BY CALUM FRASER
Arsenal Football Club’s history south of the river is being brought to life by two lifelong fans.
Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews are giving a talk at the The Old Mill Pub in Plumstead on their latest book Royal Arsenal – Champions Of The South exploring the birth of the football club.
The pair were on a mission to get to the bottom of some of the club’s founding myths and in the process they discovered a world that had barely changed over the past century despite the vast sums of money that has been pumped into the professional game.
Andy, 50, said: “In the same way that Alisher Usmanov and Stan Kroenke have been battling over the club, there were landlords and owners making moves when they were based in Plumstead.
“It seems to be the eternal story of football, owners squabble about the club and focusing on the cash, while they forget about the fans who are the heart of the club.
“When Arsenal played at the Invicta Ground on the south side of Plumstead High Road in the 1890s, George Weaver, the landlord, started making moves to take control of the club.
“He used his purpose-built stadium as leverage and had a few cronies in the committee who formed a clique.
“But long-standing committee members wouldn’t let it happen and they moved the club back to Manor Fields.”
What is now Arsenal FC was originally founded as Dial Square in 1886 by a group of workers employed by the Dial Square workshop at the Royal Arsenal.
The club was built around the munitions factories in Woolwich, which employed about 19,000 workers.
Their first successful manager was Harry Bradshaw.
Andy said: “One of the myths that goes round the club is that there was an archery event during half-time in one of the games.
“We looked into this and it turned out it was a whole event that included a lottery. Which was illegal.
So Harry was arrested and fined.
“It didn’t matter to him though, because he was able to raise the cash to buy the players that helped Arsenal get promoted in 1904.”
Andy and Mark used archived copies of the Kentish Mercury, as this paper was known then, as well as others for their research.
Andy said: “Reading the match reports was fascinating.
They had the most verbose way of describing the game. They would spend three or four paragraphs on one shot.
“We can barely handle 240 characters on Twitter describing a whole game.
“For people who hadn’t gone to a match this was their only information on it.”
Royal Arsenal, as they were known before changing the name to Woolwich Arsenal, was the first football club in London to go professional in 1891 and joined the Football League in 1893.
But as people moved out of the Plumstead area and fans became less regular, the owners looked to move the club to the more populous areas north of the river.
Andy said: “Attendances dropped from about 25,000 in the 1890s to less than 6,000 in 1910.
When they moved the club to Highbury and dropped the Woolwich part of the name, attendances went right back up to the 25,000 mark.
“But the legacy of their time in Woolwich is something that too often goes unnoticed, unless it’s part of a pub quiz question or something.
“We’re hoping this book will open some people’s eyes on the role Woolwich played in the formation of Arsenal FC.”
The talk will take place on Tuesday, December 11 at 7pm.
Free tickets can be ordered by going to www.eventbrite.co.uk and searching for Royal Arsenal Champions of the South.
For further information on Royal Arsenal Champions of the South visit www.legendspublishing.net