Victorian Football

Arsenal Sketch

In 1886, a group of workers from the Dial Square workshop at the Royal Arsenal armaments factory in Woolwich, South London, decided to form a football club. The Dial Square was a turning and engraving workshop named for the sundial over its main entrance. The workshop building still survives today.

Dial Square FC's principal founder was a Scotsman called David Danskin. He had played for Kirkcaldy Wanderers in Fife before moving to London. And Danskin wasn't the only Dial Square worker with football experience.

Fred Beardsley had been Nottingham Forest's goalkeeper, but had moved to London after being sacked from his job at a Nottingham armaments factory for taking time off to play football without permission. Danskin organised a whip-round to buy a football, and Beardsley provided a set of ‘Garibaldi red’ jerseys via his former Forest team-mates.

Dial Square's first match was played on 11 December 1886 against a team called Eastern Wanderers on a field at the Isle of Dogs. Dial Square won 6-0. A few weeks later, on Christmas Day 1886, the club changed its name to Royal Arsenal, now representing the whole factory.

Royal Arsenal played its initial matches on Plumstead Common, and, after various moves, eventually settled at nearby Manor Field, where they built the Manor Ground. The muddy field had an open sewer running along one side, and no terracing or other facilities. However, the club raised money via a share issue for ground improvements, and remained in Plumstead until 1913.

The club turned professional in 1891, and changed its name to Woolwich Arsenal in 1893. However, it was in serious financial trouble – not least due to the ongoing ground improvement costs – and could not survive on occasional friendly matches and FA Cup ties. An application was made to join the Football League.

Woolwich Arsenal were elected to the second division – becoming the first southern club to join the league. Arsenal didn’t drop the ‘Woolwich’ from their name until 1914, after moving to Highbury.

Above - an illustration of Woolwich Arsenal's first Football League match, against Newcastle United in 1893.

This is an edited extract from The Victorian Football Miscellany.

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