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Hamilton House

Making The Arsenal


Tony Attwood (AISA Committee member i/c the AISA History project) is the sort of guy who could be accused of running a crusade.

Quite simply, he wants us to remember that one hundred years ago events took place that led directly to the start of the modern Arsenal.

As Tony recognises, getting this message across is a bit of an uphill battle, because this season is also the anniversary of the first major trophy win, and of the first European success. There are other things to celebrate.

But Tony’s message is simple: in the 1909/1910 season Woolwich Arsenal spent most of the time bottom of the first division (they avoided relegation with one game to spare) and they also went bust. In the summer of 1910 Henry Norris, the man who owned Fulham FC and Southern League Croydon Common bought Arsenal, and attempted to move the club to Craven Cottage. (He also attempted to buy Reading, but that deal fell through).

Although the move to Fulham was blocked by the outgoing owners, Tony’s point is that without this takeover, the club would have folded. Norris not only saved the club, his actions led directly to the move to Highbury, the promotion back to the first division in 1919, and the arrival of Herbert Chapman (whom Norris persuaded to leave the top team in the land, to come to a club that had never won anything).

That’s MAKING THE ARSENAL – the story of 1910. Except that Tony has decided not to write a history of Arsenal in 1910. Instead he has delivered a novel.

The story is that of a Fleet Street journalist who is given the job of following the financial collapse of the club. But in the process he stumbles across a government plan to move the torpedo factory at Woolwich to the Clyde – something that would decimate the support for the club.

This event – which is recorded in government records but has never appeared in any formal history of Arsenal FC – leads the hero and his friends on the track of a real-life government plot – while at the same time following the decline and rebirth of Woolwich Arsenal.

Tony wrote the story as fiction not just because there are gaps in the government record (which would make the formal history rather full of “the details at this point are missing”) but also because he sees football fiction as a genre that really needs developing.

We all remember “The Arsenal Stadium Mystery”, and Will Buckley’s “The Man Who Hated Football”, – Tony’s idea is to start re-telling the story of Arsenal’s history in a way that people who don’t normally read straight history books will find entertaining as well as informative.

So the book brings in Winston Churchill (the Home Secretary of the day, who had a direct involvement in the Arsenal story), Captain Kell (the founder of MI5, who were also exercised by activities in Woolwich), Florence Nightingale, Dr Crippen, and even Mr Crapper (inventor of the WC). In short, it’s historical fiction.

There’s no shortage of historical events – the earth passed through the tail of Haley’s comet, and all life was expected to end. The king (known because of his sexual appetite as Edward the Caresser), died. There was talk of revolution in the shires, and the police and the mob combined to attack the Suffragettes outside the House of Commons. There were even two general elections, and the second one ended in a tie.

In other words you get to know 1910, you get to know what happened to Arsenal, and you read a rollicking good yarn.

There’s more information on - where you can order to the book direct from the publishers. (You can also ask Tony to sign it if you wish and put a message in it for you or anyone you want to give a copy to).
Or if you prefer, there’s always Amazon (although at the time of writing they seem to have sold out of their stock. Tony assures me the publishers have sent another truck load to the on-line retailer.)

Tony Attwood is an AISA Committee Member, who has also contributed to the club programme, and the club’s official on-line biography of players. He is a regular contributor to Highbury High fanzine, and a season ticket holder in block 99.