Who invented away support?
Today we are used to it – fans going to away games to support their team.
But when did it start? And in the early days, what did it look like?
You might believe that away support began with the a local rivalry – two teams very close to each other playing games and having supporters of the away teams coming along. You might imagine that a team that was physically isolated from all the other clubs in the League might never have away support.
That is perfectly reasonable – but in fact it is the reverse of what happened. For it was the isolated Arsenal playing in a difficult-to-reach part of south east London, right on the border of Kent, that started away support.
Quite probably it was because the journeys were complicated and difficult that the Arsenal supporters began to arrange Excursions – away days that involved the hiring of a special train or set of trains to take the fans from Plumstead to the the away ground.
And because it was complex to arrange, and not something that anyone could do, it was necessary to sell tickets for the day out, to recoup the cost.
Think of it – if you were going to see a match against near neighbours you’d just go – you would hardly fix up transport. And yes maybe small groups of fans of one of the northern teams would, in the 19th century, get on the train or even a horse and cart, to go to an away match. But it was all small scale stuff. The big move into what we would recognise today as Away Support, was entirely down to Woolwich Arsenal.
The story of Arsenal’s early fans is told in detail in Woolwich Arsenal: the club that changed football. It is a volatile tale: not just the story of the the dancers, the band and the homemade fireworks that were the Gunners trademark, but back at home the story of the first ever ground closure because of crowd problems. It is a tale of excitement, pitch invasions, arrests, frustration, protests against awful refereeing, FA warning notices around the ground, outrage in the newspapers… everything in fact.
And it is the tale of a club that utterly changed the way football worked – a club that by the late 19th century was just about the most famous football team in the world. Which is extraordinary when you think that the club never won either the FA Cup nor the Football League.
The book has been written by the founders of the Arsenal History Society, Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly, Mark Andrews. It is published by Hamilton House, and costs £14.95 plus postage.
You can buy the book direct from the publishers on line or by phone to 01536 399 011, or you can place an order by fax on 01536 399 012. Books are despatched normally the day we get your order (except weekends and holidays). You can also buy the book through Amazon – but at the moment of writing they are being a bit dopey about the book. Each time they order up copies from the publishers they sell out within a day or so, and so put up the “out of stock” notice. We send them more stock, which they sell out at once, and then up goes the “out of stock” notice. So, yes, use Amazon if you wish, but they really are buggering about.