Thomas Brown Mitchell
Manager of Woolwich Arsenal 1897 – 1898
Thomas Brown Mitchell was Arsenal’s first professional manager (although not the club’s first “manager” in the modern sense of the word) and the first of two managers who only lasted one year joining the club in 1897.
Thomas Mitchell was a Doonhamer – that is a person from Dumfries area of Scotland (so named because of a phrase in the local dialect which roughly translates into English as “I’m going home”).
He was born in Kirkmahoe a few miles to the north of Dumfries in 1843. He moved to Blackburn in 1867 and became the first man to referee at football matches in Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales.
In 1884 he became Manager / Secretary of Blackburn Rovers, (a job title that was common at that time and indicated that he was manager of the playing squad, but also part of the board of the company that ran the club.)
He joined Blackburn just about the time of their first FA Cup victory that year beating Queens Park in the final. Although he didn’t have much or anything to do with that Cup win, during the rest of his time Blackburn flourished winning the cup the next season, and continuing to do so for three straight wins.
When in 1888 the idea of the Football League was put forward Mitchell played a major role in its formation and Blackburn were among the founders of the league, ending the first two seasons 4th and 3rd respectively, with the club winning the cup five times in eight years – four of those with Mitchell in control.
But then Blackburn spent money on redeveloping their ground, Ewood Park, attendances didn’t improve and the club ran into financial trouble, which was as prevalent then as now.
Mitchell resigned from Rovers in October 1896 with them in mid-table. By the end of the season they were 14th out of 16th. The following season they were relegated.
Quite why Mitchell resigned I don’t know. Maybe the financial worries, maybe he had just had enough.
It also looks like he took the only job going – Woolwich Arsenal had been defeated by Millwall of the Southern League in the FA Cup in September 1896, and with that and a final position of 10th in division II they decided on a professional manager. Woolwich Arsenal quite probably couldn’t believe their luck when they got hold of a man who had been the most famous referee in the country and was a man so well connected with the Football League itself.
He took the club up the table and they ended up 5th. They could have done even better had his departure not led to a mini-slump with two defeats and a draw in the last five games. He also gave them a better than usual run in the Cup, although we really ought to consider the opposition before getting too excited…
- 3rd qualifying round: beat St Albans (home) 9-0
- 4th qualifying round: beat Sheppy United (home) 3-0
- 5th qualifying round: beat New Brompton (home) 4-2
- 1st round: lost to Burnley (away) 1-3
George Elcoat: the last of the one-year managers
Harry Bradshaw: Arsenal’s first successful manager
Phil Kelso: the man who gave us promotion
George Morrell: taking Arsenal through the bad days.
And if you are enjoying this journey you might well enjoy “Making the Arsenal” which gives an in depth look at 1910.