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GCR Books

Frank Kirk: a man who moved from Woolwich Arsenal to Royal Ordnance Factories

By Tony Attwood

My aim of writing something meaningful about every man who played a League game for Woolwich Arsenal in its first season in Division 2 is all very well – until it comes to people like Frank Kirk, of whom so very, very little is known.

The bare bones are that he was born in London, he played outside left in one league game, and then left the club for the arch rivals Royal Ordnance Factories, of whom more in a minute.

The Arsenal.com listing tells us that “Kirk featured 29 times for Royal Arsenal (six senior appearances, 23 reserve) between 1891 and 1893.”

Andy Kelly’s comprehensive analysis of Royal Arsenal and Woolwich Arsenal players in first team friendly games has Kirk playing in six friendlies – plus the one league game we can all agree he played in which Arsenal.com seem to have not included in the calculations.  Andy is never wrong so I will go with one League game, and the friendlies.

Arsenal.com also tell us that he signed for Arsenal in 1892 “after a stint in local football, signing full league forms a year later on July 28, 1893.”

Andy tells us that his first friendly match was on 2 January 1893 against Glasgow Thistle at home, in a game we lost 1-2.   The second match was on 28 January, against Chatham.  It was an away defeat, but is notable here as Kirk scored a goal.

The league outing was on 1 January 1894, away to Liverpool, which Arsenal lost.   Kirk did not play in any other games that season – not even in the friendlies, so it seems as if his sudden inclusion into the side was because of a shortage of players.

And it also raises the question about why he was signed on, and then dropped, apart from the one league game.  It is curious, but such things can happen.

By the time of Kirk’s league outing the team was beginning to have a more regular appearance than it had at first with Booth being the regular outside left.  He had only missed three of the 26 games played so far in the season (including league, cup and friendlies), but he was out for this game, presumably with an injury.  Kirk stepped in but Booth was back for the next game.

When in February Booth was out for a prolonged spell it was Bryan who came in for a sequence of nine games.  In the friendlies at the end of the League season other players were brought in, and it was clearly all over for Kirk, who didn’t get a look in.

Thus his first league appearance was his last, and after that he moved on to Royal Ordnance Factories and this fact is backed up by a database of Swindon games in which all the players in away teams are noted – including our Mr Kirk (more on that below).

The history of Royal Ordnance Factories Football Club on Wikipedia is horribly inaccurate, and the true version of the story is to be found in Woolwich Arsenal: the club that changed football, although in saying this I must declare an interest – I am a co-author.

In 1891 Royal Arsenal became a professional club, and thereafter disputes and splits began to occur within the club, which culminated in the landlord of the club’s ground (the Invicta) deciding to increase the already high rent dramatically.  He was an ally of the group that felt that the men running the club’s committee were not doing a good job, and needed to allow men of repute and esteem to take over the club.

The attempted coup within Royal Arsenal FC failed, partly because the assumption that the club would have to give in to the rental demands or fold (thus allowing the landlord’s party to take over the club) was false.

The established committee held firm, and used two ploys that took the “repute and esteem” camp by surprise.   First, they secured another ground – the Manor Ground which was opposite the Invicta, and second they applied for and got a place in the Football League.

The “repute and esteem” camp then tried to hijack the new ground by attempting to buy it, but the owner of the Manor Ground held firm, and Royal Arsenal became Woolwich Arsenal, a league club in 1893.

Seemingly certain of the men’s inability to run such a venture, the rebels appear to have had no plan B, but with the landlord finding that he now had no tenant, a new club, Royal Ordnance Factories was set up.  In 1893/4 it played friendlies and in the Amateur Cup and in its second year joined the Southern League for that League’s inaugural season.

The local papers reported on both clubs’ activities – but it was Woolwich Arsenal in the Football League that got the lion’s share of the reporting.

The Southern League was formed with two divisions, one of nine teams one of seven and we do have a record of the matches between Swindon and ROF in the first division, of the Southern League.

In the first season of the league Swindon came bottom and ROF 7th.   Swindon however were not relegated and the teams played each other again in 1895/6 in a first division expanded to 10 clubs.  Swindon came 7th and ROF 9th.

ROF reportedly changed grounds after a year or so, which suggests by then the exploitative landlord of the Invicta had had enough, and in the 1896/7 season they dropped out of the Southern League after seven straight defeats including a 0-10 home defeat to Southampton St Marys.

But the scores of the games are recorded by Swindon and they were

  • 29 December 1894: Swindon 3 ROF 1
  • 23 March 1895: Swindon 0 ROF 0
  • 21 September 1895: ROF 1 Swindon 2.

And that is all we know of our man, Mr Kirk.  As always if you know more, please do write in and say.


Arsenal History Books

We have published five titles concerning the club.  All five are available in print, and three are also available on Kindle.  More are in production and will be announced shortly.

The books include 

Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football.  By Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews.   The book that turned our understanding of Arsenal’s history totally upside down, with cataloguing the club’s split into rival factions, its bankruptcy, its revival, and the all-important move to Highbury.   It is available as a paperback and as a Kindle book.

Details of this book and the other books we have published, with details of how to order, appear here.

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