The rivalry between Chelsea and Arsenal is one of the most intense in English football stretching back all the way to 1907. The Arsenal story, however begins much earlier than that. In October 1886, Scotsman, David Danskin and fifteen fellow munitions workers in Woolwich formed Dial Square Football Club, named after the workshop at the heart of the Royal Arsenal complex. Each member contributed sixpence with David Danskin adding an additional three shillings to help form the club. Dial Square played their first match on 11th December 1886 against Eastern Wanderers and won 6-0. A month later the club changed it's name to Royal Arsenal and the first home was at Plumstead Common, although they spent most of the time playing at the Manor Ground. In 1891 they turned professional, the first London club to do so. In 1893 they became a limited liability company, changed their name again to Woolwich Arsenal and became members of the Football League, the first Southern club to do so, playing in Division 2. They managed to achieve promotion to Division 1 in 1904 which is where they met Chelsea three years later.
By then Chelsea Football Club had only been in existence for two years, but in that time they had enjoyed a very successful first campaign, finishing just outside the promotion places before making sure the second time round.
"Now for the struggle" said Henry Augustus Mears, knowing full well that playing in Division 1 would be so much tougher for the team and his words proved to be prophetic when the two clubs met for the very first time at Stamford Bridge on 9th November 1907. The visitors were comfortably situated in mid-table, but Chelsea had endured a wretched time thus far in the campaign and were stuck right at the very bottom. Stamford Bridge would of course become famous for the crowds that the stadium attracted and 67,000 had already attended the Manchester United fixture just a year earlier. The second highest recorded attendance was set two weeks earlier for the visit of Everton when a gate in excess of 50,000 witnessed Chelsea's 2-1 victory. However, on a gloomy day that figure was eclipsed when over 55,000 packed Stamford Bridge for the first 'London Derby' against Woolwich Arsenal.
Chelsea dominated the early stages and took a 13th minute lead through George Hilsdon. The visitors threatened on occasions but the home side still held the lead at half-time. The second half was a cagey affair and the next goal would be vital. In the 77th minute George Hilsdon settled Chelsea's nerves by scoring his second goal of the game, and more importantly giving the home side some breathing space. The joy was short lived as just two minutes later Charlie Satterthwaite shot past Bob Whiting to reduce the deficit.
In a nervy finish Chelsea managed to hold on for two precious points that enabled the team to drag themselves off the bottom of the table at the expense of Birmingham City. The return fixture at The Manor Ground, Plumstead on 7th March 1908 ended in a 0-0 draw in front of a 30,000 gate. Chelsea therefore took the bragging rights after that first season of games between the two sides and as the decades have passed there has been great joy and utter despair visited on supporters of both camps for this most keenly anticipated of fixtures in the football calendar.
By Paul Waterhouse, Bygone Chelsea 1905-99