The two men who turned Dial Square into Arsenal

Editor’s note: on 31 May I’m taking a short holiday, and so won’t be tending the site.  I’ll be back shortly.

Woolwich Arsenal was born in 1891, and after two years of playing friendlies against those who ignored the FA ban on playing them, they were admitted to the Football League to play their first league game on September 2, 1893.

If you have been reading elsewhere in the site you’ll see that we have covered 1894 to 1897 as the Sam Hollis and Bill Parr era.  So who was manager in the first season in the League (1893/4) and during the awful period of boycotts and friendlies?

I regret I don’t have anything like a full answer, only a supposition.  But the circumstantial evidence suggests two names, and I am going to put up these, as the joint managers/secretaries of Woolwich Arsenal FC from its foundation in 1891 until Sam Hollis emerged in 1894.

I also want to suggest that during the Sam Hollis era (see the separate entry), my two nominations as the first managers of Arsenal were also there, on the committee – and that meant they were working on the front line.

So here we are: the first two managers of Arsenal, and the men who really did give birth to the professional club – the club that took on the Football Association, and established professional football as a national game.

Frederick William Beardsley (1856 – 1939) was born in Nottingham and worked in the munitions factor, playing as an amateur in goal for Nottingham Forest – including an appearance in the Cup semi-final in 1884.

Beardsley is reported to have lost his job for taking time off to play football, so he moved to the armaments factories at Woolwich Arsenal.

Upon arrival at Woolwich he joined Woolwich Union FC, but then met up with David Danskin and Jack Humble and together they formed the original Arsenal club: Dial Square, with Beardsley in goal for the first game against Eastern Wanderers on December 11 1886.

Beardsley also played in the very first Arsenal cup game against Lyndhurst in 1889 – which some sites define as his first match – but it all depends which matches you are counting.  This would certainly have been his first “official” match for Arsenal since they were not in the league at this time.   Indeed Arsenal’s official web site has him playing 2 games for the club, but I can’t see what they were – unless they too count the two early cup games but nothing else.

Beardsley also continued to play for Nottingham Forest on occasion – which is how he managed to purloin the kit from Forest for Arsenal to play in.

Beardsley stopped playing for Royal Arsenal sometime in the 1890/1 season, but he’s still there in this picture, standing with arms folded at the back)

Various reports suggest that Beardsley acted as a club committee member while a player, and in 1891 he was elected club vice-chairman (although the Spartacus web site doesn’t have him on the board until much later).  He then served on the clubs board of directors for the next 20 years, and worked as a scout, seeking out new talent.  He left finally in 1910 when the club was wound up and a new club was formed by Norris.

In 1913 he joined Charlton’s board (or committee) before opening a tabacconists shop in Nile Street, Woolwich, living in Plumstead until he died in 1939 age 82.

The other name I must nominate as being at the heart of Woolwich Arsenal is

John Wilkinson “Jack” Humble (1862 – 1931)

He moved to Woolwich to work in the factories in 1880 (there is a story in the local press that he and his brother walked from Durham to Woolwich to get the job).  He was a strongly associated with the rising socialist movements of the time, and in 1886 became one of the founding members of Dial Square FC.

Although he was only 24 at the time, it looks as if he was more involved with the committee, (organising the club), rather than playing, and he was the man who more than any led the fight against the Football Association and in favour of professionalism.

Humble was certainly at the 1891 AGM of the club, because it was he who put forward the motion of a professional club.  He is recorded as saying,  “The club [has been] carried on by working men and it is my ambition to see it carried on by them.”

By the time Woolwich Arsenal entered the league in 1893 Humble was a full director of the club and he stayed on as a director right through the Norris era, and on to Highbury.  He was, beyond everyone else, the connection between Dial Square and Highbury.

In fact he was the last of the founders to stay in touch with Arsenal and it is because of Jack Humble that many of the records that we now have available have been kept – as he got older he became the historian of the club.

He was the exact opposite of Norris in terms of his visions and views (he even voted against turning the club into a limited company when it went professional, fearing it would exclude local working men) and how the two ever got on, it is hard to imagine.

But he stayed there with Norris, and almost certainly remained a constant annoyance to the hidebound upper class FA, who could not cope with having dangerous socialists on the boards of football clubs.

When the 1929 Daily Mail scandal story came out which ended Norris’ association with the club, no one suggested that Humble was involved – but the FA finally seeing a chance to get rid of the man they really didn’t think should be associated with boardrooms, ruled that as a director he should have vetted the books and stopped Norris.  Humble resigned.

But he survived to watch Arsenal win the Cup in 1930 (which is more than Norris did – Norris simply walked away from the club after he lost the Daily Mail court case) and he the following year aged 69.

So although those are my two nominations.  But are there others who might be considered on the list as potential committee members/managers?

In fact two other names emerge.

Charlie Bates‘  name is mentioned and it is possible that he had a big influence.   The very brief Wikipedia article has him not born until 1889, so either I have got my sources screwed, or Wiki are talking about someone else.  But he seems to have been there with Beardsley and Humble.

David Danskin (another of the Forest players) stood for election to the committee in 1892 but was not elected, and so left Arsenal and moved on to working for Royal Ordnance Factories FC, and as a referee in local games.  Wikipedia suggests “He was still fond enough of Arsenal to attend their games, and his son Billy used to sell programmes at their Manor Ground as a child.”

11 Replies to “The two men who turned Dial Square into Arsenal”

  1. hey just wondering if there’s any way to find out if my ancestors had any involvement in the club? any records of players etc… they had a long history working in the Arsenal so just interest


  2. There is a list of every player who ever played for Arsenal, in alphabetical order, on in their history section. Obvioiusly this site has only covered a tiny number of these players, but where we have we have generally added quite a lot of info that is not on the Arsenal site. My suggestion is to start with the Arsenal site, and then if you find a player with the right name, put it into Google with the word “football” after it. If he played for Arsenal there is a chance either we have covered him, or maybe someone else has.

  3. Jack Humble was my great grand dad and I have a great unpublished photo of him with his family

  4. Philippa, I have dropped you an email to explain the background of what we are doing, and some plans, which I think might interest you. If you would like to write a summary for us of what you know about your ancestor that would be wonderful.

    As I have made clear on this site before, I think Jack Humble was our founder, and I am trying to put together a complete case to prove my point.

  5. Hi Do you know of any reference to Joseph Smith with regard to Dial Square being set up and 6d from each player being collected to form the team in 1866? Joseph Smith was my great-grand father and I have been told that he approached the local cricket club for the first team games – if you have any information it would be lovely to know.

  6. Robby, Joseph Smith is recorded as having played in Royal Arsenal’s first two games – 11 December 1886 v Eastern Wanderers and 8 February 1887 v Erith. I’ve not found any record of who played in the remaining 8 games of that season. He played up front so it was likely that he scored in one or both of these games which produced 12 goals. As he played in these two games it is likely that he would have been one of the first players to pay his subscription which went towards buying the club’s first football.

    According to Brian Belton’s “The First Gunners”, a Joseph Smith approached the Woolwich Arsenal cricket team in early 1886 (i.e. before the formation of Royal Arsenal Football Club) to allow part of their pitch to be used for football. The cricket club refused. I’m a bit sceptical about this as Belton’s book is a re-hash of other stories that have not been researched. That’s not to say that there isn’t some truth in it, though.

    Have you got any more information on your great-grandfather? I may be able to dig up some more information.

  7. I’ve done some further investigation and it appears that the Smith that played in Arsenal’s first two games was G.Smith.

    Joseph Smith may have been involved in an earlier attempt to form a football team at the Royal Arsenal which may have been called Woolwich Union.

    Sorry about the ambiguity but there are virtually no records of the club in 1886 – 1887. Most of what has been printed comes from memories of people who were involved with the club in the early years.

  8. George Smith the name of forward in first game I believe.

    I think the Forest connection (and the red kit) was the keeper Fred Beardsley and full back Morris Bates.

    My great great grandfather was a mechanical engineer at the Arsenal post Crimea War so was doing same job as David Danskin so may have worked alongside him, can but dream! Sadly my ancestors played the other type of football, playing for Blackheath FC and my gr gr gr uncle played in the first Rugby international England v Scotland on Blackheath a few miles up the road from Woolwich.

    Note: anyone who wants to visit the Arsenal munitions site, it’s all been transferred from MOD ownership to Greenwich council hands now. The Royal Artillery museum closes July 2016 and soon after its all likely to be flats. So if you want to set foot in some of the old factory buildings and get a feel for the history before they are apartment blocks now is the time to visit. Soon the Dial Arch pub will be the only thing their you can visit, and there probably isn’t anything of any real historical value to Arsenal FC in there anyway.

  9. Joseph Smith was my cousins Father-in-Law I was told he helped/organized the shirts for the team

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