When Arsenal’s ground was closed due to unruly behaviour

By Tony Attwood

The closure of the Manor Ground in 1895 because of crowd trouble has been covered in several articles on this site.  This piece attempts to bring together the main information we have.  Much of the information here is taken from The Crowd At Woolwich Arsenal by Mark Andrews which is available from ourselves (see below).

Woolwich Arsenal were not only the first southern league club (ie a league club from the south – the Southern League had other connections with Woolwich Arsenal) when they joined in 1893, they were the first League club in English football to have their ground closed – in 1895.  The ground was closed for 6 weeks, when the crowd turned on the referee after a fractious game against Burton Wanderers on 26th January 1895.

The original sentence proposed for Arsenal, was that their ground would have been closed for the rest of the 1894/95 season. However, the “compromise” of a mere 6 weeks suspension was agreed upon by the FA.

As Mark points out in his book, An almost identical episode of ref bashing at Wolverhampton Wanderers next season in October 1895 led to their ground being closed but for only 2 weeks. At least one non-local reporter put the disparity in the harshness of the sentences from the FA, down to Arsenal’s role as the pre-eminent southern professional team.

There were also some altercations with Tottenham, the most serious being when the Tottenham goalkeeper (ex-Woolwich Arsenal) punched a fan who was subjecting him to “foul and insulting language” from behind the goal.

Arsenal played one more home game (against Rotherham Town on 9 February 1895) after the Burton Wanderers match, before the punishment started.  This game was played in front of a crowd of 3000; this low crowd was explained by this being a mid-week match played in the afternoon when most men were working in the armaments factories.  The Burton game itself, at which there had been the trouble, had a crowd of 7,000.

Two matches were affected by the ban:
  • February 23 1895: Arsenal v Burton Swifts (won 3-0) 5.000.  Played at New Brompton
  • March 9 1895: Arsenal v Leicester Fosse (drew 3-3) 3,000.   Played at Leyton.
Arsenal returned to the Manor Ground on 30 March 1895 and secured at 3-2 win over Newton Heath in front of a crowd of 6000.
Interestingly the very next match (6 April v Crewe Alexandra) saw the biggest win of the season – 7-0.
Indeed despite the ground closure, this was indeed a good time for Arsenal.  Although the club only came 8th in the league in 1894/5 this run towards the end of the season saw just one defeat in 11 games, and included not just the 7-0 win over Crewe, but also a 6-1 home win in the following game against Walsall Town Swifts.
Thus Arsenal ended their second season in 8th position, one place better than their first season, but with a most encouraging run at the end.  Their strength was their home form – their weakness their away form (only 3 away wins all season).
Here is the final league table.
Pld W D L F A Pts
1 Bury * 30 23 2 5 78 33 48
2 Notts County 30 17 5 8 75 45 39
3 Newton Heath (Man U) 30 15 8 7 78 44 38
4 Leicester Fosse 30 15 8 7 72 53 38
5 Grimsby Town 30 18 1 11 79 52 37
6 Darwen 30 16 4 10 74 43 36
7 Burton Wanderers 30 14 7 9 67 39 35
8 Woolwich Arsenal 30 14 6 10 75 58 34
9 Manchester City 30 14 3 13 82 72 31
10 Newcastle United 30 12 3 15 72 84 27
11 Burton Swifts 30 11 3 16 52 74 25
12 Rotherham Town 30 11 2 17 55 62 24
13 Lincoln City 30 10 0 20 52 92 20
14 Walsall Town Swifts* 30 10 0 20 47 92 20
15 Burslem Port Vale 30 7 4 19 39 77 18
16 Crewe Alexandra 30 3 4 23 26 103 10

* Bury promoted after play offs, Walsall left league at the end of the season

Clearly the journeys across London and out were difficult for Arsenal, but then so was the journey in for the clubs that had to make it to the border of London and Kent.

2 Replies to “When Arsenal’s ground was closed due to unruly behaviour”

  1. Great piece of football archaeology chaps. I am currently researching for a book about the early years of Wolverhampton Wanderers and have seen a number of vague references to the incidents leading to Wolves having the ground closed in 1895 for a crowd incident leading to the referee being assaulted. Any further information on that incident from anyone would be greatly appreciated. I know there is a tie in with the Arsenal incident. Not 100% certain yet, but 95% sure that the Referee assaulted in the Arsenal incident was one of the footballer founders of Wolverhampton Wanderers who it seems took up refereeing once he finished playing. If true it adds further linkage to the two incidents!
    Look forward to developing this further with you.

  2. I have read a report in one of the local Burton papers of the time. It reported that after the Wanderers had equalised the locals encroached the pitch throwing bricks towards the referee, the Wanderers players then formed a circle around the referee so to protect him from the projectiles.
    And we thought the 70’s and 80’s was bad…

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