By Blacksheep (who should know better)
Tony spends considerable time on all of our behalf scouring the interweb for scurrilous stories about The Arsenal. Many of these seem to emanate from that organ of respectability the good ol’ Daily Telegraph. Whilst I do wonder (out loud it has to be said) if it is terribly good for Mr. Attwood’s heart he assures me that he has it under control and that moreover he is as fit as a fiddle (and much fitter than me!) thanks to his compulsive desire to jive his way around Northamptonshire and its environs.
anyway… where was I? Oh yes, the Telegraph…
This august institution was founded in 1855 by a man with an itch to scratch (if my sources are correct). Colonel Arthur B. Sleigh (perhaps the B stands for ‘bells’…) was mightily dischuffed with a previous Duke of Cambridge (Prince George Adolphus). The duke was a proper Victorian aristocrat and as head of the Army absolutely brooked no reform whatsoever. This is not the place for a thorough analysis of his tenancy but in the wake of the shambles that were the Crimea and Boer Wars it is perhaps not surprising that he upset those (such as Sleigh) who advocated change.
So the Telegraph was established as a one-man grumbling outlet – bit like a blog perhaps?
Sleigh didn’t keep it long and sold it to his printer (whom he could not afford to pay) and by 1882 the paper was flourishing and had established itself on London’s Fleet Street. In the late 1800s it sold papers on the strengths of its crime coverage – more than most other newspapers then – and the more sensational the better. The rather staid journal it became in after the Second World War is a far cry from the titillating content of its early years. Newspaper editors knew that in the competitive market of the late Victorian and Edwardian period you had to catch people’s attention.
The editor of the Pall Mall Gazette in the 1880s, William Stead, was the master of this sort of sensationalist reportage. In 1885 he bought a 12 year old girl from her mother on the advice of former brothel keeper. The girl was then used as a dupe to expose the trade in virgin girls in London. Stead’s published a series of article that sold out in minutes and eventually Parliament was forced to force though legislation to raise the age of consent to 16. Stead ended up in prison for his pains but he believed it was worth his, and the poor girl’s trouble, as the end justified the means.
In January 1889 Stead’s paper, the aforementioned Pall Mall Gazette, carried a report of the annual London versus Universities football match. The contest, first held in 1882, featured sides drawn from the London Association and the universities of Cambridge and Oxford. In 1884 the ‘Cockneys’ were roundly drubbed by 9 goals to 1 a ‘reverse which appears to have shaken their confidence’ (so much so that for several years the Association refused chose to play Oxford or Cambridge, not a combined team).
In 1889 the game was initially postponed due to heavy fog (something that London was prone too in the period). This advantaged the London because it meant they were slightly better prepared. They met at the Kennington Oval (where the last test in the Ashes Cricket series* is traditionally played) in January 1889.
At half-back was the Royal Arsenal player Bates, M. there were players from the Old Carthusians, Caledonians, Swifts, and Clapton. The London backs (international brothers, the Walters) were steadfast but the forwards ‘displayed a lamentable lack of energy’ and the Blues (Oxbridge) demonstrated ‘plucky determination’. The combined university team ran out 2-1 winners and the newspaper report clearly favoured them.
The next mention of Arsenal in the Gazette came a week later in the report of their defeat to Clapton at Leyton by 2 to nil in the London league. The match was ‘ marred by much unnecessary charging and roughness, for which the Royal Arsenal were to blame’. Again, this would seem like rather biased reporting…
All of which historical musing goes to prove a couple of things pertinent to Tony’s ongoing critique of the papers.
First, from the very beginning they have been out to get us, keen to highlight our deficiencies or eulogize our opponents.
Second, (and perhaps more importantly) papers like to twist things and sensationalize to sell papers and they have done this for over 150 years.
Third, I am a historian between articles – and easily sidetracked form my academic research by hunting for Arsenal references in the London press!
* Cricket is a quaint English sport that we have taught other colonial countries to compete in – mostly to our detriment, although not this week.
The history books
Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910