It is a little known fact that an Ilkestonian was partly responsible for the early development of one of the world's most famous clubs and without his input it is possible that they may never have got off the ground.
Born in 1857 Fred Beardsley, not the tallest of men, was nevertheless a fine goalkeeper who had played for Nottingham Forest during the early 1880s. Indeed he was in goal for them in the 1885 FA Cup semi final when they played Queens Park. Yet, within a year, he was amongst a large number of men, many of whom were Scots, who found themselves in the aramanent workshops of Woolwich, South London, where they had gone in search of employment.
The area was a rugby hotbed but one employee, David Danskin, was determined that at the very least football lovers in the workshops should be able to have a kickaround. He formed a club known as Dial Square, named after one of the workshops, and the players who joined were enthusiastic although somewhat lacking in skill. Fred Beardsley, and fellow workmate Morris Bates who had also played for Forest, were the exceptions and they set about coaching the players. Months later, Dial Square's players had improved sufficiently to take part in their first match which they duly won 6-0 with Beardsley in goal. Yet each of the players had provided their own kit and hardly any two shirts matched.
It was hugely important, if the club was to make any sort of progress, that a uniform kit was acquired. The problem was that funds were low so Bearsdley wrote to Nottingham Forest for help. The result was the generous donation of a complete set of red shirts and a ball which were used in their first ever home game. Nicknamed the 'Woolwich Reds', the club was soon renamed Royal Arsenal and Beardsley was the first choice goalkeeper for several years as the club made huge strides forward. By the middle of the 1890s Arsenal were a Football League club although Bearsdley was no longer playing by this time. Yet Beardsley remained involved with Arsenal for many years and he was present when the club won the FA Cup in 1930. This event was probably beyond his wildest dreams when he wrote to Nottingham Forest at the tail end of 1886 begging for a set of shirts.
While Fred Beardsley was not wholly responsible for the dramatic rise of a football club founded in the armanent workshops south of the Thames it cannot be denied that he was a highly influential figure and without his initiative there may not have been an Arsenal FC around today.