Football is not a matter of life or death, it is more important than that


 Arsenal was originally formed in 1886 by a group of workers at the Woolwich armaments factory in south London, and the club was first known as Dial Square. The name was soon changed to Royal Arsenal, though when the club turned professional in 1891 the name changed again to Woolwich Arsenal. The prefix was later dropped and the club became Arsenal Football Club. For a period it was popularly known as The Arsenal though this was never the club's official name. Arsenal Football Club began life when a group of workers at the Woolwich Arsenal Armament Factory decided to form a football team in late 1886. The Club played under the name of Dial Square. Their first match was a 6-0 victory over Eastern Wanderers, on December 11, 1886. Soon after, the name Royal Arsenal was adopted and the Club continued playing in friendlies and local cup competitions for the next few years.

In 1891 the Club turned professional and changed its name to Woolwich Arsenal, finally joining the Football League in 1893. The Gunners moved to Highbury in 1913, as a Second Division side. Following the First World War Arsenal were voted into the newly expanded First Division, where they have remained ever since.

Arsenal Football Club was elected to the 2nd division of the Football League in 1893, and gained promotion to the 1st division in 1904. The club survived in the first division for nine years, high points of that period coming in 1906 when the semi-final of the FA Cup was reached, and in 1909 when a 6th place finish in the league was achieved.

Unfortunately, relegation followed in 1913, but coincided with a major landmark in the club's history. Having played for the previous 27 years at various sites in Plumstead, South London, the club moved to its present site at Arsenal Stadium, Highbury, North London. The move was instigated by the then chairman, Sir Henry Norris who foresaw greater potential for the club in the north London catchment area. It almost paid off in the following season when Arsenal missed out on promotion only on goal average, and 5th place was achieved in 1915 before the hiatus caused by the 1st World War.

Promotion back to the 1st division was engineered by the colourful Sir Henry under somewhat contentious circumstances when the Football League resumed in 1919, and Arsenal has not been relegated since, thus holding the record for unbroken tenure in the top division of English football. The incident remains the source of rancour with local rivals Tottenham, along with the earlier move when Arsenal were seen as invading their new neighbours' north London fiefdom. Spurs had finished the 1915 season at the bottom of the 1st division, but after the war the league was expanded to include an extra 2 teams in division 1, so Tottenham expected to stay up after the top 2 teams in Division 2 were promoted. However, Norris somehow managed to get Arsenal elected in their place, and elements of the Tottenham support have nursed a grievance ever since.

The following few seasons saw the club maintain a mediocre standard adequate to remaining in the 1st division, but insufficient to progress. However, after narrowly avoiding relegation in 1925, another turning point in Arsenal's fortunes was reached. The legendary Herbert Chapman, fresh from guiding Huddersfield to the first 2 of their 3 successive titles, was appointed manager and over the next 9 years transformed Arsenal from an average first division club into one of the great names in world football.

The visionary Chapman had the nearby underground station renamed in honour of the club, introduced the now famous white sleeves and pioneered the use of shirt numbers. Under his guidance Arsenal gradually progressed in the late twenties, coming 2nd in the league in 1926 and reaching the Cup final in 1927. The club went on to dominate English football over the following decade. The FA Cup became Arsenal's first major trophy in 1930, and the first league championship in 1931 was followed by a further 4 titles and another FA Cup over the next 7 years.

1937-38 brought Arsenal's 5th league title in seven years, though the near invincible team which had dominated the decade was generally held to be in decline. After the interruption caused by the 2nd World War, Tom Whittaker forged another great team, and 2 more titles (1947-48 and 1952-53) and an FA Cup (1950) were won over a 5 year period, with the 1951-52 season also seeing the Gunners narrowly miss the elusive double, runners up in both league and FA cup.

Whittaker's death in 1956 marked a decline in fortunes of the great club, and a barren 14 years followed. Even the appointment as manager of Billy Wright, one of the great names in English football, failed to turn things round, and it took an unknown to bring the glory days back to Highbury. Bertie Mee was previously the club physio and had minimal experience in professional football when he took over as manager in 1966, but he led the club to Wembley in the League cup final in 1968 (though that ended in ignominious defeat to 3rd division Swindon), and 2 years later Arsenal captured their first European trophy, winning the UEFA Fairs Cup against Anderlecht, having to come back from a 3-1 first leg deficit to do so.

The Second World War stopped Arsenal in their tracks but Tom Whittaker became manager and more success followed. Arsenal were Champions in 1947/48 and 1952/53; FA Cup winners in 1950 and runners-up in 1952. The ‘60s provided little in the way of silverware at Highbury, with two losing appearances in the League Cup Final in 1968 and 1969 being the closest thing to success. Bertie Mee had taken over in the mid-Sixties and Arsenal lifted their first ever European trophy in 1969/70, beating Anderlecht 4-3 over the two legged Fairs Cup Final.

The following season was to be the most successful in the club's history so far, when the mythical domestic double was achieved. The league was clinched on the sweetest of nights, a 1-0 win at the home of the old enemy Tottenham, and the FA Cup followed a few days later, a Charlie George goal winning the cup in extra time at Wembley against Liverpool.

The double success wasn't really built upon, despite reaching the FA cup final again in 1972 and finishing second in the league the following season, and Arsenal became a mid-table team once again during the mid seventies. Towards the end of the decade however, under Terry Neill and Don Howe, some success returned when Arsenal set another record, reaching the FA Cup final in 3 successive seasons. Only the middle visit to Wembley, in 1979, was triumphant, a thrilling last minute 3-2 victory against Manchester United. The following season saw cup heartbreak when Arsenal lost the FA Cup final to West Ham, and 4 days later the European Cup Winners Cup final to Valencia on penalties. An Arsenal side containing the likes of Charlie George, George Armstrong, Ray Kennedy and captain Frank McLintock, won the league and FA Cup ‘double’. They clinched the title at White Hart Lane, then beat Liverpool after extra time at Wembley to win the Cup. The side returned to Wembley for three consecutive FA Cup Finals under Terry Neill at the end of the decade — winning the second of them, 3-2 against Manchester United. The game became known as the ‘Five Minute Final’. The Gunners also reached the 1980 Cup Winners’ Cup Final, with a team that included Graham Rix, Frank Stapleton, Pat Rice, David O’Leary and Liam Brady, but lost on penalties to Valencia.

Success became more habitual once again during the George Graham era. After Graham took over in 1986, Arsenal won six major trophies in the next eight years. A League Cup triumph in 1987 was built upon, and in 1989 the league championship returned to Highbury after an 18 year absence when Arsenal pipped Liverpool to the title on goals scored. In the most exciting finish to the league season ever witnessed in English football the final, deciding match at Anfield was won 2-0 with a now definitive last minute winner by Michael Thomas. Another championship followed two years later when Arsenal lost only one league game and conceded just 18 goals in 38 matches. In 1986 George Graham, a member of the 1971 ‘double’ winning team, took over as manager from Don Howe and more glory days followed. He led Arsenal to their first ever League Cup triumph in 1986/87, beating Liverpool 2-1 in the Final. Two years later the Gunners won the League Championship, with a famous last minute goal from Michael Thomas clinching the title with a 2-0 win at Anfield. Another title followed in 1990/91, when the side, including the famous defensive back four, lost just one league game.

More silverware followed. In 1992/93 Arsenal became the first club to win both domestic cups in the same season. Sheffield Wednesday were the beaten side on both occasions. Graham’s era of success was rounded off the following season. A superb run in the European Cup Winners’ Cup ended with a memorable 1-0 win over Parma in the Final in Copenhagen, thanks to Alan Smith’s strike. Arsenal failed to retain the trophy the following season, losing in the 1995 final to Real Zaragoza. By this time George Graham had left the Club. He was succeeded by Bruce Rioch, who was in charge for one season, during which time he signed Dennis Bergkamp.

Arsenal's Premiership history - 1992 to the present

In the Premiership's inaugural year 1992-93, still under Graham's stern control, Arsenal again made history by becoming the first team ever to win both domestic cups in the same season, Sheffield Wednesday the unfortunate victims on both occasions. Arsenal came from behind to win the Coca Cola Cup 2-1, and eventually also won the FA Cup, winning the replay by the same score with a last minute extra time winner from Andy Linighan. The following year an ambition for further European success was fulfilled by winning the European Cup Winners' Cup in Copenhagen. Graham's workmanlike side were underdogs against the star-studded Parma of Italy, but defended doggedly for much of the match to carve out a trademark 1-0 win with Alan Smith's winner.

However, despite the cup successes with what at the time was regarded as an ageing team, Arsenal's league results during the first 3 years of the Premiership were distinctly ordinary, and following the Rune Hauge bung affair Graham was disgraced and sacked in the middle of the 94-95 season. Under the temporary stewardship of Stewart Houston, Arsenal did manage to reach the Cup Winners Cup final for the 2nd successive year, but lost in the final seconds of extra time to the Spanish team, Real Zaragoza.

The period 1995-1997 turned out to be transitional and somewhat turbulent. Bruce Rioch was installed as manager in June 1995, but after guiding Arsenal to UEFA Cup qualification with a 5th place finish in the league and significantly signing Dennis Bergkamp, he was inexplicably sacked in August 1996 just days before the new season was due to begin. The sanity and motives of the Arsenal board were questioned, but eventually the Frenchman Arsene Wenger was confirmed as Arsenal's new manager at the end of September. He quickly impressed the Arsenal faithful by the calm and assured way he took control, and without making any major changes (apart from introducing the majestic Vieira) took Arsenal to 3rd in the league, and qualification for the UEFA Cup again, by the end of the season.

In 1997/98, Wenger’s first full season at Highbury, Arsenal achieved, for the second time in the Club’s history, the League and FA Cup ‘double’ enabling the Frenchman to pick up the Carling Manager of the Year Award. Dennis Bergkamp was also named Football Writers’ Association (FWA) Player of the Year and PFA Player of the Year. A tremendous season was rounded off perfectly for French Internationals Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira as the Gunners stars played their part in France’s victorious World Cup campaign.

1997-98, he made history by winning the double for the second time. With some astute close season signings from abroad he revitalised and reforged the team, apart from the astonishingly enduring defence. The new faces took time to bed in, and the early part of the season reached a low point with a UEFA Cup 1st round exit at the hands of PAOK Saloniki, but the ultimate result was an exhilirating and irresistible late season surge. At one point in January 13 points behind Manchester United, Arsenal eclipsed their rivals in the title run-in to clinch their first Premiership (and 11th league) title with 2 games to spare. The second half of the double, the FA Cup, was acheived with a comfortable 2-0 win against Newcastle at Wembley in May.

Three consecutive league runners-up medals followed and in 2000 Arsenal appeared in the UEFA Cup Final where they lost on penalties. In 2001 the Club reached the Quarter-Finals of the UEFA Champions League before being knocked out by Valencia. 2001/02 however saw a reversal of fortunes as the Club recorded their third ‘double’ by beating Chelsea in the FA Cup and ending their league campaign with a 13-game unbeaten run and a memorable 1-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford. Arsenal remained unbeaten at home for the whole season. For that, Arsène Wenger was named Barclaycard Manager of the Year while Robert Pires was named Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year.

The following season Arsenal narrowly missed out on retaining the title but the Gunners became the first English club in more than 20 years to retain the FA Cup with their 1-0 victory over Southampton at Cardiff. Thierry Henry was voted player of the season by both the PFA and the Football Writers’ Association in a term which saw him join Dennis Bergkamp in the hallowed 100 Club having scored a century of goals for Arsenal. Season 2003/2004 saw Arsenal win back the title in unbeatable fashion managing to go though the entire league season without a single defeat. Finishing 11 points ahead of second-place Chelsea, Arsenal smashed several records on the way to their 13th league title win. Spanish youngster Cesc Fabregas arrived in January and by the end of the season had broken the record for the youngest Arsenal appearance aged 16 years and 177 days.

A Semi-Final defeat in the FA Cup by Manchester United and the Quarter-Finals of the Champions League by Chelsea ended any hope of a remarkable treble. The unbeaten league run continued the following season and in August 2004 Arsenal overtook Nottingham Forest’s record for the longest all-time unbeaten sequence in English league football. The Gunners made it five trophies in four seasons by winning the FA Cup in a penalty shoot-out victory over Manchester United.

The 2005/06 campaign was the Club’s last at Highbury and the Final Salute celebrations proved to be a fitting goodbye to the Club’s home of 93 years. Fourth place in the league — and Champions League football — was secured on the last day of the season with a 4-2 win over Wigan Athletic (coupled with Tottenham’s loss at West Ham United). Arsenal’s alltime record at Highbury reads as follows: Played 2,010; Won 1,196; Drawn 475; Lost 339; Goals Scored 4,038; Goals Conceded 1,955.

The highlight of the season was the Club’s amazing journey to the 2005/06 Champions League Final in Paris. A 12- game unbeaten run, including a new competition record for the most amount of consecutive clean sheets (10 in all), saw Arsenal line-up against Barcelona in the Final on May 17 at the Stade de France. Despite having Jens Lehmann sent-off after just 18 minutes, the Gunners scored first through Sol Campbell before, in the second-half, the Spaniards scored two late goals to break the hearts of the travelling Arsenal support.

The team almost performed similar heroics the following season, but this time fell just short, losing unluckily in FA Cup semi-final extra time to Manchester United, and missing out on the title to the same deadly rivals by just one point. In a sign of times to come, a reserve Arsenal side played in the Worthington cup, losing heavily in the 4th round to Chelsea. The Gunners also disappointed in the Champions' League, failing to get beyond the group stages as self inflicted woes cost them dear.

As the Club prepared itself for the move to Emirates Stadium, Gunners captain and record goalscorer, Thierry Henry committed his future to Arsenal before going on to help France reach the World Cup Final in Germany in the summer of 2006. In July, 2006 the Club left Highbury, their stadium of 93 years, and moved to their new home. Ajax provided the opposition in Dennis Bergkamp’s Testimonial as the legendary striker played his last game for the Club in the first ever match at Emirates Stadium.


© 2008 Paul Kavanagh. All rights reserved.