The day the modern Arsenal was born – and the club doesn’t even know when it was!

28th March 1910.  100 years ago.

On that day Woolwich Arsenal played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.  I don’t think anyone had invented the phrase “four pointer” at that time, but that is exactly what it was.   Chelsea had had a good Easter programme and had pulled ahead of Woolwich Arsenal – whose dreadful run had left them lingering in the bottom two.

With Bolton already looking dead and buried there was just one relegation spot up for grabs and with six games left, and Woolwich Arsenal were heading straight for it unless they could turn their form around.

Since the start of February their form was won 1, drawn 3 lost 4 – and they had been knocked out of the FA Cup as well.

Now they were playing Chelsea away.  At the start of the game Tottenham and Chelsea were on 25 points and Woolwich Arsenal on 23.   A win for Chelsea would put them four points ahead of Arsenal, and leave Woolwich chasing Tottenham – who had games in hand.  It was not a good prospect.

40,000 turned up at Chelsea for the game – despite problems at the ground, with whole sections cordoned off because the terracing was crumbling.  (Something that is noted in some detail in “Making the Arsenal” – see below).

And Woolwich Arsenal won 1-0.

That left the table reading…

  • Middlesbrough played 32, points 26
  • Tottenham played 32 points 25
  • Chelsea played 33, points 25
  • ———————————————-
  • Woolwich Arsenal played 33, points 25
  • Bolton played 33, points 19.

So Arsenal were by no means out of the mire, but they were still in with a chance of survival.  What’s more, of the five remaining games, three looked winnable – the matches against Bristol City, Bury and Tottenham – the clubs placed 14th, 15th and 17th in the division.

But why should this moment go down in history as the start of the modern Arsenal?

My thinking is this.  Henry Norris had made noises about buying Woolwich Arsenal since mid January, but he had not made a positive move.  Indeed there was a lot of resistance in Woolwich and Plumstead to his take over which came with the fear that he would move the club.

Norris already owned a second division team – Fulham, and a Southern League team (Croydon Common) and what he wanted was to have a first division outfit, not another lower league club.  The value of Woolwich Arsenal would be far less if they went down.

While it was still mathematically possible for Arsenal to stay up even if they had lost to Chelsea, the situation would have looked very bad indeed…

  • Chelsea played 33, points 27
  • Bury played 32, points 26
  • Middlesbrough played 32, points 26
  • Tottenham played 32 points 25
  • ———————————————-
  • Woolwich Arsenal played 33, points 23
  • Bolton played 33, points 19

So this result gave Arsenal hope, and kept Norris interested.  Of course I can’t prove that Norris would have walked away if Arsenal had lost, but this was the moment that Arsenal started to pull themselves out of the mire.  And a study of Norris’ activities (which I’ll report here as the events of 100 years ago unfold) shows that it was after this game that he started to get seriously interested.

But what would have happened if Norris had walked away, instead of buying the club?

The club would have gone into administration.   The rescue committee was bereft of ideas and was raising only a fraction of the money that the club needed.  The current owner had said he had run out of cash, and there was no other bidder on the horizon.   The debts were huge, the club was in real trouble, and the likes of Abramovich were still 95 years away.

This really was the last chance saloon.

And there’s one other snippet that makes this day worth noting in the history of Arsenal.   On this day the goal that gave Arsenal victory was scored by a newcomer to the team.  One Charles Edward McGibbon.   Now totally forgotten by Arsenal – but his story should be writ large in our history.

I will tell more in the next entry.

Chelsea 0 Woolwich Arsenal 1.  The start of the modern era.


The full story of Arsenal in 1910 is told in “Making the Arsenal” which is available on Amazon and via the publishers.

There’s news about Arsenal in the present day on Untold Arsenal

And there’s a series of special features on this site.  Here’s one, just for starters…

Why did Arsenal move to Highbury and not somewhere else? Tottenham Hotspur led a who group of clubs in objecting to the move (even Birmingham clubs objected, which somehow lessened Tottenham’s case).  But Arsenal claimed that neither the League nor the FA rules covered the location of the ground.

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