1899-1904: Harry Bradshaw and Promotion to First Division
Woolwich Arsenal’s transformation was heralded by the arrival of former Burnley manager Harry Bradshaw. The manager brought in goalkeeper Jimmy Ashcroft, Arsenal’s first England international. Bradshaw also brought in other important players such as Archie Cross, Percy Sands and Jimmy Jackson during his time with Woolwich Arsenal.
Ashcroft became the club’s prized asset and played a key role in Arsenal’s meteoric rise over the next few years. Bradshaw’s arrival had an almost immediate effect on the team’s results as they finished 8th in the 1899/1900 season. They finished 7th the next season and went on to rise to a record 4th place by the 1901/02 season.
A third place in the following season was finally capped off by the 2nd place in 1903/04 season that saw the club make its first entry into the First Division. Ashcroft was a superstar of Arsenal’s promotion campaign as he conceded just 22 goals in 34 games, recording 20 clean sheets while Tommy Shanks led the league scorers with 25 goals. The club also had an almost perfect home record that season as they won all their games, barring draws against Burslem Port Vale and Champions Preston.
Interestingly, Bradshaw quit Arsenal at the end of the successful season and went on to manage Southern League side Fulham and Phil Kelso took up the reins at Arsenal. Bradshaw was the key architect in building Arsenal a local support group over the years through the club’s successes and the general attendances rose from the 3000-5000 range to about 10000-15000 by the end of his managerial era. Bradshaw also played a major role in improving the clubs finances and the manager is still respected among Arsenal folk as the man who laid the foundation stone of Arsenal’s rise to stardom.
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