenal 0 Manchester United 0
Woolwich Arsenal opened the season on a Monday evening at home to Manchester United. Kick-off was at 5.15p.m.
Arsenal lined up:
Thomson Sands McKinnon
Greenaway Common McLaughlan Flanagan Winship
The eight players shown in bold had played in the penultimate game of the previous season that had seen Woolwich Arsenal beat champions Blackburn Rovers 5-1.
Manchester United lined up:
Bell Roberts Duckworth
Meredith Hamill West Turnbull Wall
Goalkeeper Robert Beale would go on to guest for Arsenal during the First World War. Billy Meredith was 38 years old but still had another 12 seasons of football in him. He founded the first footballers’ union in 1907 with team mate Charlie Roberts.
The first half was end to end with Arsenal having the majority of the play but United looking the more likely to score.
The second half saw Manchester United start to take more control of the game. However, a heavy thunderstorm and poor light reduced both sides to playing long balls and attempting long range shots which didn’t pay off.
Although the game finished 0-0 the reporter described the game as “exciting and brilliant”. The performance of the players gave hope that it would be a good season.
With Manchester United going on to finish 4th in the league, a 0-0 draw was a reasonable result.
Although the game was played on a Monday evening, it would have been hoped that more than 8,724 would have turned up, especially following the statements from the directors at the AGM.
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