By Tony Attwood
If Arsenal FC had asked me to produce for them a phrase for the 125 year celebrations “Ordinary is Pointless” is the sort of thing I would have given them.
Because a) it is true (there is no point in being ordinary in this life) and because b) Arsenal, from the very start has never been ordinary.
Arsenal as a league club was born out of a fight for the very heart and soul of Royal Arsenal FC – a fight in which ordinary men chose to put everything they owned on the line for the sake of their club. Men who knew that if their new creation, Woolwich Arsenal FC, were to lose the fight with its disgraceful neighbours (Royal Ordnance Factories FC), then they would lose everything and be condemned to a life of absolute poverty.
These were not ordinary men – they were men with belief. Men who would take on the battle and ensure that Arsenal was never an ordinary club.
These men had already taken the decision to make Arsenal a professional side in 1891, had seen off the challenge of the London and Kent Football Associations which sought (and failed) to ban other teams from playing Arsenal, and then had broken the mould of football by bringing the Football League into the south of England.
Others copied and followed (there are always copycats) – Chelsea, Clapton Orient, Fulham and Tottenham had all seen the Arsenal way and trailed along behind Arsenal, so that by the time football ended due to the first world war where there had been one southern League team in 1893, there were now five.
But Arsenal did so much more in these early years to prove themselves. Not all of it was wonderful – and the date on which Arsenal’s ground was shut because of continuing crowd trouble is hardly something that Arsenal FC are likely to put a plaque up for.
And yet even this, and the other outbreaks of “activity” by Arsenal supporters showed the total depth of feeling and identity that the club had with its fans. For these issues which so exercised the directors in the early days of the club, were not generally cases of fighting among rival fans, but were expressions of annoyance and frustration caused by the activities of rival players and of course inept referees.
Three men embodied the notion that for Arsenal, “Ordinary is Pointless”. William Hall, Henry Norris and Jack Humble. It was their vision and inspiration that rescued a failing club in 1910, and which took the club forward to a glorious future with the move to Highbury in 1913, and which resulted in the hiring of Herbert Chapman in 1926.
The move to Highbury was another example of “Ordinary is Pointless”. The ordinary thing to have done in 1913 would have been to move Arsenal to somewhere else in south east London. But Arsenal made two extraordinary decisions at this time.
The first was to look to move near another club (in our case near two other clubs – Clapton Orient and Tottenham) so that there would be regular derby matches, and lots of local rivalry. It was a move that quite simply ensured that the local evening papers would continue to talk about Arsenal every day of the week, because one of the local teams would always have news – and so there would always be a football page.
The second was to build a stadium which was close to a whole variety of railway lines which linked London to the north, and linked the ground across the city via the Underground network. Such planning may seem obvious today, but in 1913 it was an utter revolution. Prior to that date stadia had been built to service the local population, not those who came in by train.
Arsenal FC was therefore born out of the slogan “Ordinary is Pointless” and has continued to live it for much of its life. At times, it has slipped, it is true. The Swindin/Wright era was certainly not one that one could consider alongside the slogan. But for most of the rest of the time, “Ordinary is Pointless” is exactly the phrase that signifies Arsenal.
The story of the origins of Arsenal as a league club that tore up the rule book and revolutionised the way in which football is seen, can be found in the book “Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football”.
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