30 March 1897 – Arsenal’s First Manager Takes Office

by Andy Kelly

The issue of appointing a manager to run Arsenal’s team had been a bone of contention for a number of years. The earliest mention of appointing a full-time manager was in 1892 when the club was still known as Royal Arsenal and run by a committee. A sub-committee of five was elected at the start of each season to manage the affairs on the pitch. This continued after the club was incorporated as a limited company with three directors carrying on these duties.

At the 1896 half-yearly general meeting on 29 January Mr Evans tried to raise the issue of appointing a manager but red tape intervened and he was ruled out of order. This objection, no doubt, came from the directors that formed the sub-committee in charge of the team as they would have seen this as a threat to their weekends away when they would travel with the team. Herbert Chase sent in a notice of motion for the appointment of a manager at the AGM in June 1896 but by the time of the meeting this had mysteriously disappeared from the agenda.

By the time of the 1897 half-yearly meeting matters had come to a head with a number of disciplinary problems, especially following the 0-8 defeat by Loughborough which remains the club’s biggest defeat. The board of directors finally agreed to advertise for a manager.

On 5 March 1897 the Kentish Mercury reported that 54 people had applied for the job and a short-list of three had been drawn up. A week later the board had made their choice and appointed Thomas Mitchell, former Blackburn Rovers manager. Mitchell had a rich pedigree in footballing administration having been a referee and managed Rovers for 12 years, winning the FA Cup four times. He also represented Blackburn during the formation of the Football League. However, in October 1896 he resigned as Blackburn’s manager following arguments with the board about the training of the players.

On 2 April 1897 the Woolwich Herald reported that Mitchell had arrived on Tuesday (i.e. 30 March) to take up his duties.

You can read more about Mitchell and his successors in Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football.


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