September 1917: Arsenal’s form definitely on the up.

By Tony Attwood

If we pause here for a moment at this point in the history of Henry Norris at the Arsenal what we can see is that Lt Colonel Sir Henry Norris was now a man who was being pulled in all directions.  True, his business of building and developing houses in Fulham was on hold, (although it would have brought him in some money in rent), but he was deeply involved in a series of activities that may not have paid him much at all.

Certainly as Mayor of Fulham he was not paid, and although the knighthood he had just been granted was a great honour it had the disadvantage of suggesting to anyone meeting him or trying to do business with him that he was a man of wealth – which he was, although probably not at this time a man of substantial income.

He was a member of Fulham Council and of the London County Council, but both were again unpaid jobs.  He was a shareholder in and director of Arsenal FC, and a director of Fulham FC, but directors were not allowed to be paid, under Football League rules (not that Arsenal had any money to pay him), and besides no company was paying dividends to his directors or shareholders during the war.  Before the war he had been selling shares in Arsenal to recoup some of his investment, but this had now stopped.

Which left the War Office and  the army.  His role in the War Office was important, and it is possible that he was paid either for his role therein (he was one of eight deputy directors of recruiting each of whom covered one region of the UK) or in recognition of his army service, in which case he was presumably paid the going rate for Lt Colonels.  At today’s rate of pay, 100 years later, the salary for such rank is between £70,000 and £82,000 a year.  Then as now, Lt Colonel was the sixth rank in the army below Field Marshall and the four ranks of General.  But 100 years ago officers were gentlemen.  They were paid, but I don’t think it was a commensurate rate.  I can’t find army salaries for this time, but if you know them, please write in.

Whatever his pay, he was certainly busy for as we’ve often noted in the past year or more that Sir Henry hardly ever attended football matches either at Fulham or Arsenal and had started missing London Council Council meetings.  It is perhaps therefore not surprising that there is no record of him being at the opening game of the 1917/18 football season (the arrangements for which are detailed in the previous article).

Which is a shame for the good form that had accompanied Arsenal towards the end of the previous season was now with them once again, as they beat Queens Park Rangers 2-0 at Highbury in front of 6000 fans on the opening day of the campaign.  Instead of Norris being present the directors were represented by William Hall and his brother-in-law George Davis.

The following weekend worked out just as well for Arsenal with a 5-0 away win at Clapton Orient.  What’s more for those who carried the traditional tribal feelings into the war era, there might have been an extra smile as Tottenham opened their second home campaign at Highbury with a crushing 0-4 defeat to Chelsea in front of 11,000.

Given that Arsenal had had to wait seven games for their first win last season, these two opening triumphs made encouraging news.

As for Sir Henry, his work as a Deputy Director of Recruiting was kept secret, for fear of giving the enemy any insight into how many more men the UK could put into the field of war, and so we don’t have any details of what he was doing or how well he was doing it.

The government also chose mid-September as the moment to introduce sugar rationing, and once again simply told the local councils to see to it – despite their highly depleted resources and (at least in Fulham’s case) a lack of space.

On 15 September Arsenal played their third game of the season, and gained their third victory, this time 4-0 over the old rivals Millwall Athletic.  As always there was a comparatively high crowd for this match – 11,000.  Things on the football field were looking up.

By now the Fulham Chronicle, which had for a year appointed itself as the Unofficial Opposition to the Fulham Council (on the grounds that there was no other opposition as the Borough’s electorate had only elected Conservatives to the council) was continuing its attack.

On 21 September it published a letter from the Borough’s employees who were organising a petition on the increasing cost of milk – although it is difficult to see what the Borough was going to do about it.  Where items were rationed or prices were controlled this was done through the Ministry of Food on a national basis and indeed by 1918 sugar, meat, flour, butter, margarine and milk were all rationed.

On 22 September Arsenal were “away” to Tottenham meaning that the game was played at Clapton’s ground.  10,000 turned up and Arsenal won 2-1, making it four wins in a row.

But civil unrest was growing as the following week the Chronicle reported that disabled soldiers who were employed making toys for children were on strike in protest at their low wages.

The next Arsenal match was on 29 September and Sir Henry did finally get to an Arsenal game, although unfortunately what he saw was the first defeat of the season – a 0-1 home reverse to Chelsea.   Arthur Bourke writing as Noreseman in the Islington Daily Gazette commented that it was the first time he had seen Sir Henry at a match in a very long while which accords with the information Sally Davis has been able to gather.

Arsenal didn’t win, but at least Sir Henry had the pleasure of seeing a crowd of 16,000 turn up – the biggest Highbury crowd since 19 March 1915 as the final pre-war league season approached its last eight games.  The crowd was not bettered at Highbury until the match against Tottenham on 12 October 1918 when 30,000 turned up as the war approached its end.  (Indeed even after the end of the war in November 1918 it took a while for the crowds to return as a matter of regularity, and even then next large crowd was not until January 1919 for a match against Brentford.

Here are the games for the month…

Game Date Opposition Venue Score Crowd
1  1/9/17 Queens Park Rangers H 2-0 6,000
2 8/9/17 Clapton Orient A 5-0 3,500
3 15/9/17 Millwall Athletic H 4-0 11,000
4 22/9/17 Tottenham Hotspur* A 2-1 10,000
5 29/9/17 Chelsea H 0-1 16,000

*Played at Clapton Orient’s ground.

So what had made the difference?  Arsenal certainly had a more settled team with five of the eleven playing in all five games (something quite rare for Arsenal in wartime).  Two of these five were contributing to the goals (Groves got two and Rutherford three), and they were aided by Pagnam who missed the first game but then stayed for a long run, and scored six in his four games in September.

For once there was a recognisable Arsenal team, and thus who continued to put a bet on Arsenal to win, started to get some money back.

Of course in 1917 gambling was strictly controlled although as we saw in the articles relating to 1915 there was a lot of interest in gambling on football match results, even then.

Now there is a much greater choice with offers rising from free betting for the best odds ahead of each game.


The Henry Norris Files 

Section 1 – 1910.

Section 2 – 1911

Section 3 – 1912

Section 4 – 1913

Section 5 – 1914

Section 6 – 1915

Section 7: – 1916

Section 8: 1917


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