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Eastern Wanderers – The Story of Arsenal’s First Match


Royal Arsenal Team 1888

Some football fans may realise that Millwall Football Club began on the Isle of Dogs but  less well-known is the fact that Arsenal Football Club played their first ever game on the Island.

Arsenal was formed by workers at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich in 1886, their first name was Dial Square, named after a workshop area in the Woolwich works.

It was under this name that they travelled to the Isle of Dogs on the 11th December 1886 and played Eastern Wanderers who they beat 6-0.

The following year 1887, the name of Dial Square was changed to Royal Arsenal and in the first game under the new name travelled to the Isle of Dogs again ,this time to play Millwall who beat them 4-0.

Although it has widely and officially been recognised that the 1886 game was Arsenal’s first game, in  recent years questions have been asked about the game due to the lack of any newspaper reports of the game and the scarcity of any details about their opponents Eastern Wanderers.

The only eyewitness report was from Elijah Watkins the Secretary of Dial Square many years later , it is safe to say he was not impressed with the pitch.

Talk about a football pitch! This one eclipsed any I ever heard of or saw. I could not venture to say what shape it was, but it was bounded by backyards as to about two-thirds of the area, and the other portion was – I was going to say a ditch, but I think an open sewer would be more appropriate. We could not decide who won the game because when the ball was not in the back gardens, it was in the ditch; and that was full of the loveliest material that could possibly be. Well, our fellows did not bring it all away with them, but they looked as though they had been clearing out a mud-shoot when they had done playing. I know, because the attendant at the pub asked me what I was going to give him to clear the muck away.

However recent evidence from an Arsenal History group has thrown more light on this game and provides documentary proof that the game actually took place.

Using evidence from the Referee newspaper from 12 December 1886 , there is confirmation of the score and where the match was held namely Millwall.

Other evidence to come to light was that Eastern Wanderers had two teams and their secretary was a D.W. Galliford who lived at 9 Marsh St , Cahir Street in Millwall.

Millwall football team had been formed a year earlier in 1885, the club was originally based at the Islander Public House in Tooke Street and played their games on a pitch near Glengall Grove and Tiller St.

However by 1886 the club decided to move to another pitch behind the Lord Nelson pub on East Ferry road, part of the attraction of the new pitch was they could start charging spectators who came to see the game.

Therefore in 1886 we have at least two teams playing on the Isle of Dogs, Millwall and the Eastern Wanderers and two pitches. Both teams were in existence a year earlier when they played each other on the Glengall Grove pitch.

We all know what happened to Millwall and Arsenal but little is known about Eastern Wanderers.


Their secretary D. W. Galliford being  based in Marsh St/Cahir St may offer a clue , for nearby was the Great Eastern pub (not the present day one) and considering that Millwall were based at pubs, there is a possibility that Eastern Wanderers were based there. It is also possible that they were a works team from one of the Engineering Works close by. It also seems likely that the match against Dial Square was probably played at the vacant Glengall Grove ground rather than Millwall’s new ground at the Lord Nelson.

But from there the trail runs cold, until we find further evidence. we can only speculate that  Eastern Wanderers was probably a short-lived  works team, however a team that will be long remembered   due to that fateful match in December on a cold muddy pitch in the middle of the Isle of Dogs.

For more information  at the Arsenal History Society site click here


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