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George Elcoat: the last of the one-year managers

The Woolwich Arsenal managers

Woolwich Arsenal had only three long term managers, Bradshaw, Kelso and Morrell.

Before that they had short term holders of the post, and the further we go back the more we get towards managers who were more orientated towards the Committee that ran the club, sitting alongside the Secretary and Chairman, rather than the players who played for the club.

William Elcoat (who is often wrongly named as George Elocat – see the explanation in the correspondence below) was the last of the short-term managers, and it looks like he was a manager in the modern style.

Elcoat is best known for a total an utter transformation of the team.  Not one player who started in the first match for the 1897/98 season under his predecessor Mitchell, actually played in the first match of Elcoat’s one and only season at the club.

But this should not be seen as Elcoat starting a dynasty of new players.  He brought in a new team, but after one season only two of them survived in Bradshaw’s first game: Ord the goalkeeper and Dick, the centre half.

It was an experiment, and it didn’t really work.

During Elcoat’s year, the crowds of 1898/9 were modest – the first home game against Leicester Fosse getting 6,000.

It is often written that the lack of crowds held the club back at this time, but the reality was that 6,000 was a decent crowd for the second division at this time.  Leicester F traditionally always got big crowds at their ground (or at least this is what the stats showed) and they got 10,000 for the return game against Arsenal.   2,000 to 5,000 was more commonplace for most clubs.

It should also be noticed that many of the names in the second division that year were not names we would ever associate with big grounds and big time football.  In this season Arsenal played Luton, Port Vale, Darwen, Gainsborough, Walsall, Burton Swifts, Grimsby, New Brighton, and so on.

Manchester City and Manchester United (Newton Heath) were there, but they were getting the same sorts of crowds – around 5,000.  The giant Old Trafford ground was not opened until 1910 (it’s covered in the “Making the Arsenal” book.)

Elcoat, came from Stockton-on-Tees, and all the reports suggest he had a showed a strong preference for Scottish players.  Yes, that’s true, but so did all of Woolwich Arsenal, because of the number of Scottish people working in the factories.  It was the natural destination for footballers from Scotland who had drifted south.  The fact that he played eight Scots in his team did not strike anyone as unusual.  11 would not have raised an eyebrow.

Woolwich Arsenal finished seventh out of 18 under Elcoat’s one year in charge, which was pretty much what was expected.  The Cup offered nothing, we were knocked out in the first round – 6-0 by Derby, and it is reported in some places that this was the start of his downfall.  He left in February 1899 after just ten months in the job.  He was replaced by our first long-term manager in the modern sense, and our first successful manager.

Today William Elcoat is forgotten in Arsenal’s history, and indeed there is not even a picture of him to be had.  Worse, he is eternally referred to as George – due to a mistake in earlier histories.  Where he went after he left Arsenal is not known – if you have any more information on him, please do write in.


Other managers we have covered so far in the series

Harry Bradshaw: Arsenal’s first successful manager

Phil Kelso: the man who gave us promotion

George Morrell: taking Arsenal through the bad days and managing under Norris.


Untold Arsenal: today’s stories yesterday, or something like that

Woolwich Arsenal: the index

Making the Arsenal: it used to make sense, but now I wonder

4 comments to William Elcoat: the last of the one-year managers

  • Andy Kelly

    By 1911, George Elcoat was back in Stockton-on-Tees working as a drawing office manager.

    He died on 3 June 1929 in Stockton, leaving £858 in his will.

    Something that has only just occured to me. He was born in the same area as Jack Humble and about the same time. I need to do a bit more digging to see if it was possible that they knew each other before the Arsenal connection. Humble was Arsenal’s chairman when Elcoat was appointed manager.

  • I think there is some confusion with George Elcoat’s name.

    I’ve found an article in the North Eastern Gazette dated 30 March 1898 that states that R. Elcoate, secretary of Stockton F.C. had been appointed secretary-manager of Woolwich Arsenal.

    Looking further back, there are a number of articles referring to him as W.R. Elcoate! There are also shades of George Allison with Elcoate’s story. He had been a director of Stockton F.C. until the summer of 1895 when he stood down during the club’s AGM. Later in the AGM, the incumbent secretary-manager was relieved of his duties having been accused of poaching players from Middlesbrough and Darlington. Elcoate was then appointed secretary-manager.

    However, there are also plenty of references to W.R. Elcoat. I reckon that George Elcoat is actually William Robson Elcoat born in Stockton in 1859 and died 1912. George may have been a nickname. Arsenal’s first secretary was Elijah Watkins, commonly known as George.

    It also appears that Stockton had a baseball team that Elcoate was actively involved with.

    More investigation required!


    Evidence exists in the Annual Report and Statement of Accounts that Arthur Edwin Kennedy was Secretary and Manager of Woolwich Arsenal FAC in June 1899. He was obviously appointed following the departure of George Elcoat and before the appointment of Harry Bradshaw.

  • Andy Kelly

    Elcoat resigned at the end of February 1899. His last game in charge was on 18 February against Burtob Swifts.

    Vice-chairman Arthur Kennedy was appointed caretaker secretary-manager for the remainder of the season.

    Kennedy eventually became chairman.

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