Arsenal History Part II: Why Chelsea FC Is Not Fit to Tie Arsenal's Shoelaces

H Andel@Gol Iath @gol_iathAnalyst IIIMarch 18, 2012

LONDON - JULY 22:  Fans wave flags prior to kickoff during the Dennis Bergkamp testimonial match between Arsenal and Ajax at the Emirates Stadium on July 22, 2006 in London, England.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

This is the second part of my Arsenal chronicle in the light of England's top five clubs.

Chelsea and the Question of Success

Let me first explain my provocative title.

It is not intended to slight respectable Chelsea fans, but it does mean to address the rash and brash fans that write things such as "shut up and mind ur clubs failures. Leave chelsea alone."

Or that Arsenal fans should "go help your club raise funds to buys players and stop raising kids.."

I respect Chelsea.

I admire Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Juan Mata, even David Luiz and Michael Essien. I used to be an admirer of the now out-of-favor Jon Mikel Obi.

I find the "dog bite" incident, The Butcher's Hook connection and Henry Augustus Mears' vision to start a club very admirable.

Such moments as the above are the markers that clubs celebrate, moments that fans are proud of, moments opposing fans doff their hats to.

However, when a club traces her history, she must not do so in isolation. It is why, this chronicle is considered alongside the histories of other top clubs, a group to which Chelsea undoubtedly and deservedly belongs.

But for any Chelsea fan to have the audacity to call Arsenal a failed club, that fan shows either that he or she was born yesterday and thus is ignorant of basic history, else that he or she thinks a few titles in the last decade equals unequaled success.

Surely, this is not true in the case of Chelsea vis-a-vis Arsenal.

For example, Arsenal have 13 League titles, 10 FA Cup trophies, two League Cup titles, seven Community Shields and one European Cup Winners' Cup to Chelsea's four League titles, six FA Cup trophies, four League Cups, four Community Shields and three European titles.

Clearly, mine is not a failed club and yours the successful one.

But as I have said, my apologies to thoughtful Chelsea fans. My quarrel is not with you, and I don't mean to demean your club's achievements.

I'd like though to point out one more thing.

When the topic of success pari passu failure are raised, they must be considered in the context of valid questions, such as "what, really, is success and failure? In the light of what is the conclusion drawn?"

These are just two of such questions.

Certainly, when you consider Chelsea's recent successes in the light of their oligarch and the money the club has spent, some of it seemingly down the drain, it must make one pause, that is, if one cares at all about larger issues of life.

William McGregor
William McGregor

My point is a question, not judgement, at least not yet.

Boasting rights are garnered when proper comparisons are made. Should the fact that Arsenal's consistent finish in the top four in the last 15 years mean we are suddenly better than Liverpool, for example?

Or do Chelsea's recent successes mean that Liverpool's remarkable achievements are suddenly irrelevant?

Or yet again, should the fact that Manchester United have now won one more title than Liverpool mean that Liverpool's prior dominance holds no more value?

And yet still, does the fact that Manchester United have eclipsed Manchester City, and Arsenal, Spurs, constitute lack of other admirable achievements and virtues in the case of these other clubs?

The internet has brought us accessible knowledge; it has enabled instant communication, but I fear that a big part of the world is descending into silliness.

Silliness is what I consider comments such as the above or a title such as mine, if it happens to be in earnest. Mine is not, so again, apologies to thoughtful Chelsea fans.

The Chronicle

In this second part of the chronicle, I will examine the foundation of organized competition among clubs. This will help us eventually be able to draw proper comparisons between the six clubs examined here.

After the founding of these clubs, each was involved in various and diverse matches, which don't count in this chronicle.

My interest lies only with competitive matches. The Football League helped in organizing these in the early days of what was known as Association Football to distinguish it from other early "foot"balls.

Football League

This is how the Football League came about. 

William McGregor was a "draper"—an old-fashion word for a cloth merchant in the Victorian Era (1837-1901)—relocated to Birmingham, England in 1870 from Perthshire, Central Scotland. Having helped found Aston Villa in 1874, and being frustrated with the irregular nature of football matches in those days, wrote the now-famous letter to four other clubs in existence at the time—Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End and West Bromwich Albion.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 04:  A flag celebrating Manchester United progressing to the Final of the Champions League for sale ahead of the UEFA Champions League Semi Final second leg at Old Trafford on May 4, 2011 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michae
Michael Regan/Getty Images

This is McGregor's letter, written on March 2, 1888:

Every year it is becoming more and more difficult for football clubs of any standing to meet their friendly engagements and even arrange friendly matches. The consequence is that at the last moment, through cup-tie interference, clubs are compelled to take on teams who will not attract the public.

I beg to tender the following suggestion as a means of getting over the difficulty: that ten or twelve of the most prominent clubs in England combine to arrange home-and-away fixtures each season, the said fixtures to be arranged at a friendly conference about the same time as the International Conference.

This combination might be known as the Association Football Union, and could be managed by representative from each club. Of course, this is in no way to interfere with the National Association; even the suggested matches might be played under cup-tie rules. However, this is a detail.

My object in writing to you at present is merely to draw your attention to the subject, and to suggest a friendly conference to discuss the matter more fully. I would take it as a favour if you would kindly think the matter over, and make whatever suggestions you deem necessary.

I am only writing to the following – Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End, West Bromwich Albion, and Aston Villa, and would like to hear what other clubs you would suggest.

I am, yours very truly, William McGregor (Aston Villa F.C.)
P.S. How would Friday, 23rd March, 1888, suit for the friendly conference at Anderton's Hotel, London?


Three weeks later, on 24 March, a meeting was called to help examine the suggestion. The venue was Anderton's Hotel in Fleet Street, London, on the occasion of West Bromwich Albion's 2-1 FA Cup victory over Preston North.

A further meeting was held on 17 April at the Royal Hotel, Manchester, at which meeting the name "Football League" was agreed upon for the new competition, which kicked off on September 8.

Thus was born the world's oldest Football League.

See below for a list of the 12 founding teams of the Football League and their relationship to Arsenal.

We should pause and clear up a small matter, which is that the Football League wasn't the first competition between existing professional clubs.

Three years before the formation of the Football League, the Football Association (FA) had licensed professionalism for clubs, so that clubs could legally pay the players.

Now since we've seen that the first meeting to decide the matter of the Football League was on the occasion of an FA Cup final, we should contextualize the story by examining what the FA was. 

Football Association

Let's appeal to an absurdity to get started. 

Earlier this week (March 13) Premier League chairman Dave Richards accused FIFA and UEFA of stealing football from the English.

The claim reverberated around the world, even The New York Times did a digest on the incident. Here are Richards' words:

England gave the world football. It gave the best legacy anyone could give. We gave them the game. For 50 years, we owned the game … we were the governance of the game. We wrote the rules, designed the pitches and everything else. Then, 50 years later, some guy came along and said you’re liars and they actually stole it. It was called FIFA. Fifty years later, another gang came along called UEFA and stole a bit more.

Although Richards has since apologized for the comments and must surely be red in the face in the next few days, there's more than a grain of truth in his comments.

What isn't true is the claim that any one nation started football. For wherever children exist, they must kick around objects spherical, and since humans, even children, cannot but compete, surely in kicking the round thing, which every region on this emerald planet must have done, even when our forebears still ran around naked, every nation or peoples could claim to have invented football.

The Chinese, for example, are adamant about this, and I'm sure that cavemen would lay a strong claim to being the original founders as well, that is, if we could find them.

What is important to note though is the "rules" part in Richards' claim. That is true, and that brings us back to our story.

Here are the outlines:

  • Humans have kicked spherical objects around since their cavemen days.
  • If we make our way to Britain of early 19th century we would find a game, more akin to rugby, in vogue in every of its four corners.
  • Each corner had its own way of playing the game, that is, rules as to how the game should be played were as fixed as the "British accent".
  • So 1863 happened. 

It was in 1863 that "the chief clubs and schools playing their own versions of the game met to form 'The Football Association,'" according to 

The date was 26 October 1863.  Twelve "chief clubs" were present. One walked out because hacking—the practice of kicking an opponent below the knee—was disallowed.

Hereafter, the rules fashioned out that day were followed by and large, with pockets of resistance here and there, but this were finally put to bed in 1870 when IFAB—International Football Association Board—was formed.

IFAB comprised of "two representatives from each of the four associations of the United Kingdom." It met for the first time on 2 June 1886 "to guard the Laws of the Game."

The Challenge Club

The next important date in this narrative is 1871, the year the FA's "Challenge Cup" was established.

"Wanderers, a team formed by ex-public school and university players," says, "won the first  “Cup Final” 1-0 against Royal Engineers at Kennington Oval." 

"The FA Cup has become established as one of England’s great sporting institutions," continues the FA's official narrative. "Its history and tradition, and especially the pageantry of The Final, is familiar to millions at home and abroad."

It is the cup we find West Brom winning—17 years after the cup was established—on the day the meeting to form the Football League was held.

To summarize then, since 1863, football matches were being played between the "chief clubs and schools," but without much rhyme and reason as is apparent from McGregor's discontent, a discontent that led to the formation of the Football League to ensure consistency and proper organization.

The Five Clubs in This Chronicle and the Football League

Manchester United

Manchester United predates the Football League by 10 years, having been formed in 1878 under the name Newton Heath LYR Football Club.

In the year of Football League's formation,  Newton Heath joined The Combination, a minor football league, formed the same year for football clubs of Northern England and the Midlands.

The Combination lasted for only a season, so when it disbanded, Newton Heath joined the Football Alliance, formed by 12 clubs as a rival league to the Football League. It lasted three years, then merged with the Football League.

Newton Heath therefore joined the Football League in 1892.


Liverpool wasn't in existence when the Football League was formed. Indeed, the club came to being the year Manchester United (or rather Newton Heath) joined the Football League. They joined the Football League in 1893 a year after the club's founding.

Manchester City

Manchester City, the reader would recall from the first part of this chronicle, was formed in 1880 as Ardwick F.C, two years after Manchester United (Newton Heath), and eight years before the Football League. The club, however, did not join the newly-formed League, the membership of which was by invitation only, in any case.

Manchester City joined the Football Alliance in 1891, the league's final season. When the Football League formed a second division in 1892, Ardwick (or Manchester City) became a member.


Chelsea was formed 17 years after the Football League was founded. They were elected to the Football League the same season.

Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs were formed in 1882, six years before the formation of the Football League. They became part of the Southern League and were a member of this league until 1908 when the club was elected to the Football League's second division.

The Southern League was formed in 1894 as an alternative league for Southern clubs. The Football League comprised of Northern and Midland clubs. Spurs joined in the League's third season (1896-1897), finishing fourth on the first division table that year.


Football in the southern part of England, unlike in the north, and certainly professionalism, was slow to develop. As a matter of fact the London Football Association was against professionalism even at a time when the FA had licensed it.

At the time a "powerful Old Boys’ network of clubs from the public schools [was] dominant in the south."

Think "as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end."

This is more remarkable, not only because as noted above, professionalism had been licensed at this time, but also because the London Football Association was formed by the FA itself, and yet again, because the chief opposer to the idea was the founder of the FA, himself, Mr. N.L Jackson.

The duty of the London Football Association was to organize local competition, which is the reason it is easy to see why it was against professionalism, where it seems that the powers-to-be at the time found it difficult to harmonize "local" with "professional."

Thus it was, that southern football clubs lagged behind their northern and midland counterparts.

Woolwich Arsenal and the Southern League

Arsenal, then known as Woolwich Arsenal, proposed the idea of the Southern League, a league to mirror the Football League of the north and midlands after an initial attempt had failed two years prior.

Here is the story from the Southern League website:

The London FA decided to convene a meeting at the Salutation Tavern in Newgate Street, London on 13th March 1890 to consider a proposed ‘Southern League’. The main critic was the influential founder of the Football Association, Mr N.L.Jackson, who claimed that such a league would not really benefit London football. His motion ‘That it was not desirable to form a league’ was seconded by Mr J Farmer and narrowly passed 47-46.

Woolwich Arsenal investigated the subject two years later by sending a circular to suitable clubs to form a ‘Southern League’. They had caused a stir in the south by adopting professionalism at their AGM in 1891 and found themselves expelled by the London FA and refused entry from all cup competitions in the south.

In this latter meeting, 26 clubs were in attendance and voted to start the Southern League. The idea, however, was scuppered by these clubs' managements because:

Playing with professionals, even if retaining amateur status, would displease the London FA and county bodies.

The clubs refused to ratify the decisions which their delegates had overwhelmingly agreed at the meeting and within a fortnight five clubs had dropped out and the idea again died.

When in 1893, the idea was resuscitated, Woolwich Arsenal had lost interest. It was the year Arsenal joined the Football League (having turned professional two years prior) as a second division club.

Larger Context

Founding clubs of the Football League

The chronicle will continue, please watch for it.

Read Part I of the chronicle here.


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