Arsenal History: Our first decade – Dial Square to Woolwich Arsenal

Arsenal from scratch – Rolling back the years! 1886-1896

There is a lot of talk of the present and the future in football these days, but people very rarely speak about the history and the past of a football club. And when I say past I mean way back when all of us were not even a thought in this world..

So, I begin with the thought of ‘can you imagine if we were still called Dial Square football club?’

What a mouthful that would be if you’re drunk in the pub after a win and someone asks who you support…

A football club formed in October 1886 by David Danskin, the original captain of the team. He was a Scottish Mechanical Engineer and footballer back in the day, and 15 of his fellow munition workers.

So, the men all came together and formed Dial Square Football Club which they named after a workshop that sat at the heart of the Royal Arsenal building in Woolwich South East London.

And so, Dial Square’s first ever game was played two months after being formed, on the 11th December 1886 against Eastern Wanderers and our men won 6-0. A score line that today is not always easy to come by no matter the opponent.

But within the space of a month the club had a little setback where they had their name changed to Royal Arsenal, the building in which they had their first brainwave for a name for the club.

And of course, every team needs a pitch to play on and the clubs first home ground was Plumstead Common, although they played most of their games at the Manor Ground. But their poor facilities saw the club move to the nearby Invicta Ground which was also in Plumstead, in 1890, before returning to the Manor Ground three years later because the Invicta Ground’s rent proved too expensive, although money nowadays would be no object..

However, another change came once more where the club had to yet again change their name when in 1893 Royal Arsenal had become a limited liability company and so the club was now playing under Woolwich Arsenal, each time keeping the name Arsenal in the title.

This would have been a clue as to what our name would be in the future surely…

Two years before the name changed the second time though, Royal Arsenal became the first London club to turn professional and in 1889-1890 and 1890-1891 they won their first trophies, the Kent Senior Cup and London Charity Cups. They also entered the FA Cup for the very first time in 1889-1890.

So really it could be argued that we were destined for success right, as it only took us three years after being formed to win some silverware 😀

However, all was not rosy as there were more professional teams based in the North of England who would soon come calling for some of our amateur players that were showing why they should be snapped up to professional contracts. Something which to this day is still the same, clubs wanting to sign our players, some succeeding and some not.

But that was a time when the gulf between the Northern and some Southern clubs were apparent back then, although now the tables have turned. Arsenal or Royal/Woolwich Arsenal did not have an easy ride especially as once they made a move to become professional in 1891 the move was frowned upon by many of the other amateur Southern clubs and so we were banned from being able to participate in local competitions by the London Football Association

Who could have imagined though that when we were first formed back in 1886 we would go on to be as successful as we have been (not including the last ten or so years of course) but if you look before that, would you have thought that we would be, to date, the only club to have gone a season unbeaten?

It is all well and good clubs winning the double or the Champions League and the league but going a whole season unbeaten can and will, surely be up there with one of football’s biggest achievements for any club no matter what other trophies come after. And you can argue that being the first Southern member of the Football League is also a big achievement.

Therefore, although I am always proud to say I am a Gooner who lives in the South East, despite the club now being located in North London, I always take it back to say at least I support my local team – because that is where the club were formed. And that is when the history books were beginning to be written and those are the types of books that will never be erased!

To be continued…

Shenel Osman


Tags Dial Square Royal Arsenal


  1. A good read, although there was one error. Preston North End were the first team to go through a season unbeaten when they won the first Double.

      1. No Jon, she said we are the ONLY club to go unbeaten, which incorrect, re read the 3rd paragraph from the bottom.

  2. Excellent first instalment Shenel. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.

    I have just one niggle with your (in brackets) phrase,”not including the last ten years or so , of course.”

    Because my personal TRUTH is, when you have LIVED THROUGH half our history as as a fan , rather than needing to ONLY research it, that the last ten years, when compared to the majority of our long history, has been among the more successful decades.

    This is a subjective call, to SOME EXTENT only. FACTS say we have won 4 trophies in that decade, excluding community shields(which SOME may choose to regard as “trophies but which I DO NOT).

    Facts say that in no previous decade pre Wenger and Graham, have we ever won four major trophies in a decade ending in, EXCEPT in the glorious thirties .

    It could well be argued therefore by some and quite possibly by Ken 1945, and certainly myself for sure, that the last decade represents either the third, or the fourth BEST trophy laden decade in our 136 year history, dependent on your view. We oldies easily remember many far less fruitful decades than these last ten years.

    However, I do accept that there is far more to having a great decade then simply winning trophies.

    And for that reason alone, I consider our greatest decade as our very first one, up til 1896, as without that, there would be no Arsenal Football Club at all.

    For context, I could equally argue that the greatest decade in the life of any person who has lived along and successful life , is also their very FIRST DECADE.

    All the above is just my own view though and I would appreciate hearing the detailed views of other Gooners.

  3. I visited Dial Square, Woolwich last year with my family, it’s well worth a trip with lots of Arsenal history to see showing where we started, including the cannons which appear on the badge(s). Just get on the DLR and go to Woolwich Arsenal station and it’s just a 100 metres away from the station.

      1. Admin Pat, the new Dial Square FC is based in Surrey at the moment, but they are looking to move to Kent.

      2. Yes it is based in Surrey and was formed by Arsenal supporters as a protest against the Kroenke ownership.

  4. What has been done ever since by the authorities concerned at Arsenal over the past years to honour and recognise David Danskin the Scottish Mechanical Engines who reportedly has formed Arsenal?

    In recognition of what he has done to bring about the formation of Dial Square, the ancestral forefather of our now beloved Arsenal Football Club. Shouldn’t a STATUTE of him be erected to stand imposingly at some place at the Emirates Stadium to openly remember him?

    But if the erecting of his STATUTE at the Ems will not amount to idolatry service, why has it not since been erected ever since then? Or it is a good thought but that has escaped some minds at Arsenal?

  5. Beautiful read….looking foward to the continuation from the writer.

    Thanks Declan.. This place sounds perfect for a visit from me and my clan.

  6. Shenel, just read this – well researched.
    I would ask you, however, to look back through our history and you will see that the last ten years were most definately not our worst decade.
    Nor was the first decade our best.
    I hate referring to how long one has supported the club, but it does become relevant when talking about, or referring to, part of the history one has lived through.

    Well done and I look forward to your next piece.

    1. Nice saying Ken.
      Our best decade must have been the 30s.
      And there we have many decades much worse than the last.

      1. In the 1930’s Arsenal FC were arguably the best club team in world football. (The Battle of Highbury etc)

        1. True Ozziegunner. 7 Arsenal players representing England against Italy.

          After the 30’s there’s only been 2 decades where we’ve never won the League. The first was in the 60’s and the 2nd was the last decade.

  7. Thank you to all the individuals that have made The Arsenal the greatest football club in the World. (My opinion)It’s not just the football, but our history, values and responsibility. 🔴⚪️

  8. I would like to add that it would be nice to have more articles like this one,about our club’s history.just to educate the younger generation,the more recent fans or our fans all around the world…to quote Bob Marley”If you know your history
    Then you would know where you coming from
    Then you wouldn’t have to ask me
    Who the heck do I think I am”

  9. ADM Pat:what about making it a series?say decades by decades,I would love it and hopefully others would too.

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