For the second year running Arsenal are going to the Houses of Parliament.
Not the whole of Parliament of course, but one of the Committee rooms. Courtesy of the MP for Islington (which as you may have noticed is the Borough in which Arsenal play) the Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association have got the room for the evening.
Last year the Association came up trumps at the same location by bringing in the great grand daughter of Jack Humble, who has as strong a claim as anyone to be the founder of the club. Jack was the first chairman of Woolwich Arsenal FC when it entered the Football League in 1893, and was a player and a senior administrator for Royal Arsenal FC, the precursor of Woolwich Arsenal.
This year’s event, which is strictly ticket only (so if you haven’t got a ticket you won’t get in) is being held to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the announcement that Arsenal were moving from their home in Plumstead to Islington.
That news broke on 5th February 1913, so AISA is to be congratulated in getting a House of Commons room within two days of the 100th anniversary.
At the time of the first release of the news it was well known that Arsenal were on the move, but quite where chairman Henry Norris* was going to take them was not known. There had been stories about Haringey, and various other parts of London, and it wasn’t for another two weeks that the papers were able to reveal the full details: Arsenal were heading for Gillespie Road.
The search for a new home for Arsenal had taken Henry Norris several months, but he was always clear as to what he was looking for. First, he wanted a ground that could hold a large crowd (Chelsea had been attracting 50,000 plus in their converted athletics stadium since they opened in 1905).
Second he deliberately wanted to be near other teams in order to maximize local rivalry and continuous coverage of football in the local daily papers which were the heartbeat of London 100 years ago. And third he wanted to be in an area that had excellent rail connections to the capital and surrounding areas.
Gillespie Road, as the stadium was initially known, met all three requirements, and most of Henry Norris’ time between the start of his quest in the summer of 1912 and the signing of the lease in 1913, was taken up negotiating a lease for the club to use the land.
The matter was finally confirmed on 22 February 1913, and immediately Tottenham Hotspur launched an opposition campaign, but as Norris knew (for he was not one to go into any scheme without careful planning) the opposition was doomed to failure. Precedent had shown that the Football League rules at the time had nothing to say where clubs played.
A second opposition campaign which persuaded Islington Council to vote to do everything they could to stop Arsenal coming to Islington was also doomed before it got going. Planning permission rules such as we know them today hardly existed in 1913, and there was nothing to stop Arsenal moving virtually anywhere they wanted. Quite simply the Council had no say in the matter.
So here we are at the 100th anniversary of the revelation that Arsenal were heading to Islington. It took another five months to get the ground ready for the opening of the new season, and even then it was hardly “ready” in the modern sense of the word.
But happen the move did, and Arsenal kicked off the 1913/14 season in their new Highgbury home. Although it is also interesting to note that they continued to be called Woolwich Arsenal FC until 1915.
Full congratulations to AISA for getting themselves a room in the House of Commons on this auspicious occasion. With luck my press pass will let me in and I’ll be able to report on the events at the party for GoonerNews.com on Friday.
* Just to avoid any confusion, at the time of these events the chairman of Arsenal was Henry Norris. He became Lt Col Sir Henry Norris in 1917. And in case you want to be up with these events in future, you can find out about AISA and indeed join the Association at www.aisa.org