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.

20 December 1913: The Hill-Woods come to town

For many years December was one of the busiest months in league football, and December 1913 was certainly no exception.  

Now if you know your football history you will know that Arsenal were relegated in 1912/13, in the very last season in Plumstead.  So, obviously, 1913/14 was the first season at Highbury, and played in the 2nd Division.

On 6 December 1913 the result was Arsenal 1 Leeds City 0 and this marked Herbert Chapman’s first visit to Highbury and his first meeting with Henry Norris (who later signed him as manger) with a crowd of 18,000 present.  

That Leeds City are no longer with us, was due to events that took place during the first world war when Herbert Chapman still nominally manager (although he had left the club to be a superintendent at an oil and coke works in Selby.

Leeds City were subsequently reported by some former players for allegedly paying “guest” players who had appeared for them in war time friendlies – something that was outlawed.  However neither side had any real evidence – just accusations and denials.

The League had no documentary proof save the say-so of the ex-players  – which was rumour on the part of those not paid, and denial on the part of those who were alleged to have been paid.  Anyone being paid would have been paid in cash so there was no paper trail.

But Leeds City would not give the League their financial records, and so in the arbitrary way that it often deals with these things, the Football League, after eight games in the 1919/20 season, removed Leeds City from membership, and banned five officials – including Herbert Chapman, for life.  Their fixtures were taken over by Port Vale, who bizarrely were able to count the eight games Leeds City had played (four wins two draws and two defeats) as their own! The players who had made the complaint were left unemployed.

Leeds City was wound up, and out of the mists a new club appeared using the same ground: Leeds United.  They were admitted to the league for the 1920/21 season, replacing Grimsby in Division 2.

For Herbert Chapman however matters went from bad to worse since in late December 1920 he was laid off from his job at the coke works.  He was unemployed, and banned for life from football, but was however then approached by Huddersfield Town to be assistant to Ambrose Langley, who had played with Herbert Chapman’s brother Harry at The Wednesday (where Harry had made over 200 appearances).

Working with the support of Huddersfield, Herbert then appealed against his life ban, using the most obvious of cases that since he had been helping the nation’s war effort during much of the war, and had not been involved with the club, and since the League had no idea when any illicit activity had taken place (since it hadn’t seen the records) they couldn’t possibly know that there was a case against him.

Even a five year old child playing football in the park in the middle of the night with his eyes closed could see that the case against Herbert Chapman obviously had no basis, and after just a month’s unemployment he became an employee of Huddersfield Town on 1 February 1921, and subsequently replacing the incumbent manager.

But that of course is all for the future and I digress – let us therefore return to Arsenal’s first season at Highbury.  After beating Leeds City 1-0 Arsenal played their first local derby against their new neighbours, Clapton Orient.

In 1912/13 Orient had had an average home crowd of 9835 (compared with Woolwich Arsenal in the final year in Plumstead where the average crowd was 9395.)  But in this season of 1913/14 with Arsenal on the doorstep, their average attendance shot up by around 32% to 12,970 (the average for the season in the second division was 10,738, itself a 23% increase on the previous year).

Certainly, the locals (and indeed many Arsenal fans) wanted to be at this match, and 27,000 turned up at the Millfields Road ground.   And Clapton (who like Tottenham had vigorously opposed Arsenal’s move to Highbury) may well have changed their mind not just because of their improved crowds but also because they won this game 1-0.

On 20 December the game was at home to Glossop North End, the club owned by the Hill-Wood family, and so this would have been their first trip to Highbury.  When war broke out the family withdrew it support for the club, which went into liquidation and dropped out of the league.  Eventually they were reformed (without Hill-Wood support) and ended up in the Manchester League.  The Hill-Woods meanwhile transferred their interest to Arsenal, and they were instrumental in the coup which forced Sir Henry Norris out of the club in 1927, with the Hill-Wood family becoming the dominant force in Arsenal.

19 December 1970

Second in the league but no one seems to notice.

December 1970 opened with the 3rd round of the Fairs Cup, which saw Arsenal duly beat Beveren Waas 4-0 on 2 December at Highbury.

Then on Saturday 5 December there was a trip to Manchester City which Arsenal won 0-2.  Armstrong and Radford score in League match 20.

The following weekend saw Arsenal reach the half way stage in the campaign, and on 12 December the result was Arsenal 2 Wolverhampton W 1, making it seven goals in the last eight games for Radford. 

The return match with Beveren in Belgium was something of a foregone conclusion given the result of the first leg of the tie, but it had a particular significance because 16 December was also Charlie George’s first game since his injury on the opening day of the season.  The game ended 0-0, the crowd 16,000 – and that was it as far as the Fairs Cup was concerned until March, when Arsenal would come up against much sterner opposition in terms of FC Koln.

We might perhaps also note that on 18 December the death penalty was abolished in the UK and as Christmas approached, 19 December 1970 saw the result of Manchester United 1 Arsenal 3, making it five consecutive wins.  That was League match 22.  Charlie George suffered an injury set back however and did not make an immediate return for Arsenal but instead had to wait until February, thus leaving the team throughout December as

Wilson, Rice, McNab, Storey, McLintock, Simpson, Armstrong, Sammels, Radford, Kennedy, Graham.

But despite the victories that had kept piling up, Arsenal’s progress was matched by Leeds who still led Arsenal by two points at the top of the league.

Then the glorious run in the league came to an end, not with a defeat but with a goalless draw on Boxing Day, at home to Southampton.  The story that has forever become attached to this match is that in the dressing room George Armstrong is reputed to have said to his team mates, “I bet we win the Double”.

On the same day Derby County and Manchester United played out a 4-4 draw which drew the commentators’ attention.  Derby were occupying 17th place in the First Division in their second season since promotion, while Man U were one place below them, two years after being crowned by the press as one of the greatest teams England had ever seen by winning the European Cup. 

Arsenal, who had not won the league since 1953 were second in the table to Leeds.  But the commentators seemed to be looking elsewhere.  At least for the moment. 19 December 1970 – an away win at Manchester United, but well, these things happen. Arsenal might be second in the league, but they hadn’t won anything since the 1950s.

Now about Manchester United….

18 December 1931

The passing of Arsenal’s founding father – Jack Humble

Jack Humble, one of the founding fathers and the first ever chairman of Woolwich Arsenal FC,  died on this day in 1931 after a lifetime of service to the club.  He played for Royal Arsenal, joined the committee that ran the club in the early days, and worked continuously to save the club in 1910, and remained a director of the club until 1927 when the Hill-Wood takeover ejected him, seemingly without a word of thanks. 

As such he was Arsenal’s last direct connection with those who took Royal Arsenal from being an amateur team playing friendly matches on the journey to professionalism, into the league, through the rescue by Henry Norris, and onto Highbury.  He lived long enough to see Arsenal win the FA Cup, and sadly died halfway through the first title winning season.   His name is now all but forgotten, yet without him there would be no Arsenal as we know it today, not least because he was the man who formed the link between Norris and the supporters’ groups that opposed the Norris takeover of the club when it faced bankruptcy.

There’s general agreement that the club that became Arsenal was formed in December 1886 and most histories of the club give details of several men who played a leading role in the club from this earliest moment.   But my personal view is that one man stands out above all the others.   He is the man of great principle who made Arsenal his life, and who supported the club almost until his dying day, despite the way the club kicked him out in 1927.  He is also the man who at two key moments was involved in the decisions that ensured that Arsenal first survived, and then grew.  He is Jack Humble and in relation to this research I must thank Andy Kelly, a fellow member of AISA.

As you will probably know the foundation of Arsenal was laid with Dial Square FC which quickly mutated into Royal Arsenal.   From this club Woolwich Arsenalwas born in 1891, and after two years of playing friendlies, (while trying to form the new Southern League) they were admitted to the Football League to play their first league game on September 2, 1893.

It is of course true that no one man was fully responsible for this set of activities that led to Dial Square, Royal Arsenal, Woolwich Arsenal, The Arsenal and Arsenal FC, but when histories of the club are written, several names are put forwards as “founders”.   These include Fred Beardsley, Joseph Bates, and David Danskin.

Yet the man who should really be remembered as the key player among the founders is John Wilkinson Humble (known as Jack): 1862 to 1931.

Jack Humble was born in Hartburn, (today a suburb of Stockton on Tees),  County Durham, and  moved to London in 1880 to work at the Royal Arsenal.  The importance of Royal Arsenal in the country’s culture and history at this time cannot be over-estimated.  For in an era of wars involving the British Empire it was one of (and by far the largest of) only three royal munitions factories.  Year on year The Royal Arsenal grew, employing over 25000 workers in its various plants in Woolwich and across Plumstead Marshes.

The story is that Jack and his brother walked around 400 miles from their village to the Royal Arsenal, although we have no clear evidence that this is more than an invented media tale.

But we do know that Jack was a member of local socialist parties, who believed in workers’ rights, shorter working hours and more time for leisure activities, including of course football.

As such he moved south not only to find work but to be with like minded people, for in 1868 the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society had been  formed by workers at the Royal Arsenal.  The area was a centre of the new thinking concerning the rights of the working man.

We know that Jack Humble wanted the club to become professional, and he was the leading committee member involved in this drive.  At the 1891 AGM it was he who made the first proposal for paying the players.

After an abortive attempt to form a Southern League, Arsenal were the first southern club to join the Football League with Jack Humble as a director – and the club were able to do this because of Humble’s insistence that the club should be professional.

Indeed it is not unreasonable to say that this is one of the four most important and utterly fundamental moments in Arsenal’s early history, which each defined our future – and Jack was there each time. 

The first is going pro in 1891, and the second was joining the League in 1893 (at which point Jack became chairman of the club).   

The third was to welcome the involvement of Henry Norris in  the club in 1910 when the club would have folded without his financial input.  And the fourth was his support for the move out of Plumstead to Highbury.  Indeed when that move happened Jack was not only the sole member of the original founders who was still at the club – he was the only director who had been there in 1891, and who was still with the club.  And in case there is ever any doubt about the need to move, we should remember that the club ended its time in Plumstead playing in front of 3,000 people.

During the first world war Jack continued to work at the Royal Arsenal as a gun inspector, and spent World War I seconded in Sheffield and then Norway, but throughout he remained a director of Arsenal, and returned to the club once the war was over.

Thus uniquely he not only laid the foundations of the club, and the foundations of the original club, he worked with Henry Norris to rebuild the club after it went into administration in 1910.   That such a monumental set of achievements is not recorded at Arsenal stadium is indeed sad.  For had Norris and Humble not been able to work with each other, it is doubtful that the club would have survived between 1910 and 1913 when Arsenal moved north to Highbury.

Jack stayed as a director until 1929, when the Hill-Wood group of directors who had taken over the club forced Henry Norris out, and Jack Humble resigned as well. 

He died on 18 December 1931 leaving £1358 9s 9d to his widow and his eldest son.

That then is the start of why I have long been campaigning for Jack Humble to be recognised by the club.  But let me leave you, if I may, with one other snippet, which shows just how deep his involvement was.

One of the many false statements about Jack in the reference works that mention him, is that which says he did not play for Arsenal.    In fact he did. Records of the games for the early years of the club are sketchy. But we know he played either as a full-back or wing half-back in these first team games…


  • 15/10/1887 Clapham Pilgrims (H) 2-2
  • 5/11/1887 Grange Institute (H) 4-0
  • 18/2/1888 Erith (H) 2-1
  • 25/2/1888 Forest Gate Alliance (H) 1-1
  • 3/3/1888 Grange Institute (H) 2-1
  • 10/3/1888 Brixton Rangers (A) 9-3
  • 30/3/1888 Millwall Rovers (H) 3-0


  • 15/9/1888 London Caledonians (H) 3-3

Jack also played for the Reserves in the early years.


  • 26/11/1887 Opponents unknown (A) 0-1


  • 27/10/1888 Upton Ivanhoe (A) London Junior Cup 4-3
  • 5/1/1889 Thistle (H) 1-0
  • 2/2/1889 Leytonstone (A) 1-1
  • 9/2/1889 Ponsonby Rovers (H) 2-0
  • 9/3/1889 Crayford (H) 3-0
  • 16/3/1889 Nunhead (A) 1-1
  • 6/4/1889 Caledonians (H) 6-1

This, as I have said, is just the start of the story of Jack Humble.  I hope to have more information soon – and to make progress with the big project: getting the club to recognise the supreme importance of this man in the history of Arsenal.

17 December 1969

On this day in the third round of the Fairs Cup Arsenal drew 0-0 draw in the first match, away to Rouen in front 12,093. Hardly anyone noticed.

To give a bit of context we might take a look at the way Arsenal’s seasons had gone since winning the league in 1953.  Not only was the club’s run in terms of league positions awful compared with both earlier times and the modern day, so were the exits from the FA Cup.  Northampton Town (1958), Rotherham Utd (1960) and Peterborough Utd (1965) had all successfully seen off Arsenal in the FA cup during this era.

Bertie Mee’s third season ended with Arsenal finishing 4th, the club’s highest place in 10 years – although the Swindon defeat at Wembley on 15 March in the League Cup final is the match most people remember and the event that serves as a dominant marker for the year for many supporters.

The day after the 1968/9 season ended, John Roberts signed from Northampton Town for £35,000 – one of the players who would go on to win a league championship medal (although he did not play in the 1971 cup final.)

But few people were talking about Arsenal in those days.  In 1968/9 Leeds had won the League for the first time in their history, finishing six points ahead of Liverpool. Having beaten Arsenal in the 1968 League Cup Final they were being described in the press (which had begun to suggest that London football teams would never win the league or cup again because the players were too soft as a result of being in London) as the new power in football.  They were, as ever, utterly wrong.  As always they never apologised for such a lunatic prediction.

In the Fairs Cup Newcastle United won their first, and indeed only, European trophy.    It was their last trophy until they won the league in 1993 – by which time they had renewed their acquaintance with the second division for a while.

As for Tottenham, although their history could not match Arsenal’s, and although their league position had slipped a little, in recent times they had achieved more attention than Arsenal.  To some degree their achievements merited this in the 1960s, for they had won the Double in 1961, retaining the FA Cup the following year, when they also got to the semi-final of the European Cup, winning the Cup Winners Cup in 1963 and taking the FA Cup again in 1967.

But the suggestion made in a few quarters during the decade that Tottenham were the golden team of London as Arsenal were in the 1930s was a ludicrous exaggeration, and indeed as the final league table for 1969 shows by the end of the decade Arsenal had regained the upper hand in the league (just), and indeed the following season Tottenham slipped to 11th in the league and went out in the fourth round of the FA Cup and the second round of the League cup.   Liverpool, Arsenal and Southampton entered the Fairs Cup under the rule that said that only one club per city could enter while Newcastle came back in as holders.

Manchester United got to the semi-final of the European Cup but finished 11th in the league as can be seen.  Manchester City won the FA Cup.

One other snippet of gossip in the 1968/9 season that some still remember was Tommy Docherty managing three clubs in six weeks: Rotherham, QPR and Aston Villa. It was that sort of time.

The full first-team went on the tour at the end of the 196/89 season, although there were the home nation’s internationals on 3 May.  Arsenal’s tour game in Iceland on 4 May was the first game with the first team both for Charlie George and Eddie Kelly. 

The 1969/70 League season started poorly with a 0-1 home defeat to Everton, and the crowd of 44,364 must have been sorely disappointed.  Arsenal had finished 4th previous season so more was expected.

But in the league “more” was never delivered.  Arsenal scored more than three goals only twice in league games (on November 1 and 8) and ended up 12th – the worst since 1966 when the club finished 14th and went out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle.

By the time the Uefa Cup started Arsenal had played eight league games, had scored just six goals and had won two of the matches. (This might all sound a little familiar!)  This period saw the last game for Ian Ure in 1-1 draw with Leeds.  He had played 168 league matches for Arsenal, before moving on to Manchester Utd to whom he was sold on 21 August for £80,000.  He later played for St Mirren.  With Arsenal having developed the Terry Neill /Frank McLintock combination at centre half it was clear Ian Ure wasn’t going to get many more games.

Yet the eighth match league match of the season – a 0-0 home draw with Sheffield United – attracted just 28,605.  All the initial excitement had gone.

Then came the Fairs Cup, the first European adventure since 1963/4 when the club went out in the second round of the same competition losing to Standard Liege.

The first round in 1969/70 saw these results…

  • 9 September 1969: Arsenal 3 Glentoran 0  (Graham 2, Gould)  (24292)
  • 29 September 1969: Glentoran 1 Arsenal 0 (13000).

Following an injury to Bob Wilson in which he broke his arm, 16 September saw the debut for goalkeeper Malcolm Webster at home against Tottenham.  Arsenal lost 3-2 and after conceding eight in three matches Webster was dropped in favour of Geoff Barnett who signed from Everton for £35,000. 

Thus gradually the team was changing and on 29 September 1969 Ray Kennedy made his first appearance.  As an apprentice he had been rejected by Sir Stanley Matthews at Port Vale, had returned dispirited to the north-east, and had played amateur football while he worked in a sweet factory… before being spotted two years later by an Arsenal scout.

But we were still losing league matches (a home defeat to Coventry 0-1 was particularly dire, as was the crowd of 28,877.   On 25 October 1969 Sammy Nelson joined the list of débutantes in a 0-0 draw with Ipswich.  He went on to play 245 league games for the club plus 10 appearances as a sub, and scored 10 league goals.

Then mercifully we had a break from the league games with the second round of the Fairs Cup. 29 October 1969: Sporting Lisbon 0 Arsenal 0. Temperatures were not raised. But in the return match we won Arsenal 3 Sporting Lisbon 0. George Graham got two, Radford the third, and an improved crowd of 35,253 came to join in the fun.

The competition carried on into the winter and the third round again saw a 0-0 draw in the first leg as Arsenal went to Rouen on 17 December and played in front 12,093. So there we are, on this day, it was just another game in an era when Arsenal were really not doing much. Today it is forgotten, as I guess for most people was the arrival with much pomp and fanfare of Marinello, who was supposed to herald the new super Arsenal attack.  He got one goal in his first 14 games.

On 21 February Derby 3 Arsenal 2 marked the 10th game without a win.  At the time no one knew if the run would go any further, but it didn’t and instead was followed by one defeat in the next seven games.  A complete turn around.   Indeed this pivotal moment. More Fairs Cup games came and went until suddenly on 18 March:  Arsenal 7 Dinamo Bacau 1 (Radford 2, George 2, Sammels 2, Graham), 35,342 in the ground.

I often wonder when it was that we woke up to the fact that something was happening.  The goalless draw in the Fairs Cup, our second in quick succession, was just another dull game.  The media made nothing of it.  It wasn’t on TV.  Were Arsenal going anywhere?  I doubt if at that time anyone thought so.

And certainly, on hearing of another goalless draw in the Fair Cup, did anyone expect three trophies in the next 18 months. Which perhaps makes it worth remembering. Seeing the future based on this week’s result is not always as easy as it looks.

16 December 1991

When I heard that Thomas had signed for Liverpool on this day in 1991 I thought it was a joke – a stupid wind-up.   Thomas, the man who had really hurt Liverpool in more ways than can be imagined, had moved to the team we beat to the title in 1989 and 1991.

WTF is going on? is just about all I could think.

Thomas signed for us in 1982, became a pro aged 17 in 1984 and went on loan to Portsmouth.  He made his first team début in February 1987 in a minor game: the league cup semi-final against Tottenham H.  We lost 1-0 but won the second leg 2-1.  Thus was born the fanzine 1-0 down 2-1 up.  (The second leg was the one where the Tottenham PA announcer gave out details of tickets for the final at half time.  I wonder what he’s doing now).

That same month he started playing in the league games and was initially seen as a full back who scored.  When Dixon came in as the preferred right back, it was obvious to move him forward into midfield.  In his first season in midfield we won the league, thanks to a goal a couple of minutes from the end of a game at Liverpool.  You may have heard tell of it.  Or perhaps even seen the video.

So we get to 26 May 1989.  Liverpool had already won the FA Cup, and were going for their second double – which up to that point no one had done. You know what happened.

Thomas was still with us two years on for the 1990/1 title – the one where the FA docked us two points, and we spent the whole of the last game (having already won the title) singing over and over again, “You can stick your ******** two points up your arse”.   I was there; I remember the tears of joy and hilarity – for the first time since the Double we had won the league. Being of the older generation I don’t normally find crudities amusing, but that one has always stayed with me and still makes me smirk.

Thomas played 206 games, and scored 30.  But it is said that he and George Graham had a row in 1991 and so he was sold to that team from up north.  Souness paid £1.5m for him.

In 1992 he won the FA Cup, and scored the opening goal but thereafter was little more than a squad player, chosen behind Redknapp and Barnes.

By February 1998 he was offered out on loan and went to Middlesbrough followed by Benfica (who by then had Souness in charge).  When Souness suffered his inevitable sacking (thus qualifying him to be a commentator on Sky etc) Thomas joined Wimbledon on 29 July 2000 playing nine times before giving up football.

He then set up a security service with Nigel Spackman and has played for the Liverpool legends side.  He (inexplicably) still lives in Liverpool.

15 December 1934

62 goals in 19 games but not top of the league!

It was approaching a year since Chapman had died (January 6) and Arsenal as a team had marched on as if nothing had happened.  With Joe Shaw having taken over as manager upon the great man’s death, Arsenal had won the league for the second time in succession. 

From all that we can make out Joe was perfectly happy then to return to being in charge of the Football Combination team and so for 1934/5 Arsenal had their third manager in three years: George Allison, the first editor of the club’s programme (in 1910 – thus a colleague of Norris), famous journalist, famous radio broadcaster, club director, now the manager.

The first 11 games of George’s reign had been a triumph.  Just one defeat, 5-1 thrashings of Tottenham and Birmingham, and a staggering 8-1 win over Liverpool.

The crowds were amazing too, with 68,145 turning up for the victory over Man City at Highbury on October 13, and 70,544 seeing the Tottenham game on October 20.

Between October 27 and November 17 there had been a wobble with two defeats, a win and a draw but normal service was resumed on November 24 with a 5-2 win over Chelsea, followed on December 1 with a 7-0 win over Wolverhampton.    

In those two games Drake had scored eight of the twelve goals, and more were expected on December 8 – but the result was Huddersfield 1 Arsenal 1 – the Arsenal contribution coming from an own goal.  Drake, James and Bastin were all there – they just couldn’t score. The newspapers gleefully declared the bubble had burst.

And so to December 15 1934 it was Arsenal v Leicester.   Arsenal had scored 39 at home and let in eight in nine games at home thus far.   Away Leicester had scored 10 and let in 20.

Fun and games were expected and yet only 23,689 turned up – most of the gentlemen fans had seemingly been dragged off to the shops for Christmas shopping. (It seems there was no Amazon in those days, and what with men generally working a five and a half day week, and the shops all being shut on Sunday, the last two Saturday afternoons before Christmas was when it all happened.

Those attending however were rewarded with this table in the programme.  After the Huddersfield game Arsenal sat second, and Leicester at the foot of the table. (GA is goal average – goals scored divided by goals conceded. And of course two points for a win, one for a draw).

1Sunderland18 105338192.0025
2Arsenal18 96354232.3524
3Stoke City18 111640271.4823
4Manchester City18 103537271.3723
5Grimsby Town18 76534241.4220
6West Bromwich Albion18 84644401.1020
7Sheffield Wednesday18 84630301.0020
8Aston Villa18 84638420.9120
9Liverpool18 92734430.7920
10Everton18 83738341.1219
11Derby County18 82835301.1718
12Portsmouth18 74736311.1618
13Tottenham Hotspur18 73829330.8817
14Leeds United18 65732390.8217
15Birmingham City18 81926360.7217
16Preston North End18 64825320.7816
17Blackburn Rovers18 55825330.7615
18Huddersfield Town18 531030390.7713
19Middlesbrough18 37825330.7613
20Wolverhampton Wanderers18 531032430.7413
21Chelsea18 611126400.6513
22Leicester City18 441023330.7012

Although one point behind Sunderland, Arsenal had scored more goals and had a better goal average than anyone else in the League.  Arsenal were scoring exactly three goals a game on average.

And on this day Arsenal won 8-0 for the first, but not the last time, that season (they also beat Middlesbrough at home by the same score on April 19 1935).   Drake got three, Hulme three and Bastin two.

After the game the table stayed the same, with Sunderland also winning.

And yet it must seem now a bit strange that with all these sensational score lines Arsenal were not top of the league.   Why was that?

The answer comes with the away record.  Overall Arsenal had won 10 drawn six and lost three by the end of the Leicester game, but away from home the record was won one, drawn six and lost two! Indeed in the game after that on December 22 matters got worse because the score was Derby 3 Arsenal 1.   In the next away game on December 26 it was Preston 2 Arsenal 1.

Finally however matters turned around on the eve of the first anniversary of Chapman’s death with Liverpool 0 Arsenal 2. 

By the end of the season Arsenal’s away record was a more respectable won 8 drawn 8 lost 5 including a rather wonderful sounding Tottenham 0 Arsenal 6 on 6 March 1935.   We won the league by four points having scored 115 goals of which 74 were at home – the third league title in a row, with each won under a different manager.

But that away record…  I wonder if as Christmas approached in 1934 there were fans on the terraces , and journalists scribbling in Fleet Street, all saying of Allison, “he’ll have to go” and noting just how no team could ever win the league with that sort of away record.

Yet we did it – for the third time running with three different managers.

14 December 1889

This was the day when Arsenal were ordered to play two “first team” games at once by two competing footballing associations.  Neither would give way, and so ultimately Arsenal obliged, using all their (not very extensive) reserve team selection, and won both.

The problem arose because Arsenal in the 19th century were members of two regional Football Associations.  The London FA and the Kent FA.

This came about because there was nothing to stop the club joining more than one association, and there was a logic in the matter since  the Plumstead ground although technically in Kent was also in London.

And so Arsenal were entered into the Kent Senior Cup and the London Senior Cup, and on this day were drawn to play Martins Athletic at home (winning 6-0) in the London Senior Cup and Gravesend (whom they beat 7-2 away) in the KSC on the same day.  

By and large it was the London Senior Cup game that got the reserves, while the Kent game got the first team.

Arsenal entered The Kent Senior Cup for the first time the previous season with their first ever game being on 10 November 1888.  The following round was played on 29 December 1888 wherein Arsenal beat Iona 5-1, and then on 9 February 1889 we drew 3-3 away to Gravesend.  

However in this game Arsenal were disqualified for refusing to play extra time, and thus they went out of the competition.  The home team had somehow turned up late, but been allowed to participate by the referee, and Arsenal are reported to have been worried by injuries in extra time in the fading light.  Their view seems to have been that Gravesend should have been disqualified for lateness, but the Kent FA saw it a different way.

Moving on to the 1889/90 season and the two games on one day, on 9 November 1889 Arsenal had beaten West Kent at home 10-1 before the double match day on 14 December 1889.

On 15 February 1890 Arsenal played Chatham away and won 5-0 before playing Thanet Wanderers and winning 3-0 in the final on 23 March 1890.

The competition however has another twist in its records, because the 1893/4 competition was won by Royal Ordnance Factories – and this was Woolwich Arsenal’s last game in the competition – although it must be said that pull-out was voluntary not forced.

I mention that because for many years various histories of Arsenal reported that when Arsenal became a professional club in 1893 they were ejected from the two FAs and so could not play in fixtures against local teams.

It takes but a moment to see that this was not true, by looking at the fixture lists.  Virtually all the clubs Arsenal played in the 1892/3 season as an amateur team, were played again in 1893/4.  But the story that Arsenal were not allowed to play these club was spread and repeated without anyone doing the basic checks.

As for Royal Ordnance Factories, well in Arsenal’s history they are notorious.  In 1892/3 a grouping within Arsenal tried to prevent the move of the club to professional status, and tried every trick to stop this.   The owner of Arsenal’s ground massively increased the rent to insane levels, and the breakaway “amateur status” group tried to bribe the owner of the new ground Arsenal found not to lease it to the club.  In the end the rebels left Woolwich Arsenal FC and formed Royal Ordanance Factories FC, playing in Arsenal’s ground.  Arsenal moved across the road and quickly built what became “The Manor Ground” where they remained until upping sticks and moving to Highbury in 1913.

13 December 2012

On 13 December 2012 Sky Sports News carried an interview with Stewart Robson in which he described Arsene Wenger as “a dictator” adding, “Tactically Arsenal are all over the place at times, they’re under-prepared defensively, and if you have that you’re always going to lose several football games in a season and not win trophies.” 

In fact Arsenal won the FA Cup three times in the next five years and ended up between second and fourth in this and the subsequent four seasons. Although that was considered to be not enough by some fans at the time, who would often cite the mantra “Fourth is not a trophy” is was subsequently shown that reaching the top four each season was not as easy as the fans thought.

There is of course a long history of ex-Arsenal players who come back as media commentators and who are highly critical of their former employers.  However there can surely be none who has taken this criticism of the hand that formally fed, as far as Stewart Robson.

Stewart Robson was born 6 November 1964 and played 150 league games for Arsenal scoring 16 goals.  He also played 126 games for West Ham and Coventry, and managed Southend for three matches, winning one and losing two of his games.

Robson was born in Essex, educated in minor public schools and joined Arsenal as a schoolboy.  He made his début on 5 December 1981 aged 17, against West Ham and was named Player of the Year in 1984 by Arsenal supporters, but following a series of injuries and the change of management to George Graham he was moved on and left in January 1987 after a grand total of 186 games and 21 goals.

His anti-Arsenal comments were not heard at first – and indeed it is fair to say that when they started they were utterly focussed on Mr Wenger.   These anti-Wenger complaints reached an outrageous peak in 2012 and in August of that year he was sacked by Arsenal from his then job of co-commentating on Arsenal TV.  Quite how he ever imagined he could get away with it on Arsenal TV is unknown.  By the time he left many fans were demanding he be removed.

But Bob Wilson certainly did his bit as on 26 February 2013 he was quoted on as calling Stewart Robson “bitter” over his criticism of Mr Wenger after Robson stated on the BBC, “I hope it [Wenger’s exit] is sooner rather than later because I certainly won’t miss him because Arsenal have been going down the wrong road for quite some while.”

With Robson then saying that Mr Wenger didn’t have “an actual game plan” Bob Wilson said,  “This is a guy who worked for this club up to a few weeks ago, doing the pre-match stuff on the opposition, who then went to a newspaper, without naming anybody who had given him the so-called facts about him [Arsene Wenger] being a dictator,” Wilson told the BBC.   “Today, he’s been on every half hour on Radio Five Live, and this is a guy who obviously is a bitter guy because he’s no longer got a role or any employment here.”

But although Bob was right about him being bitter over getting the sack, Robson had been using Arsenal TV to promote his wild theories for some time before his sacking.  Of course there is such a thing as journalistic integrity and honesty to your views, but that normally implies resigning from an institution that supports the man you think is an idiot, not being paid by it.  Robson promoting Anti-Wenger propaganda at Arsenal TV was rather like me working for the right wing Daily Mail and putting forward a vision of socialism.

But of course Robson didn’t only use Arsenal TV to put forward his views.  On Sky Sports News on December 13 2012 he had described Arsene Wenger as “a dictator” whose “time at Arsenal should have ended years ago.”   He said that Mr Wenger “has a lack of tactical nous which is costing points every year.”

Robson, citing no evidence at all through his rant, told Sky Sports News that the manager had a reluctance to listen to his backroom staff.  Referring to the defeat on penalties by Bradford, Robson added, “It was a poor performance, but one I’m not surprised about. Time and time again Arsenal don’t earn the right to play, and tactically (Bradford boss) Phil Parkinson showed he’s a better coach than Arsene Wenger.”

“I’m more embarrassed with the way Arsene Wenger conducts himself these days. He doesn’t do any tactical stuff on the side of the field, they tell me he doesn’t do too much work on the defensive side in training, yet he’ll have a rant at everybody else.

“There’s backroom staff that will challenge his decisions – Steve Bould, Neil Banfield, Terry Burton – but they can’t challenge him because he’s a dictator in many ways.

“Why isn’t Steve Bould doing more coaching? Because – time and time again – I don’t think Arsene Wenger sees the danger. When the team are making mistakes he doesn’t rectify them, and the reason he doesn’t rectify them is he doesn’t know what the mistakes are.

“In my view it was time up three or four years ago. The fans have stuck by him, they always say ‘in Arsene we trust’, that can’t be the case any more.  Tactically Arsenal are all over the place at times, they’re under-prepared defensively, and if you have that you’re always going to lose several football games in a season and not win trophies.”

Now such a wild rant would probably be enough for most people, but Robson, knowing he would get wall to wall coverage by the anti-Wenger media continued into the summer of 2013.    The Independent, for example, on Friday 07 June 2013 reported that Robson was now suggesting that, “Manager Arsene Wenger should not be trusted to spend Arsenal’s summer transfer budget.”

Speaking to Talksport on the same day, Robson said, “I am not expecting any marquee signings at Arsenal. There is a lot of talk about it, but I don’t know if I would trust Arsene Wenger with that money.  Over the last few years some of the players that he has said were going to be world class haven’t ended up like that – people like Philippe Senderos, Denilson, Marouane Chamakh, Armand Traore, Sebastien Squillaci, Nicklas Bendtner, Carlos Vela, Emmanuel Eboue, Park Chu-young, Lukasz Fabianski, Gervinho and Andre Santos.”   [This is of course nonsense.  There is no record of Wenger calling these players ‘world class’, and one could put together a list of players who didn’t become world class but who signed as backups for Premier League teams.

“Over the last two seasons they have spent some money on Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta, Nacho Monreal, Per Mertesacker and Andre Santos. They haven’t been top-class players.

“Arsene Wenger doesn’t appear to want to sign the top-class players, or what other people would describe as top-class players.   He goes out and says: ‘I can buy you cheaper players for a better price who are going to be world-class players in the future’, but that hasn’t been the case in the last few years. Some of the players who he has bought have regressed under him like Andrey Arshavin and Thomas Vermaelen. Nacho Monreal hasn’t been a good signing…” (Just to be clear and to give one example, Vermaelen was bought for £5m and sold for £15m to Barcelona).”

So bizarre and outrageous were these statements that it was probably only because of their rank stupidity that no one actually bothered to sue Robson for slander.

Of course by then Robson was yesterday’s goods.  I think we might also add by way of possible explanation the disappointment Robson had, not just by not quite making it as a top player at Arsenal because of his injuries, but also not really developing his management career after a brief sojourn at Wimbledon and even briefer time at Southend.  He was also technical director of Rushden and Diamonds before their collapse and from then on confined himself to “commentary”. And indeed maybe he became so bitter because of his failure to get football work after he stopped playing.

He was then heard working on other TV channels and doing some overseas commentaries, where his wild rants could find a new audience.  There appears to be an awareness that even those media outlets who were desperate for anti-Arsenal and anti-Wenger quotes realised that Robson was hardly a viable spokesman for the Wenger-Out lobby and thus his chance to rant in the UK has been diminished as most broadcasters and serious newspapers had less and less to do with him.

Robson’s case is one of the saddest of all for an ex-player.  He could have worked for the club and done some other broadcasting too, but he was left with the unique selling point for his “talents” of having been “sacked by Wenger for speaking out”. 

But it wasn’t the speaking out that did him, it was the rubbish that he spoke without any supporting evidence.

In fact Arsenal showed enormous forbearance in putting up with him for as long as they did.  Had he been an employee of mine he would have gone the moment he said his first anti-Wenger comment on Arsenal TV.  But maybe that’s just me and my old fashioned values.  I don’t think you criticise your boss in public and keep your job.

12 December 1946

Ronnie Rooke signed for Arsenal aged 35 from Fulham on this day.  Before signing for Arsenal he had never played in the top division of English football and remains the oldest player to make his Arsenal first team debut.  David Nelson and Cyril Grant went to Fulham as part of the deal.

Arsenal’s record during the 1930s was something to behold: League Champions five times, Runners Up once, Cup Winners twice, losing finalists once.  The question was asked more than once, could anything stop Arsenal?

The answer of course was yes, but it wasn’t a football club.  It was the second world war.

Unlike the first world war where, in expectation that it would be a small thing which the professional army would have sorted out by Christmas, the league programme for 1914/15 was continued and completed. But the moment war was declared in 1939 the League programme was stopped, and a short while later the first of a series of wartime leagues was set up.

During the second world war Arsenal’s ground was taken over by the military and the matches were played at White Hart Lane.  George Allison, who had been thinking of retiring from management even before war was declared, battled on through the war and (again against his wishes) was persuaded to manage the club for the first post-war season 1946/7 while the club waited for Tom Whittaker to return.

As a result the 1946/7 season was a disaster and it soon became clear that even finishing in the top half of the league looked unlikely. 

Arsenal lost the opening game away to Wolverhampton 6-1.  Our goal was scored by Reg Lewis.  The second match gave no relief to Arsenal fans – a 3-1 home defeat to Blackburn.  Reg Lewis scored.  The third match was a 2-2 draw at home to Sunderland in front of 60,000 people.  Reg Lewis got both.  In the fourth match we lost away from home to Everton 2-3.  Reg Lewis scored.  Twice.

You’ll have started to see a pattern here.  Arsenal, despite clearly being way off the form that had led the club to dominate the 30s had in their midst a scoring machine called Reg Lewis.

Although many players were unable to continue after the war, Reg was still only 26, and he came back to professional football with a bang.  Arsenal however never recovered from their poor start in the first post-war season, but in the second half of the campaign, Reg found he had a fellow goalscorer in the team: Ronnie Rooke.  He took up Reg’s position on December 14 1946, with Reg injured, and scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Charlton.

By the end of the season the power of the Arsenal team was clear for alongside Reg’s 29 goals from 28 games Ronnie had 21 goals from 24 games.

The following season Reg and Ronnie scored 47 goals between them as Arsenal won the First Division title in 1947/48 with Tom Whittaker now enthroned in his first year as manager.

So where, one may ask, did Ronnie Rooke come from?

In answering this question, we have perhaps the strangest part of the story of all.  Ronnie played for Fulham before the war, but was 35 years old when football resumed in 1946.  And yet despite this was still signed by George Allison.  Allison’s scouting team had pretty much gone, or lost touch with who was available where, and so he was ready to take on anyone at least to get him through to the end of the season.  35 year old Ronnie was the man he found.

Amazingly the plan worked and not only did Ronnie get his 21 goals in 24 League matches in his first season, in the championship season of 1947-8 he scored an unbelievable 33 League goals.

Ronnie was born on 7 December 1911 in Guildford and started out with Crystal Palace in the Third Division South, playing 18 games and scoring four times.

Then he went on to Fulham in the Second Division in November 1936 scoring   57 goals in 87 league games, including all the goals in Fulham 6 Bury 0 in the FA Cup.

During the war he was in the RAF and upon being demobbed he joined Arsenal. Perhaps even more amazingly Ronnie kept going for one more year, getting 14 goals in 1948-9 before moving to Crystal Palace, as player-manager on 20 June 1949. He scored 70 goals in just 94 matches for Arsenal.

After Palace Ronnie went on to be player manager of Bedford Town in November 1950, and later worked as a porter at Luton Airport, dying of lung cancer in 1985 aged 73.

Persuading George Allison to stay with Arsenal for the first post-war season, while they waited for Tom Whittaker to be available to take up the post, was not the best reward for a man who had served Arsenal since 1910 (when he took over as programme writer and editor when Henry Norris moved to the club).  But in the longer run it paid off. 

It is to Allison, and his idea of playing Ronnie Rooke and Reg Lewis together in 1946/7 that we owe the 1947/8 Championship.

11 December 1881 and 11 December 1886

Two events for the price of one: 11 December 1881 Thomas Tindal Fitchie was born.  Five years later on the same day, Arsenal’s first and only game under the name Dial Square was played, with Dial Square beating Eastern Wanderers 6-0. 

So let’s start with the latter and then take ourselves on to Mr Fitchie to see the connecton.

When the Arsenal History Society was formed there was no evidence we could immediately lay our hands on to show this game actually took place, but our research eventually found the relevant missing newspaper evidence, including the only contemporary report of the match – something which had been lost for 100 years.  After this match against Eastern Wanderers, membership of the Dial Square club was expanded from just those who worked in the Dial Square factory to everyone working for the Woolwich Arsenal.

I took the view (before the discovery of the newspaper report) that the game against Eastern Wanderers couldn’t have taken place as reported, providing evidence about the distance the workers would have had to travel after the morning shift in Woolwich, the lack of transport across the Thames and so on.  My point being they wouldn’t have been able to get there in time. But others in the history society were made of sounder stuff, they found a public ferry that was available on that day, and then beat my negative approach into the ground by finding that report of the score in a local newspaper.  It did happen.  Dial Square FC did play its one and only match on this day in 1886, before mutating into Royal Arsenal FC.

But then what of Thomas Tindal Fitchie who celebrated his fifth birthday on the day of the match?  How does he fit into the story? And indeed why?

TT Fitchie was in fact the only man ever to be signed by Arsenal five times.  He became a travelling salesman with Jacques & Co, a sports goods and games manufacturer. Arsenal encouraged his football career as it allowed them access to the clubs and the players who were his team-mates. He was what we might call a travelling player-scout. We get a hint of his life through a list of the clubs he turned out for

  • West Norwood
  • Woolwich Arsenal
  • Tottenham Hotspur
  • Woolwich Arsenal
  • London Caledonians
  • Woolwich Arsenal
  • Queen’s Park
  • Fulhm
  • London Caledonans
  • Woolwich Arsenal
  • Queen’s Park
  • Norwich City
  • Queen’s Park
  • Brighton and Hove Albion
  • Woolwich Arsenal
  • Glossop
  • Fulham

He had the nickname “Prince of Dribblers”, which makes him a very early Stanley Matthews, as well as obviously being a good businessman.

Fitchie came to Woolwich Arsenal in November 1901, played three games and scored three goals.  He went off on his salesman career, and came back in 1903 for an away game at Lincoln, and then was away again until he played away against Notts County in December 1904 when with Arsenal in the first division, he scored a hat trick – quite a return!  In his run he scored six in nine games, before he was off again.

He then managed to curtail his business operations long enough to play for Scotland against Wales in March 1905 – the first of four caps (he scored once).

In 1905/6 he scored nine goals in 22 games in the league and two goals in five FA Cup games (he played in the semi-final against Newcastle) and was top scorer.

But still they couldn’t hold him at the club, and his wandering continued.  He didn’t play in the next two seasons, but played 21 times in 1908/9 and scored 9 times. In all, he played 63 times for Arsenal and scored 30 goals.

But this was a remarkable man – not content with all he had done so far he joined The Pilgrims, a British side that toured the USA in 1909 as a freelance club demonstrating the game.

By 1909, football in the United States was flourishing, with four leagues in the New York/New Jersey area active, plus two state cup competitions.  A similar story of developing interest was to be found across the US from New England to the south west.  Slowly semi-professionalism was being introduced and when the Eastern Soccer League was founded in 1910 it seemed that football would soon play a major part in American sporting life.

As for the Prince of Dribblers he concluded his career in 1912. So what else do we know of him.

The first thing we have to recognise is that Thomas Tindal Fitchie was an amateur player – although he was undoubtedly paid for his trip to the US (where he probably set up some new business venture).

Other than that, at first we didn’t know, so I did the obvious thing.  I wrote an article on the Arsenal History Society site appealing for more information, and what should I get back, but an email from Andrew Fitchie saying…

“TT Fitchie was my granddad and I have carried out a fair amount of research into his playing days. I still have his international caps, his jersey badges (the international kit was owned by Lord Roseberry in those days so no swoping shirts!!). Sadly his four medals were stolen from my Dad. I have original Glasgow newspaper reports for pretty much all of his games for Queens Park and the four internationals.

“As a young boy, I heard a great deal about his time as an amateur when professionalism was beginning in earnest. This fuelled my love of football.

“TT was a travelling salesman with Jacques & Co a sports goods and games manufacturer. They encouraged his football career as it allowed them access to the clubs and the players who were his team mates – a bit like sponsorship, I suppose. As an amateur, he was not permitted to be paid. if he scored, he would often find a guinea in his boots after showering.

“In 1909, his great friend Vivian Woodward (Spurs and England and also an amateur), asked him to go on the Pilgrims tour to the States. They sailed on the Cunard Line – SS Mauritania – and I have his US immigration note from the Ellis Island landing in New York in autumn 1909. There was a lot of media interest since this was in fact the second Pilgrim’s tour and senior FA reps were also with the team. The Pilgrims handed out some heavy thrashings but also occasionally met their match because some of the teams were Scots and Irish immigrants (miners )who knew how to play.

“TT broke his ankle badly mid-tour and in those days it was touch and go if he would play again. He did, as you say in your summary of his career. In 1912 he got married – so that probably stopped the wanderings!! He served in France with the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders in the Great War and, like many soldiers, contracted a lung disorder from which he eventually died in 1947.

“During the first season he was capped for Scotland he was playing for Queens Park against Hearts at Tynecastle. Against him was Charlie Thompson, centre half, an established internationalist. They were good pals but Charlie had joked that TT should not be playing inside left because he was not naturally left footed. TT proceeded to nutmeg big Charlie twice in a row in front of the home crowd.

“Incidentally the Arsenal 08/09 team photo season has TT as an insert – so clearly he was hard to track down!!

“I just wish I had met him.”

And that is how history works.  Well, it does sometimes. We do some research, and then the person who really knows what’s what in the story comes in and helps us out.