mythbusters

Q: Did Woolwich Arsenal wear red and blue stripes in 1895 ?

arsenal-1892-december

A: Royal Arsenal wore blue & white stripes on 17 December 1892 at home

In the run up to the Xmas period of 1892 Royal Arsenal arranged home friendlies against Nottingham Forest and Burslem Port Vale. In both these matches Arsenal played in a change kit as their opponents wore red.

One of the subjects both Andy and myself have long discussed and wished to put right is the assertion that during the 1895-96 season Woolwich Arsenal wore red and blue stripes, and we believe we are now able to correct the history. The wearing of red and blue stripes was commented upon in the original version of the Official Arsenal history book, and is reproduced on the Arsenal.com website.

Page 33 - Arsenal the Official History

Page 33 – Arsenal the Official History (1986 version)

We have uncovered evidence that shows the Official History Book was on the right track, but to paraphrase the famous Andre Previn and Eric Morecambe sketch, were a few years out and had some of the colours but not necessarily in the correct order.

Perhaps the authors of the official history were swayed by the individual staged photos of two players in stripes whose time at the club overlapped. Harry Storer a goalkeeper was at the club between May 1894 and December 1895, though he did not play after November 1895. While Caesar Jenkyns a robust midfielder was at the club between close season 1895 and the summer of 1896 playing for the full 1895-96 season

Caesar Jenkyns

Caesar Jenkyns

So as these two players appeared together for the club in 12 League games between September and November 1895 it is a fair assumption that this was the basis for the date association to 1895.

We are not sure how these black and white photos became to be interpreted as red and blue but as can be seen above the official club history claims that Arsenal wore shirts that were light blue and red striped in 1895.

However, the evidence is overwhelmingly against this aberration in the “Reds” kit at this time. In every “Arsenal Football Notes” report in 1895 (covering both 1894-95 and 1895-96 seasons) in the Kentish Mercury they were always called the “Reds” which would have been redundant if they weren’t wearing red, and not one local paper refers to them wearing a different coloured kit, a change which would certainly have been a huge talking point for the club.

Near the start of the 1895-96 season on 5 October 1895 the Arsenal wore white at the Manor Ground against Rotherham Town owing to a “similarity of colours”. Rotherham wore red shirts and blue shorts, and if Royal Arsenal were wearing striped colours for that part of the season they would not have needed to change to white. 

A few seasons earlier the Football League had introduced regulations that required members to have a spare set of white shirts for the home team to wear in the event of a colour clash. 

Similarly in the return match away at Rotherham on 26th October 1895 it was the Yorkshire men that had to change. As the Sheffield Independent explained, “the colours of the visitors being red, Rotherham Town turned out in white”. In this game Jenkyns literally saw red as he was sent off for violent conduct.     

1894-95 Woolwich Arsenal team photo - Boys Own Paper

1894-95 Woolwich Arsenal team photo (Boys Own Paper)

Additionally official team photos for 1894-95 and 1895-96 denote the whole team in the familiar red shirts and blue shorts. Obviously the photos do not show the actual colours but from contemporary documents we know they are red shirts and blue shorts.  

1895-96 Team

1895-96 Woolwich Arsenal team photo

In fact there were two 1895-96 team photographs published. Both showing the Red shirt and Blue shorts outfit and both with Jenkyns and Storer in the pictures. 

Arsenal 1895

1895-96 Woolwich Arsenal

Kit colours were hardly ever mentioned as a team with the nickname of the Reds it was rarely necessary to comment in the papers. But the subject was brought up on an earlier occasion as the football correspondent of the Woolwich Gazette on 4 September 1891 said:

Much speculation is rife as to what will or will not be the Arsenal colours this season. I think I am right in saying…that they will be dressed in the historical “red shirts, unless the rules have been altered within the past few hours“.

And sure enough the incredibly well informed pressman was correct and the team wore their red shirts that season. But this one off comment does hint that the committee who ran the Royal Arsenal were looking at other possible colour combinations and options as early as 1891-92.

Specific mentions of home kit alterations came a season later in 1892-93 and both were within a short space of each other over the festive period. We first noticed that Arsenal did indeed wear stripes, but a lot earlier than previously assumed, and at least for one game when I found this excerpt:

Woolwich Gazette 23 Dec 1892

Woolwich Gazette 23 Dec 1892

However as the keen eyed will note it only says stripes, it doesn’t say the colour. A while later during further research Andy noted this additional report which describes the colours worn.

London Evening News 17 Dec 1892

London Evening News 17 Dec 1892

On 17 December 1892 Royal Arsenal wore blue and white Stripes versus Nottingham Forest at home.

A week later on Christmas Eve rather than continue with the blue and white striped shirts option, Royal Arsenal wore white shirts against Burslem Port Vale again at home. Neither change did the Reds any good as both friendlies were lost, 2-3 to Forest and 1-3 to Port Vale.    

Both times it was expressly mentioned that Arsenal changed kit as the away team also wore red. This occurred owing to a convention outside of a league game that allowed the senior team, the one founded first, to wear their traditional colours in case of a clash. As both were founded prior to 1886 the onus was on Royal Arsenal to adjust their attire. 

White shirts with blue or black shorts became their change or away kit for almost all the time the club were at Plumstead.

In conclusion we believe it is possible that Jenkyns and Storer were wearing the striped shirt from the batch purchased in 1892 a few years later for training and officially staged photographs. In those days kits were kept and rarely changed year on year except for wear and tear.

However another notion is just as likely and based around the fact that Storer played for the Football League and Jenkyns was the first Arsenal player to represent his country when he appeared for Wales while at the Manor Ground. As higher level players they may have been wearing another representative strip that was not associated with the club. Which is given more resonance as Jenkyns is resplendent with a cap. 

Whatever the truth of the kit or the reasons behind them being photographed wearing stripes, it is certain that Royal Arsenal wore blue and white stripes at least once as their change kit, and December 1892 is the earliest record we can currently find of a change kit of any alternative colour to red being chronicled or reported.

So when complaining of the ever more appalling change kits foisted upon us at our new stadium, please remember that at Christmas 123 years ago we were impersonating Sheffield Wednesday!

In fact, ironically, during the recent League Cup defeat at Hillsborough, the opponents had a more historically accurate Arsenal shirt than Arsenal themselves!    

arsenal-1892-december

Royal Arsenal v Notts Forest 17 December 1892

Many thanks to Dave Moor at Historical Kits for the depiction of the “Reds” kit. We always use this excellent site to reference and check against kit design for ours and other teams. This image will shortly be on the website once he overcomes the recent technical troubles.   

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