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The first ever Arsenal league game – the newspaper report

Woolwich Arsenal’s first League Game: 2nd Div: 4 Sept: 1893.

By Tony Attwood

In recent posts I have been looking at the individual players who played in our first ever league game in the last decade of the 19th century.

Now, here’s a match report, from the Newcastle Daily Journal found by Newcastle blogger Eddy McKenzie and reprinted here with his permission.

Royal Arsenal-v- Newcastle United.

At Plumstead, London in beautifully fine weather, before 6,000 spectators. It is the first League match that has ever been played in London. The ground was in splendid condition.

Arsenal won toss and had a light wind behind them. They had considerably the best of the play in the first half. Which was not of high order. Both showing want of practice. Shaw scored a very soft goal for Arsenal 8 minutes after the start. And kept the visitors pressed, till just before the change, when Newcastle rallied, and had bad luck in not scoring.

With the wind in their favour, Newcastle played better and 20 minutes later Graham scored from a scrimmage. Sorley equalised and play in the last 10 minutes very exciting. But nothing further was scored. Newcastle had decidedly the best of the second half.

The Second Half: Newcastle United 2 Royal Arsenal 2.

Notes and thoughts.

First off, Eddy McKenzie states that the Newcastle scorer ” was not Graham, it was Crate, they looked very much a like”.

Second, the crowd is reported in my book of Arsenal facts and figures as being 10,000, but I doubt they had a very exact way of counting.  Either number could be right.

And third, it is interesting that we are called Royal Arsenal. I can’t find a definitive record of the changing of the club’s name, and the league tables that I have found suggest we were Woolwich Arsenal from the start of the season.  So I suspect this might be a journalist doing a report but being not quite 100% up to date – however I could be wrong.  (It is also interesting looking forward that it seems hard to find an exact date for other name changes – from Royal to Woolwich, from Woolwich to The Arsenal, from The Arsenal to Arsenal.  Is there a definitive source somewhere?)

What we also have here is a report that finishes at half time – reminds me of the Saturday edition of the Evening Standard we used to get.  And just to clarify another point, the fact that the report says Newcastle’s name first when giving the score, does not mean that this was in fact played at Newcastle.  Until the first world war the issue of which name to put first was variable.  The Times, for example, always put the winner first!)

So what have we learned from this exercise in tracing the eleven men who played our first league game.

First, no one seems to have been a young upcoming star who was found in London and then later caught the eye of the richer northern clubs.  I thought this might have been the case – after all we were the start of pro football in London, so we had a big choice of players, but there’s a real lack of progress among the players.

The only star of the future was Charlie Williams who having been dropped by us went on to do well with Manchester City and then become extremely successful as a manager.

Several players just stopped playing professional football after leaving Woolwich Arsenal.  Leaving aside the tragic case of Powell, Gemmell, Henderson, and Shaw all ended their careers at Arsenal.  Elliott is registered as having gone to Tottenham, but does not show on their list of players.  And several others went to minor teams.

Perhaps most astonishingly six of the players only played for us that season, and only one of these players (Henderson) played in the first match for the 1893/4 season and the first match for the 1894/5 season.

As to the nationalities, there were two – the English and the Scots.  The Scots were Daniel Devine, Robert Buist, Duncan Gemmell, and James Henderson.  Four out of eleven, with more on the way.

And that is just about what we know – except for the issue of the manager.  This is covered in a separate article as part of the series on Woolwich Arsenal managers.

The key discoveries have been:

1.  The extraordinary career of Charlie Williams, including international management and a career in Brazil

2.  The fact that William Jeffrey was a keeper as well as a full back – something that seems to be missing from all other reports

3. That Buist was not the man who was offered a job with Derby while an amateur, and thus caused us to become a professional side.  I can claim no credit for this, but Andy Kelly put me right after I fell into the trap of repeating what others have said.

Not a bad haul, and I hope you enjoyed this series.  Tomorrow there are revelations, again thanks to Andy Kelly concerning the way in which London FA treated Arsenal when the club wanted to turn professional, and about our early relationship with Tottenham.

Untold Arsenal: Arsenal today

Complete index of Arsenal History

Arsenal Worldwide – for Arsenal fans outside the UK

Making the Arsenal – the complete story of Arsenal 100 years ago.

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