Once again the break in proceedings has led to our very own North Bank Ned to unsheathe his mighty quill for another look back into all our yesterdays. Once again I am indebted to him for his contribution. Cheers Ned.
The Emirates, idly unused while some international nonsense interrupts the season, is Arsenal’s sixth ground.
Most ‘holics will be familiar with what happened to the fifth one, Highbury, our venerable home from 1913 to 2006. Arsenal Stadium, to give it its formal name, was redeveloped as the Highbury Square luxury flats. Robert Pires owns one. The exteriors of the listed art deco East Stand and the matching West Stand are all that remain, along with so many memories of a slightly (OK, somewhat) younger version of this author.
But what fate befell grounds one to four?
The Invicta Ground
Ground four was the Invicta Ground on the south side of Plumstead High Street. Royal Arsenal played there for three seasons from 1890 before returning to the Manor Ground after the landlord tried to raise the rent. By then, Royal Arsenal had become Woolwich Arsenal and fully professional.
The ground was used briefly by an amateur side, Royal Ordinance Factories, before also being redeveloped for housing. Some of the properties in Hector Street, London SE18, which follows the goal line and one side of where the ground used to be, still have traces of the old terracing visible at the bottom of their gardens.
The Manor Ground
The club had two spells at the Manor Ground, the three seasons to 1890 as a tenant and then for 20 years after returning from the Invicta Ground as owner. A couple of miles east of Woolwich on Plumstead Marshes and famously muddy, the ground originally had no stands and spectators watched games standing on borrowed Army wagons. On its return, having bought the ground, the club erected a stand and built terracing. In 1893-94, our first season in the Football League, the typical gate was 6,000. A second stand was built in 1904.
The terracing at the Manor Ground was so steep that it was nicknamed the Spion Kop by soldiers returning from the Boer War (For younger ‘holics, the Battle of Spion Kop was a failed British assault on Boer forces holding a hill of that name in Natal, South Africa in 1900). Many clubs had steep terraces known as Kops, but ours was the first and predates Anfield’s by two years.
This clip shows us playing Newcastle at the Manor Ground in 1911.
After the move to Highbury in 1913, the Manor Ground was abandoned and eventually became an industrial estate. That, in turn, fell on hard times and has now been redeveloped as the West Thamesmead Business Park.
The Sportsman Ground
Ground two, the Sportsman Ground, was a few hundred yards closer to Woolwich than the Manor Ground, roughly where HMP Thameside Prison is today. The team played there for only six months from the start of the 1887-88 season before flooding drove them to what was then Manor Field on the Marshes. The Sportsman Ground, which was previously a field used for raising pigs, took its name from a long-gone pub where the players changed.
Ground one — though it is a stretch to call it a ground — was Plumstead Common. Royal Arsenal played there in its inaugural 1886-87 season. The pub the players changed in, The Star, is still on Plumstead Common Road.
Ground? — The club’s first game, played under the name of Dial Square, taken from the sundial above one of the gates to the Woolwich Arsenal munitions factory, took place over the river on the Isle of Dogs, possibly on a field that is now Tiller Road.
Whether that was an ‘away’ game or just the only place they could find to play is uncertain. However, the pub the team met in, the Royal Oak, was next to the station at Woolwich Arsenal and Plumstead Common would have been more convenient. Like the Sportsman, the pub is long gone, but it is where the ‘Royal’ in Royal Arsenal came from, by the way.
The Royal Oak, the Star and the Sportsman: three pubs with seminal match-day connections to the early days of our club, So ‘holics visiting the Tollie pre- and post-game are honouring a great tradition — though if Olivier Giroud started changing there, heaven knows what would happen.
Editor’s note. For additional reading and images may I commend this piece by Mark Andrews for abergkampwonderland.co.uk and reproduced on thearsenalhistory.com.