By Tony Attwood
In my previous reviews of Royal Arsenal’s seasons, I’ve listed each game played. But by the third season, of 1888/89, the number of games is getting quite large, and there is in any case a full record in the statistics section. So this time I’ll just pick out some highlights and give some context.
1886/7, the first season, was a season of friendlies.
1887/8 combined friendlies with the first cup competition – the London Senior Cup in which we came up against one of the founders of the FA and went out at the first hurdle
1888/9 took us a stage further with entry into the Kent Senior Cup and the London Senior Cup (Royal Arsenal being members of both the Kent FA and London FA). There was progress here, because Royal Arsenal only went out of the Kent cup in a dispute (refusing to play extra time in the darkness after Gravesend had arrived late) and in the London cup Arsenal reached their first the semi-final.
There was also a clear sign of enthusiasm for the club as measured by crowd sizes. Of course these are estimates, and many games have no crowd size recorded. But on 24 November 1888, for the first time ever a crowd of 1000 is recorded for an Arsenal game, a London senior cup game against Dulwich which we won 4-2.
On 8 December 1888 matters got better with 1200 recorded for the home game with Old St Pauls also in the London Senior Cup (Arsenal winning 3-1). And then on 19 January 1889 the record set just two months before was doubled as 2000 turned out for the semi-final game against Clapton. Arsenal lost 2-0, but it was a major step forward.
My own view is that it is helpful to see developments like this in context. This game on 8 December 1888 is just two years, almost to the day, from the day when the game with a crowd of presumably 10 or so passers by and a few friends of the players, was played against Eastern Wanderers on the Isle of Dogs. Within those two years Arsenal had got from as close to zero as makes no odds to 1000 spectators and then 2000 spectators at a game.
If that still seems nothing to write home about, I have to say I see it in a different light. The day before writing this little piece (today being 22 December 2013) I went to Northampton Town v Wycombe in League Two (the fourth division) and watched in a crowd of around 3500 or so. Northampton were formed in 1897, have a modern all-seater stadium, and were once managed by Herbert Chapman.
And Arsenal had got to over half the size of crowd attending yesterday’s game in just two years! I find that incredible – and a real insight into the way in which the club had grabbed the attention and enthusiasm of the locals.
Elsewhere we might note that Arsenal played Tottenham twice more. At home on 22 September 1888 we lost 0-1. But that was reversed away on 9 March 1887, once again by 0-1. Thus in the first four games against Tottenham the results were
- One match abandoned
- Two victories (one home one away)
- One defeat
Overall during 1888/9 Arsenal played 34 games and the results were
- Won: 17
- Drew: 6
- Lost: 10
- Unknown result: 1
In games other than against Tottenham the highlights were these:
- 29 September 1888: Beat Old St Pauls 7-3
- 30 March 1889: Beat Royal Artillery 9-0
- 1 April 1889: Beat Second Rifle Brigade 6-1
- 20 April 1889: Beat Spartan Rovers 8-0
- 22 April 1889: Beat Scots Guards 7-2
In terms of the venues
- 21 Games at home
- 11 Games away
- 1 Neutral
- 1 Venue unknown
So again we see that the nice symmetry of season one is now completely abandoned, and Arsenal get most of the games on their patch, possibly because they got better crowds, or had a better pitch, or offered better refreshments after the game.
The Arsenal’s ground for the season was the Manor Field, Griffin Manor Way, Plumstead, (now recorded formally as London SE28 0AA). This is the arena which Woolwich Arsenal eventually moved to in 1893, taking over the land in the dispute and in-fighting with the rebels who formed Royal Ordnance Factories FC. It was renamed the Manor Ground in 1894.
The moved from the Sportsman Ground occurred after flooding of the Sportsman Ground in April 1888. However when one field floods, a neighbouring field doesn’t normally escape totally, and indeed the Manor Field is reported as being muddy if not flooded, and as being bordered by an open sewer. It is also reported that the club borrowed wagons from the Woolwich Arsenal where the players worked as an alternative to terraces and stands. Google has a range of pictures of the area.
The first Manor Ground game had in fact been the previous season on 30 March 1888 against Millwall Rovers. And as for Millwall Rovers, the team which as Millwall were destined to become one of Arsenal’s biggest rivals – especially when they moved south of the river in 1910 to the Den, we played them twice, both at home, one result being simply recorded as a “win” and the other recorded as a 3-0 win. Sadly we have no crowd numbers for either game.
Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews report that the Manor Fields are now a warehouse off Griffin Way and bounded by Nathan Way and Hadden Road and they have provided a 2013 photo in their report of the area.
So that’s it. Season 3. A crowd of 2,000, a cup semi-final, success on the pitch, and the establishment of what was later to become the home of Arsenal, the league club.
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