Creating Arsenal FC – all the early dates and events

By Tony Attwood

There have been so many articles on this site about the formation of Arsenal and the events around it I thought I would create a single file showing all the dates we have in summary.

  • 5 December 1885 Millwall played Eastern Wanderers on the Isle of Dogs.  It had nothing to do with Arsenal or Dial Square but it proved the existence of a ground on the Isle of Dogs, and the existence of Eastern Wanderers.
  • 2 January 1886: Selby v Woolwich United.  There was a suggestion that there were no other clubs in the area for Dial Square to play at the end of 1886, but this fixture suggests there was one other.   There are no other towns called Woolwich in England, so it looks like a club local to Plumstead.   Unfortunately we don’t know anything more about the club.   There has however been talk of Woolwich Union, which sounds a bit like a football club, but the thinking is that this was the name of the local workhouse and not a football club at all.
  • 14 November 1886 – An advert from Eastern Wanderers for teams to play the club appeared in “The Referee” magazine.  This was a common way of finding friendly fixtures at the time, and I have supposed elsewhere that the founders of the Dial Square club saw this and it stimulated the drive to form a club.   If this were true, it would mean that Eastern Wanderers caused the formation of Arsenal!   The advert appeared in the Football Challenges section and Eastern Wanderers offered a range of dates including “Dec 11” for a game at a “private ground” in Millwall.   The advert also suggested that the Wanderers were a fairly strong team – and Arsenal’s ability to put six past them in the first match must have encouraged the new club from the off.
  • 1 December 1886 – the meeting to discuss creating Dial Square FC in response to the Eastern Wanderers request.   Our source was a report made at the club’s annual dinner in May 1890 and indeed the date very much fits in with the sequence of events before and after.
  • 2 December 1886 – a letter is sent by Royal Mail to Eastern Wanderers offering a game on the Dec 11 date.  This is an entirely supposed notion by me, but is based on the logic of the need to contact the Wanderers secretary, the method of that communication, and the timescale that followed.  Someone could have got on the ferry and popped round to see the secretary of Eastern Wanderers after work (if the ferry ran that late) but it might have been out.
  • 3 or 4 December 1886 – response from Eastern Wanderers (again a supposed date)
  • 4 or 5 December 1886 – first Arsenal practice match (the third of my imagined dates; there is no evidence that there was a practice match – but somehow a team was picked and it would make sense at least to have a kick about.)
  • 11 December 1886.  Eastern Wanderers v Dial Square.  The first Arsenal match.  I headed the doubters campaign which you can follow through this site, but in the end those who do the hard work and dig around in the archives proved me wrong.
  • 12 December 1886  The proof that the match took place appeared in The Referee newspaper on this day where it reported the previous day’s games.  It also proved the name that the club went under at the time.
  • 25 December 1886 – the supposed date of the first meeting of Arsenal.  This appeared in the Official History by Soar and Tyler but unfortunately no source or reference for its veracity is given in this book.  But it is possible there was a meeting on Christmas Day to discuss what to do next.  However it certainly was not the date of the formation of the club.
  • 2 January 1887     An advert appears in The Referee placed by Elijah Watkins requesting opponents in the Football Challenges section. The club’s name at this point was Dial Square F.C.
  • 3-5 January 1887: The name of the club was changed from Dial Square to Royal Arsenal (see note on 7 Jan below).
  • 7 January 1887: Woolwich Gazette reports that sometime between 1 December 1886 and 5 January 1887 a meeting was held to widen the club to everyone in the area, rather than just members of Dial Square.  Effectively the club became Royal Arsenal Association Football Club at this point.  Since the 2 January advert still used the name “Dial Square”  this suggests the name change took place between 3 and 5 January.
  • 8 January 1887: Royal Arsenal plays its first match against Erith
  • 28 January 1887: Woolwich Gazette reports that Royal Arsenal v Eastern Wanderers, played at Plumstead Common.  “The Arsenal score another win against the Wanderers by one goal to nil,” confirming once more that the original December match was indeed played.

There are more details in the stories below – but to the best of my knowledge at present the above dates are the real dates of the early club’s adventures.

The definitive story

Anniversary of first match.

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