From nothing

Today in the States we celebrate Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, a day devoted to gratefulness. I have much to be grateful for, as do we all. Although its origins were a celebration of abundance of food and to some extent human industriousness, and the modern celebration is often focused around feasting, many families treat the day as more symbolic of overall thankfulness. Although it seems inevitable for holidays to become politicized in the social media age, Thanksgiving has largely escaped that. The only thing at war with Thanksgiving is Christmas, whose pushiness in advance of its time is well established. Although gratefulness is often directed to deity, Thanksgiving is owned by no one religion, and even the non-religiously affiliated participate without qualm. It is a day in which it is easy for a diverse nation to come together, however briefly.

The story of the first Thanksgiving is well known to everyone, how the European pilgrims and native Americans came together for a three-day feast to celebrate success and give thanks as the pilgrims settled in the New World. For Thanksgiving as a national holiday, we have the relentless, nearly four decades advocacy of Sarah Joseph Hale, who served as editor of several women’s publications. With letter-writing campaigns and articles in the publications she edited, she worked on the cause until Abraham Lincoln finally established a national day of thanks in 1863, while the Civil War was in full progress.

thanksYou have to wonder what made Ms. Hale persevere, why she felt that a national holiday was so important that she devoted such a large part of her life to it. In retrospect, the importance of the holiday seems clear. But in advance of it being established, how could she have anticipated the value that a day of thanks would deliver to Americans? A moment of receptiveness to her cause finally occurred, changing American life forever. Could she ever have anticipated the migration to “home” that occurs for this day? Does Abe Lincoln now look at us and wonder if he have made Thanksgiving on a Monday would the equivalent of Black Friday have been avoided?

Probably not, Abe. Probably not.

History, business, sport, science, religion. All human endeavor is altered by these moments. Receptiveness to years of stimulus and effort, but also to simple impulse well-timed and carefully groomed.

At about the same time that Sarah Joseph Hale was putting her all into the declaration of a national holiday of thanks in the United States, in England, big changes were occurring that forever changed the state of football. Documentation of a sport similar to football has been made as early as the first five centuries AD, but the modern sport evolved most notably in the 19th century in England. The codification of the Cambridge rules occurred in the mid-1800s and two decades later, the birth of the Football Association and further modification of the Cambridge rules were adopted as standards. The industrial revolution also played its part, as team formation often had labor roots.

In 1885, young Scottish football enthusiast David Danskin left his home in Fife to seek work as an Industrial Engineer. He landed in Woolwich near London at the Royal Arsenal, a munitions manufacturer. The factory attracted young men from across the United Kingdom, including Jack Humble, Fred Beardsley, and Morris Bates. Jack Humble had famously walked 400 miles to the factory to attain employment. All had a love for football and had played on organized teams in the past. Jack Humble, a man over the top in all categories, had been fired from a previous job because he prioritized football above work hours. These young men developed a simple idea: to form a football team of factory workers. They collected money from 15 eager colleagues to make a key purchase toward their goal: a football. Their team was named Dial Square FC after the Royal Arsenal workshop in which the men were employed, and the first game was played on December 11, 1886 captained by David Danskin, a 6-0 win against Eastern Wanderers. Shortly after that game, the team decided to change its name to Royal Arsenal FC.

Dial Square celebrating Movember, it seems. Source:


The men had varying experiences on the team. David Danskin sustained an injury after only a few years and was forced to retire from the sport. As the club grew, he made an unsuccessful bid to participate in club leadership, but he remained a lifelong fan, living into his 80s. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Jack Humble played into his mid 30s, but died a young man of 41.

The team evolved and grew. New players, management, business development, marketing. All contributed to the success of the modern Arsenal.

80 years after Dial Square played its first game, and three decades after David Danskin’s death, I was growing up in a suburb of Buffalo, NY. We played many games in the street: touch football, baseball, kickball, capture the flag, steal the bacon. These games would be played serially, as if there was a season for them. Imagine a season for steal the bacon! We also played soccer in the street, girls and boys. There was not much in the way of organized sports for girls, but I did have a friend who played in a nascent soccer team that at least included girls. In the high school that students in our neighborhood attended, there was a soccer team that my friend played on.

Before I was in that high school, my family moved from that street to a town in Kentucky. There was no organized soccer in town at the time we arrived, for boys or girls. When I went to the University of Kentucky, I tried to take a physical education class each semester to get at least some exercise. One semester I took a soccer class, which reminded me how much I enjoyed playing. Shortly after that, I got a call from the teacher of that class. The university was going to organize a club soccer team in anticipation of a women’s varsity team several years down the road, would I be interested in playing?

I was interested, and did play that first season. After graduation, I moved to Denver, where I knew only one person. I had no job the first summer in town so I spent a lot of time entertaining myself. One day, I walked over to the park with my soccer ball, where a woman invited me to join a local women’s soccer team, Park Hill Rush. I joined the team and played with them for the full 13 years I was in Colorado. Our team had as many name changes as Arsenal.

I had a job (eventually), I had my love life, and I had soccer, three legs of a stool that represented the primary use of my time. The women on my team were among my closest friends and soccer was my all-consuming passion. In my own Jack Humble moment, I took the full seven years allowed to attain my MBA. If a class I needed to take during the semester interfered with soccer practice, it would have to wait a semester.

Through my team I met my husband-to-be. That husband-to-be also had a love for the sport as well as a job coaching soccer. His job “required” a subscription to an advanced sports cable package so that he could “study” the game. Our son, a would-be soccer obsessive arrived, requiring hours of soccer TV time, which I sat down to several times, becoming absolutely hooked in the process. Hooked on Arsenal, the team that David Danskin and his friends established more than 7 generations ago.

Now I do not conflate the moments that led to me watching TV seven years ago with what David Danskin and friends initiated, but without millions of people like me who became hooked across decades and decades, Arsenal would not exist either.

Today, I celebrate Thanksgiving, the holiday that Sarah Joseph Hale worked so hard to establish, in Danville, Kentucky. Although I failed to pack several necessary items of clothing in my suitcase, I managed to bring my Arsenal away jersey so that I may be able to watch this Sunday’s Premier League game at Molly Malone’s in Louisville on our way back to Chicago with other similarly-hooked fans.

In recent Arsenal news, we managed to beat Dinamo Zagreb in Champions League play on Tuesday, 3-0, setting the stage for an exciting match against Olympiacos in Greece that has potential to see us through to the round of 16.

For that lovely team effort and win, we Arsenal fans are thankful.


Sources for this post included the Smithsonian,, and (hard to admit) Wikepedia.

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