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Arsenal in Feb 1922. Norris missing, Cup success, relegation threatens, and a monkey

By Tony Attwood

Arsenal’s position had recovered a little in January 1922 and the club, although still in trouble, were at least above the relegation zone.

Pos Club P W D L F A GAv Pts
18 Blackburn Rovers 27 6 9 12 35 40 0.875 21
19 Birmingham City 25 9 3 13 30 38 0.789 21
20 Arsenal 25 7 5 13 25 33 0.758 19
21 Bradford City 25 6 6 13 28 51 0.549 18
22 Manchester United 27 5 7 15 29 51 0.569 17

Four league games were scheduled for February, with an FA cup home match against Leicester City who were a mid-table second division side.

As for Sir Henry Norris, he  was either still abroad or was now on his second recuperative holiday and thus he not only missed more football matches but also the funeral of one of the stalwart supporters and activists of not only Fulham Conservative Party, but also in particular of the ward within the Borough that Sir Henry had represented for 13 years: James Web.

However it must be remembered that by the time news of Mr Webb’s passing had reached Sir Henry there would have been no time for him to drive back to England for the funeral.

Elsewhere in politics the reality of the UK’s removal of its troops from Ireland could be seen on 1 February as the Beggars Bush Barracks were handed over to local troops.  Meanwhile Parliament had resumed its sittings after the Christmas/New Year break – but of course Sir Henry (now determined not to stand for Parliament again) was not there.

Indeed just how serious was the illness or indeed illnesses that afflicted Sir Henry at this time can be judged by the fact that he had not even arranged to return to England in time for the visit of the Duke of York to Highbury for the game against Newcastle United.

According to what Charles Crisp told the papers, Sir Henry was “wintering in Nice” – indicating that he had most likely moved on from Italy to France – it seems unlikely that he returned to England and then at once journeyed to France.  Whatever the reason, although an overseas holiday was far from unknown for Sir Henry (he was just starting out on a touring holiday with his family and friends in Europe when the first world war broke out, we might recall) this was unusual for Sir Henry to the point of being unheard of.  He was a man who had in previous years loved to be at the heart of the action.  Now he was very much out of it for a singularly prolonged period.

Leslie Knighton, the manager, made much of the royal visit in his autobiography, choosing to focus on making fun of the directors who welcomed the royal guest for allegedly not knowing what to arrange for such an event.

Jack Humble and two other directors (Charles Crisp and George Peachey) did the honours.   And at this point Knighton could have made mention of Humble, the man who famously walked from Durham to Plumstead to find work, in 1886, who had been a founding father of the club, who had been the league club’s first chairman, and who had stayed with the club (apart from one short break) throughout its history to that point.

But no, instead in his autobiography he pokes fun at Humble and the others while suggesting (and it is all done by suggestion) that Arsenal wasted money buying in the finest champagne for the Duke, only to find that all he wanted was a cup of tea.

It really is all a bit childish and it seems very unlikely to be true since then as now all royal visits were prefaced by meetings between Palace officials and those running the establishment the member of the royal family would visit, which would include every last detail, from clearing the roads to allow the royal car to pull up outside, through to what should be laid on to eat and drink.

Even if by some ludicrous oversight on the part of the Palace the directors were not informed what should be supplied, at most they would have bought two bottles of champagne, and if it was not needed it could easily have been stored for the day when Arsenal won a trophy!  By and large decent champagne keeps – although I suspect Knighton didn’t know that.

As for the game Arsenal beat Newcastle 2-1 in front of 30,000 fans.

Dunn came in as keeper in replace of Williamson – it was the only game all season the regular goalkeeper missed.  Turnball got a second game at left back, and otherwise it was a fairly regular team.  Boreham and Toner got the goals, meaning Boreham had now got five goals in the last four league games he had played.  Arsenal moved up one place to 19th.

So with Sir Henry not coming back to meet a royal person, and not coming back in time for the return of Parliament we do very much get a picture of a decline in the man. What’s more, the records show that Sir Henry never spoke again in Parliament.  Again a radical change from a man who was used to having and expressing an opinion.

There was still some activity in the Kinnaird Park Estate company through which all of Sir Henry’s building activities were now focused – but it was very minor.  They applied for and got planning permission for a garage in Plaistow.  And that was about it.

But the club was still being run, as shown by the fact that on Friday 10 February Arsenal signed another player for the future: the 20 year old John Mackie known as Alex.  He was an Irishman who had played in Belfast and became part of Arsenal’s reserve team until December 1922 when he got his first game.  Thereafter his renown grew and in April 1923 he played his first international for Ireland.  He continued to play for the Arsenal first team under Chapman until 1926 and then moved on to Portsmouth in 1928.  He died on 9 June 1984.

But it is not these details of Alex Mackie that are now remembered, for he is the man who has become known for the notion that upon signing for Arsenal he demanded a signing on fee of a monkey!  That not only seems bizarre in itself, but also unlikely because signing on fees, rewards and gifts were illegal under Football League rules brought in before the resumption of football in 1919.

And now, if I point out that Bernard Joy in “Forward, Arsenal!” is our only source for the events surrounding Mackie’s signing, a certain doubt has to creep into the veracity of the tale, for Joy has already been found to be seriously lacking as a commentator, in terms of verifiable facts and general accuracy.

Toby Mercer (who had played for Derby, and who acted as a scout for Arsenal) had already arranged for Joe Toner to go to Arsenal for a trial.   Joe Toner played for Mercer at Belfast United, and moved directly from there to Arsenal in 1919.  (I am not sure if Mercer was one of the network of scouts that Knighton claimed he brought with him from Manchester City, or an Arsenal scout – but I rather think he was the latter.  The whole notion of an assistant manager at Man City having his own personal network (which Knighton subsequently alleged Sir Henry Norris wound up) that would follow him to Highbury seems very unlikely.  If there were such men they were probably freelancers who would tip off clubs about possible quality players in the hopes of a reward for so doing.

Alex Mackie’s transfer however is reported differently by Joy, and in this case (according to Joy’s telling), Leslie Knighton, the Arsenal manager, went personally to Belfast to sign Mackie.   Now Knighton makes no mention of any of this in his autobiography, perhaps because it does not fit with his tales of how Sir Henry Norris treated him, or perhaps he forgot, or perhaps Joy made another mistake.  But Joy’s recounting of the situation is particularly clear, Toby Mercer was acting as a scout for Arsenal in Ireland, at a time of social disruption and upheaval and had been doing it very well.

So, according to Joy, Knighton went to Ireland.  But (still according to Joy) this was in 1923 “during the time of the Black and Tan troubles”.   This is not quite right as the Black and Tans (the violent gangs of “temporary constables” created by Winston Churchill) were disbanded in 1922 as part of the peace deal which as we have seen, had now passed through Parliament.

However it is more than likely that Knighton went to Ireland earlier and so Joy’s statement that Mercer could not immediately introduce Knighton to Mackie because Mackie lived in the Catholic quarter, along with his description of a dead body lying in the road as they walked the city streets, could be truthful, if the deal was set up in 1921 rather than 1922.

Whatever the details Joy says that Mackie was signed on £5 a week, which he describes as a huge amount of money to a young Irishman, and Mackie used a part of his first week’s salary to buy himself a pet monkey.

Now in terms of general inflation (not the inflation of players’ wages), £5 at that time would be the equivalent to £270 a week – a modest wage for a working man but yes, there could have been money left over from the first week’s wages for the purchase of a monkey (although I have no idea how much a monkey might have cost then – or indeed now).

But much more to the point, this is the only historical reference to what has become an oft-quoted incident, and somehow it has been transformed into a wild and wacky tale of Sir Henry Norris using his “foreign contacts” to get Mackie a monkey as a signing on fee.

The bizarre transference of the story into the demand for a monkey as a signing on fee is weird enough, but the fact that it is subsequently suggested in some sources that Sir Henry Norris arranged for the monkey for the player is even more unlikely for as we have seen Sir Henry was in the south of France at the time.  For him to have become involved a letter would have had to be sent to Sir Henry in Nice asking if he could arrange to bring in a monkey for the new player.

If you have been reading the events of this series throughout, you may wish to ask yourself, is that likely?

Sir Henry was a London man who made his fortune in property, particularly in Fulham, not in international trade.  Besides both in 1922 and 1924 Sir Henry put forward the proposal at the AGM of the Football League that transfers should be much more strictly controlled, with maximum transfer fees and careful arrangements for transfers of two or more players at once to ensure that clubs did not try to get around the new restrictions by throwing in “makeweight” players.

It is not particularly likely that right in the middle of this that Sir Henry, who was now recuperating in the south of France would be involved in bringing a monkey into the country as a signing on fee of a player.

So, for the famous “monkey signing on fee” incident, we have no contemporary sources at all – the story seems to have appeared much later.  All we have is the unreliable Bernard Joy writing in 1952, 30 years after the event, with absolutely no indication that he contacted the player again to check the story, and then the later transmutation of the story into the signing on fee.

Plus we have reason to doubt Joy even on the issue of the player spending the money on a monkey at all since as we have seen Joy persistently got things wrong, and has every indication of being a man who simply wrote from memory and tales told to him.

Thus our one source of the monkey story (even in its variant form of the player paying for the monkey out of his first week’s money), is dubious on various points of this story, and was indeed writing 30 years later.    Given this variance it is just as likely that, given that Mackie was born in Monkstown, someone at Arsenal called him “monkey” or some other pejorative name upon arrival, and the monkey never existed at all.

For what it is worth, Bernard Joy also says of Mackie that he was

“Intelligent and keen, Mackie learnt rapidly and struck up a fine partnership with Kennedy.   Although lightly built he had a good tackle and was particularly skillful at volleying centres from the opposite wing.  An Irish cap came to him, too, during the first season with Arsenal, despite being under twenty and he was honoured again twelve years later after being transferred to Portsmouth.”

There are numerous other inconsistencies in the story, but the mention of Kennedy’s name gives us, I think, a clue as to what is going on in Joy’s account.  Kennedy, also an Irishman, went to Crystal Palace first, and then came to Arsenal.  On 2 December 1922 Kennedy made his debut at left back and in the following game Mackie made his debut (on 9 December 1922) at right back again against Birmingham City. Save for a couple of games each missed through injury they stayed together as a pair until the end of the season.

Mackie played for the first team for the last time on 26 April 1926 as Arsenal beat Hibernian 5-0 and after that played in the reserves until he was transferred to Portsmouth on 28 June 1928.

Here is his Arsenal record

Season   League Games   League Goals
1922/3 23 0
1923/4 31 0
1924/5 19 0
1925/6 35 0
108 0

In all he made 119 appearances for Arsenal, scoring one goal. But he picked up his career at Portsmouth and made 257 appearances for the club over seven seasons, including playing in the FA Cup finals of 1929 and 1934.

After that he played for Northampton, and Sittingbourne before retiring from football at the outbreak of war.

Seasons Team League Games League Goals
Monkstown
?-1922 Forth River
1922-1928 Arsenal 108 0
1928-1936 Portsmouth 257 2
1936-1938 Northampton Town 19 0
1938-1939 Sittingbourne

Overall what we have here is another tale of Knighton writing more than 20 years after the events about how he was desperately trying to find new players, and Joy writing six years later and using Knighton as his only source, and embellishing the details a little further.  Neither had access to any original source material, but both have been constantly believed.

It is therefore with some relief that we can return to the actual football, of which there are some real details, and find that on 11 February 1922 the result was Newcastle 3 Arsenal 1.  It was not only a setback after the win at home one week earlier against the same club but also the start of a five match losing streak in the league in which Arsenal scored just one goal.  

The only team change there was between the matches was the return of Williamson in goal.  Rutherford scored for Arsenal – his first goal of the season.  Arsenal remained in 20th position two points above Bradford City and three above Manchester United.

That setback however did not linger long for the following weekend on 18 February Arsenal played Leicester City of Division II at Highbury in the 3rd round of the FA Cup (equivalent to round five today) and beat them 3-0 in front of a very encouraging crowd of 39,241.  Rutherford was still playing outside right, but it looks as if the tactics had changed because he now scored again.  White (who played at number 9 in all the FA Cup games of the season) got the other two.  Arsenal were through to the 4th round for the first time since 1907 (when they went on to the semi-final).

But despite this uplift in the league, matters did not go well, as on 20 February Arsenal lost 0-1 away to Burnley.  This was itself not too much of a shock, since Burnley were not only third in the league and of course the defending champions, but also had an excellent home record having won 11, drawn 1 and lost 1 so far this season, scoring an average of just under three goals a game.  One could say that Arsenal had done well to restrict them to just the single goal.

Similar excuses could perhaps be made about the final game of the month – another away match, this against a Liverpool team who were thus far unbeaten at home, having conceded only nine goals in 14 games on their own ground.

Three of the recent newcomers to the squad (Milne, Creegan and Pattison) who had played in the Burnley game all dropped out and were replaced with Baker, Graham and Blyth – all three of whom had played in the first match of the season, before the flu and injuries too their toll, but it didn’t help.  Indeed the shuffling probably caused problems, as Arsenal lost 0-4.  It was the third time Arsenal had conceded four in a match this season.

Meanwhile away from the football, campaigning had begun for the London County Council elections which were to take place on 2 March.    You may recall that during the war years elections were not held and men were appointed to the Council – including Sir Henry.  Having left the LCC immediately after the war, and having left the Fulham Council upon becoming an MP he was not involved in the new elections in any way.

Here are the results for Arsenal in February 1922.

Date Opposition H/A Res Score Crowd Pos
04/02/1922 Newcastle United H W 2-1 30,000 20
11/02/1922 Newcastle United A L 1-3 30,000 20
18/02/1922 Leicester City (FAC3) H W 3-0 39,421
20/02/1922 Burnley A L 0-1 15,000 20
25/02/1922 Liverpool A L 0-4 30,000 20

Arsenal had been helped by poor results from the two clubs below them, to stay out of the relegation positions despite a run of one win and three defeats in the League.  But it was clear this could not go on.  Manchester United were now level on points.

Pos Team P W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 Liverpool 29 16 11 2 43 20 2.150 43
2 Burnley 30 18 3 9 55 35 1.571 39
3 Aston Villa 30 18 2 10 63 39 1.615 38
4 Tottenham Hotspur 29 14 6 9 49 30 1.633 34
5 Bolton Wanderers 30 14 6 10 48 37 1.297 34
6 Middlesbrough 29 12 10 7 52 43 1.209 34
7 Cardiff City 30 14 6 10 44 38 1.158 34
8 Manchester City 30 14 6 10 53 53 1.000 34
9 Newcastle United 29 12 7 10 38 32 1.188 31
10 Sheffield United 30 12 6 12 47 39 1.205 30
11 Huddersfield Town 28 11 6 11 34 29 1.172 28
12 Sunderland 30 12 4 14 46 50 0.920 28
13 Chelsea 30 10 8 12 24 34 0.706 28
14 West Bromwich Albion 28 11 5 12 32 40 0.800 27
15 Preston North End 29 10 7 12 33 48 0.688 27
16 Blackburn Rovers 30 8 9 13 40 45 0.889 25
17 Birmingham City 30 10 4 16 32 43 0.744 24
18 Oldham Athletic 30 8 8 14 23 39 0.590 24
19 Everton 28 7 9 12 37 39 0.949 23
20 Arsenal 29 8 5 16 28 42 0.667 21
21 Manchester United 30 6 9 15 32 53 0.604 21
22 Bradford City 28 6 7 15 32 57 0.561 19

Also everyone was very aware that Tottenham had made progress as fast as Arsenal had slipped back and although there was no danger of them winning the League, they were clearly moving in the opposite direction of Arsenal.  For after a run of seven successive defeats, they were undefeated in the last five league games.  True three of these were draws, but the signs were worrying.

Henry Norris at the Arsenal

A full index to the series which runs from 1910 onwards is given here

Perhaps the most popular element in the Norris story is that of Arsenal’s promotion to the first division in 1919.  The most complete review of this, which puts right the numerous misunderstandings of the events of that year appears on this site, and most importantly cites contemporary articles and reports, such as the minutes of the FA meeting where the promotion was confirmed, and the reports in local papers thereafter.  It is to be found here in these sets of articles…

The preliminaries

The voting and the comments before and after the election

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?

The Fifth Tale

  • How Henry Norris missed the royal visit and the remaining directors wasted club money on champagne while giving a player a signing on fee of a monkey!

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