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Arsenal finally remember Norris, but get the facts all mixed up

If you were at the Ems on Sunday, and bought a programme, you’ll know that there was an article over three pages about Henry Norris, written by “Highly respected football writer Brian Glanville”.

I’m commenting on the piece because his version of events is so different from that which appears day by day on this site, and which also is reflected in the “Making the Arsenal” book that if you read his piece and you read the articles here, you’ll know one of us is making it up.

I was really pleased that the programme did this article – I suggested something along the lines of this at the start of the season, and the Fulham programme was a good place to put it – not least because Norris was chairman of Fulham 100 years ago when he took over Woolwich Arsenal.

The theme – that Norris is the most important man in the history of Woolwich Arsenal, reflects the article I wrote in the programme earlier in the season, and Glanville’s opening points are right – Norris did all the big things in the early days.  He bought the club, he moved us to Highbury, he was at the heart of things in the 1919 promotion, and later he brought in Chapman.

So far so good.  But then it all goes wrong…

The article suggests that Norris was guilty of crooked deals in 1919 when the club was promoted to the first division after finishing sixth in the last season before the war.

But to make such a statement without any background is silly.  Liverpool and Manchester United were found guilty of match fixing in the final pre-war season, and the League proposed that the matter should be left with nothing more than a ticking off for the two northern giants of the game.  The rest of the north-dominated league went along with that.

Exactly what Norris did with this information is unclear, but it was as much part of the new arrangements for post-war football as anything else, and for this to be ignored while a simple statement is added that Norris is suspected of being a crook is simply to pick the Tottenham Middlesex version of history and treat it as the truth, rather than as a piece of propaganda.

The article calls the promotion of Arsenal “against all logic and justice”.  That is a ludicrous thing to say, and doubly so in an Arsenal publication.  If there was anything against all logic and justice it was allowing Liverpool and Manchester United (who between them fixed the relegation issue) should be allowed to play in the first division.

The article does at least recognise that it was the chairman of Liverpool who proposed Arsenal for the first division – but fails to say why.  It was in fact the only way Liverpool could stay in.  If Arsenal got in, Liverpool knew they would not be thrown out of the league totally.

Glanville then goes on to say that Norris tried to amalgamate Fulham and Arsenal in 1913, which is completely wrong.  As the records of the Football League show, he made two attempts to do this in the summer of 1910, first attempting a full amalgamation, and then when that was rejected by the League, an amalgamation of administration and grounds, with himself effectively owning both clubs, both playing at Craven Cottage.

The League admitted that they did not like this, but the rules said nothing on this and so they had to let this go.

By 1913 the matter had long since moved on. Norris eventually signed a deal with the previous owners of Woolwich Arsenal that he would not move the club, and that deal ran out in 1912.  By 1913 he had no interest in merging the clubs but was fixed on the notion of taking Woolwich Arsenal away from Kent, where the armaments factories were being run down – the torpedo factory having gone to the Clyde as early as 1910.

There’s a lot in the piece about Knighton, the manager who made one, just one, remark about Norris being a bully, a remark that has been repeated in every book ever since.  It might well be true – but basing a whole theory of the history of the Arsenal on one remark is a bit thin.

There’s also an odd piece in the article where Norris’ knighthood is linked with him building 2000 houses in Fulham, becoming mayor and an MP.   He actually got his knighthood for his services to the Crown in running recruitment offices at his own expense throughout Fulham during the war prior to general mobilisation.

So, recognition by the club that our history is important, and I certainly don’t try to suggest that the programme editor is to blame for the inaccuracies.  Glanville is a writer of note – and as such we might expect him to get things right.  It is a shame that he didn’t.

Still, there is hope for next season.  Maybe a history piece about Arsenal in each programme?  It would make a good diversion in what is generally an excellent publication.  I think I will drop them a line.

Tony Attwood

Woolwich Arsenal Index

Woolwich Arsenal – the story of 1910

Untold Arsenal – the story of Arsenal today

3 comments to Arsenal finally remember Norris, but get the facts all mixed up

  • Joe

    Must fight urge to post!!!

    The man was a cheat and a fraud. Well done Arsenal for acknowledging your own dark past. Nortis presided over constant rule flouting, drugs cheats, financial irregularities the lot. Your clubs history is built on dark foundations Tony!

    Sorry, common sense and the quest for truth won me over again.

  • Tony Attwood

    These are strong allegations Joe, and you really need to back them up with facts.

    Through the writing of Making the Arsenal last year I think I probably know as much about Norris as most people, and there is no evidence of most of what you say. There was no “constant rule flouting” that I can find – he did indeed break some rules towards the end of his reign, but not “constant” rule flouting. His genius was for finding the holes in the rules (such as the fact that there was no rule against ground sharing or moving clubs around, or multiple ownership in 1910). I have no evidence on drug activity. Indeed if we compare Woolwich Arsenal post Norris with Preston North End, they were involved in many more rule breaks than Arsenal ever were under Norris.

    Give us your evidence please.

  • Ralph

    I think the ‘drug taking’ is to do with the amphetamines the players took before a Cup game against West Ham (?). if I remember the story correctly they took the tablets (Knighton had to take one to persuade them) but the match was called off. The match was arranged again, they took the tablets and it was called off again. they took them again for the third try but after that the players refused to take them again. I think all the details are in Knighton’s book.

    As for rule breaking, well if you read the League History it was absolutely rife and you could almost say it was the basis of the League’s success as in it’s early days (especially) virtually all the League’s funding came from fines for rule breakers. From bent transfers to match fixing it was all fairly common in the early days and probably up to the early 20s.

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