London’s first professional football club

Woolwich Arsenal

Arsenal was the first football team to turn professional in London.  That was back in 1893, playing as Woolwich Arsenal.  The team holds 43 honours, more than any other London side.  But why is the club called Arsenal – and where is Woolwich?

I went on a bit of a pilgrimage recently. Although I’ve lived in London all of my life, I don’t believe I’ve ever been to Woolwich before. As an Arsenal guide, I’ve always wondered about the beginnings of the club. The Royal Arsenal carried out armament manufacture in Woolwich from the late 1600’s. At its peak, during the 1st World War, it employed 80,000 people. Although the factory closed many years ago, it still covers a vast area running down to the Thames, now comprising (surprise, surprise) an award winning housing development.

In 1885, Scotsman – David Danskin – moved from Burntisland, Kirkcaldy to London and started working in the company’s foundry, which was situated in an area known as Dial Square. Danskin, a keen football player, formed a club amongst his fellow foundry workers. Two colleagues had played at Nottingham Forest and they obtained kit for the team. Arsenal still plays in red, the colours of Nottingham Forest.

Dial Square played their first game in December 1886, beating Eastern Wanderers 6-0. In 1887 the club began to represent the whole factory under the name of Royal Arsenal. Six years later, in 1893, they turned professional and joined the Football League (then composed of just two divisions) as Woolwich Arsenal. Their nickname of the Gunners, often now corrupted to Gooners, derives from having the word – Arsenal in their name.

Arsenal first played in the top division in 1905, finishing 6th in 1909.  They were relegated for the only time in their history in 1913, the same year that they moved from Woolwich to a new ground at Highbury.  In 1919, they were elected to the first division again and the club went on to become one of the top clubs in the land.

Contributor: Philip Nelkon

Many more photos at

Dial Square Arsenal
Dial Square as it looks today

2 thoughts on “London’s first professional football club

  1. Just to mention that Gooners is just a silly name for the supporters (not the team or the footballers) and a fan club mag is called The Gooner.

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