Arsenal get their first ever successful manager: Harry Bradshaw

by Tony Attwood

Henry “Harry” Bradshaw was Arsenal’s first successful manager.

There are two totally contradictory stories about Harry Bradshaw before he came to Woolwich Arsenal, in circulation.  One was that he was an ex-Burnley player who was invited to become Arsenal’s manager, and the other was that he was Burnley’s manager who left the club to manager Woolwich Arsenal.

The Burnley FC official web site supports the latter view, and I’m sure they know their own man.  Here’s what they say…

Harry Bradshaw.  1896 – 1899

Under Bradshaw, the Clarets bounced back into the top flight after one season, inspired by the signing of inspirational striker Jimmy Ross. In the summer of 1899, Bradshaw was appointed manager of future champions Woolwich Arsenal.

Actually “future champions” is pushing it a bit, because Burnley won the first division ten years before we did (in 1921) but what is not in dispute is that Harry Bradshaw came to Arsenal in an era when managers were not ex-players – they were gentlemen.

Harry Bradshaw was born in 1853 (I can’t find out when) and died 28 September 1924.

Not only was it thought just plain daft to employ players as managers in those days, at the start of Harry Bradshaw’s career he was not a manager at all (as the Burnley site says) – but “secretary” and later “chairman” at Burnley, before being what we would today call “first team manager”.

That shows how the division of labour worked at the end of the 19th century.  There was management (chairman, secretary, team manager – all wearing ties and speaking proper) and there were players (who didn’t and didn’t).

Harry’s time at Burnley started badly (they were bottom of the 1st division and went down after the play offs) but finished on a high (they came back up next year, and then ended up third in the first division.)

And then, for reasons that we really don’t know and can’t even guess at, he gave it all up and came to Woolwich Arsenal who were

a) way out in the sticks in Kent and

b) with no winning tradition

c) in the Second Division, and in the midst of their first financial crisis.  They were about to go bust.

And Harry got us promoted.  And then he left.  Maybe he was just that kind of guy – do the hard work and then move on.

Just as the Burnley web site praises him for making great signings, the same thing happened at Woolwich Arsenal where he signed players such as  Archie Cross, Percy Sands, Jimmy Jackson and Jimmy Ashcroft.  It is also repeated in several books and on web sites that he changed the style of play and brought in the Scottish short passing and fluid movement game.

I am not really sure if this latter assertion is so (I am always suspicious when all sources seem to use the same phraseology – it just seems that everyone is copying one original commentary).  My doubts are enhanced by the fact that George Elcoat, who preceded Harry Bradshaw, also had a Scottish team for the most part.  Besides, a Scottish team was what Woolwich Arsenal was based on, because so many of the armaments factory was from Scotland.

When Harry Bradshaw joined Woolwich Arsenal the club were getting 3,000 to 5,000 in attendances, although the single FA Cup match of the season before he joined showed the possibility – a crowd of 20,000 for a match against Derby.

In this first season crowds started edging up, and by his final season (1903/4) Arsenal were getting crowds mostly in the 10,000 to 15,000 range.  One home game against Barnsley in February 1904 is recorded as having 40,000 in the stadium, but that might not be a totally accurate figure since it is hard to see how the stadium could hold that many.

His record was the reason for the crowds’ rise.

1899/1900 – 8th in Division II, 3rd qualifying round of the FA Cup

1900/1901 – 7th in Division II, 2nd round of the FA Cup

1901/1902 – 4th in Division II, 1st found of the FA Cup

1902/1903 – 3rd in Division II, 1st round of the FA Cup

1903/1904 – 2nd in Division II (promoted), 2nd round of the FA Cup.

It is rather interesting to look at the teams he was able to put out in the 1903/4 season – especially if you have been reading this site and looking at the mishmash of players Arsenal used in the season 100 years ago (1909/1910) when we seemed to have a new squad each week.

Eight of the players who played in the first match of the 1903/4 season, also played in the last match – and in fact only 20 players were used all season.  Of the 20, seven played five games or fewer and were clearly covering for injuries.  A remarkable record.

It is surprising that having made such steady progress year on year until the goal was reached, he should then resign to go to a Southern League team (Fulham), not least because most of the players he had recruited and trained were now thought to be ready for the 1st Division (where they achieved 10th position in Phil Kelso’s first season).

But that’s what he did.

He was Fulham’s first pro manager, won the Southern League title twice in succession (no automatic promotion in those days), and won election to the Second Division in 1907.  In their first season at the top, Fulham finished fourth and reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup;  before settling down to a mid-table position.  Bradshaw finally left Fulham in 1909.

Harry Bradshaw then went on to become secretary of the Southern League, where he stayed until his retirement in 1921.

His sons, Joe Bradshaw and William Bradshaw, signed for Arsenal and Fulham under him, (although I don’t think either made it to Arsenal’s first team) and Joe was later manager of Fulham between 1926 and 1929 although without the success of his father.

So, Harry Bradshaw, whose birthday we don’t know, rescued Arsenal from the oblivion that affected so many Division II teams in the era, and gave the club its first honour – promotion from the second division.  He stabilised the finances, and allowed Woolwich Arsenal to take its place at the top table.

We really should remember him better.


This is part of a series on Arsenal’s early managers.  Others published so far are

Phil Kelso who managed us in the early days in the 1st Division

George Morrellthe man who was at the helm from when Norris took control until the outbreak of war.

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