Our history continued- 1906-1916
During this period, despite a continuation from previous seasons, little would we know that during this century we would have a rollercoaster of a time yet something special was about to happen.
A move to what would be our third and penultimate stadium would occur during this time and maybe not at the beginning but in the latter stages would bring about some historical memories.
However before we moved to Highbury the team was struggling and declining and came close to being wiped out!
One cause of this decline was the club’s ongoing financial problems and despite the boom in football it appeared that the club’s geographic isolation in the seemingly underpopulated area of Plumstead meant that attendances and income were low.
And so to stay afloat, Woolwich Arsenal were forced to sell their star players including goalkeeper Jimmy Ashcroft, as well as Tim Coleman and Bert Freeman. The selling of those players meant that the team slowly started to slip down the table, which ultimately played a part in the financial situation as crowd attendance also fell.
By the end of the decade the average attendance at Manor Ground was 11,000, a little over half of what it had been back in 1904. The club was close to bankruptcy at this point though and in 1910 went into voluntary liquidation before being bought out by a consortium of businessmen.
The largest shareholder amongst the new owners was the property magnate Sir Henry Norris, who was also the chairman of Fulham and William Hall who became director of the club.
Ultimately both men helped to save us by moving the club elsewhere three years after coming in, all in the hope that attendance and finances would improve.
As a director of Fulham from 1905 Hall worked closely with Norris at Arsenal.
Hall went to Woolwich on 18 March 1910 and attended the EGM of Woolwich Arsenal, where liquidation of the club was discussed. As he was not a shareholder, he was not allowed in, but he did manage some contact with George Leavey who was Director of the club at the time and had asked Hall and Norris to help save the club. And so the finalising of the takeover was apparent in May 1910.
During his time at the club Hall purchased 240 shares in the May 1910, which increased to 340 by 1911. He also contributed a similar amount of funds as Norris to the club, in paying off the old company’s debts.
While at the club Norris was aware of the problems associated with Woolwich Arsenal’s location and was desperate to improve the club’s income. So desperate in fact that he tried to merge Woolwich Arsenal with his other club Fulham.
When that was blocked by the Football League, Norris abandoned the merger and looked to move the club elsewhere especially as in 1913, soon after relegation back to the Second Division, the grandstand of Woolwich Arsenal’s Plumstead stadium was burnt down by the suffragettes, as part of their nationwide bombing and arson campaign for women’s suffrage. The attack cost £1,000 in damages which would equate to around £120,000 today.
And so due to the damages and the falling of crowds and finances, Morris did his research and managed to pick a site in Highbury, North London.
Despite objections both from some Woolwich-based fans and residents of Highbury, the move went through and Morris had reportedly spent £125,000, equivalent to £12,575,019 in 2020, all on building the new stadium alone which at the time was designed by Archibald Leitch.
And so Woolwich Arsenal had a new home and they moved to Highbury in the 1913 close season, having finished bottom and been relegated to the Second Division in the 1912–13 season.
It was here that the club replaced the “Woolwich” in its name with “The” in April 1914, this name change came a year after moving to Highbury, the ground that would give us so many wonderful memories in years to come.
As well as his directorships at Woolwich Arsenal and Fulham, Hall was elected to the Football League Management Committee from the summer of 1912. But I guess we should be grateful that Hall was around when he was as he had said his intentions at the time were to help the club out of sentiment and “not wishing the capital’s oldest Football League member to cease, if he could prevent it.”
In spite of finishing fifth in the Second Division in 1915 though Arsenal re-joined the First Division at the expense of local rivals Tottenham Hotspur when football resumed after the First World War. And that is when the rivalry between Arsenal and Tottenham had begun!
Since that time though, Arsenal have not fallen below the first tier of the English Football League where we hold the record for the longest uninterrupted time in the top flight and long may this continue, although at one point this season, it looked as if that record would be broken, but thankfully we are at the right end of the table continuing our long rivalry with Spurs as well!
To be continued….