Arsenal and West Ham Utd 100 years ago

This site is dedicated to following the history of Arsenal 100 years ago.   A couple of weeks back we had the amazing coincidence of Arsenal playing Blackburn almost 100 years to the day to another Arsenal Blackburn game.


We can’t say the same about West Ham today because the two clubs were not just in different divisions but in different leagues.


But it was nearly not quite like that.


When the Football League was proposed in 1888 it was very much a Midlands and Lancs affair.  Teams from outside the cozy area were not invited.  Indeed Sunderland, who were a power at the time, were excluded because the likes of Accrington Stanley didn’t want to pay the train fare to take the team there – and they certainly weren’t going to put the players up in boarding houses overnight.


London and the south remained amateur until in 1891 Woolwich Arsenal became a professional club and attempted to build a Southern League to rival the northern and midland league.


It wasn’t the clubs that scuppered this so much as the FA who forbade all other southern clubs from joining with Arsenal in a professional league.   Had the FA not acted in such a typically short-sighted manner football from that point on could have been very different.

So Arsenal had no option but to join the Football League Division II in 1893.

But the Southern League did come along in 1894, with Millwall leading the way, along with Clapton, Ilford, Reading, Luton and Swindon.


This new league quickly grew and by the turn of the century included Southampton, Portsmouth, Tottenham and West Ham United.  The three cup finals of 1900, 1901 and 1902 all had Southern League clubs in the FA Cup Final – and from this we can see that the Southern League was not as much as feeder league, as an alternative to the Football League.  The Football League was stronger – but not that much stronger.


Gradually however the feeling grew that the Football League was to be a national league – and by 1909 several London clubs had followed Woolwich Arsenal into the Football League, including Tottenham, Chelsea, Clapton and of course Fulham (who effectively took over Arsenal in 1910).


The end of the Southern League as a separate force came in 1920 when most of the top division of the Southern League became the Third Division of the Football League, as part of the massive reorganisation that happened in football in years following the First World War.

So, 100 years ago, West Ham were in the Southern League – although oddly they were also playing the Western League at the same time.  They joined League Division II when football re-started after the war in 1919 and reached the Cup Final in 1923.


Arsenal as we know were in the First Division 100 years ago.  But only just.  They were bottom of the league and broke.


MAKING THE ARSENAL (the story of the the major changes that overtook Arsenal 100 years ago) is published on October 30th.   If you would like to read more about the book, or buy a copy of the book direct from the publishers just click on the appropriate link below


If you are in the UK click here for delivery details

If you are in the rest of Europe click here for delivery details

If you are in the rest of the world click here for delivery details


For a review of the teams and likely outcome for the West Ham v Arsenal game on 25 October 2009 please visit UNTOLD ARSENAL.

(C) Tony Attwood 2009


Tony Attwood is the committee member of Arsenal Independent Supporters Association responsible for the Arsenal History project, and a contributor to the player biography section on – as well as a contributor to Highbury High.




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