By Tony Attwood
I was writing recently about the time when a ref stopped an Arsenal / Tottenham game at Plumstead because of bad language from the crowd.
The full story of that, and the incidents I relate here are given in Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football which is published this weekend.
After the Tottenham event the next time Woolwich Arsenal ran into trouble with officialdom was 1902 and again it was with Tottenham. In a reserve match the Tottenham goal keeper Charlie Williams, moved into the crowd that was standing behind his goal and hit a spectator.
His defence was that the man in the crowd was using “foul and insulting language” towards him.
Today I wonder what punishment a keeper would get for that – but in 1902 things were different and he got two weeks’ suspension. The club got a warning that any repetition of bad language would result in the ground being closed again.
The cause of the problem was that Williams had played for Arsenal in 1893 but seemingly even then he was unpopular as a player, and left Arsenal for this reason.
In 1904 Woolwich Arsenal reserves played Tottenham reserves and during the game the Tottenham player Chalmers assaulted the Arsenal player Thorpe. The crowd turned on the Tottenham team, and even gathered around the dressing rooms shouting abuse, until the team had left the ground.
The problems in the crowd continued and in November 1911 the club was forced to print a notice in the programme pointing out the various posters on display around the ground – warning supporters that unless they didn’t behave better, the ground would be closed.
However it is noticeable that with the exception of certain matches against Tottenham, the derby matches against Millwall and Chelsea were seen as local rivalry. True there were on occasions “howls and catcalls from one little corner where evidently a heated argument was being conducted” but the derbies were seen as colourful and exciting occasions rather than times at which the police had to be called in and decent citizens locked themselves in their houses out of fear.
But what was I think the most interesting discovery in the research that was undertaken into crowd behaviour during the Woolwich Arsenal days was the fact that the barracking of home players by the Arsenal crowd was commonplace.
In 1896 Harry Storer, the first team keeper, left Woowlich with a grievance “against the spectators who had behaved in the most disgraceful and unfair manner. Continual booing and hooting were not calculated to make a man show his true form…” Indeed as the crowds increased, one end of the ground (the Abbey Wood end) became the home of the barrackers. Indeed so bad was the attitude of some of the crowd that local reporters often commentated on the fact that they were forcing decent minded supporters out of the ground.
The AAA, it seems, were in full flood, even in those days.
Details of Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed history, are available on this web site.