By Tony Attwood
The notion of a regular set of pre-season friendlies (and indeed the notion of the overseas tour) is quite recent – although occasional examples of such games can be found back in the early days of Arsenal.
Back in 1913 the concept of playing lots of friends each season (see below) had died out and normally there were just a few warm-up matches before the season kicked off. But given that Arsenal’s new ground of Gillespie Road was still being built when the club played its first league match there in September 1913 it is not surprising that there was only one pre-season match at the ground, and that it was played behind closed doors.
The other two warm up matches were played away from the ground – one at Fulham, and one at Millwall. Fulham was probably chosen because of the link between Henry Norris and Fulham, while Millwall were the local rivals of Arsenal before the move north, and so it is not surprising that good links would have existed between the clubs. Tottenham were either not asked to help out or refused – and given that Tottenham led the campaign against Arsenal’s right to move to Islington, the former is probably the most likely.
So for the first season at Highbury, Arsenal had three pre-season games:
20 August 1913 – Arsenal practice match played at Craven Cottage
27 August 1913 – A second practice match at The Den
30 August 1913 – the first ever match played at the Gillespie Road ground. A practice match behind closed doors.
Sadly I don’t have the results of any of these games – so I am hoping that Andy or Mark (or indeed anyone else) will leap in with that missing piece of news.
In fact going back to earlier times, the last time prior to the arrival in north London that I can see Arsenal playing a pre-season game was September 1 1904 against Bristol City. Arsenal played at home (at the Manor Ground) and won 3-2. Arsenal’s first league match that season was on September 3.
The first overseas tour was in 1906 and this as with all overseas tours and indeed individual overseas matches until the 1950s, was played at the end of the season.
To understand the thinking going on here there are two fundamental points:
One is that either through an FA or League rule, or through common agreement, football did not start until September. Indeed some seasons a the first match of the season was played as a midweek match – on the first available date in September. So there might be a game on Thursday September 1 and another on Saturday September 3.
Secondly friendlies were all that the club had had (apart from FA Cup games) until September 1893 and so traditionally Arsenal played lots of friendlies. For all the local clubs not in the League playing Woolwich Arsenal (and before them, Royal Arsenal) was the highlight of the season, and one can imagine that they were keen for it to continue. Thus the tradition of multiple friendlies did not die away until the 20th century.
But today we have an anniversary of a very particular match – the first match played by Woolwich Arsenal as a north London club. 20 August 1913. Played at Fulham, and presumably it was Fulham v Woolwich Arsenal (unless it was Arsenal v Arsenal Reserves). This day was thus the day when Arsenal as a north London club actually began.