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GCR Books

Arsenal 100 years ago: the revolution nears completion, the new club is born

One of the many oddities about the revolution at Woolwich Arsenal 100 years ago is that it is almost impossible to set a clear date as to when the modern club was born.

Going through the records it looks as if there were something like four separate attempts to set up new companies, with three of them failing to sell enough shares to make everything happen.

What we do know however is that on 13 June 1910 Woolwich Arsenal FC held their AGM. This was the moment that Norris said, there is a new company that owns the club “Woolwich Arsenal FC” and that this new company would settle all the debts of the old company.

The problem was that everyone had assumed this had happened weeks before so it was no longer news.

What was news, however, was the development over the issue of moving the club. Norris had tried two separate ways to move Woolwich Arsenal to Fulham – first by combining the clubs into Fulham Arsenal FC, and then second by keeping Woolwich Arsenal as a separate club, but having them play on alternate saturdays at Craven Cottage, as a way of denting the crowds that Chelsea (who in 1910/11 would be in the second division) got on those weekends.

At the AGM on 13 June 1910 Norris finally gave an assurance to shareholders in the new company that he would keep the club playing in the Woolwich/Plumstead area for at least two years.

There were many who were suspicious of this statement – but they had no choice other than to accept it at face value. And in fact as it turns out, they were right to do so, because Norris actually kept the club in Kent for three, rather than two, years.

But there was another event which happened just two days later, on Wednesday 15th June 1910, which potentially had more impact on Woolwich Arsenal FC than anything Norris did.

The armaments factory started to lay off men from the torpedo factory. For reasons that seem never to have been fully explained, the government had decided in 1909, and announced at the start of 1910 in Parliament, that it was going to move the development of torpedoes to the Clyde. It could be that the docks at Woolwich were not deep enough for loading the torpedoes. It could have been that the obsession with German spies and invasion that had swept Britain in the previous five years had got to the government, and they were worried that German ships would sail up the Thames and capture the factory before we even knew war had started.

Either way, the factory was closing and the lay-offs began. And since the crowd at Woolwich was dependant on the work force in the armaments factories, this was bad news. In fact is with the event that most completely signalled the end of Woolwich Arsenal.

The whole story of Arsenal in 1910 is told in “Making the Arsenal” by Tony Attwood available from the publishers, and from Amazon.co.uk

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