Thursday, December 1, 2011

Happy Birthday Arsenal -- At Least Unofficially

Note: Read all the way to the bottom, as I have had to issue a correction.

December 1, 1886: If the gentlemen behind Untold Arsenal and the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association are correct, and I suspect that they are, this was the day, 125 years ago today, that Arsenal Football Club was founded.

Its original name was Royal Arsenal Football Club, as they were a works team -- what we in the U.S. would call a company team, as both the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers began -- at the Royal Arsenal (hence the nickname "The Gunners," which led to their fans later being tagged "The Gooners") in Woolwich (the 2nd W is silent), in what was then the county of Kent but is now part of Southeast London. The first game was on January 8, 1887, at Plumstead Common, 2 miles away, against a nearby club called Erith, and Royal Arsenal won, 6-1.

(The Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. Photo dated 1960.)

Using surviving published accounts, the Untold Arsenal/AISA men have demolished the myth that the first game was played on December 11, 1886, on the Isle of Dogs, at what was then the home field (pitch or ground, as they would say) of Millwall Rovers (now just "Millwall"), against Eastern Wanderers, a 6-0 win by the club then known as Dial Square (a section of the Royal Arsenal where the first players worked).

There is, in fact, no surviving contemporary evidence that this game took place or that the name Dial Square was ever used by the club that was Royal Arsenal from 1887 to 1893, Woolwich Arsenal from then until 1913 when they moved to a new stadium at Highbury in North London, "The Arsenal" until 1919 and "Arsenal Football Club" since, although "The Arsenal" is frequently still used, especially by the club's fans.

While the December 11, 1886 match at the Isle of Dogs almost certainly didn't happen the way later histories of the club would claim, and as the club's official website still claims, Royal Arsenal did play Eastern Wanderers at home a few weeks later and win, and then Millwall at the Isle of Dogs a few weeks after that and lose, before beating them at home a few weeks after that.

Here's a link to the first part of a four-part series that explains what I'm talking about in better detail:

But, much like the story of Abner Doubleday inventing baseball at Cooperstown, New York in 1839, when all the available evidence shows that it was impossible for him to have done so, and that he never made such a claim in his lifetime, and that there's no evidence he even liked baseball or so much as ever saw a game in a rather distinguished life that saw him become a hero of the American Civil War...

What has become accepted as "historical fact" is not going to change in the minds of most people familiar with the Dial Square/Isle of Dogs story. Just as Cooperstown will always be "The Birthplace of Baseball," December 11, 1886 will probably always be the birthday of Arsenal.

Not quite the first Arsenal team, but perhaps the earliest known team photo, 1888.

Good old Arsenal, we're proud to say your name.
While we sing this song, we'll win the game!

Happy Anniversary, and come on you Gunners! (COYG) They play away to Wigan Athletic this Saturday.


UPDATED, December 1, 2013: In the ensuing 2 years, the aforementioned men have done further research, and have proven that, yes, the December 11, 1886 game between "Dial Square" and Eastern Wanderers WAS played, and that there WAS a free ferry that made it possible to get from the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich to the Isle of Dogs in approximately 40 minutes.

And Arsenal won the aforementioned match with Wigan, 4-0.

1 comment:

Doug said...

Wonderful blog, Mike! 125 years of glory!