by Tony Attwood
The war that was going to be over by Christmas 1914 was still laying waste to much of Western Europe in the spring of 1918, and killing its young men. America was in the war, which helped the Allies, but French troops were wavering. Russia was no longer in the war which helped Germany, but Austria was wavering. And in football the London Combination continued, for those not at war, as an amateur league.
At the start of March 1918 in addition to bread, sugar, butter, margarine, bacon, ham and lard, milk and cheese were now rationed, with all meat soon added to the list. Each of the local authorities was in charge of issuing ration cards and the councillors were given the unenviable task of excluding certain groups from rationing. This was yet another contentious no-win situation for the council. Choose no one, or create a select list and either way they would be criticised. The Labour Party, growing in support in the country all the time, but not represented on the council, used the local paper to complain about the selections that were made. The Chronicle, which had taken on the mantle of official opposition took up the cause. Sir Henry Norris and the council would get complaints no matter what they did.
On 2 March, Arsenal played Millwall Athletic away and won 3-0, but there were only 3,000 in the ground whereas this match last season had attracted 10,000. Indeed it was one of a number of curious attendance figures at this time. Certainly the weather was cold and wintry and the temperature on the next day only reached 3 degrees. I don’t have the exact figure for Saturday, but I imagine it to be equally cold. Temperatures did not rise until the latter part of the month, which could explain the crowd figures somewhat, but even so, the supporters’ heart seemed to have left football.
I have in previous episodes also been mentioning the new Education Bill which had gone through Parliament, raising the school leaving age to 14. However it was a Bill fraught with financial problems, since education was to continue to be organised by the local authorities – in this case the London County Council and this increase in the number of pupils was going to cost them a significant amount. Teachers were excluded from military service during the first world war, and so were still all being paid.
Now the Council’s had the duty of preparing new pay scales for teachers and the Education Committee (on which Sir Henry Norris sat, but was not often present because its meetings clashed with his War Office work) had presented its plan to the main council after much argument and debate.
And on the afternoon of 5 March the final recommendations of the Education Committee of the LCC went before the full Council who then… rejected it in a four hour session.
Meanwhile back in Fulham, progress towards Tank Day, which had been forced upon the Borough by the government, in an effort to raise enthusiasm for the latest round of War Savings bonds, was not going well. Once again the Borough Council was blamed for the lack of sales of the bonds, but the reality was that after three and a half years of war and numerous other savings schemes, plus the rationing, and the early decision not to repatriate the bodies of the fallen, the nation had a declining interest in investing in the government.
After the poor attendance for the Millwall game there may have been concern at Highbury that the crowd for the game against Tottenham on 9 March might also show a further decline – 9,000 having attended the last home game in this fixture. But in fact the crowd at Highbury showed more resilience for a match against the new enemy, as opposed to the old enemy Milwall of course being the local rivals before 1913) as 15,000 came along to see a 4-1 home win.
The following Wednesday 13 March, the Education Committee of the LCC were forced to debate what to do in the light of the rejection of its plan for teachers’ pay by the full council. Sir Henry had either had enough of this, or had more pressing duties in the War Office for he didn’t attend.
He might also have been considering what else he could do to make Tank Day more of a success, for that was to take place two days later on Friday, 15 March. In the end, Sir Henry and his wife Edith met the tank at the boundary of Fulham and Hammersmith and walked beside the tank through the streets to inaugurate “Tank Day” in Fulham. They processed to Walham Green (close to Eel Brook Common) where Sir Henry made a speech about the importance of the War Bonds, which encouraged some prominent businessmen in the region to sign up. There are no records of how many of the lower orders signed up.
The following day Arsenal were away to Chelsea, another game that would previously have expected a good crowd to attend. Arsenal lost 4-2 and the crowd was only 4000. However these seems to have been part of a general decline in Chelsea numbers as only 5000 turned up for the fixture earlier in the season. In the previous wartime seasons they had been the best supported club in London.
On 19 March there was a full meeting of the London County Council at which Sir Henry was relieved of his role on the Education Committee, and indeed there was no attempt to persuade him onto other committees. There is no indication of ill feeling about this – no one was really going to suggest that a Lt Colonel at the War Office was not doing important war work in relation to ensuring that those men who had been conscripted were serving their country, and that the area conscription offices were properly administered so they could keep up to speed with the young men who became old enough to serve.
The following day there was an unexpected turn of events when it was announced that for the first time since the war had begun there would be local elections, with these being held in October 1918 – throughout the war until now all elections at all levels had been put on hold, with those in office in 1914, continuing.
It was also announced that Fulham was to be divided into two constituences – undoubtedly as a result in the growth of the population (in part due to the work of the Henry Norris partnership which had, until the war broke out, been building houses wherever it could find and buy unused land).
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But it also meant that Arsenal had scored 14 in six, and conceded 12. 26 goals in six games at least meant there was some entertainment even if it was not all going Arsenal’s way.
Footnote and index:
We are currently evolving a complete series on Henry Norris at the Arsenal. The full index to the articles that cover the period from 1910 to this point are given in Henry Norris at the Arsenal
Perhaps the most popular element in the Norris story is that of Arsenal’s promotion to the first division in 1919. Therefore we have separated that story out below. It raises in part the question of the validity of the chief critic of Henry Norris: the Arsenal manager from 1919 to 1925 who Norris sacked. Thus in the selection below we include articles which consider the question as to the validity of Knighton’s testimony.
For the complete index on Norris at the Arsenal please see the link above.
- April 1915: New revelations concerning perhaps the most important month in Arsenal’s history
- November / December 1915: the match fixing scandal comes to the fore: Norris is armed
The voting and the comments before and after the election
- The first suggestion that Arsenal could be elected to the 1st division.
- Arsenal in January 1919: rioting in the streets and the question of promotion
- What the media said about the election of Arsenal to the 1st division in 1919
- Arsenal prepare for the vote on who should be promoted to the First Division
- March 1919: The vote to extend the league and what the media said
- Why did the clubs vote for Arsenal rather than Tottenham in March 1919?
The Second Libel
The Third Allegation
The Fourth Allegation
Did Henry Norris really beg Leslie Knighton to stay and offer him the hugest bonus ever? And if so, why were there no new players?
- May/June 1921: Knighton the fantasist. The fourth allegation.
- Why did Arsenal manager Knighton turn down Man City but not buy players? Summer of 1921.
The Fifth Story:
The Sixth Allegation
- March 1922: Desperate times for Arsenal, Norris returns and the transfer limit allegation overturned
The Seventh Allegation
- Arsenal in the Summer 1923: another Knighton allegation but the evidence is again against him.
- Anticipation a plenty but another terrible start to the season: August 1923 – the non-signing of Moffatt.
The Eighth Strange Story