By Tony Attwood
Before we jump into the football allow me to take you back to the source of Sir Henry Norris’ fortune: property development. His company had built much of Fulham, working on the tried and tested approach that continued at least until the latter part of the 20th century, of building blocks of houses, selling off approximately two thirds to recover the costs of the development and then renting out the remainder to give an ongoing income.
This business had come to an end as the amount of spare land in Fulham dried up, but Sir Henry later teamed up with football fan, and very famous ex-player Lord Kinnaird and the Kinnaird Park Estate Company. However with first Lord Kinnaird himself being taken ill, and then Sir Henry, the company had more or less ground to a halt. It did very occasional works but they were nothing like the scale of either company in the past. On 1 April they had a planning application considered by Bromley Urban District Council. It was the first application in over a year, and was for just one house. It was passed.
Now to the football, and as we have seen in the last episode of this series, at the start of April 1924, issues both at the top and foot of the first division had yet to be resolved.
Four teams at the top of the table felt they were in with a chance of the title, while at the foot of the table matters were much simpler. Would it be Arsenal or Chelsea who accompanied Middlesbrough into the second division?
The league table at the start of the month looked like this…
|11||West Ham United||35||11||13||11||31||34||0.912||35|
|17||West Bromwich Albion||34||9||12||13||39||54||0.722||30|
|18||Preston North End||36||10||8||18||46||59||0.780||28|
Arsenal, as we have noted several times had two things in their favour: they had games in hand and Chelsea were struggling as much as they were.
Arsenal began the month on the back of a run of two wins and eight defeats in the last ten matches in league and cup, and opened the month with an away game against Liverpool who had been beaten 3-1 at Highbury one month before.
Liverpool were lying 13th in the table, and had a fairly decent home form having won nine, lost four and drawn five of their games. Away from home Arsenal had won just three and drawn two all season scoring just ten and conceding 31. Given such form the 0-0 draw was considered a good result. The Times stated that Arsenal had the best of a poor match; it sounds they came for a draw and got it. Chelsea did not play, so this was the using up of one of Arsenal’s games in hand.
The next match was Burnley at home, and Arsenal probably took confidence both from the Liverpool draw and from the fact this was at Highbury, for Burnley’s away record before this match was truly shocking: two wins seven draws and eight defeats. And indeed Arsenal made the most of Burnley’s terrible record; 1-0 up at half time they won 2-0.
Even better Chelsea lost 1-0 away to Manchester City making it ten without a win. The bottom of the table now looked like this…
|18||Preston North End||37||10||9||18||46||59||0.780||29|
At this rate Arsenal might not just escape relegation they could end up as high as 18th. Dizzying heights indeed.
And now at this moment, we find that Sir Henry was indeed back in England after his long spell at his house in France. First, Sally Davis has noted him as attending a meeting of the ancient liveried company of which he had long been a member: The Worshipful Company of Feltmakers of London.
Then at the end of the week Sir Henry was back in court for the libel case of Norris v Armfield – this being held on 11 April. The hearing was a simple formality; Armfield had fully admitted that he had libelled Sir Henry and paid Sir Henry’s costs and 100 guineas (£105) in damages which Sir Henry gave to charity.
The next day 12 April it was back to the football as Arsenal beat Sunderland 2-0. Arsenal were helped somewhat by the habit of the time (which continued through much of the century) of playing international matches at the same time as league games, with clubs being forced to give up their best players. As a result Charlie Buchan was absent for Sunderland as he was at Wembley playing in a 1-1 draw for England against Scotland.
Arthur Bourke, writing as Norseman in the Gazette as usual, said he thought Arsenal had played the best football he had ever seen from the club – high praise indeed, and quite possibly true given that Sunderland were top of the league. Indeed they were still top of the League after the game, but only just.
Better yet again Chelsea lost away to Newcastle to make that three defeats in a row and 11 without a win.
At the foot the table now looked thus:
|20||Preston North End||38||10||9||19||47||62||0.758||29|
Bob John, as we can see was missing having been injured on 15 March against Nottingham Forest. He only made one further appearance before the end of the season. And we may notice Dr Paterson, the man so harshly and horribly maligned as the player the manager was “reduced” to playing – the “brother-in-law of the physio”. He had switched successfully from outside left to outside right.
Six of these players played in the first match of the season, and to be fair to the manager if we look at the last three games of the season, all the opening XI save Toner got at least one game. That makes me fairly sure it was injuries. And that makes a certain amount of sense: after all this was the era of the un-medically trained “trainer” who if a player was down would rush on the pitch with a bucket of cold water and a sponge. If the player didn’t get up at the sight of that, you knew he probably really was injured.
There is one other point of interest in these games: on April 12 the crowd was just 18,000 – way down on Arsenal’s average for the season. And yet here were Arsenal fighting for their future, playing the table topping team, having just drawn one and won the other two of their last three games. It would appear that the explanation was that supporters who would have gone to see Arsenal instead went to watch the England game at Wembley.
Now we move on to Good Friday, 18 April a day which Arsenal had to play away from home as part of the arrangements in their lease of Highbury. The match was against Everton who were sitting eighth in the league – but most worrying for Arsenal was the fact of Everton’s home record – won 11, drawn seven lost only one. Arsenal away was still a sorry tale having won three, drawn three and lost 11.
Arsenal made two changes – both bringing in experienced players (Blythe and Mackie) but the result was as the form figures predicted. Everton won 3-1, Haden getting Arsenal’s goal. Worse, Chelsea suddenly broke the run of defeats and beat Liverpool 2-1 at home. And for the first time the newspaper’s attention turned to the fact that all four of Chelsea’s remaining games were at home.
This being the Easter period it was game after game, day after day, and Arsenal now took the train from the north west to the north east to play, of all clubs, Sunderland, while Chelsea were at home to Newcastle.
Before the game Sunderland were still top of the league. Their home record was not quite as powerful as we might expect (won 12, drawn 6, lost 2) but still powerful enough to worry Arsenal. And yet Arsenal got a 1-1 draw, Woods now playing at number 9, getting his second in three. The team was the same as for the Everton defeat.
Then the news came in – Chelsea beat Newcastle 1-0. They had quite amazingly just won two in a row! While Arsenal had been drawing with Sunderland, Preston (the other relegation potentials) had been beating West Ham. Now the foot of the table had taken another turn…
|18||Preston North End||39||11||9||19||49||63||0.778||31|
Thus attention suddenly switched to Nottingham Forest. Since beating Arsenal on 15 March (the last game before Arsenal’s mini-revival) they had lost two and drawn three; on this day losing 2-0 away to Villa.
The view of the Times was that Arsenal were now safe, and one more win would secure that position, because of the goal averages.
It was also getting exciting at the top with three clubs still in contention
On 21 April Arsenal lost 0-1 at home to Everton 1, while Forest drew with Preston. Chelsea didn’t play. The Islington Gazette called this conclusion to the season a “long drawn out agony”.
At the other end of the table Cardiff City were top of the league with a game in hand over second placed Sunderland, being one point ahead. Huddersfield were a further one point behind but with games in hand on both the teams above.
So the nation (or at least the part of the nation that enjoyed football) waited until Saturday 26 April when of all games to be played it was Preston v Arsenal. Before the game the table looked like this
|18||Preston North End||40||11||10||19||50||64||0.781||32|
Wins for Chelsea in their two remaining games with defeats for Arsenal could still mean relegation. But Arsenal won away to Preston, Haden and Ramsay getting the goals. Meanwhile Chelsea quite amazingly and unbelievably beat title hopefuls Sunderland 4-1 at Stamford Bridge, while Nottingham Forest drew with Huddersfield 1-1.
At the top Sunderland had finished their league programme, leaving just two teams to fight out the title
At the bottom, Arsenal at last were safe. Chelsea could still avoid relegation although it would need a huge win for them and a big defeat for Forest.
|19||Preston North End||41||11||10||20||50||66||0.758||32|
26 April was also Cup final day. Newcastle beat Aston Villa 2-0 and surprisingly Nottingham Forest held title chasing Huddersfield 1-1.
As for Arsenal, relief swamped the club and Knighton used the remaining two games to introduce Fred Jones. He was with the Royal Navy when signed on 15 May 1923. After his two games the manager obviously decided he was not up to par and he left during the close season to play for Aberdare Athletic.
On 28 April 1924 the result was Burnley 4 Arsenal 1. It was Alexander Graham’s last senior game. He moved on and played 47 league matches for Brentford and became the club’s assistant manager in December 1925 and later briefly for Folkestone before leaving football.
By 30 April all that was left to resolve was which of two clubs that had never won the League would now win it for the first time.
On 3 May Arsenal lost 1-2 at home to Preston, but really there was little attention paid to the game beyond Highbury. Huddersfield beat Nottingham Forest 3-0, while Cardiff City, who could have taken the title with a win, could only manage a goalless draw. In their final match against Birmingham, with the score goalless, Cardiff City were awarded a penalty. Len Davies who was already the top scorer of the season for the club, took the kick, but missed the goal completely and Birmingham City held out for a draw. Everyone knew that one new team would take the title this season, and it turned out to be Huddersfield, under their little known manager Herbert Chapman, the man who had been banned from football for life by the FA, been persuaded to appeal and now had reached the pinnacle of his profession.
Here is the league table for the end of the season.
|13||West Ham United||42||13||15||14||40||43||0.930||41|
|16||West Bromwich Albion||42||12||14||16||51||62||0.823||38|
|18||Preston North End||42||12||10||20||52||67||0.776||34|
Not only was there surprise as to what Chapman had done with a totally unfancied club existing on tiny crowds, but also a lot of interest in the fact that the league had been won on goal average for the first time. And what is not normally noted these days is that if the modern day approach to resolving clubs on the same points total were used, both clubs would have been equal on goal difference with +27. (Arsenal ended on -23). In such circumstances goal scored would have counted and Cardiff would have got the trophy by one goal; 61 to 60.
But there was no such debate as goal average it had always been, and goal average it remained for years to come. The title was Huddersfield’s.
Here is the summary of Arsenal’s games for the final run in at the end of the league season.
|40||26/04/1924||Preston North End||A||W||2-0||12,000|
|42||03/05/1924||Preston North End||H||L||1-2||25,000|
This however was not the end of the season’s football for Arsenal as the team now had an overseas tour to play. Details of this will be given in the next episode.
We are currently evolving a series on Henry Norris at the Arsenal. The full index to all the articles is here. This index is updated as each new article is published.
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, 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, is set out below in these articles.
After that there is a complete index of all the articles in the series in chronological order.
- 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.
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