6 June: the rise and fall of Singleton, and the rise of supporter-owners

6 June 1891: Alf Singleton (who was himself a competent referee) was elected top of the poll to the Committee of Royal Arsenal FC. 

This was at a time when the debate was developing over who should run Royal Arsenal – should it be a committee elected from the supporters or club members (which basically meant the men who worked in the Royal Arsenal factories) or should it be the middle class business owners and company directors: men with experience of business who were also associated with the club.

The debate as to “who owns Arsenal” was a fervent matter that from the early days caused much dissent, not least as the original club – first Dial Square and then Royal Arsenal were very much run by the working men, and they clearly resented the notion that having set up the idea of a club in Plumstead, they were not competent enough to run the club.

Thus it was that one year later, as a result of his expression of his views on the future of the club, Alf Singleton lost his place on the Committee. Indeed in the ultimate irony, having come top of the poll one year before he now came bottom of the poll. 

In retaliation, Singleton then became a leader of the rebels who overtly argued that the “working men” could not run the club. As such he became instrumental in the 1893 split of the Royal Arsenal club which led to the ultimate setting up of rival Royal Ordnance Factories FC, which for a while played in a stadium directly opposite Woolwich Arsenal’s ground.

Both clubs had their difficulties, and although Royal Ordnance Factories FC was an amateur team, playing in the Southern League, its crowds were so low (Woolwich Arsenal supporters not going to watch a team of “rebels”) that after seven games of the 1896/97 season they resigned from the Southern League. All of those games were lost with a total of 46 goals conceded. Although it is speculation as I have not found any financial records of Royal Ordnance Factories FC, it seems likely that their prime sponsor who ran a bottled water company pulled out, as he company was in financial difficulty.

19 years later to the day, on 6 June 1910, at a meeting in Rotherhithe, the supporters’ committee set up to rescue Woolwich Arsenal from its financial woes resolved not to hand over to Henry Norris any of the money it had raised, pending further developments, but instead they applied for shares in the new limited company set up to rescue Arsenal.

This was not quite as reckless as it might sound as if the new limited company failed to get off the ground, the investors would get their money back. If it did get off the ground, the supporters would then own part of the club.