Today of all days

Arsenal’s history one day at a time

This series takes a look at what was happening to Arsenal and in the world around them on this day at one point in Arsenal’s past.

2 March 1971

It is strange to think, but February 1971 gave Arsenal three defeats in five games, leaving everyone uncertain what Arsenal would deliver in March. But no one was talking of a possible double.

And yet a 0-3 away victory on 2 March to Wolverhampton in League match 30 made everyone think again.  And well they might have thought again for it turned out that this match was the first a run of nine consecutive wins, five of which were played without conceding a goal.

But before taking matters forward, there was the little detail of the FA Cup.  Arsenal had just been Wolverhampton 0-3 away, with Wolverhampton lying fourth in the first division.  But next was Leicester, a second division club, although one destined to win that division at the end of the season and gain promotion back to the first after two seasons out.

At the moment of this game they were third in their league, just one point away from the leaders, but with two wins, two draws and two defeats in the last six.  It was anticipated that they would attack Arsenal at Filbert Street, and then if they scored, try and hold onto the lead.

42,000 turned up on 6 March for the game, and not too much happened (except for one classic Wilson diving save at the feet of Fern in the 69th minute).   But then in the 88th minute Dick Glover saw the ball coming towards him, two yards out and with the goal beckoning.  He swung a boot – and missed the ball completely.  So as with Portsmouth in the previous round, a replay was needed, the game ending 0-0.

Normally at this time, replays were held within a matter of days.  Delays for the police to make the streets safe and check their diaries had not been invented, and few of the games were all ticket.  However on this occasion Arsenal now had the small matter of the Fairs Cup fourth round to consider and on 9 March  Arsenal beat FC Koln 2-1 in the first leg of the tie.  The crowd was 40,007. 

The following Saturday Arsenal were away to Crystal Palace – the team that had knocked Arsenal out of the League Cup earlier in the season.  But Crystal Palace after early promise now stood 14th in the table with four defeats in the last six, and here the form guide was accurate as it finished Crystal Palace 0 Arsenal 2.  Four wins in five restored the faith that this might just be Arsenal’s year, although Leeds remained six points ahead and Arsenal only have two games in hand.  Graham and Sammels got the goals.

Next it was back to the FA Cup as Arsenal saw off Leicester at Highbury 1-0.   “Wembley ahead by George” was a common headline, as in the games against Portsmouth and Man City in the cup, Charlie George had scored.  Leicester attacked constantly, and Shilton in goal was at his best for the odd moments when Arsenal launched a counter, and indeed Leicester did get the ball in the net, only to be ruled offside.  The players protested long and hard – and perhaps used too much emotional energy on that protest, for after that Arsenal took control.   57,433 came to the game – the highest crowd of the season thus far.

20 March 1971: Arsenal 1 Blackpool 0.  Five wins in six gave Arsenal renewed hope of winning the league but with Leeds continuing to win there were also doubters. The crowd was a modest (given what was happening), 37,372.  

And the pressure was utterly unrelenting for three days later Arsenal were in West Germany where they were defeated 1-0 by FC Koln 1 Arsenal 0 in the Fairs Cup 4th round 2nd leg in front of 50,000 spectators.  The result left the score overall at 2-2, and Arsenal went out on the away goals rule.  Thus the holders were out, and Arsenal were left with just two competitions to fight for.

Without a pause for breath Arsenal were back into the FA Cup, facing the one team that had humiliated Arsenal during this extraordinary season: Stoke City, and on 27 March Arsenal drew 2-2 at Hillsborough in the semi final against them.  Having drawn games in the 4th and 6th round Arsenal seemed to be working their way to the final the hard way,

And wouldn’t you know it.  Suddenly Charlie was not the flavour of the month any more accused by the media of being “extravagant” and “careless”.    As for the team, they were in “urgent need of raising their game” and were “desperately seeking striking power.”  (This was the team about to win the double!)  Man of the Match was Storey who scored both, including a penalty in the dying seconds of the game, during the taking of which Bob Wilson went down on his hands and knees facing away from the goal, not bearing to look.

After the match Bertie Mee gave a rare insight into the dressing room atmosphere, revealing that during half time the players talked the game through saying “there was no reason to be beaten by two silly goals,” which Stoke had scored in the first half.  One was a crazy spinning rebound off Storey and the other was a poor back pass from Charlie George.

Such were the topics of the contemporary reports, but what most records of this remarkable season forget to mention at this point is that on this day the league match that was scheduled was Tottenham v Arsenal.  Because of this cup game, and the need for a replay, the scheduled match was moved to the end of the season – a decision that led to the eternally famous final match at White Hart Lane.  

1 March 1924: Arsenal’s first Ramsey

The result on this day was Arsenal 3 Liverpool 1.  And it was very important since it ended a sequence of six straight defeats. 

The result lifted Arsenal to 20th, with just Chelsea and Middlesbrough below them.  The clubs in 21st and 22nd position would be relegated, which might well have put Herbert Chapman off coming to the Arsenal for the start of next season. 

It was also the debut of James Ramsay.  Having joined Arsenal from Kilmarnock he went on to play 11 games in the remainder of the season.

Now although there are lists of all the players who have played for Arsenal’s first team over the years the Arsenal player James Howie Ramsay proved to be a surprisingly hard player to track, and most of the normal sources seem to have little or nothing about him.

We know that he joined Arsenal from Kilmarnock (with whom he had won the Scottish cup) in February 1924 for £1775 – this incidentally being yet another example of a transfer over £1000 during the era when manager Leslie Knighton said (in his autobiography) that he was never allowed to spend more than £1000 on a player because of the rules laid down by Sir Henry Norris.

He was born on 7 August 1898 in Clydebank. His clubs are listed as Moor Park, Arthurlie, Renfrew Victoria, Kilmarnock, Arsenal, Kilmarnock, Galston.  Now I believe Moor Park is in Clydebank, so that was presumably a local team.  The Arthurlie still exists in East Renfrewshire.

His early life was however interrupted by the war, and after service as an engineering apprentice, the advent of the compulsory call up meant he joined the 6th Seaforth Highlanders in 1917 and served his country in France during the first world war.

Moving on to the Arsenal days James Howie Ramsay played 75 games (69 of which were league games) for Arsenal and scored 11 league goals.   He made his debut in a 3-1 win over Liverpool on 1 March 1924 at Highbury.

1924/5 was his best season – he started in the first game, and went on to play in every match until the 0-2 away defeat to Tottenham on 28 February 1925.  He scored in the first match and got two on 15 November 1924 in the 2-3 away win at Everton.

But the defeat to Tottenham was seen as a disaster for Arsenal for it was the sixth defeat in a row for the club and wholesale changes were made to the team.  Only six of the previous starting 11 played in the next game and only two of those six were in the same position as for the Tottenham game!  Amazingly on 7 March 1925 Arsenal ended the long run of defeats and beat Bolton 1-0 at Highbury in front of 35,000.

Ramsey played in the first match under Chapman on 29 August 1925 – the home defeat to Tottenham, but was injured.  He did come back to play the last 15 games of the season.

He started the first match in the following season, but was in and out of the side until playing his last game on 27 December 1926 away to Cardiff – a 0-2 defeat.

He left Arsenal immediately after that match to return to Kilmarnock in December 1926.

It is reported that he later became manager of Margate FC – the club that was run as Arsenal’s nursery club.  And indeed on the list of Margate managers from 1934 to 1936 was have “Jack Ramsay” as manager.

And that was all we knew until, after an article appeared in the AISA Arsenal History Society blog, on the subject of Jack Ramsey we received this note from Ian Ramsey, grandson of our player.

My name is Ian Ramsay. James Howie Ramsay was my grandfather. As far as I can tell your record of his football life is correct with Arsenal and other teams. His son, my father, Mitchell Ramsay is still alive at 94 and he lives in Escondido California. My twin brother Andrew and I live in Salt Lake City, Utah in the U.S.A. The last time I saw my grandfather was in the summer of 1967 in Sidcup, Kent where he lived all of his life after managing in Margate and in Kilmarnock. He did die in 1969. His daughter Beth Allison is alive and lives in Runcorn. She was married to my Uncle Malcolm Allison… also a well known football player, manager and TV personality. Thank you for remembering my grandfather Mr. Attwood.

28 February 1959

The result on this day was Arsenal 3 Man U 2, Arsenal making it six wins and two draws in eight.  The result left Arsenal one point clear at the top of the table, with Manchester United in third, but the teams below had games in hand.  Barnwell (2) and Herd got the goals.

But it is the programme for this day that attracts my attention for it runs the headline “Injury problems as great as those ever faced by an Arsenal manager”

The programme is shown as being Volume XL number 20 (ah those were the days when they actually kept count) and as always it started with the Voice of Arsenal.

And this is how it went.  (I would add that in those days they didn’t use paragraphs, which makes it quite hard to focus on the text, so I’ve added a couple, but the text is the same).


Three times fighting against odds.  That sums up the three matches.

At Sheffield we lost Jack Kelsey [he broke his arm] and with the loss went out Cup hopes for 1959.   We then finished the League match against West Bromwich Albion with Henderson and Groves limping passengers, but still with a valuable point.

The problems which confronted our Manager before the Leeds game on Tuesday were probably as great as any faced by an Arsenal Manager when picking a team for one match.  The following players were unavailable for selection:-

Kelsey, Standen (who had played so well at The Hawthorns), Clapton, Groves, Julians, Bloomfield, Henderson, Ward, Nutt and Skirton.


Arsenal had in fact brought in two newcomers – Peter Goy and Roy Goulden for their first league matches in the previous game – a 1-0 victory over Leeds on 24 February 1959.  Goy (the replacement keeper) played two matches that season – the rest of the time Arsenal used Standen.

Roy Gouldon played just this one match at inside right – it was his first and last game for Arsenal.  He showed great promise early on (he played for England schoolboys) and turned professional with Arsenal in September 1954 helping Arsenal win the South East Counties Double in 1956 and the Metropolitan League Treble in 1961.  Despite being the son of the England player Len Goulden, Roy never made it.

After he returned from National Service in the RAF his skill seemed to have gone, and he played in this one game in February 1959.

Moving to Southend United in May 1961, he played just nine games for them, before signing for Ipswich, for whom he did not play a single first team game.  He dropped into non-league football playing for Stevenage, Gravesend and Northfleet and Dunstable and then left England for Australia.

So the positions were shared around until eventually Vic Groves returned in March, but by then the team was hopelessly unsettled.  It also showed the problem Arsenal had with its strength in depth.

But this particular match against Man U saw Arsenal top of the league at the time, despite the injuries – a game played just over a year after the Munich air crash.  The game one year before which ended 4-5 to Man U was the last game most of the Man U players played.  Five of the players who had played against Arsenal lost their lives a few days later.

As a result of the emergency purchases that Man U made following the crash they obtained Albert Quixall who became the most expensive player in football (£45,000 paid to Sheffield W) – and who played in the game on 28 February 1959.

Elsewhere in the programme there was the “Jottings by Spectator” which also focussed on the injury to Jack Kelsey, and came under the headline “Substitutes wanted for goalkeepers injured in Cup Games”

The article goes on to speak of a Wales / England international fifty years before – ie 1909, in which Dick Roose (subject of several articles in the AISA Arsenal History Society blog) is described in the Arsenal programme as “that adventurous Welsh goalkeeper”- with no mention of the fact that he subsequently went on to play for Woolwich Arsenal), was, “so badly hurt that he had to leave the pitch.  Goals began to pile up against his deputy, and the officials of the two countries decided that if a qualified substitute goalkeeper could be found among the spectators he could take the place between the posts.

“In response to the SOS Dai Davies then with Bolton Wanderers turned up in the dressing room and duly turned out for Wales in the second half.  The substitute agreement caused a lot of talk at the time and at intervals since then the case for substitutes from off the field for injured goalkeepers has been discussed.”

Also in the programme, and just under that two page spread from “Spectator” there is a box headed “Ticket Touts”.  Touting was not illegal near a ground at this time but Arsenal clearly didn’t like it.  The message reads, “If you have bought a ticket for today’s match from a tout, pleased send the counterfoil to us so that we can trace the source of supply.”  I wonder if anyone did.

And the interesting bits go on within the programme, for on the quiz on page 11 there is this question:

Which ranks as the longest post-war sequence of consecutive Football League matches for which a team has been unbeaten?

The answer was Man U with 26 consecutive first division games without defeat – ending on 20 October 1956.   Not any more though!

Elsewhere the reserves meanwhile were fourth in the Football Combination Division 1, the A team top of the Metropolitan League and the B team second in the South East Counties League.   Tucked away in the A team was one Geoff Strong, who had thus far played 12 and scored 15.  But it is hard to find any other names of highly promising talent. 

Arsenal won this game 3-2 against Man U but ultimately the injuries and the lack of obvious reserves to come through immediately meant the club slipped away.  A defeat away from home to Wolverhampton 1-6 at the start of March was also the start of seven games without a win.  Arsenal won their last three games, and ended up third in the table, five points behind Man U and 11 behind Wolverhampton.

27 February 2010: An eternal stain

On this day Aaron Ramsey was seriously assaulted by the Stoke player Shawcross causing a double fracture of Ramsey’s lower right leg, breaking the tibia and fibula. 

Ramsey did not play again until a reserve game on 23 November.  Shawcross on the other hand was immediately given a place in the England squad.  He finally played for England in 2012.

This was not the first serious incident involving Shawcross as in a match against Arsenal as in November 2008, Shawcross had delivered a wild off-the-pitch tackle that led to a three-week injury to Emmanuel Adebayor.  This incident was not recalled by journalists when they dealt with Shawcross’ horror tackle on Ramsey.

At subsequent games between Arsenal and Stoke City large numbers of Stoke fans inanely booed Ramsey, something the Stoke City club did nothing to denounce or discourage, an issue which remains an eternal stain on the standing of the Stoke City, a club that was one of the original founders of the Football League.

Arsenal finished third in the League that season, with Stoke in 11th and its was notable throughout this and subsequent campaigns that there was no move whatsoever to discuss let alone condemn the Stoke tactics by the media, who if anything seemed to support Shawcross in all that he did.

This was Stoke’s second season in the Premier League, and they remained there until 2017/18 when they were relegated.  They have since finished 16th and 15th in the Championship and they are currently mid-table.

Shawcross continued to play at Stoke until earlier this year, before moving to Inter Miami, the American club co-owned by David Beckham.

26 February 1977: so bad you couldn’t make it up

On 12 February 1977 Arsenal lost 1-0 defeat to Manchester City.  It was the fourth consecutive league game without a win, which seemed a bit ominous.  

But worse, it was also the start of seven consecutive defeats in the league – the worst ever run of defeats, beating the six “achieved” under both Chapman and Knighton, and worse than anything in the relegation season in 1912/13.

Matters continued in this vein on 15 February with the result Middlesbrough 3  Arsenal 0, and an attendance of 26,083. In the last four league games Arsenal had scored nil, let in six, won nil, drawn one and lost three.  Quite how this could be in a team that included Stapleton and Macdonald was simply beyond belief.

Four days later on 19 February 1977, Brady and Stapleton did at least get a goal each, but the match ended Arsenal 2 West Ham United 3 meaning that Arsenal had now gone six without a win.   But that run had included in the three teams who had made up the bottom three positions in the league at the start of the month.

This was a game of passes that simply could and did go anywhere, but to be fair it must be said that West Ham managed to score three fine goals that put Arsenal to shame.  There was a feeling that if only Alan Hudson could get the ball, something might go right for Arsenal, but he wouldn’t go looking, and no one wanted to pass it to him, so effectively Arsenal played one man short.

Trevor Brooking stole the show with a display of through balls, free kicks and intricate passing movements of which he was at the heart throughout.  That Brady and Stapleton did score was no more than Arsenal deserved – but to win games like this they need another player of quality and vision in the middle and Hudson was increasingly looking to be not that man.

It was with some relief that Arsenal and Arsenal fans turned back to the FA Cup on 26 February with the long trip to Middlesbrough and revenge for that 3-0 away defeat on the 15th.

But incomprehensibly it ended Middlesbrough 4 Arsenal 1, 35,208 in the ground and Arsenal out of the Cup.

“How bad can it get?” everyone asked, and the answer was, “As bad as you can imagine.”  Having be looking lost, Hudson shone out above the rest offering short, subtle passing, but now everyone else had a day off and whatever Terry Neil had said after the previous game on this ground, just 11 days before, it had not worked.

When Macdonald headed a goal to pull the game back to 2-1 (Boro having scored two in the first quarter hour), Arsenal might have had some hopes.  But Mills, Brine and Souness stepped up and dominated the game and their third goal on 50 minutes marked the end.  But the time of the final goal just on the final whistle Arsenal had long since thrown in the towel.

By the end of the month two successive defeats for Ipswich Town had allowed Liverpool to regain top spot in the race for the title. At the bottom, Tottenham Hotspur now propped up the table.  It was the only thing to bring a smile to a desperate Arsenal fan’s face.

But March brings hope, winter comes to an end, and surely Arsenal would win again soon.  But not on 1 March when it ended Everton 2 Arsenal 1, with 29,802 inside Goodison.

That made it seven without a win and the fourth consecutive defeat.  Macdonald scored, but otherwise it was fairly horrible; the sort of match that leaves everyone without much to say.

It was perhaps with some sadness that the following day, 2 March, we heard that Peter Storey had left the club and was transferred to Fulham.  It was clear his ability had been declining with age, but many of us still held the hard man close to our hearts.

On the same day, Willie Young joined Arsenal from an increasingly doomed looking Tottenham Hotspur.   He had played 54 times for Tottenham, had suffered various suspensions, including a life ban from playing for Scotland and now was brought in to shore up Arsenal.

But it didn’t work – at least not at first, for his first game, on 5 March 1977, the result was Arsenal 1 Ipswich Town 4.  Despite the recent results 34,688 came to Highbury, perhaps because Ipswich still had hopes of winning the league.

Arsenal set out to contain them, and in the first half did so.  But in the second the tight reign was loosened and Ipswich knocked in three within the first 15 minutes of the half.  Willie Young made his first appearance and gave away the penalty for the third.  Arsenal themselves got a penalty which Macdonald scored, and Ipswich got a fourth with a minute to go.

Brady created what he could but Ross and Mathews were not in the game at all.  The simple fact was that nothing went Arsenal’s way and there were too few men in the team who could change that.  The lack of belief showed from the moment of the first Ipswich goal.

Still, it was mid-table WBA at home next, and surely the problems surrounding Arsenal had to come to an end sometime.

That of course was true, but some time was not 8 March, for the result was Arsenal 1 WBA 2.   And there was an ominous warning from the crowd: only 19,517 turned up.

It is worth at this point, showing the whole team: Rimmer, Rice, Nelson, Price, Young, Howard, Brady, Powling, Macdonald, Stapleton, Armstrong.  That was not a bad side, and yet with this result it was now nine without a win and six consecutive defeats.

12 March 1977 saw Queen’s Park Rangers 2 Arsenal 1, the 7th and final consecutive defeat – the worst run in Arsenal’s history – ever.  Even in the dreadful 1912/13 season nothing as bad as this was delivered.

26,191 came out to see it.  The team who played in utterly unwanted record was Rimmer, Rice, Nelson, Powling, Young, Howard, Brady, Hudson (Price), Macdonald, Stapleton, Armstrong.

Then, finally, Arsenal got a point.  It came at Stoke on 23 March with the result Stoke 1 Arsenal 1, a mere 13,951 supporters in the ground.

25 February 1899: The Arsenal manager who never was

Here’s the question: who was the manager on this date? 

The answer is Arthur Kennedy – but very curiously, the list of managers given on he is not mentioned.  Yet 25 February was definitely the date of his first game in charge.   William Elcoat left the club on 20 February after 43 games in charge and a very decent win percentage of 53.49%.

But he objected to the way the Committee of the club kept interfering in his work, so off he went and the following day Arthur Kennedy became manager.  His first match was on this day in 1899 and he stayed in charge for the rest of the season and through the summer.

Kennedy had been the finance secretary and was probably never considered to be the permanent manager, but even so, not including him in the list seems rather churlish.

And indeed there is clear evidence in the Annual Report and Statement of Accounts that Arthur Edwin Kennedy (who was Finance Secretary) became Secretary and Manager of Woolwich Arsenal FAC in June 1899 before later becoming club chairman, so he should be listed.

Under Kennedy, Arsenal won five, drew three and lost three of their remaining games to finish in 7th position.

So it that it?  Well no not quite.  Firstly Kennedy was also Vice‑President of the London FA, and during his time at Arsenal the club experimented with playing baseball in 1906-7.  Arsenal joined the baseball league for one season, and Kennedy was the first Chairman of the British Baseball league.

And second, Arthur Kennedy made at least one signing of note during his time as manager.  For on 8 June (clearly during his tenure) Kennedy signed  Duncan McNichol from St Bernards.

Ducan McNichol played in the original regular back two of Woolwich Arsenal – there are full details of them in an Arsenal History Society article on the player.  After playing for Arsenal he went on to be captain of Aberdeen, and their official web site says of him, he arrived with a proven track record from Woolwich Arsenal. He was a classy full back who went on to be widely accepted as the best player at the club in those days. After a long-term injury forced McNicol to give up the professional game he went on to take up hockey in the Aberdeen area.”

So there we are.  That is the man who fills the gap – and also the player he signed. 

24 February 1964

William Garbutt – Arsenal’s original Herbert Chapman

The memory of the Woolwich Arsenal player William Garbutt is still revered in Italian football, and you will find his name in most books that tell the history of Italian football from its foundation.

William Garbutt was an outside right who was born into a working class home in Stockport, and played for Royal Artillery (while in the army), and Reading (while they were in the Southern League), before coming to Woolwich Arsenal.

He joined in December 1905 and played 19 games in the rest of the 1905/6 season and scored  three goals.  The following year he played 25 games and scored three again.  In 1907/8 he played eight and scored two.

He was part of the Arsenal side that reached two FA Cup semi-finals in successive seasons; but was then displaced by Jackie Mordue and played in the reserves before moving to Blackburn at the end of the 1907/08 season.

Garbutt stayed in Blackburn for four years, played in another Cup semi-final, and played  for the Football League in a representative match.  After a run of injuries he stopped playing in 1912, aged 29.

He then moved to Genoa, which at the time was seen to be an English town in Italy, seeking work in the docks – but within weeks he was given the job of being head coach of Geona, who as noted above, were already a successful club.

Quite how he got the position we don’t know, and there are several theories about links with other footballing ex-patriots in the area at the time.

Garbutt put a heavy emphasis on physical fitness and tactics. The fitness he would have got from the army, and the tactics he adapted from the way football was moving in the early part of the 20th century in England.

He also introduced the first paid transfers (already commonplace in England), when he signed a player from AC Milan.  Among other things he took Genoa on tour to England, and even had them playing at Reading.

He stayed until 1927 by which time they had won the League in 1915, 1923 and 1924.

In July 1927 AS Roma was formed and such was Garbutt’s prestige that he was brought in as their manager. He stayed there for two years and won the Coppa Coni and came third in the league.

Next up was Napoli and took them up to third in the league for two seasons.

You might think that was enough for a working-class ex-footballer from Stockport, but no, he decided to move to Spain and become manager of Athletic Bilbao who then duly won the League.  Then back to Italy for a spell as boss of AC Milan before returning to Genoa, whose position in the league he rekindled.

He was exiled in the war, went back to Genoa again after the war, and died aged 67 in 1964 in Warwick.

There are remarkable links with Herbert Chapman. Chapman was not known as a brilliant player, but went into management just four years earlier than Garbutt, and the championships with Genoa in the 1920s coincided with Chapman’s work at Huddersfield Town.

Both men were keen users of the transfer system, and both were tactically very astute, being very willing to try out different approaches.

However while Chapman remains revered in this country, William Garbutt is little known.  His name however lives on in Italian football.

23 February 1913

Is the idea of having three clubs with grounds close to each other a good idea or a bad idea? 

Today it is less of an issue than in the past, since in earlier days clubs were more dependent on local support, so the argument could be put that having two clubs in close proximity was a bad idea.

This was certainly Tottenham’s thought when they first heard that Woolwich Arsenal were proposing to move to Highbury.

And so on 23 February 1913,  Tottenham Hotspur went on the attack, demanding that the Management Committee of the Football League state that Woolwich Arsenal could not move in on “their” territory. 

Tottenham were aided in this by Clapton Orient and on one front it looked like they might have a case, since clearly the region already had two clubs.  Clapton Orient had joined the League in 1905, and Tottenham had joined the League in 1908.  A third in the area, it was argued, seemed like overkill.

But although that seemed logical on the face of it there were other issues to be considered.

The first was, why on earth was Henry Norris deliberately bringing a club to within a few miles of two existing clubs?  Yes he had found a good plot of land to build the new stadium, but surely in the whole of London there had to be other good plots of land he could have taken.

Henry Norris in fact had two major reasons for choosing Gillespie Road in Islington for the new ground, other than the fact that the space was there and available.

First, he relished the transport links.  Although he had actually opposed the introduction of trams to Fulham (as a Unionist mayor of Fulham he was obliged to listen to his party, and they were very conservative and resolutely against the move fearing it would allow the riff raff to enter their area of the London suburbs), he knew that the transport issue was key.  Even 110 years ago, the days of the fan walking along a couple of streets to see his/her local team had gone.  Now fans were travelling by train, underground and bus.  Indeed an important part of Woolwich Arsenal’s support in Plumstead came from a group of fans in Rotherhithe.

Gillespie Road had transport options ready-made: Finsbury Park rail and underground services were working by 1913, as was Gillespie Road (later Arsenal) underground station.

But Henry Norris had also seen a rise in football interest in Fulham, once Chelsea created their club in 1905, and he felt that putting three clubs together in one small area could really bring football to the top of the agenda.  Although we have no reference to him saying this, my belief from what we do know is that he felt that having the three clubs in one area would force football onto the daily local newspapers’ agenda every day of the week.  And Norris did know a lot about newspapers, not least as a regular contributor of a column in his local Fulham paper.

In this he was right – and although it is often forgotten, the fact is that Tottenham and Arsenal both had significant increases in their crowds from September 1913 onwards.

That then was Norris’ logic for the move.  But there was something else.  Norris knew that Tottenham had no ability to object to the move, because Tottenham had been down this road before.   When both Chelsea and Clapton Orient had applied for places in the Southern League in 1904 and 1905 respectively, Tottenham had objected.  The Southern League, accepted Clapton in 1904, but then rejected Chelsea in 1905, after those Tottenham objections.   Clapton and Chelsea then jointly applied to join the Football League and were accepted and here Tottenham could have no objections since they played in the Southern League until 1908.

And what really made Norris secure was the meeting in 1910 at the time of Arsenal’s fall into administration, from which Norris rescued them.   Norris had discussed with the League, three proposals at that time.  One was to merge Fulham and Woolwich Arsenal, one was to move Woolwich Arsenal to Fulham’s ground, and one was to keep Woolwich Arsenal where it was for a year, to allow the people of Plumstead to support their club by buying shares and coming to matches.

In these discussions the League made it quite clear that

a) they controlled which division a club played in but

b) they had no right to decide where the club played

These rules have of course now changed, but that was the state of play in 1913 as it was in 1910, so Tottenham had no case, and must have known they had no case.

Tottenham’s request for the League Management Committee to hear the case was rejected at once, since the Management Committee were perfectly aware that their rules, re-iterated in 1910, were clear: they did not control where clubs played.

Tottenham did not give up the fight – and the matter rumbled on for some time to come, but eventually even they had to concede, Arsenal were close neighbours and Tottenham’s crowds rose as the area became London’s hotbed of football.

22 February 1913

On this date Gillespie Road was named in the press as Arsenal’s new home, for the first time.

Yes, today is the 108th anniversary of the naming of what became known as the Gillespie Road ground (and later “Highbury”) in the press as the new stadium for Woolwich Arsenal FC (later to be renamed The Arsenal, and then Arsenal).

On the pitch, at this time, things were going from appalling to worse as Woolwich Arsenal FC suffered their worst ever season.  But elsewhere there had been rumours and counter rumours for weeks as to where Henry Norris was taking the club.

When Henry Norris had paid off the debts of the club to stop it going into liquidation, he had given a promise that he would keep Woolwich Arsenal playing in Plumstead for at least one year to give the fans a chance to show that they would support their local team.  Later he expanded that promise to two years.   In fact he kept the club at Plumstead for three years but all that happened was that the crowds went down and down and down.

During the 1912/13 there was a lot of speculation that Arsenal would certainly move at the end of that season, and as time passed there was a general agreement emerging in the press that it was going to be either Islington or one of the adjacent boroughs to which Arsenal would move.  

However this day was the very first day that we knew for sure, not just that it was Islington, but that it was Highbury.

But to go back to the start, Henry Norris had started the season by saying that he would not move the club during the course of the season, and in this he was true to his word.

However it was clear the club had to move to survive, as the crowd at Plumstead sank to an average of 9,357 – generating nowhere near enough income for the club.  And it had been established with the League that Norris was free to move the ground anywhere he wished, as the League regulations had no mention of where a club might play.

That the move was a success is shown by the fact that in the first season at Highbury Woolwich Arsenal gained an average crowd of 22,974 to watch the club come 3rdin the Second Division – an astonishing achievement given that the ground wasn’t anything like complete at the time of the season’s first game.

But to go back and complete the story… by October 1912 rumours had been everywhere that Arsenal were moving – and indeed the highly regarded Athletic News ran a story at that time that Arsenal had bought land by Harringay Park railway station; land that would eventually be developed into Harringay Stadium.

Neither Norris nor Woolwich Arsenal had in fact bought such land, but it is more than likely that Norris had made enquiries thereabouts while also opening discussions concerning the land in Highbury.

It was not until November 1912 that Henry Norris settled on the site of the new home for the club, and even then it took months of painful negotiation with the religious foundation that owned the land before he could purchase a lease on the property and was able to start turning the land into a stadium.

The land Norris found was part of the sports facility owned by St John’s College, Highbury, a religious centre that trained young men for the church. The college (a private foundation) was unhappy about the possible change of use, but they had financial problems of their own and Norris turned out to be their only viable solution.

The college’s income was declining as the Church of England had changed the rules for the qualifications that men needed to become ordained meaning that clergy now needed degrees.  The men the college trained tended to be dedicated to the faith, but lacking in educational qualifications, and thus the college’s courses were less attractive than before, since they could not lead to a guaranteed C of E job.

Fortunately for them the land had been given to the College by a benefactor without restrictions as to its use and thus selling or leasing some of the land was not only a viable way of raising money, it was just about the only way the college had to raise the extra funds it urgently needed. With no one else interested in taking the lease, Norris must have seemed to the college as (if you will excuse the expression) a Godsend.

The story of Arsenal’s move was kept secret until this day – 22nd February 1913 – when journalists finally hit on the fact that Norris was in Gillespie Road.  Given that there is only one site in the street which could possibly have been turned into a football ground the obvious conclusion was reached. 

But there is one other factor that is normally forgotten in the telling of this tale but which gives a real insight into Henry Norris.

Neither Norris nor the club bought the land in February 1913 – the land was leased from the College.  According to the terms of the lease, at the end of the lease the College could ask for the land back IN ITS ORIGINAL STATE if it wanted to end the agreement.  In other words Norris and Arsenal were taking an almighty (again, excuse my phraseology) gamble.

Everything spent on the stadium could well be money thrown away if the College decided to ask for the ground back.  In such a case Norris and Arsenal would need to remove the grandstand and terracing, the offices and everything else, to return the arena to its original state upon handover.

But fortunately for us all, it never came to that. Ultimately, Arsenal bought the land, and it became Arsenal’s home, until the next move, just round the corner.

21 February 2006

In the seven games from 21 January to 14 February 2006 Arsenal recorded two wins, four defeats, one draw.  And one of those wins was not enough, because although Arsenal beat Wigan at home 2-1 in the league up, Arsenal went out of the competition on away goals, after the aggregate was 2-2.

Arsenal were now fifth in the league – so not even heading for a Champions League place.  We were four points behind Tottenham in fourth, and 10 points behind Liverpool in third. 

In the Champions League we were about to play Real Madrid away – and no English club had ever won there.

Even our famed goalscoring record was taking a beating as we had scored 13 fewer than both Chelsea and Manchester United, the top two teams in the league.

So the game on 21 February 2006 did not look a very exciting prospect: playing Real Madrid away.    And yet despite all the prognostications of the media and the gloom among supporters after the poor run of league form  Arsenal beat Real Madrid 0-1 away in the Champions League – the first English club to win there.  Henry scored.

But even that amazing victory did not lift the gloom for in the next match Arsenal lost to Blackburn Rovers.

However on 4 March recovery started with a 4-0 away win at Fulham, which set things up nicely for the home tie with Real Madrid.  A goalless draw is not normally something to write home about (if you see what I mean) but on this day that was all we needed and Arsenal went through.

There were 17 games of the season left.  Arsenal only lost two of them; away to Manchester United and the Champions League final having knocked out Juventus and Villareal along the way.

We came in fourth, two points ahead of Tottenham, and although there was gloom at the defeat in the Champions League final, we still had that memory of the defeat of Real Madrid.  And the look of dismay on Tottenham faces.  They had not come above fifth since 1990, and they were so sure that this would be their year.  They came in fifth.

You will find a video of the Champions League game against Real Madrid on the AISA Arsenal History Society site today.