How Arsenal’s name changed – Dial Square

by Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews

With the recent proposed name change of Hull City to Hull Tigers* a discussion ensued on twitter about Arsenals’ previous names (as well as the current name). So, we thought that we would clarify Arsenal’s names throughout the years, when they changed and why.

The story starts back in 1886 when a number of men who worked in the Dial Square workshop of the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich decided to form a cricket team. It was very much “say what you see” back in those days and they called themselves Dial Square Cricket Club. A few of their matches were reported in local papers.

Dial Square Cricket Club v Bushey Woolwich Gazette 27 August 1886
Dial Square Cricket Club v Bushey
Woolwich Gazette 27 August 1886

At the club’s end of year smoking concert on 4 October 1886 they decided to form a football club to give themselves something to occupy their Saturday afternoons with. They chose the obvious name of Dial Square Football Club. Until early 2013 there was some doubt surrounding this name as no contemporary proof had ever been published. But, after more than 20 years of searching, we came up with the proof.

Here is the result of their first game as reported in The Referee on 12 December 1886.

Eastern Wanderers FC 0 Dial Square FC 6
Eastern Wanderers FC 0 Dial Square FC 6

And here is a request for opponents from club secretary Elijah Watkins (which has been mis-spelt as Watson) taken from The Referee on 2 January 1887. This confirms the name as Dial Square FC.

Dial Square Football Club
Dial Square Football Club

Just to complete the story (and possibly cause some confusion), at the club’s third annual dinner on 17 May 1890 club secretary George Osborne answered a question about the actual date that the club was formed. As you can see in the report below, he gave the date as 1 December 1886.

Kentish Independent report on third annual dinner
Kentish Independent report on third annual dinner

There is a strong possibility that this was the date that the interested members of the Dial Square workshop sat down and formally started the football club. We can’t say for certain, but it is chronologically correct.

In the next article we will explain what happened to force a name change to Royal Arsenal.

*This blog was originally published on The Arsenal History website in 2014, hence the apparent outdated reference to Hull Tigers.

Part 2: Royal Arsenal

Part 3: Woolwich Arsenal

Part 4: The Arsenal

Part 5: Arsenal


Copies of our books Royal Arsenal – Champions of the South and Arsenal: The Complete Record 1886-2018 are still available from the publishers.