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Woolwich in the Cup. Success at last. Almost

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1905/6

1st round.  Jan 13th.   West Ham United (home).  Drew 1-1  Crowd 18,000

This was the first ever first team meeting with West Ham United.  West Ham started as Thames Ironworks in 1895 which itself was formed out of Old Castle Swifts F.C.  The Ironworks was in part formed as a PR exercise to “wipe away the bitterness left by the recent strike” – an initiative that also included (according to Wikipedia) cricket, running, rowing and cycling teams, brass band, operatic society, ambulance corps and debating society.  The company had profit sharing in its approach, but lest we think this was a Jack Humble type socialist led organisation, we should also record that the Ironworks refused to negotiate with the union after a series of strikes and tried to talk directly to the workers who were not unionised.

The benefactor was a company director, Mr Hills, who won a cap for England as an amateur against Scotland, and who promoted temperance, vegetarianism, and Christianity.

West Ham joined the London League in 1896 after the withdrawal of Royal Ordnance Factories who split from Woolwich Arsenal over the professionalism issue.

In a friendly against Woolwich Arsenal, West Ham put up a set of make-shift lights and a whitewashed ball (utilising docking equipment and a ball dipped in whitewash) in what has been proclaimed the first floodlit game.

Arnold Hills continued his good deeds by buying the club a new ground (which housed all the societies he had set up for the Ironworks) and getting the Southend railway to put in a station at the site – it opened in 1901.

They had become professional in 1898 and played in the Southern League London Section which they won.

After splitting with the company that had given birth to them, the club moved to the 20,00 capacity  Boleyn Ground on the grounds of the residence of Anne Boleyn.

1st round.  Jan 18th.   West Ham United (away).  Won 3-2  Crowd 12,000

In 1905/6 West Ham were a mid table Southern League First Division team and Arsenal, now in the First Division of the Football League were expected to beat them – which we did in the replay.

2nd round.  Feb 3rd.   Watford (home).  Won 3-0  Crowd 11,000

Watford were in the Southern League from 1896 until 1920, and several times winning the second division of the Southern League.  This season was the only time before 1920 when they got to the second round.

3rd round.  Feb 24th.   Sunderland (home).  Drew 5-0  Crowd 30,000

This was the first time ever Woolwich Arsenal had got to the third round, but this was a match of a different matter from those that had gone before.  Sunderland had been champions of the Football League four times already by this date, and had a great reputation.  But 1905/6 saw them, like Woolwich Arsenal, as a mid-table first division club.  Arsenal had already won the home league match 2-0, so hopes were high, but what caused this is explosion of success is hard to say.

4th round.  Mar 10th.   Manchester United (away).  Won 3-2  Crowd 26,500

Since 1894 Man U had been loitering in the second division, and like Woolwich Arsenal had yet to win anything.  This season they were going well in division 2, and ended up second to the champions, Bristol City.  They had also beaten Staple Hill FC 7-2 in the first round.  (Staple Hill were a Western League side who lasted for ten years and were just about reaching the end of their time.)  It was in fact a round of goals, Aston Villa beating Kings Lynn 11-0

Semi-final.  March 31st.   Newcastle United (Stoke on Trent).  Lost 0-2  Crowd 19,964

And finally Arsenal were meeting a top team.  They had had a good run in the cup in terms of opposition, playing two Southern League clubs, an average first division team, and a second division club (although one heading for promotion).

Newcastle however were destined to end this season as fourth in the first division, and were in fact the reigning champions of the league having won it in 1904/5.

The semi-final format was as now – a game on a neutral ground.  In the final Everton beat Newcastle 1-0 at Crystal Palace.

So it was not to be, but Woolwich Arsenal had gone further than ever before.  And those extra games gave them extra money.  Something that looked good at the time, but as I have suggested in articles about the decline and fall, were actually the cause of the club’s downfall in 1910.

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