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Royal Oak

Having produced a number of history series over the last few years on the site and in the midst of the international break, it feels like a good time to introduce another episodic foray. Having rather exhausted the retrospective route in the factual sense, I have decided to embellish our rich and fascinating history with a sense of geography. After all, an institution that has stood for some 125 years is likely to have a varied fixity of places, locations and buildings which are steeped in its ways. Indeed, Arsenal`s topography is more contentious than that of most football clubs being as we are one of the few surviving professional clubs that forsook its original locality when the club moved from Kent to North London in 1913. The series will look to delve into the importance of seminal locations, such as Highbury`s legendary halfway house, the marble halls, Gillespie Road tube station and Islington Town Hall and look to place them in the pantheon of the last 125 years and how they have contributed to the ongoing legend that is Arsenal Football Club.

My first feature will commemorate the very origins of the club. A place in which the seed of the club was first sewn and that must indelibly be looked upon as the embryo of Arsenal Football Club. It was the scene of the brainchild and, as well as that, a place the upwardly mobile forefathers of Arsenal liked to go for a big piss up. The Royal Oak pub in North Woolwich still stands today, modestly set amidst a panoramic composition of housing estates. It has changed slightly in appearance since it served the innovators of Arsenal`s creation thanks to an unsolicited demolition courtesy of the Luftwaffe in 1942. Now its green tiled exterior and net curtains mark it out as your average South London local. In early 1886, Scottish munitions worker David Danskin journeyed south to find work at the Woolwich Arsenal munitions factory. Likewise, Sunderland native Jack Humble had joined the large number of unemployed in Northern England and, legend has it, his poverty was such that he took the journey from Sunderland to Woolwich on foot. With the British army looking to stretch her empire ever more, the Boer War in South Africa made the Woolwich munitions factory an attractive prospect for job seekers. Humble and Danskin became good friends, they bonded over a mutual love for Association Football, which was beginning to take off in the North of Britain. Both were frustrated by their incarceration in Kent`s exclusively rugby territory. Danskin and Humble met for a quiet after work pint in the Royal Oak one evening in 1886 and Danskin suggested petitioning their colleagues with the idea of starting a football club. Humble, being the determined, upwardly mobile individual he was, agreed. Humble was also a staunch trade union activist who rabidly campaigned for greater options for leisure activities for workers.

The two men sat in this less than salubrious Kent boozer and sketched out their plan of action. Danskin sent a subscription list to his colleagues asking that those that share the desire to start a football club pay a contributory fee. 15 men contributed 6d each so that they could buy a ball. Danskin raised the other 10s and 6d himself and the men had their starting point. In December 1886, Danskin, Humble, Elijah Watkins and Richard Pearce would meet again in the Royal Oak hostelry to sketch out their action plan. It was in there that they realised that two of the men interested in joining the club- Fred Beardsley and Joseph Bates (who would tragically die in 1894 due to an on pitch incident in which his arm was so badly broken that it got infected on the quagmire of a pitch and, despite an amputation, he would die in hospital four days later) had previously played for Nottingham Forest. The four men agreed that they would need to call upon the experience of Beardsley and Bates. Whilst in the Royal Oak they discussed setting up their first game. They set plans in motion to play the now defunct Eastern Wanderers in Wapping in the Isle of Dogs on Christmas Eve, 1886. Arsenal won the game 6-0.

Now the first obstacle had been overcome, Danskin, Humble, Pearce, Watkins and Beardsley met in the Royal Oak once more, on Christmas Day 1886. It was here that Watkins was coerced into being Arsenal`s secretary. Some pressing matters needed to be surmounted. According to accomplished Arsenal historian Bernard Joy, it was at this meeting in the Royal Oak where the five men decided to play their games on Plumstead Common. (The pitch they had played on in Wapping had an open sewer behind one of the goals which the participators in the game were none too fond of). Danskin raised the matter of equipment too, the men could not afford to buy their own kit, so Beardsley pledged over his pint to write to his old club Nottingham Forest to see what charity they could provide. Beardsley was good to his word and Nottingham Forest generously donated 16 red shirts. But the importance of the pub was alluded to in a much more explicit way when it came to the other order of business. The team needed a name. It is not known for 100% certainty why the men decided on Royal Arsenal, but it is not a fantastic leap of logic to suggest that they`d amalgamated their place of work with the name of their favourite after work public house.

As the club got on its feet and began to establish itself amongst the host of more illustrious Northern football clubs, the Royal Oak stayed at the centre piece of Woolwich Arsenal`s early years. The players would often use it on Saturday evenings after home matches. The club was the bastion of working men who earned their corn with hard manual labour and liked to play as hard as they worked. The team had a reputation for being incredibly physical (a synonym for "psychotically violent" no doubt, you know, like when Stoke describe themselves as "competitive") and were noted for loutish drunken behaviour in the Royal Oak with their fans after matches. Centre half Bobby Buist apparently ended most Saturday nights after home fixtures standing on the Royal Oak tables with ale in hand, leading his colleagues in song. The players even reportedly used the pub to change before some home games. The pub still stands today on Woodman Street, a short stroll from North Woolwich station. There is no insignia to suggest its cultural importance; I would chance most locals that drink there are entirely unaware of its cultural currency. Though the club still recognise it as a cornerstone of their history, the main conference suite in Club Level bears the name Royal Oak. Motown dominates the jukebox in the Royal Oak nowadays and the pub`s darts side is very decent I`m told. Other than that, it is rather unremarkable save for its sentimental value to Gooners. If you are ever in Woolwich, I hope you raise a glass to the place and its cask of fine ales which lubricated the brain cells that bore the club.LD.

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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday October 10 2010

Time: 9:22PM

Your Comments

Nice story. But to suggest the Ales lubricated the brain cells that bore the club?? Apt, I guess. :)
Looking forward to an article praising Henry you'd get more than a fair share of comments on that.
Good old Woolwich Wanderers.
Tony Rocky Horror
TRH, that would have been better off being saved for the Norris one, mate. ;)
Nice start to what should be a great series, LD. However, I should point out that seeds are 'sown' not 'sewn', unless it's for some sort of vegetarian hippie vest . . .
Woolwich Wanderers who usurped Sp*rs in their own backyard. I'll take that.
As far as I'm aware Henry Norris isn't a geographical location so I'm not sure how he'd fit into the series. But I have convered him in several articles which Stratord Hotpsur fans may enjoy
Little Dutch
Inspired by your piece perhaps in the future we'll see similar stories over at VS about Stratford Spurs? How they were run out of North London by their far, far, far more successful neighbours. Great article and great theme this. Should give good scope for future articles.
I have to wonder why Spurs fans descend on an article titled "Royal Oak". I can see why they come here when the article is titled "Twitchy Bollox is a moron" or something, but what made them click on this one? Anyway ..... brilliant piece Tim, very interesting, and it's after reading pieces like this that I can afford myself a little chuckle when some of the more ardent suggest that you can't be a proper Gooner if you don't hail from the N5 area. Looking forward to the next piece.
Btw, the song in the intro the article is my all time fav Beatles song. :)
mr stillman..dont you think a picture of the old royal oak would have been nice at the top of the article? no pun said it still stands.
If there was a picture of the Royal Oak on the database I'd have put it on there. But there isn't. So I didn't.
Little Dutch
Let's see how cocky you feel Amos when you find yourself out on your arse, with no champs league revenue. Manchester City are going to usurp you, and then how are gonna pay for that big stadium, little man? You'll be off back to Woolwich with your arses on fire, whilst we parade the European Cup up and down outside your *****-hole. Maybe then you'd have to change your kit again: get rid of the white sleeves that you stole from your far, far more authentic neighbours and imitate the cherry red of Charlton. But then perhaps the black and white of the magpies would be more appropriate, eh Amos?
Tony Rocky Horror
It's not that hard to see why Spuds are considered the most deluded of supporters is it. Even by their standards though TRH is truly away with the fairies. The cost of our stadium is already covered. Come next month when Spuds accounts are revealed we'll see exactly why they're trying to sneak into social housing in Stratford. Still with Leyton Orient nearby at least they'll be able to claim some sort of superiority over their neighbours at last after so many, many, many years of whimpering in our shadow.
Excellent piece - you might know that the Arsenal History blog is focussing just on Woolwich Arsenal in the league, so earlier histories are great to see. Really worth focussing on Humble, I think, because he not only was there at the start, he stayed when the club got into the league, stayed when Norris bought the club out of administration 100 years go, and stayed when we took the 15 mile journey north in 1913 (interesting that distance, because it is not much more than Tottenham are taking to go to Stratford). Humble stayed on and only left as a director of the club when Norris fell - just before we won the FA Cup. I was lucky enough to have a meeting with Ivan Gazidis on the topic of celebrating Arsenal's history, a month or two back, as part of an AISA delegation, and put forward the notion of two statues outside of the Emirates - one of Chapman and one of Humble. The idea was well received. No promises of course, but it was a positive meeting. In case links are allowed and anyone is interested, the Woolwich Arsenal history is developed day by day on - we are currently doing "My grandfather played for Arsenal"
Cheers Tony, not actually seen that blog before but I shall be bookmarking it. I did a piece on Humble about 18 months ago
Little Dutch
TRH, to the tripe you just posted about us not being authentic, id like to direct you to jaelle's superb post in another thread that Arsenal is the club that has spawned /inspired max. number of clubs.
So we have a Jock and a Mackem starting up a football team in Sarf London ??? Hmm so there we have it, a proper Pikey team, Lmfao.
Only pulling yer *****ers girls lol, Tim that was actually quite interesting mate.
Ah, I have found the aforementioned Norris article. Interesting, and well researched, if horrendously forgiving to a conniving scoundrel. Apologies for assuming you hadn't written an article on him yet. Though no mention of his titanic bit of creative lobbying in the year the league started up again after world war one?
You'll need to do some more research to find out why the league opted for a London club instead of relegated Totts after WW1 DubaiSpur. There's no doubt that Norris used his influence to get Arsenal elected but it wasn't at your expense - there were other clubs that had a greater claim to a place than you did.
Really? look, chelsea were allowed to stay up because of the match that was fixed between United and Liverpool that was a direct cause of Chelsea falling into the bottom two. Fair enough. The top two teams in the scond division, Derby and Preston, were to be promoted, as the league was expanded to twenty-two teams.Again, no problems there. But then it gets murkier. Teams from the south felt that the northern sides were unfairly denying them access to the league, by block voting. So, the league needed at least two teams from London. Chelsea was one. There was a tribunal set up to decide who the other should be. Some said Tottenham, because they were already there and no other London club was in the top four of the second division. however, at this point, norris threatened to use his political influence to expose the corruption in the League if Arsenal, who were fifth in the second divison, were not allowed to be an option in the tribunal. So, it came down to Arsenal and Spurs being the two candidates. It's at this point that norris unduly influenced John Mckenna, chairman of Liverpool, one of the two teams involved in the match-fixing scandal. the result was that McKenna stood up and gave a lengthy speech promoting arsenal's claim to participate in the league over Spurs, something that had almost never been done before. The Spurs' representatives were shocked, and Arsenal won the vote with 18 to Spurs' eight. Even the vote was later alleged to have been rigged or unfiarly influenced. Look, I shouldn't be banging on about this, and I really don't feel unduly strongly about the issue-It's been ninety-one years, for Christ's sake;but your supposition that norris's actions weren't at our expense is wrong.
And besides, most of it is even today shrouded in mystery. There ould be an alternate reason why Barnsley and Wolves never got a look in either. And hell, even Birmingham City had a claim. But their claims more valid than ours? We won the FA Cup when we were non-league, that had to have counted then. Barnsley won the FA Cup once. Wolves won it twice, and are possibly the only team i'd consider to have had more of a claim than us, but that's without taking into account our higher attendances,which were higher at the time than any of the other clubs.And arsenal hadn't won anything at the time. So, no, I'd stick with spurs having the best claim to the division out of the others. So no, norris' s actions did directly affect us.
I can understand an interest in the history of your club, what i can't understand is legitimate bitterness from people who didn't live within fifty (in many cases closer to one hundred) years of a specific contentious incident. Using it as a tool for comments like Arsenal Gypsies, fine, haha, very funny, but actually being bitter about something your grandad wouldn't remember reaks of the inferiority complex that has come to be associated with Tottenham.
Ozi Gooner
The Totts version of history has always been written the same way. It's true that the league were looking for two London teams at the time but Tottenham weren't in London which counted against them. Whatever was said in support of anyone else it was still a secret ballot and expansion and elections to the league were carried out the same way before then and for many years after. The main reason Spurs didn't get elected is simply that not many people liked them. But it is hilarious that the spuds are still smarting about something so long ago that they've even won a title since!
Enjoyable piece. Makes you realise just how big clubs have become from such humble beginnings.
tonyrock..whats the point on an article of this nature....seems silly to be arguing along that line
Arsenal haven't any connections or traditions with North London, never have had. There is no 'Arsenal' in North London, never has been. Some might say "So what, it was a long time ago" etc, etc. But I happen to think it does matter, because football has always been about local pride, two towns or areas fighting it out. Arsenal aren't a North London club because they don't have any connections with North London. Arsenal are the only club in the country that don't have a place name in the title of the club, and there's a very good reason for that. However, I do applaud the charting of history in this piece. At least it's honest, and that's a start. A lot of the anger and vitriol would dissipate a little if the clubs and the fans engaged in a diplomatic dialogue, and the truth was over what happened was discussed sensibly. Arsenal don't have to say sorry, but it would be nice of them to admit that they were moved, as is the case here.
Tony Rocky Horror
We don't deny we were moved, but I don't see why we should apologise for it. Particularly not nowadays when Bolton's ground is not in Bolton (Middlebrook), Middlesbrough's ground is not in Middlesbrough, Upton Park is in East Ham, Queens Park Rangers have never played anywhere near Queens Park and when Tottenham are being quite open about the fact that they will move to East London if it suits their needs. If you examine most football clubs' histories and origins, you won't find much that is not regionally diluted somewhere along the line. (The Celtic Football Club for instance?) Granted we took a bigger leap than most, but 97 years later, Spurs are seriously looking at doing the same. In our 97 years in North London I think we can consider ourselves rooted in, just like the thousands of second and third generation immigrant families in the locality of the stadium can.
Little Dutch
But there is an Arsenal tradition in North London. We created one. It is well established and firmly rooted in the region. There's a tube station that's held that name for almost 80 years. It's worth noting that the particular environs of London we are discussing didn't really exist in the way we now envisage them until the mid 19th century when the industrial revolution brought people in their thousands to London. The supporters of both clubs were already for the most part 'immigrants' into the region or their early generation descendants by the time Arsenal were elected to the league. In that sense the establishment of traditions are often founded on the mobility and settlement of people.
Hmm..... nice try, but cobblers Amos. And Sideshow Mel does his best to spin it in his lengthy and inimitable style. I trust I've sewn (sic) a few seeds, which should appease the Deirdre Sparts among your lot.
I have to admit Amos your response did make me chuckle. And Sideshow Mel, you keep bringing up this issue of us moving to Stratford. But maybe that isn't the plan. Perhaps the massive Northumberland Park redevelopment project unveiled a while ago might've given you a clue. Or the fact that the club categorically deny any interest whatsoever in the Olympic Stadium. Also, I said Arsenal didn't have to apologise, just be honest. And accept that you hate us because we're there. We hate you because you never should have been there the first place.
Tony Rocky Horror
""I can confirm we have registered an interest in the Olympic Stadium site within the deadline of September 30, in conjunction with AEG [Europe], the world's largest entertainment and facilities management company," revealed Levy. Weird thing for Levy to have said isn't it if he's not interested? I think you've got the dynamics of the rivalry a little wrong. Spurs hate Arsenal. Arsenal laugh at Spurs. And if I'm Sideshow Mel, lordjonny there would have to be the Comic Book Collector Guy. Obsessed, miserable and very, very lonely as a result.
Little Dutch
Even their own web site confirms they have registered an interest in the Olympic stadium. What comedy the spuds provide. You can go back 91 years and find that we were able to play a better game and beat them even without kicking a ball. They were Billy-no-mates back then and they're Billy-no-mates now. Proof, if there weren't already proof enough, that the Spuds exist just for our amusement.
For a moment I suddenly felt kindly and diplomatic. Then i read nack your comments and I thought " No, still scum". Ah, well.
Tony Rocky Horror
You shouldn't be so hard on yourself TRH. It's true some might see you as scum but I think you are just miserable, lonely and unloved - with good reason mind.
Coming from a guy who's idea of a romantic night in consists of a sad, lonely whack-off to the strains of Gary Barlow's 'Forever Love'. As the tears roll down his face. Women don't find men who spend every waking hour looking at football stats very attractive. Such a shame. Let's sing from the same hymn sheet on one issue, however. Let's both agree that you're a ****.
Tony Rocky Horror
You're struggling more than a bit now TRH. That's a retort that would embarass a 14 year old if that's the best he could do. I'm not too familiar with the work of Gary Barlow myself - you clearly are. Seems you've lost the game again. Not an altogether unusual experience for you though.
That really is cringe worthy TRH.
It's called having a sense of humour paul.
Tony Rocky Horror
You certainly need a sense of humour to be a spud - but we haven't seen that side of you yet. Just banal, juvenile trolling. We've seen enough from you to know it doesn't get any better though.
I'm back just for a bit, in order to respond to Ozi Gooner and Amos. I myself did not label you Arsenal Gypsies. I specifically stated that it was 91 years ago now, and that anyone still nursing a grievance and anger about it must be either an artificially animated brain in a jar or a very, very bitter man. I do, however, repeat, for the benefit of those of you with either desperately impaired eyesight or Wenger-esque selective vision, I was responding to the claim that Norris didn't affect Spurs any more than any other club. He did. That's all. Make of that what you will. And TRH, you try to engage them in just one legitimate debate...
Ouch, TRH resorting to juvenile retorts.
That Spurs were more affected by Norris's success in getting Arsenal into the first division than the other clubs who also had fair claim to a place is clear from the fact that it is still much part of spud folklore. Spurs sensitivities would always ensure they'd be affected by it. The idea that there weren't other reasons for failing to convince other members of the merit of their claim above those of others is less historically accurate though.
Bahahahaaahhhaaaa - Stratford, hahahaha, so funny. What postcode is that? E15 or something? Personally I think you should sort out the area you live and contribute to the local warlord community than effin off to somewhere with maybe about as much deprivation. Effin tom tit holes, the both of em Well suited.
TRH, in terms of prominence there is only one big club in North London and very soon even numerically there will only be one club in North London. The Spud fans who think Levy is just flirting with Stratford to get the Haringey Council to bend over are mistaken and deluded. The financials of the East London move work better for the BEANCOUNTERS at Spurs. Finally that is what Levy is - a bean counter of Joe Lewis. Prepare for your East London journey TRH. Cheerio.
Another good read LD, I look forward to more.
Sir Henry

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