22 January 1910 is a date that should be remembered by every Arsenal supporter, and yet somehow it is just another day. I doubt that many other web sites will remember this day – and indeed even Arsenal FC seem to have forgotten it.
But this was the day, 100 years ago, when when Woolwich Arsenal held two meetings, either side of their home match with Middlesbrough. The first was a shareholders’ meeting and the second was a public meeting – both being held in the Town Hall.
The purpose of the meetings was the same in each case… to announce to all and sundry that Woolwich Arsenal were broke, and that the man who had been financing them for years – George Leavey – could carry on the good work no longer. He was not a wealthy man, but was simply a local professional owning a gentleman’s outfitters, although it seems likely that given the amount of money he had put into the club there must have been some inherited money to keep him going.
The club’s owners had been aware for some time that Arsenal was in serious trouble – which was why the current season was going so poorly with Arsenal in the relegation zone. The order had gone out one year before, clear out the playing staff, get any transfer fees you can, and bring in players for free on lower salaries.
But by 22 January 1910 it was clear that this was not enough. The club had significant debts, including (although this was not made public at the time) debts to the company of Archie Leitch who had designed the grandstand at the ground years before.
The full story of the eventful day is told in a colourful way in the diary of Jacko Jones, the Fleet Street reporter, in the book Making the Arsenal.
But the question for us today is why was this single day, 100 years ago, so important?
The answer is that the debts of Woolwich Arsenal were not widely known about until this moment, and it was the reporting of these two meetings that led to a general awareness of the problems.
The meetings were on a saturday, and by monday Henry Norris, the owner of both Croydon Common (of the Southern League) and Fulham (Division 2) was expressing an interest.
Norris was a man who had fought his way up from the working classes. He had left school at 14, and built up a huge property empire in south London, but had never lost his love of football.
But he a great desire for power and influence, and he wrote columns in several newspapers to put his point of view across. On the monday after the announcement of Woolwich Arsenal’s impending demise Norris was writing about “London’s oldest professional club” and the sadness it would cause all Londoners if this club went out of business.
The fact that Woolwich actually played in Kent was neither here nor there to Norris – he was not going to let this story go.
Whether in fact he knew where these opening articles would lead is anyone’s guess, but from the moment of his opening announcements he was drawn into the Arsenal saga, and did eventually take the club over in the summer of 1910.
His first moves with the club proved abortive – he tried initially to merge Woolwich Arsenal with Fulham, and also had the idea of playing on Fulham’s ground every other week.
But when these didn’t work Norris set out to move the club, which he did (to Highbury) in 1913. By 1919 The Arsenal (as they were known) were back in the first division and in 1925 Norris had brought in Herbert Chapman to run the club and win the first trophy in 1930.
It was, in short, Norris who turned Arsenal from a backwater club on the edge of relegation into what we have today. Without his intervention in 1910 there would be no Arsenal. And if it had not been for those two meetings on 22 January 1910 there would have been no intervention.
You can read more about the book “Making the Arsenal” by clicking here.