The first instalment of this series showed that there was a high turnover of chairmen at Woolwich Arsenal during the first 17 years. The next 17 years saw just two men lead the club. The part they played in the club’s history cannot be understated.
Woolwich Arsenal Mark II
The months of April and May 1910 were very turbulent for Woolwich Arsenal. The old club had been liquidated and a new one had been set up to take its place. However, a lack of investors almost saw the new club disappear before it had even started. The final outcome was that a new board of directors was set up, initially consisting of George Leavey along with Fulham directors Henry Norris and William Hall.
Leavey had been involved with the club since 1898 when he took the place of the late Tom Gage on the board. It was apparent that he invested heavily in the club at this stage as he was elected chairman 12 months later. However, he stepped down a year later as he could not commit his time to running Woolwich Arsenal as well as his chain of gentlemen’s outfitters. He was made president of the club and continued to invest heavily in the club over the next 10 years. Between 1901 and 1904, he became the first Arsenal representative to sit on the Football League Management Committee.
It is likely that Leavey was elected chairman in 1910 so that the local fans did not feel too alienated by the intrusion of the two Fulham directors. It was Leavey who insisted that the club would not move from Plumstead which Norris and Hall had proposed, at a meeting with the Football League. Leavey’s second reign as chairman ended in April 1912 when, once again, he said that he wasn’t able to commit his time to both the club and his business. Although he had no more involvement with the running of the club he retained his shares well into the 1920s.
There is still a link with Arsenal of today as Michael Leavey, general manager of Arsenal Broadband, is a direct descendant of George.
At the 1912 AGM it was obvious that there was only one man that was going to succeed George Leavey. He would become the most infamous of all Arsenal chairmen – Henry Norris.
It isn’t possible to do justice to the life and times of Henry Norris in a few hundred words so we will give a brief summary of what happened to Arsenal during his tenure. Renowned for having a strong personality and forthright manner, Norris oversaw a number of major changes during his 15 years as Arsenal chairman. Less than a year after taking over from Leavey Woolwich Arsenal suffered its only relegation and moved from the moribund Plumstead to the much more accessible Highbury. In May 1915 the team’s name was changed from Woolwich Arsenal to The Arsenal.
During the First Waorld War Norris was given the rank Lieutenant-Colonel and knighted for his services towards the war effort. Following the resumption of football in 1919, The Arsenal were elected to the First Division in controversial circumstances. Many people believe that Norris used any number of underhand tactics to facilitate this but, to date, no one has been able to prove this even with a cash prize as an incentive.
With Arsenal still paying off the building costs of Highbury Norris spent much of the early 1920s trying to get the football authorities to cap the costs of transfer fees. However, this was to no avail and Arsenal were never amongst the biggest spenders which resulted in average performances on the pitch. In 1925 Leslie Knighton was sacked and replaced with Herbert Chapman. Sir Henry and Chapman engineered a unique transfer which saw Charlie Buchan sign for £2000 plus £100 for every goal he scored during 1925-26. However, in 1927 a series of financial irregularities resulted in Norris resigning as chairman and being banned from football by the Football Association.
This was not the last that Arsenal saw of him, though. Norris was still one of Arsenal’s biggest shareholders and he continued to attend the club’s annual general meetings making as much of a nuisance of himself as Dr John Clarke had done before the war.
If you want to know more about George Leavey then we would recommend buying a copy of Woolwich Arsenal: the club that changed football. Henry Norris also features in the aforementioned book, and in the historical novel Making The Arsenal and a number of articles on this site. Sally Davis has also written more about Norris than any other person. We heartily recommend visiting her website.