UNTOLD: I am pleased to have with me today Tony Attwood, a man who of late has been telling anyone who will listen, and quite a few people that won’t, that Arsenal isn’t quite the Arsenal that we know. What’s it about Tony?
Tony Attwood: In essence the club that we thought we knew isn’t the club we thought we knew.
UNTOLD: That is a rather bizarre repeating of what I just said. Could you expand?
Tony: Well, we rather like to think that the club was a formed by a lovely bunch of hard working individuals who travelled from Nottingham and all points north, and who formed a club called Dial Square, which over time became Arsenal.
UNTOLD: And isn’t that true?
Tony: Only up to a point. In fact the club had to endure all sorts of problems along the way, including two periods of major financial difficulty, and one attempt by a group of dissenters to destroy the club completely. All the original men save one left the club quite early on; it was in fact just one man who provided the continuity.
UNTOLD: This sounds dastardly. Who were these people who tried to destroy our club?
Tony: Members of the club who were not getting their own way. In the end they went and formed a rival club Royal Ordnance Factories FC, so for a while Plumstead had two clubs, one playing in the Southern League and the other in Division 2 of the Football League.
UNTOLD: But Arsenal survived – otherwise we wouldn’t be here today.
Tony: Yes, but the finances of the club were troubled. They had a problem during the Boer War because the factories where the men worked went onto compulsory overtime on Saturday afternoons, so they lost a lot of their crowd. And then they had difficulties because the directors got it all wrong, and leading up to 1910 the debts mounted.
UNTOLD: What happened in 1910?
Tony: Henry Norris came in.
UNTOLD: Ah the evil black bearded baron who rapes children and eats their mothers?
Tony: Not as such. Norris has always had a bad press, but in fact he was in every way Arsenal’s saviour, and the man who built the modern club. He paid off all the club’s debts in 1910, and in 1913 found the ground at Gillespie Road and paid for the building of what we now call “Highbury”. It was his vision and dedication to Arsenal that made the club survive.
UNTOLD: But he was still an evil fascist dictator who forced his workmen to work 28 hours a day for 3d a week.
Tony: In fact, when he stood for parliament in 1918 he stood on a platform of jobs for every returning soldier, pensions for all injured soldiers, cutting rail fares in half, and votes for women. What’s more he openly said that the disputes between government and striking workers were generally were down to the ineptitude of government, not the evil of the working man wanting to take over the country.
UNTOLD: So Norris became Arsenal chairman. Did he stay long?
Tony: Until 1927 – along with Jack Humble who joined the club in 1887. In fact Jack Humble was the first chairman of Arsenal as a league club and the man who represented continuity all the way through Arsenal’s early years. Together Norris and Humble, with one other long serving director, William Hall, appointed Herbert Chapman as manager.
UNTOLD: What else do we need to know about the young Arsenal?
Tony: The fact that from the earliest days there was a version of the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal in the ground, who could turn on Arsenal’s own players and boo them. The fact that Arsenal was the first club to have its ground shut for crowd problems. And the fact that Arsenal more or less invented away travel. They would take dancers, musicians and singers with them, as well as a group of lads from the torpedo factory who would let off home-made fireworks. The rest of the football world had never seen anything like it.
UNTOLD: Well I think that is about enough to be going on with.
Tony: There’s far more – the rivalry between Arsenal and Tottenham started long before Arsenal moved to north London. And there’s another claim to fame for Arsenal, as they were the first league club in the south of England, and the club that invented the concept of the Southern League.
UNTOLD: How can I find out more?
Tony: I thought you would never ask. The history of Woolwich Arsenal – the club that entered the league in 1893 and which mutated into The Arsenal in 1915, has never been told properly before. Now, because Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews have spent millions of hours inside newspaper libraries and the like studying the local daily papers and old documents associated with Arsenal, the real story of Arsenal’s early years as a league club has been told. The book is called Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football.
UNTOLD: Has it got pictures?
Tony: Loads of pictures, details of players, managers, shareholders, and the complete story of everything you could ever wish to know about the early club. It really is a different story from the one you will read in all the other histories, because it has all been researched afresh.
UNTOLD: And where can I get it?
Tony: First you can order it from the publishers. See that link that I slipped in above? No? ah well, here it is again.
Second you can try Amazon – but they are being a bit soppy about their selling. Some days they have it in stock, available for next day delivery, and then other days they don’t. Trouble with them is they are not ordering enough copies to keep up with demand.
And you should be able to buy it from the Arsenal shop too, both on line and at the shop at the stadium. They had copies available for last Saturday’s game, but they, like Amazon sold out on the day. However they’ve got more copies in their warehouse, so there shouldn’t be a problem.
UNTOLD: So it’s “Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football” by Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews.
Tony: Well actually its by me as well, only I was too modest to say.
UNTOLD: Oh for goodness sake. Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football, by Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews. All right?
Tony: With an intro by Ed Humble, the great grandson of Jack Humble.
UNTOLD: Thank you
Tony: An honour and a privilege