By Tony Attwood
Royal Arsenal grew season by season, and by season four they were not only playing the 27 friendly games (similar to the number played in previous seasons) but also taking part in
- The London Senior Cup
- The FA Cup
- Kent Senior Cup
- London Charity Cup
There were some monumental moments during this season, which must have encouraged the earliest thoughts of the club turning professional.
21 September 1889: Arsenal 10 Tottenham Hotspur 1
28 September 1889: Arsenal 8 Unity 0
5 October 1889: Arsenal 11 Lyndhurst 0 (FA Cup)
12 October 1889: Arsenal 6 Northumberland Fusiliers 1
9 November 1889: Arsenal 10 West Kent 1 (Kent Senior Cup)
16 November 1889: – a record crowd of 4,000 turns out to see Arsenal 5 Crusaders 2 in the FA Cup
7 December 1889: another crowd record – 6000 turn up for Arsenal 1 Swifts 5 in the FA Cup
14 December 1889: Arsenal 7 Gravesend 2
So the high scores continued, as did the high crowds. 4,000 turned out on 25 December 1889 for the friendly with Preston Hornets (5-0), and 5,000 for the away game on 26 December against Chatham.
Indeed crowds of 3,000 to 5,000 started to become the norm at the Manor Field, but even these were dwarfed by the crowd of 10,000 that came out on 5 April 1890 to see Royal Arsenal beat Old Westminsters on the neutral ground of Leyton, to win the London Charity Cup. Indeed at the end of the season a friendly on 3 May against London Caledonians combined with a Clapton XI drew 8000 to the Manor. Arsenal won 3-2.
Just consider the growth in Arsenal’s crowds season by season. The highest known crowd for each season was:
- 1886/7 – 600
- 1887/8 – 600
- 1888/9 – 2,000
- 1889/90 – 10,000
Of course we must treat these numbers with care. Many of the early crowd figures are missing, and all are estimates. But the trend is clear, and the club must have ended the season with really high hopes for the fifth season.
Of course Arsenal did not have things all their own way. They were truly dumped out of the FA Cup by Swifts and they did lose a few other games to the likes of Birmingham St Georges, Clapton and Great Marlow.
But they had a ground, they were attracting interesting opposition, and they had played four matches in the FA Cup – the most famous of all competitions.
They even had their first experience of playing two games on one day (14 December 1889) when both the Kent and London Senior Cup games took place.
Overall the figures show 41 games played of which 30 were won, 6 were drawn and five were defeats. Only 10 of the games were played on an away ground plus four on neutral grounds in the Cups, which suggests that Arsenal were picking up much bigger crowds (or had a ground that could hold much bigger crowds) than any of their visitors – who would be happy to visit Plumstead in order to get a share of the bigger gate.
There was still a long way to go, as the FA Cup defeat showed, but these were exciting times, and I suspect it was the success of this fourth season that drove forwards the idea of having a professional Royal Arsenal club. After all, it was a club set up by the employees of the factories for the employees of the factories. They had, in four seasons, done very well. So why not be paid?