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The History of Arsenal: A Topic for Schools

John Simkin

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I have produced a detailed online history of Arsenal (1886-1960). Arsenal probably has the best range of primary and secondary sources available of all the football clubs.


In 1905, Arthur Kennedy, the vice-chairman of the club, wrote an article, The History of Woolwich Arsenal. As he points out: “In dealing with the history of the Arsenal Club, I may mention that prior to 1886 Association football was practically unknown in the district, Rugger holding the sway… In this year, however, a number of enthusiasts for the Soccer code, who had migrated from the North and Midlands, conceived the idea of forming an association club, with the result that a meeting was held at the Royal Oak, Woolwich, and the present club saw its inception under the title of the Royal Arsenal Football Club”. This article appeared the following year in The Book of Football (1906).

In 1952 Bernard Joy, a football journalist who played for Arsenal between 1935 and 1946, published an excellent history of the club entitled “Forward Arsenal”. Joy was given access to the Arsenal archives and the book is especially good on the early history of the club.

Another important source is Charlie Buchan’s Lifetime in Football (1955). Buchan watched Woolwich Arsenal play at the end of the 19th century. He signed for the club in 1908 but left over an expenses dispute before making the first-team. After a successful football career at Sunderland (he also taught at a local school during this period) he rejoined Arsenal in 1925 when he became Herbert Chapman’s first signing. Buchan, like Joy, became a football journalist and is better written than most football autobiographies.

Herbert Chapman, the most successful manager in football history, wrote a weekly column for the Daily Express. After his early death in 1934, a collection of these articles were published in the book, "Herbert Chapman on Football" (1935). This book provides a fascinating insight into how Chapman revolutionized football.

Chapman’s trainer, Tom Whittaker, who later managed the club, published his memoirs, "The Arsenal Story", in 1957. Bob Wall, who became Chapman’s assistant at the age of 16, published his autobiography, "Arsenal From the Heart" (1969).

Other people who played for Chapman’s Arsenal also wrote about their experiences. This includes: Eddie Hapgood’s “Football Ambassador” (1945) and Cliff Bastin’s “Clif Bastin Remembers” (1950). There are also numerous books by footballers who watched as boys and played against as men, the great Arsenal team managed by Chapman/Allison/Whittaker. The best of these include Wilf Mannion’s “Association Football” (1949), Tommy Lawton’s “My Twenty Years of Soccer” (1955), Len Shackleton’s “Crown Prince of Soccer” (1955), Matt Busby’s “Soccer at the Top (1973), Bill Shankley’s “Shankly” (1977), Stanley Matthews’ “The Way it Was” (2000) and Tom Finney’s “My Autobiography” (2003).

Another interesting source is Brian Glanville account as a supporter of the Arsenal team: “Football Memories” (1999).

In 1957 my uncle introduced to me to Joe Hulme, who Herbert Chapman signed in 1926. Hulme lived across the road to my uncle in Golders Green. Unfortunately, I did not know enough about the history of Arsenal to ask any sensible questions. One thing I remember was my uncle asking him about the game he had reported on in the News of the World the previous week. He confessed he did not attend the match and the report was written by a staff journalist.

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Guest Gary Loughran

John, the Spartacus piece really is an excellent piece of work.

You sure you're not a Gooner, in disguise?

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John, the Spartacus piece really is an excellent piece of work.

You sure you're not a Gooner, in disguise?

I have only concentrated on Arsenal because of their importance in the history of football. See also my pages on other teams that played an important role in this history:

Preston North End


Aston Villa




West Bromwich Albion


Manchester United


Manchester City


Sheffield United


Derby County








I will be producing a detailed early history of West Ham when I do my next section of my history of football course: Football and the British Empire. See the proposed course here:


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