Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Arsenal

I was asked a while back to do a piece about the Arsenal situation from back in 1913. Getting around to it now, although frankly I always have and still do consider it to be of no consequence whatsoever and purely of historical interest. I've touched on it before, but let's address the specific points that tend to come up...

Was Arsenal the first franchised football club?
Yes and no. Yes, they moved a significant distance from where they were playing at the time. No, because even though the distance was more significant at the time than now, the move was still within what was considered to be London. If I'd been a fan at the time, I would still have been mightily annoyed by the move, opposed it and considered it a bad thing, but moving from one suburb of London to another simply isn't the same as moving a team from a suburb of London to a completely different town in Buckinghamshire.

Now, bear in mind that this is as good as the argument gets for those claiming Arsenal's move is in any way relevant to the creation of Franchise FC. In order to support even this part of the argument they have to resort to pointing out that travelling from Woolwich to north London was harder in 1913 than now, which, while true, isn't a big enough factor to make Arsenal's move a genuine case of moving a sports franchise. Bear in mind that sports franchising as we understand it is based on the North American sports model, so moving between even the most distant suburbs of, for example, the city of New York, would also not be in the same category.

Did Arsenal break the rules in 1913?
No. There were no rules preventing teams from moving. By 2002, the Football League did have a rule that it considered prohibited the movement of clubs between towns and it twice stuck to that rule in opposing the move to Milton Keynes. With this in mind, there is simply no comparison between the two cases, regardless of whether you think the moves are right or wrong. For instance, I think moving teams between towns/cities in the US is wrong, but the rules of their sports leagues specifically allow it, whereas the Football League's opinion in 2002 was that its own rules opposed such movements. This is what makes Franchise FC's move wrong and incomparable with circumstances where there were no rules or the rules allow moves between towns.

I may not like what Arsenal did in 1913, but there were no rules then to stop it. The rule in place in 2002, which the Football League used for twice rejecting the move to MK, was introduced subsequent to the Arsenal move. So all that is proved by bringing up the Arsenal move is that progress that had been made was rolled back by the 2002 move to the far more chaotic and dissatisfactory situation of 1913. Clearly not a good thing.

What was the state of the league pyramid in 1913?
This is pretty much the clincher on the whole Arsenal issue, because the league system as we now know it simply didn't exist. A second division was only added in 1892 and automatic promotion and relegation between the divisions didn't happen until 1898. ( So, in 1913 the 'football pyramid' consists of just two divisions of 20 teams each (1905 expansion). All any 'new' club had to do at that stage was be created, get itself elected to the second division and then win one promotion to be in the top division! And all of that would have been within the rules - and indeed exactly that sort of thing was relatively commonplace then - as was all sorts of underhand dealings like the collusion between 'test' teams and Arsenal's elevation to the first division after the war, for example.

Basically, it's like the Football League at this time was the Wild West, where law was random and rough at best, compared with a century later when far greater order had been applied to the game and the cowboys had been run out of town - or so we thought!

That's the reality here... Those bringing up the Arsenal move in 1913 are basically referencing a situation from a relatively ruleless time as a justification for repeating those actions in the current day. They might as well be asking for the return of lynching and gunfights to the law and order process!

The 1913 Arsenal move is fascinating in how it helped shape the rules of the leagues and opinions on clubs moving. That's it. It's not a precedent for allowing the creation of Franchise FC, because it pre-dated the rules to prevent that and the league system that Milton Keynes leapfrogged in 2002. Discuss it all you want, but the 1913 Arsenal move provides no succour or legitimacy to Franchise FC whatsoever.

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