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Arsenal in the summer: 1924: the tour, and a review of the transfers.

By Tony Attwood

For Arsenal the 1924/5 season did not end with the escape from relegation, but instead it had an extension through another tour of Europe – this time to Germany.

The group left England on 8 May, but unfortunately we do not have details of the tour beyond the match results and the teams for most games, courtesy of Andy Kelly of TheArsenalHistory.  There is some curious information from Sally Davis concerning this period relating to the Arsenal management, but it is, I think, completely wrong.  There was no change in the management team at this time.

Robson, Arsenal’s keeper who played all 44 first team games in the season did not go on the tour and Dunn, the keeper he took over from on Boxing Day 1922 played throughout the tour.  Otherwise it was members of the first team squad, except for a centre half called Collin, who never played for Arsenal’s first team in the league.

Jimmy Brain, who had been signed by the club a year before and was set to make his breakthrough into the first team in the 1924/5 season, also did not go.  He clearly was not yet in the manager’s sight.  Here are the results.

No Date Opposition Score Crowd
1 11/05/1924 FC Preussen 6-1 8,000
2 14/05/1924 Hamburg XI 2-2 10,000
3 18/05/1924 Spiel-Vereinigung Fürth 1-0 12,000
4 22/05/1924 Stuttgart Kickers 2-0 6,000
5 24/05/1924 DCS99/TRU Combined XI 6-3
6 26/05/1924 Cologne Sportklub 99 9-0

 

 

 

 

 

All the games were classified as friendlies with no trophies on offer.

If we look back over the past season of 1923/4 we can see that Knighton introduced six new players to the team.  Here is what happened to them; he had signed six players who made it to the first team, four of them ultimately playing over 50 games for the club

Player Position Debut Games in 1923/4 Total Arsenal games
Harry Woods Forward 25 August 1923 36 70
Samson Haden Forward 27 August 1923 31 88
Edward Wallington Forward 1 September 1923 1 1
James Ramsay Forward 1 March 1924 11 69
Andrew Neil Left half/inside forward 13 March 1924 11 54
Frederick Jones Forward 28 April 1924 2 2

At the end of the 1923/4 season it might have been expected that after such a poor season, with relegation only just missed, the club would have taken steps to bring in some new players.  And indeed new players were to appear in 1924/5 in what turned out to be Knighton’s last season at Arsenal

Player Position Debut Games in 1924/5 Total Arsenal games
Jimmy Brain Forward 25 October 1924 28 204
Daniel Lewis Goalkeeper 15 November 1924 16 142
Sidney Hoar Wing 29 November 1924 19 100
Donald Cock Forward 7 March 1925 2 3
Joseph Hughes Forward 13 April 1925* 1 1
Arthur Roe Half back 1 May 1925** 1 1

*Joseph Hughes was seriously injured in his debut and forced to retire from football

** Arthur Rowe stayed at Arsenal just 11 days and his contract was cancelled.  He does not appear to have signed for another club, and may well have been just a stopgap or a trial player for the last game of the season.

So again six signed, and this time three players made a significant contribution, all with over 100 games.  But what we do note is that most of the signings were forwards, and in once sense we can understand this.  Here is Knighton’s record up to the end of the 1923/4 season

Season P W D L F A Pts Pos FAC Top scorer Goals
1919–20 42 15 12 15 56 58 42 10th R2 Henry White 15
1920–21 42 15 14 13 59 63 44 9th R1 Fred Pagnam 18
1921–22 42 15 7 20 47 56 37 17th QF Henry White 22
1922–23 42 16 10 16 61 62 42 11th R1 Bob Turnbull 21
1923–24 42 12 9 21 40 63 33 19th R2 Harry Woods 12

True Arsenal had won the London Challenge Cup in both 1922 and 1924, but I doubt that this compensated for the league positions.

Looking at this we can see one obvious area where Arsenal’s problems were to be found.  They needed goals, and when they found good goalscorers such as Henry White and Bob Turnbull they later seemed to lose their form.  Turnbull was a particularly sad loss.  He was allowed to go to Charlton, before he moved on to Chelsea three months later where he scored 58 goals in 87 games.  How Arsenal could have done with him.

But there is a second point, for Arsenal in 1923/4 gained their lowest goals for and conceded the most against, in their post-war career so far.  Indeed under the management they seemed to be going backwards despite having almost the biggest support in the league.   And as we have seen the manager’s decision for a second year running was just to try and invest in forwards.

But the manager made no signings in the summer itself, and thus the squad that had just scraped home in the league in April and May was the squad that assembled for the 1924/5 season.

Here are the players’ individual figures for the 1923/4 – the season we have just been looking at in detail in recent articles.

Player Position Apps Goals
Alf Baker Right back/Right half 23 1
Billy Blyth Inside left/Left half 29 4
Reginald Boreham Inside left 2
Jack Butler Centre half 25
John Clark Outside right 2
Stan Earle Inside right 2 2
John Graham Half back 27 1
Samson Haden Winger 33 3
Bob John Half Back 15
Frederick Jones Inside forward 2
Andrew Kennedy Left back 30
John Mackie Right back 33
William Milne Wing half 38 2
Andrew Neil Inside forward 11 2
Dr James Paterson Outside left 23
James Ramsay Inside forward 11 3
John Robson Goalkeeper 44
Jackie Rutherford Outside right 22 2
Joseph Toner Outside left 3
Frank Townrow Forward 7 2
Robert Turnbull Centre forward 19 7
Clement Voysey Half back/Inside right 10 2
Edward Wallington Outside right 1
Tom Whittaker Wing half 8
Henry Woods Centre forward 37 10
Andrew Young Centre forward/ Inside half 27 2

Arsenal’s most obvious and easy to spot problem we can see was scoring goals – and the manager was buying forwards.  But Arsenal’s problem was also defending.   If we look at the league table ordered by goals scored we see Arsenal’s forward line problems…

Lge pos Club P W D L F A G.Av Pts
14 Birmingham City 42 13 13 16 41 49 0.837 39
13 West Ham United 42 13 15 14 40 43 0.930 41
19 Arsenal 42 12 9 21 40 63 0.635 33
22 Middlesbrough 42 7 8 27 37 60 0.617 22
21 Chelsea 42 9 14 19 31 53 0.585 32

But if we check the table ordered by goals against we find this…

22 Middlesbrough 42 7 8 27 37 60 0.617 22
16 West Bromwich 42 12 14 16 51 62 0.823 38
19 Arsenal 42 12 9 21 40 63 0.635 33
20 Nottingham Forest 42 10 12 20 42 64 0.656 32
18 Preston North End 42 12 10 20 52 67 0.776 34
11 Manchester City 42 15 12 15 54 71 0.761 42

In short Arsenal couldn’t defend and couldn’t score.  In fact if the league had had goal difference as a measure in this period the Arsenal would have been shown to have the worse goal difference in the league with -23.  And if we really want to understand the manager’s problem we have to say it was his inability to fix either of these difficulties.

In the season to come he did improve the defence, that is true, but primarily that was because the back five defenders all played over 30 games in the season and so at least had a chance of getting to know each other.  He might have argued that this was why he didn’t sign more defenders – he had a good defence but they kept getting injured.  Looking back from our position nearly 100 years on, we can see that this too would have been an excuse.

As for crowds, the average in the first division was 22,654, down 2.4% on the previous year.  The top five clubs by attendance were

No. Club Pos Average Change
1 Chelsea 21 (R) 30.895 3,0%
2 Arsenal 19 29.950 -1,0%
3 Everton 7 29.185 -5,6%
4 Tottenham Hotspur 15 28.420 -9,6%
5 Liverpool 12 28.390 -15,2%

Huddersfield, who won the league, were 17th in the crowd table, with an average of 17,395, up 16.9% on the previous season, not surprisingly.

So how can this crowd / league position disparity be explained?  It does seem very odd when big crowds would turn up to see London teams get nowhere near winning the league, ever – and actually to see them struggle to avoid relegation.

I think the most likely explanation is scouting.  The north was packed with clubs and the top teams in the north were used to going to their local leagues and finding the players who could be brought through.  Not only did the southern teams have less of a tradition of scouting, they also had fewer local teams to scout; amateur football and rugby union soaked up a lot of players who in the north might well have been interested in being professional footballers.

But we should remember that by this time Arsenal were in line to becoming the richest team in the league, simply because they were getting the crowds.  And that is what Sir Henry Norris saw, with much of the debt of Highbury being paid off, and with Arsenal continuing to bring in the second biggest attendances, and, as far as I can tell, having the highest entrance prices in the league.

With the end of season tour fully done and dusted, and the season completely closed down, the League now held its AGM on 2 June.

Sir Henry attended and once more launched into his favourite reform topic: that it was transfer fees, not salaries that should be capped.  The speech against was made by Charles Sutcliffe who of course simply pointed out that the Management Committee had investigated the issue the previous season, and not agreed with Sir Henry, or at least could not agree with each other on a method of regulating the transfer market.

So we must ask (at least because no one else has done so, it seems) why was Sir Henry pursuing this issue year after year: cap transfer fees not salaries.  And why would his fellow directors across the league not have anything to do with this.

There were, I believe, several reasons.

First, the small clubs saw then, as now, transfer fees for promising players, as a valuable part of their survival package.  Each town wanted a football team, then as now, but also then as now, many were not prepared to turn up in big enough numbers to support the team.  Finding the local talent and selling him on was a major part of the clubs’ survival.

Second, Sir Henry coupled this demand to fix transfer fees with a request for the maximum wage to be abolished.   And here we must remember that the players were very much working class, and the directors and owners were upper class.  During and after the war there had been protests, strikes and sometimes uprisings that were little short of insurrections.  The trades unions had growing power and were making ever greater demands which the upper classes felt it was their bounden duty to resist.

Communism had taken over Russia, and the Communist Party in Britain was growing in strength.   The last general election had seen the long established Liberal Party pushed into third place by the Labour Party which had gone on to form a government – something utterly inconceivable before the war.  There was, as Bob Dylan said, 60 years later, “Revolution in the Air”.

In such circumstances there was no way these upper class owners were going to vote for a free for all for player wages.  For if one club started paying above the maximum level, where would it ever end?   Of course we know where it ended now, with extremely rich young men, many of whom fritter their wealth away.  But in the 1920s the end was thought to be an overthrowing of the natural order of inherited wealth and privilege ruling the country.

Sir Henry, who had championed equal pay for women and pensions for all soldiers who returned from the war injured, was preaching revolution as far as the other chairmen were concerned.  And of course Sir Henry knew this, but he was having one final go at getting his message across, and indeed in making what turned out to be his final appeal on this topic, I think he knew perfectly well what he was going to do next.  With Arsenal’s debts so clearly under control, he was about to change Arsenal into a trophy winning team.  But he was not going to give up on the cause of the working man which he had supported all his life.

There was in June a little more activity from the Kinnaird Park Estate Company but again it was for only one house.  I think they were just tidying up the loose ends.  They also applied to the High Court for the value of shares in the company to be reduced.  There was nothing sinister in this – it has to be done through the court to ensure that crooks don’t set up companies, sell shares at high prices and then arbitrarily reduce the price in order to buy the shares back at a lower price.

Sir Henry was certainly in London and active at the time; he went to the quarterly meeting of the honourable Feltmakers’ Company, and then in early August, took part in a day out on the Thames for members of Arsenal, including players, directors and staff, and some gentlemen of the press, including Arthur Bourke from the Islington Gazette.

The day out included a cricket match and a fine meal at the end.   Sir Henry, who had a house boat at Henley did not attend the full trip, leaving the other directors to oversee the start and finish.  This can be interpreted as arrogance, but I don’t think that fits in at all with Sir Henry who very much liked to be with the players and staff.  I think it represents him being under doctors’ orders, and limiting his exertions.

By this time Sir Henry was, as we have seen, not a director of Fulham FC but he was still a shareholder and it is interesting that at their AGM (which Sir Henry did not attend) two close acquaintances of his took over as chair and president of the club.  The aim was to give Fulham a boost after they had finished the 1923/4 season avoiding relegation to Division III (South) by just one point.

And that by and large accounts for the summer.   On 16 and 23 August the usual two pre-season games of the first team against the reserves were played (sometimes known as the Reds against the Blues), but unfortunately I can’t find details.

So despite the poverty of last season’s results and the narrow escape from relegation, Arsenal did no transfer business in the summer of 1924, but then very few clubs did.  It seemed that no one was quite sure what players were worth any more.    The pre-war record transfer fee was £2500 for Percy Dawson.  In December 1920 it was suddenly £4500 for David Mercer.  18 months later the record was £5500 for Warney Cresswell.  A rise of 22% a year and a half.   Were player values really going up at at 15% a year, while working men were being told to take pay cuts or else be dismissed without compensation?

Yes it seems so.  And although the Unemployment Insurance Act of 1920 had created payment for 39 weeks for unemployed workers this was at near subsistence level.  The lack of summer transfer activity was seen as a reflection on the fact that fees had got out of control.

The annual report of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company published on 20 August showed that Arsenal had continued to improve financially.   The club was shown to have three debts which together were far less than in previous years: an overdraft of £3423, and money owed to various creditors totalling £8106.  A total debt of £11529.

In today’s money that is about £487,000 – but they were making good profits season after season.

There was one other development before the season started: on 25 August 1924 J A H Catton, the most famous football journalist in the country, and active supporter of Arsenal’s election to the first Division in 1919, retired as editor of Athletic News.  He was the man whose editorials had always been met with great respect.

It was also around this time that Leslie Knighton was urging the board to give him money to buy one or two players more arguing that with this modest improvement the club would be able to establish itself fully in the first division.

This was palpably untrue as we have noted above.  Arsenal’s problems were neither in defence nor attack, but everywhere.   Knighton had been buying players and players and players but had not developed a squad that could cope with the constant interruptions from injury that clubs sustained at this time.  However whether the lack of summer transfers was due to the fact that the right players could not be found, or the board simply no longer trusted him with the money, we can’t say.

The notion that he was limited to £1000 maximum per player was a nonsense he made up later, taking Sir Henry’s proposal to the League of a £1000 limit on fees, not a limit placed upon him.  Undoubtedly his budget was limited but then so was that of every other club.  Neither Cardiff City nor Huddersfield Town had huge incomes nor great traditions in terms of winning trophies but both had seen off the challenge of Sunderland for the league title.

What Arsenal were lacking was a strength in depth to cope with the injuries and a tactical awareness of how to vary the game depending on whom they were playing.

and so the 1924/5 season was awaited with the same squad as before.  The first game was a match against Nottingham Forest away on 30 August.  We shall continue 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.


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 Story:

The Sixth Allegation

The Seventh Allegation

The AISA Arsenal History Society is part of the work of the Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association.  If you want to join AISA contact them at membership@aisa.org

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