ARSENAL'S DEBT TO BURNTISLAND

Arsenal owe a huge debt to a small town in Fife & in particular, one David Danskin. Allow us to explain...

Arsenal Football Club. One of the great cosmopolitan footballing sides in world football today. A sumptuous mix of skill and footballing artistry admired, respected and supported the world over.  To think that Arsenal and all they have achieved in their proud history owe it all to the small Scottish town of Burntisland, will perhaps surprise many but none the less it is true. 

Burntisland, a former industrial town located in the Royal Burgh of Fife on the east coast of Scotland once boasted the worlds first roll-on roll-off ferry service, its own whisky distillery and an infamous shipyard. 

But the town holds another notable claim to fame. Not only is it my home town, it is the birthplace of Arsenal Football Club founding member, David Danskin. 

Danskin founded the club, then named Royal Arsenal, with three friends - Elijah Watkins, John Humble and Richard Pearce in 1885 in the Royal Oak pub in Woolwich, London. 

Quite how and why a young lad from Burntisland came to be in London forming what would later become one of the worlds most famous and successful football clubs is a somewhat intriguing story. 

Born in Burntisland on Friday 9 January 1863 in the town’s Back Street (now Somerville Street), the son of David Danskin snr,  young David would grow up to follow is fathers footsteps in the manufacturing world. Despite the town having a flourishing locomotive engineering trade he felt he had to leave Burntisland to pursue gainful employment in the nearby town of Kirkcaldy where he found work as an Apprentice Engine Fitter at Works in one of the towns many factories. 

While working in Kirkcaldy he further developed his love of football by joining the local amateur team, Kirkcaldy Wanderers. It was at the club that Danskin became close friends with two native lads who he would later call on to help his Arsenal team flourish in the early days, Jack McBean and Peter Connolly. 

At the age of 21 and after spending a few years working and playing football in Kirkcaldy, Danskin moved to London in 1885 in search of new employment opportunities. He eventually found employment at the Royal Arsenal munitions factory in Woolwich, and in particular the Dial Square workshop. 

Woolwich, although providing a suitable base to earn a living, was an area dominated by cricket and rugby and Danskin missed the enjoyment of playing football for the local team. Over the course of the following year, he met several other football enthusiasts in the workplace and Danskin suggested that they form their own football team. 

Danskin sent a subscription list around the workshops to obtain the first necessity, a match ball. Fifteen men subscribed 6d each and Danskin made up the rest of the 10s, 6d out of his own pocket to cover the cost of the ball. 

They had a match ball but now needed shirts and a club name. Given the limited funds available each man provided his own shirt and trousers which were reportedly all of different colours. As for the name, it was decided the club would be named Dial Square, after their workshop. 

Dial Square, captained by David Danskin, played their first ever match against Eastern Wanderers on 11th December 1886 and won 6-0. 

On Christmas Day that same year, Danksin along with a few of his team mates went to a nearby pub to enjoy a few beers. While there they decided to rename the team they had recently formed. Dial Square simply wasn’t a grand enough name. Danskin and his colleagues decided to re-name the team Royal Arsenal – combining the name of the pub, The Royal Oak, with the name of their work place, Royal Arsenal munitions. 

The name Arsenal was now fixed in place and Danskin continued to develop the squad calling in the likes Jack McBean and Peter Connolly from Kirkcaldy , Humphrey Barbour from the legendary Third Lanark of Glasgow and former Nottingham Forest pair of John Bates and Fred Beardsley amongst other. 

Danskin went on to play for the club for a few more years before effectively retiring after suffering an injury in a match against Clapham in 1889. 

Arsenal became a professional club a few years later in 1891 and Danskin, no longer able to play of the club, stood for election to the club's committee in 1892. He was however unsuccessful and his direct association with the club he formed began to fade. 

Danskin went on to have a career as a mechanical engineer before moving north to Coventry and died in nearby Warwick on 4 August 1948, aged 85

However his legacy lives on to this day at the heart of the club. When Arsenal moved into the Emirates Stadium they undertook a program to 'Arsenalise' their new home by erecting eight giant murals on the stadium exterior depicting 32 of the club's greatest players. David Danskin took his rightful place among them. 

But perhaps more appropriately in 2007 the Arsenal Scotland Supporters' Club erected a plaque in Burntisland to commemorate the birthplace of the clubs founding member. The plaque was unveiled by Gunners legendary goalkeeper Bob Wilson, in the presence of the Danskin family. 

A year later the club itself gifted the people of Burntisland an engraved crystal football to show their official gratitude to the town and for Danskin’s contribution to their origin. 

It’s a fitting tribute and heart warming to see that despite operating in a football world so far removed from their early days, where big business and massive transfer fees are the norm, that clubs like Arsenal still cherish and respect the people and places that they are indebted to so much.

Martin writes for Back Page Football & his own blog can be found here

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