Our story continued – 1906-1916
During this time, despite a continuation of previous seasons, little did we know that in this century we would have a rollercoaster of an era, but something special was about to happen.
A move into what would be our third and penultimate stage would happen during this time and perhaps not at the start, but in the later stages it would bring historic memories.
However, before moving to Highbury, the team was struggling and declining and was nearly wiped out!
One of the causes of this decline was the club’s continuing financial problems and despite the footballing boom, it appeared that the club’s geographical isolation in the seemingly under-populated area of Plumstead meant attendance and revenue 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. Selling these players meant that the team slowly began to slide down the table, which ultimately played a role in the financial situation as crowd attendance also plummeted.
By the end of the decade, Manor Ground’s average attendance was 11,000, just over half of what it was in 1904. The club was close to bankruptcy at this point, however, and by 1910, it was put into voluntary liquidation before being bought by a consortium of businessmen.
The largest shareholder among the new owners was property tycoon Sir Henry Norris, who was also chairman of Fulham and William Hall who became manager of the club.
In the end, both men helped save us by moving the club elsewhere three years after joining, all in the hope that attendance and finances would improve.
As Fulham manager from 1905, Hall worked closely with Norris at Arsenal.
Hall visited Woolwich on 18 March 1910 and attended the Woolwich Arsenal EGM, where the club’s liquidation was discussed. As he was not a shareholder he was not allowed in, but he managed to get in touch with George Leavey who was manager of the club at the time and had asked Hall and Norris to help save the club. And so the finalization of the takeover was apparent in May 1910.
While at the club, Hall purchased 240 shares in May 1910, which increased to 340 in 1911. He also contributed a similar amount to Norris at the club, paying off the old company’s debts.
During his time at the club, Norris was aware of the problems 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 this was blocked by the Football League, Norris abandoned the merger and sought to move the club elsewhere especially as in 1913, shortly after relegation to the Second Division, the stand at Woolwich’s Plumstead Stadium Arsenal was burned down by the suffragettes, as part of their nationwide campaign of bombings and arson for women’s suffrage. The attack cost £1,000 in damages, which would equate to around £120,000 today.
And so due to the damage and falling crowds and finances, Morris did his research and managed to choose a site in Highbury, North London.
Despite objections from some Woolwich fans and residents of Highbury, the move was agreed to and Morris is said to have spent £125,000, or £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 at the end of the 1913 season, having finished bottom and being relegated to the Second Division in the 1912–13 season.
It was here that the club changed the ‘Woolwich’ in their name to ‘The’ in April 1914, this name change came a year after moving to Highburythe land that would leave us with so many wonderful memories for years to come.
In addition to his directorships at Woolwich Arsenal and Fulham, Hall was elected to the Football League Management Committee from the summer of 1912. But I suppose we should be grateful that Hall was there when he was as he had said his intentions at the time were to help the club out of sentiment and “not wishing the oldest member of the Capital Football League to cease, if he could prevent it”.
Although he finished fifth in the Second Division in 1915 although Arsenal joined the Premier League to the detriment of local competitors Tottenham Hotspur when football resumed after the First World War. And that’s when the rivalry between Arsenal and Tottenham began!
Since then, Arsenal have not fallen below the top tier of the English football league where we hold the record for the longest unbroken time in the top flight and that continues for a long time, although at one point this season it looked like that record would be broken, but luckily we are at the end of the table also continue our long rivalry with Spurs!
To be continued….