Not 125 Years since the first Arsenal match at the Manor Ground

By Tony Attwood

It is an oft-repeated mantra of this blog, that it is more than anything else, a sketch pad.  A place where anyone with an interest in Arsenal’s history can put forth theories, find such evidence as they can to back the theory up, and then let everyone else have a bash at knocking the theory down.

Never has the “having a punt” approach to history been more apparent that in this piece today.   According to “The Gunners: Day to Day Life at Highbury”, Royal Arsenal played Millwall Rovers at the Manor Ground, Plumstead on 11 February 1888. This was (they say) the first Arsenal game at the Manor Ground, and was 125 years ago to the day.

But according to Roper (2004) the first match was indeed against Millwall Rovers, but was not until 30 March 1888.

So which one is it?  I took a gamble, and went for today being the 125th anniversary of the first match… and I got it wrong.  So I have had to come back and republish and re-title this piece.

I am as always thankful to Andy Kelly of the Arsenal History Society for putting the records straight.

It turns out that the first game at Manor Field (it wasn’t called Manor Ground until 1894) was the one against Millwall Rovers on 30 March 1888.    We did indeed play Millwall Rovers on 11 February 1888 but this was played at The Sportsman Grounds.
In fact, at this time, it wasn’t even called Manor Field, it was referred to as “Mr. Cavey’s field” – the Caveys being the tenants of the land.

But not to be too hard on  “The Gunners”, they do also have the 30 March 1888 match noted, as a 3-0 victory – they simply don’t record it as the first game at the Manor.

Royal Arsenal  played at the Manor Field (under its varied names) between 1888 and 1890, before temporarily moving to the Invicta Ground, which was very close by.  Following the split in the club, which is recorded in great detail in the opening chapter of “Woolwich Arsenal the Club that Changed Football” Arsenal bought the Manor Field, leaving Royal Ordnance Factories FC to play at the Invicta for one season.

The Manor Field was in essence a field, and was not turned into a football ground with terraces and grandstand until the creation of Woolwich Arsenal FC, and entry into the Football League in 1893.

It is interesting, in passing, to consider the implication of this.  When Arsenal put in their application for membership of the League, they had no ground in the conventional sense, and had to erect the facilities in a very short spell.   But then again, since Highbury was built in a few months, there’s no reason why the Manor Ground could not have been created in a few weeks.

So there we are.  Today is NOT the 125th anniversary of Arsenal moving to the Manor Field, where Woolwich Arsenal subsequently played (almost) all its home games until moving north in 1913.  Sorry about that.

The books…

The sites…

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