by Andy Kelly
I’m sure that you are aware that substitutes were introduced into English football for the 1965-66 season. Before this, if a player was injured and couldn’t play on then his team had to make do with ten men. This happened to Arsenal in the 1952 FA Cup Final when Walley Barnes was injured after 24 minutes and Newcastle went on to win.
Alan Skirton became Arsenal’s first substitute in a competitive match when he replaced Jon Sammels in a league game against Northampton on 28 September 1965.
Well, sort of. Back in 1897 an unusual set of circumstances saw a substitution in another competitive game. On 22 September Woolwich Arsenal were playing Loughborough in a United League game when the game was abandoned with 8½ minutes remaining.
Those remaining minutes were played three months later on 22 December 1897 following the Football League fixture between the two clubs. Ten of the eleven players that played in the first fixture played in the second fixture, with Paddy Farrell playing in place of Frank McAvoy. So it could be construed that Farrell was Arsenal’s first substitute in a competitive game.
However, friendly matches are not subject to the same rules and Arsenal have been using substitutes in these games for some time. Even so, it was rare before the Second World War for substitutes to be used.
The earliest record we have of an Arsenal player being substituted was on 25 April 1891 in a friendly against Sunderland, who were on a tour of the South. A crowd of about 7,000 turned up at the Manor Field to see the Football League team. According to the newspaper reports it was a rough game and Davy Howat was forced to leave the pitch with an injury after 20 minutes. The Reds soldiered on and went in at half-time on level terms. During the half-time break it was agreed that Henry Offer could take Howat’s place in the team. Maybe Arsenal should have continued with ten men as Sunderland scored twice without reply to win 3-1.
To give an idea of how unusual an event this was, the next time that Arsenal made a substitution during a game was against Aston Villa on 7 December 1896, a benefit match for Joe Powell’s family.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal – crowd behaviour at the early matches
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