For several years in the not too distant past, I lived at one of the most sentimental addresses an Arsenal fan would relish. I often waxed lyrical about the fact that my address was on the original site where David Danskin and his colleagues at the munitions factory in Woolwich started Arsenal as Dial Square in the autumn of 1886.
My boss at the time thought I needed therapy for the simple reason that my residential address was Royal Arsenal, and I literally worked a few minutes’ walk from Emirates Stadium.
His definition of anal was to point at me and say ”The sooner this company moves away from Holloway Road, the sooner Mr. Stone here will stop shoving Arsenal and that poxy stadium down all our throats.”
The view outside my fourth floor office window was the construction that led to the magnificence that is the Emirates Stadium. During lunch time, I used to grab a snack downstairs at Waitrose on Holloway Road and take a walk around the back to soak up the atmosphere around the stadium, even though not much action was happening at the time.
Back in South East London, the site in Woolwich, now an expansive residential complex has a small museum called the Gun Pit. I used to take all my friends and visitors to the museum a stone throw away from my apartment, and conduct my very own guided tour of the former munitions site where Arsenal has its roots.
I thought I’d share some of my discoveries about the rich 124 year history of our magnificent club.
1. Arsenal’s first football match (we were still called Dial Square back then) was against Eastern Wanderers on 11th Nov 1886. It was played in an open field in the Isle of Dogs and Arsenal won 6-0.
And here we are thinking that Wengerball is a phenomenon from recent times.
2. The club was so broke and couldn’t even afford its own kit. Luckily, one of the players who first played for the club was former Nottingham Forrest goal keeper Fred Beardsley, who organised with some of his mates to lend Arsenal some old kit from their Forrest days.
The red and white Arsenal wears to this date is derived from these original ’hand me downs’ from Forrest.
3. In the early days, Arsenal played it’s matches at Plumstead common. Clearly a far cry away from Highbury or the Emirates stadium. We had to start from somewhere you know.
4. Arsenal has always been a target for other ’richer’ or other more aggressive clubs when it comes to poaching our players. Barcelona have clearly taken it to another unsavoury level in their pursuit of Cesc Fabregas—but as far back as 1891, Arsenal players were fair game for the transfer vultures.
Derby County for example, shamelessly poached our players after Arsenal played them in the FA cup in 1891—which was incidentally Arsenal’s first year in the competition.
5. Arsenal had a mutiny in its ranks in 1893 when the Football league felt pity on the first club in the south of England to turn professional and invited the Gunners into the second division of the football league.
A lot of our amateur players didn’t like this one bit and felt that Arsenal had to remain a ’workers team’ just to represent the Royal Arsenal. They started a breakaway club that was called the Royal Ordnance Factories —which I must say is a strange name for a football club.
Clearly, it didn’t survive.
6. In 1910, Arsenal were close to bankruptcy and went into voluntary liquidation. It was a totally different universe from the financial stability the club enjoys now.
Believe it or not, we had our very own ’sugar daddy’ in the form of Sir Henry Norris, a property magnate, who bought the club and started the path to what Arsenal is today.
Incidentally, Henry Norris was also the chairman of Fulham, and there was a failed attempt at one point to merge Arsenal with Fulham and create a bigger and sustainable club.
It was generally accepted that the population in what is now South East London couldn’t sustain a football club—and it was one of the reasons Arsenal were in dire financial straits and had to do something drastic.
7. The best part about all this is that Arsenal ended up moving to Highbury in 1913, right under the noses of the only club in north London at the time—and this started a sequence of events that has led to the animosity with our good old cockerel Spuds down the road in N17.
Speaking of pissing off people, nearly a century later, we seem to have perfected the art form itself. That’s why I pose the question as to whether Anti-Arsenalism is a reality or just a figment of my own imagination.