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History in the making – why we keep changing the Arsenal story

By Tony Attwood

Occasionally we get emails (both on this blog and directly to the AISA Arsenal History Society) pointing out that we are changing the story.  One day we have said x, the next day y.

And yes, that is perfectly true.

We do change the story, and we do this because the Arsenal History Society is undertaking research into Arsenal’s history.

One of the great problems with the history of Arsenal is that while some facts are very well known, such as when we won the cup and who played in the games many other facts are not so clearly established.

Worse, because some facts are incontrovertible, it is easy to assume that everything that is reported as a fact about Arsenal is just that – a fact.  But this is not so.

In the early days of writing histories of the club, people relied on their memories, or occasional comments from others.  This built up a range of documentation all based on the flimsiest of evidence.  But since that is all there was, what happened was that later writers reprinted the story, and so it went on and on.

Sometimes further errors crept in, and then these were reported over and over again.  With each reporting the “facts” get more and more cemented into the fabric of the club’s history – and any attempt to overthrow them appears bizarre, silly or just attention grabbing.

Even basic issues such as the name of the team before it was called Royal Arsenal, or the details of the game against Eastern Wanderers on the Isle of Dogs, are open to question.  As a result, we examine the evidence, and also on occasion we ask awkward questions like “why?”

Sometimes the research is easy, such as going back and checking who played when, in order to see if common stories are true.   Sometimes the research is fiendishly difficult, but in the end turns up totally new interpretations and understandings of Arsenal’s past.   This is the case with the history of Royal Arsenal FC and Royal Ordnance Factories FC – a tale uncovered by Mark Andrews after hours and hours of research into the original documents of 1893.

Mark’s story overturns virtually everything that I have said about Royal Ordnance Factories FC – and everything in the club’s history about why in 1893 the club became Woolwich Arsenal.  It also explains what the landlord of the Invicta Ground was playing at.

So yes, we do change our mind, but what we are trying to do is verify Arsenal’s past and where we think it is wrong, put it to rights, and show our evidence.

And yes, we do welcome comments and criticism of our approach and our re-writing of history.  But, what we want is evidence or other good reason for changing the standard history, not assertion or abuse (and sadly we do get a spot of each of these).

Thus far we’ve done two major research jobs – one into 1886 and the other into 1893.  We’ve also done lots of minor projects, which have appeared in this blog.

As explained elsewhere, when we are trying ideas out, we tend to do that here.  Where we think we have got a new story, and we feel that the story is of interest to a wider audience, it tends to appear in the Arsenal Uncovered series in the club programme.

And then, ultimately, the story will appear in book form.  At the moment we are working on two such books, one on Royal Arsenal and one on Woolwich Arsenal, and both will appear in 2012.  After that we are hoping to continue with further volumes.

Next up will be a chart showing key points in Arsenal’s history – we hope to publish that here within the next few days.

Reference points

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