Arsenal v Chelsea - blind veterans play ball

25 May 2017 09:40

Come on you Gunners. Come on you Blues.

This weekend sees the FA Cup Final taking place at Wembley between Arsenal and Chelsea. We really do not know where we should stand on the question of which team to support. 

Our relationship with both teams goes back many years.

Many of our First World War blind veterans were of course football fans. Our first visit was to Chelsea v Manchester United in January 1920 where we wanted to see if our men would still enjoy, and follow, the game. They did so a week later we went to Arsenal for their game against Aston Villa.

As well as going regularly to professional football games our blind veterans also started playing their own version. 

This took the form of a penalty shoot-out style competition. A sighted goalkeeper was required, who could play for both sides, clapping his hands to indicate his position. It was a knock-out competition, like the FA Cup and was named after our founder – the Sir Arthur Pearson Challenge Cup.

These were the real beginnings of our links with Arsenal and Chelsea.

The first final of the Pearson Cup took place in March 1920 between the Knight’s Rangers and Durkonians teams. Chelsea’s then goalkeeper, Jim Molyneux, kindly came and kept goal and another of their players, George Dale, acted as referee.

In November 1920 Arsenal’s then goalkeeper, Ernest Williamson (himself a serviceman in the Royal Army Service Corps), kindly came to play in the Pearson Cup. This was the beginning of a close relationship and Ernie came along on several other occasions over the next couple of years to keep goal. His support for us was so much appreciated by the men that they bought him a rose bowl as a thank you gift.

Sir Arthur Pearson presents a rose bowl to Arsenal player Ernest Williamson for playing in the charity's football Challenge Cup.
Sir Arthur Pearson presents a rose bowl to Ernest Williamson.

In addition to Ernie’s regular visits, the entire Arsenal team twice, in 1920 and 1921, came to Regent’s Park to be blindfolded and play our men. Arsenal won on both occasions, 4-0 and 5-3.

Black and white photo of some of Arsenal football team being blind folded to play football against blind veterans in Regents Park
Arsenal’s Joe Shaw being blindfolded with a number of the other players watching on.

After the games the players toured the workshops where our training took place and met more of our veterans.

Perhaps, with Arsenal’s name and their military connections, this should tip the balance in their favour so far as our support is concerned?

To see more stories from our Historical Photography Project click here or check our Facebook page for our #ThrowbackThursdays.