By Tony Attwood
On 11 May 1925 an advert for a new manager at Arsenal FC appeared in the leading sports journal of the day “Athletic News”.
Athletic News was based in Manchester (a reflection of the fact that football was very much a northern sport in the early days). It started in 1875 or 1876 and it lasted until 1931 when it merged with the Sporting Chronicle.
The paper was pre-eminent in its field and very highly regarded, and indeed had a real link with Arsenal, for it was Athletic News that launched the campaign for Arsenal to be elected to the first division upon its expansion in 1919.
The advert that Sir Henry Norris placed in the paper was:
Arsenal Football Club is open to receive applications for the position of TEAM MANAGER. He must be experienced and possess the highest qualifications for the post, both as to ability and personal character. Gentlemen whose sole ability to build up a good side depends on the payment of heavy and exhorbitant [sic] transfer fees need not apply.
The decision to get rid of Leslie Knighton was not unexpected. The man had been in control of Arsenal since the election in 1919 and had proved a disaster with Arsenal just escaping from relegation at the end of the campaign in each of his last two seasons.
What has not been examined by historians (at least until now) but which should have been, is the fact that Knighton reported in his autobiography that Sir Henry had restricted his spending on players, and that was why Knighton’s teams did so badly.
But a detailed examination of the situation in “Wartime, Promotion and the pre-Chapman years” (published by Arsenal Independent Supporters Association and written by myself, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews), shows that Knighton’s autobiography was in fact by and large a self-promotion document written years later with very little reference to the facts.
Knighton had spent money – lots of it in fact – and Sir Henry’s commentary in the advertisement was a jibe against Knighton, who Sir Henry probably saw as having wasted a lot of money.
Herbert Chapman was an astonishing success where ever he had been (Northampton, Leeds City and Huddersfield) and that Huddersfield lost him to Arsenal was almost certainly a matter of money.
It is said that Sir Henry Norris wanted the best man for Arsenal, and clearly that was the man who had just delivered two league championships to the most unlikely of contenders. Indeed it is reported in some quarters that Sir Henry doubled Herbert Chapman’s salary to get him away from Huddersfield.
In his last season with Huddersfield Chapman’s team had crushed Arsenal 4-0 and 5-0, the latter at Highbury on February 14th – close enough to the sacking of Knighton for Sir Henry to have made the opening overtures. Whenever those overtures were made, the result was dramatic. In the following season (1925-6) with Herbert Chapman now at Arsenal, there was a 2-2 draw in Yorkshire, and a 3-1 victory for Arsenal at Highbury as Arsenal finished the season in an unprecedented second position.
The full story of Herbert Chapman’s time at Arsenal, plus what is, I believe, the first ever set of revelations concerning how it was that Chapman was able to get Arsenal teams to perform at a standard that was utterly beyond Knighton, will be revealed in the fourth AISA booklet covering Arsenal’s history which will be delivered free of charge to all AISA members in time for the commemoration of 100 years at Highbury.
You can find out more about AISA and join the Association via their web site.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal – crowd behaviour at the early matches
- Coming soon: Royal Arsenal
Other sites from the same team…