Arsenal at the end of the world: May to August 1914.

By Tony Attwood

We left Arsenal in last episode of this series (an index to the whole series is shown at the foot of the page) having missed out on promotion on goal average.  The club had performed well in 1913/14 – far better than might otherwise have been expected given the poverty of results in 1912/13, and there must have been significant optimism at the club.

Sadly though in the space of just four months that evaporated to such a degree that national newspapers were running campaigns demanding that football itself should come to an end.

The crowds for the 2012/13 season had certainly been above expectation – these figures below come from European Football Statistics.

Season Div 1 average Div 2 Average Arsenal Av   Top club Top club av
1913/14 21,979 10.738  22,745 Chelsea 37,105
1912/13 18,885 8.692 9,395 Chelsea 33,555
1911/12 16,635 9.515  11,630 Chelsea 26,295

Thus Arsenal’s attendance in the first Highbury season was 142% up on that of the season before, and was 211% of the average for the league.  They were now the 10th best supported team in the whole of the Football League.  They were also the best supported club in the 2nd Division – with an average gate some 8000 above their nearest rivals in the division in terms of attendance, Birmingham City.

May 1914

All was thus set fair, or so it seemed, and Arsenal started to strengthen the squad ready to go one better in 1914/15, and secure a place in the first division which their new found support clearly merited.

The first signing was made on 22 May:  Christopher Sebastian Buckley.  His is not a name that resonates today – at least with Arsenal supporters – but he was one of the few players at Arsenal who later went on to be a director – and indeed chairman – of a professional club.  Indeed football was very much in the family’s blood, for his brother Frank with whom he played at Brighton, was also both a player and manager at Wolverhampton Wanderers.

In his early days in football Christopher Buckley played with a variety of clubs in Manchester, the West Midlands, and then Brighton before starting his league career with Aston Villa with whom he won the first division title in 1910 – just at the moment Arsenal were on the edge of going into liquidation.   But in 1914 he moved to Arsenal and he played at centre half through much of the 1914/15 season.

During the war he became a farmer, but continued to play wartime football for Arsenal, making 33 appearances and returned post-war, but broke his leg at the end of November 1920 which ended his playing career.  However he stayed in football and moved into administration and management joining the board at Aston Villa in 1936, and from 1955 to 1966 becoming chairman.  He retired as a director in 1967, and died in 1973 aged 86.  In total he played 56 games for Arsenal, having played 136 for Villa.

Then away from football but still of interest to Arsenal followers with good memories, on 22 May the news came through that George Pike Weaver’s company closed – something of note because Weaver was one of the leader’s of the attempted coup at Arsenal in 1892, and the owner of the Invicta Ground from which (as a result of the failure of the coup) Arsenal left in 1893 – a move that was part and parcel of Arsenal joining the Football League and playing at the Manor Ground.  

George Pike Weaver was a man whose business was in making bottles and filling them with mineral water – something of value at a time when the mains water supply did not reach Plumstead.  The full details of his business and engagement with Arsenal is given here.

At the end of the 19th century water supply was in the hands of private companies, and although by then the Metropolitan Water Act stopped companies extracting water from the tidal reaches of the Thames, although this did not apply to Plumstead because it was in Kent and not London.  So a mineral water company would have had a lot of trade at the time.   But with Plumstead moving into London and coming under the London County Council in 1889 (which meant a rapid expansion of control on the quality of water and the expansion of mains water) the Weaver family started to look for new uses for their land – and hence the building of the Invicta Ground which eventually became Arsenal’s home in the years leading up to 1893.

Weaver spent £8000 on the Invicta Ground getting it ready for Arsenal – equivalent approximately to £9m today.  When Arsenal moved in Weaver charged around £160 a year rent – considerably more than other teams had to pay, but still only a 2% return on his investment in converting the ground.  So he increased the rent each year, and in 1892 Weaver told Arsenal he wanted £400 a year.   Arsenal would not pay, and this resulted in the club moving across the road.

Thus Weaver proved to be one of those businessmen who made persistently wrong choices – he had a water company at the time when restrictions were increased on bottled water, and just as mains water was arriving, and he had a football stadium which had cost a fortune to develop with a team which refused to pay his rent hikes.   He did rent the Manor Ground out eventually to the newly formed rivals of Arsenal, Royal Ordnance Factories FC, who played in the Southern League but this proved to be another false move – they too eventually went into liquidation.

Poor Pike Weaver, everything he touched turned to dust and t seems was doomed to make wrong decisions all through his business career, and eventually, as we see, he closed down in 1914.

On Monday 25 May 1914, both the Football League and the Football Association held their AGMs in London. Henry Norris used the occasion to conclude the formalities of the move of Buckley from Aston Villa to Arsenal the deal being concluded formally for £2500.

Next on 28 May 1914 Frank Bradshaw signed from Everton.  He played in the final pre-war season and then in the four seasons immediately after the war, totalling 132 league games with 14 goals.   He had played 87 games and scored 37 goals for The Wednesday, before moving to Northampton in 1910, but only stayed there for just over a year – although during this time he and his wife had a child, who sadly died.   The Cobblers then sold Frank on for £250 to Everton, where he played 66 league games and scored 19 goals.

Thus he moved to Arsenal for the start of the 1914/15 season, and then during the war played a further 125 wartime games, and it was during this period, when all players would take on whatever role was required, that he moved to left back and became a regular player playing 33, 21, 32 and 17 games in each of the next four years – and even managing to notch up four goals during that period from the full back position.

Moving out of the club, on 29 May Matthew Thomson was transferred to Swindon.  He had played 89 league games across six seasons including the first season at Highbury.  


Meanwhile the Suffragettes continued to push their cause as on 5 June All Saints Church Dreadsall in Derbyshire was gutted by fire, the cause blamed on a suffragette arson attack.  Certainly there was anger among many women at the refusal of the church to back the demands of women for the vote in national as well as local elections, although the movement never admitted to causing the fire.

On 18 June George Jobey was sold to Bradford PA.  He had won a league winners’ medal with Newcastle and as we have noted previously was the first Arsenal player to score at Highbury as well as being the first player to be stretchered off at Highbury.  He later went into management.

Meanwhile the move towards an eventual war was “in the air”, as on 23 June the RAF was established.  Yet at the same time attempts to show goodwill and peaceful intent continued as the Kaiser visited the British fleet and inspected the Dreadnought HMS King George.

Despite all his work with his house building partnership and with Arsenal, on 25 June Henry Norris was adopted as one of two Conservative Party candidates to contest the parliamentary seats in Stockport both strongly held by the Liberals.  Three days later the Borough of Fulham approved an application from the Allen and Norris partnership to build another 28 houses.

On 27 June archduke Ferdinand von Hapsburg and his wife were shot dead by a Serbian nationalist in a Sarajevo side-street after their driver had taken a wrong turning.  Although now seen as a key moment in the start of the first world war, at the time its significance was not understood.  Henry Norris along with all other businessmen continued his hectic business life.

And indeed life did go on in England as normal.   For example, on 29 June the international exhibition opens at the “White City”.  It closed on the declaration of war and the site was used as a armaments depot.

The next footballing event occurred on 30 June with the AGM of Fulham Football and Athletic Company Limited.  As a director Henry Norris had to be there, but there seem to have been no major issues discussed.   On the same day Steve Stonley was transferred from Arsenal to Brentford.  He had scored 13 goals in 28 league games in 1913/14.

July / August

Meanwhile the work of the house building partnership continued and on 14 July 1914 the London County Council approved the last of a series of applications to change the design of houses being built on the Southfields and Crabtree Lane sites.

But then on 31 July / 1 August  Germany declared war on Russia and invaded Luxembourg, a country whose neutrality was guaranteed by the other major powers.  German troops moved into France, and by 1 August a European war was inevitable.

On 3 August Sir Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary, made a speech in the House of Commons expounding the need for war with Germany, and subsequently made his remark that, “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”    The following day Germany invaded Belgium and thus inevitably on 4 August 1914 the UK declared war on Germany.

The FA took no action (I suspect most senior members were on holiday) but finally met on 1 September and agreed football should continue for the 1914-15 season.  

In a curious twist of fate, just as the world was falling apart, George Peachey, Henry Norris and their families were setting off on their summer holidays, which of all things was a car touring holiday of Europe, taking in France and Germany with the party leaving England on 1 August 1914.

On 2 August 1914 they entered Belgium crossing the border with what Peachey later described as “a little difficulty”, but on reaching Ostend realised that matters were not really conducive to a touring holiday at this particularly moment and decided to return home.  They finally managed to get a boat to England (although without the car which they had to leave behind), on 4 August, the day the UK declared war.    One of the party bravely stayed with the car, and finally managed to get it onto a ferry on 5 August.

Henry Norris, as mayor of Fulham, immediately returned to the town hall to take up his duties including the raising of money for the families of men who had volunteered to fight (the National Relief Fund).  Although it is now widely reported in history books that the expectation was that the war would be over by Christmas the fact is that life in England changed immediately.   Factories shut down, the government instituted immediate censorship of the press, and because of the rationing of paper the size of newspapers was cut in half.   As a result football commentaries virtually vanished.

Norris and Allen agreed that Norris would pull out of the building partnership’s activities in order to focus on his work as mayor of Fulham, and with the mobilisation of the armed forces being announced on 5 August as patriots the partners agreed that they would of course allow any men who wanted to volunteer to do so.

Henry Norris had to arrange for the processing of reservists (all of whom were now all called up) who lived in Fulham, and as required within his duties as Mayor, started recruiting volunteers to join the armed forces – the government specifying that it needed 100,000 men as soon as possible.  The “your country needs you” posters began to appear.

These various roles of processing reservists, recruitment of volunteers and making payments to families who had suddenly lost their breadwinner was more than a full time job and Sally Davis, who interviewed Henry Norris’ grandchildren earlier this century, reports that they said that he simply slept in the Town Hall as well as worked there.  His family also donated generously to the National Relief Fund – something the government singularly failed to do.

At the same time the government began requisitioning land that they felt they needed – including, ultimately, Tottenham’s ground (among several others).  But as noted above the FA met, and ruled that the 1914/15 season would go ahead, and thus it was that on 22 August 1914 a friendly was played resulting in the scoreline Tottenham 1 Arsenal 5.  Not a bad win for the second division team.

But to give a perspective, on this same day 27,000 French soldiers died in the Battle of the Frontiers – the most French soldiers ever to die in one day.

This was the only pre-season friendly recorded for the season, (although it is more than likely that a match between the first team and the reserves was also played on 29 August).  13,564 turned up for what was, on 22 August, the first match between Arsenal and Tottenham since the move to north London, and the fact that it took place reflected a certain thawing in relationships between the clubs that had argued so fiercely about Arsenal’s move.   Leaving aside war time games, when both teams were populated with guest players, it was also the last time the sides played each other until 15 January 1921 when the result was Tottenham 2 Arsenal 1.

Thus in a world in which there was a strong move towards home rule in Ireland, and in which the Suffragettes were engaged in attacking elements of the establishment in pursuance of their cause, and as the war in Europe had its bloodiest ever day, Arsenal and Tottenham played football.  Even writing from a distance of 103 years I find it an overwhelming concept that my brain can’t process.

The gate money from the game went to Prince of Wales Relief Fund; but already the newspapers were criticising the decision to let the League run its course during 1914/15, and there was criticism, particularly in the Times not just of the FA and League but also of the crowds that went to the matches.

Henry Norris not surprisingly was in favour of football continuing.  I am not clear if it was he who came up with the idea of using the matches as a way of recruiting more volunteers for the armed forces but that was what the government required of the Mayors, and so it was his duty to achieve it somehow.  And so this is most certainly what he did, thus turning the table on the Times and other newspapers which criticised the continuation of the League and the FA Cup.

Eventually of course men were conscripted into the armed forces, but it is often forgotten that at first the UK fought with a volunteer army.   And to a large degree this recruitment of volunteers worked, for by the end of the month the first 100,000 volunteer recruits had been found, although the government immediately announced it needed the same again.

And against this background, and with the country now at war, the new season started on 1 September 1914.

The Henry Norris Files

Section 1 – 1910.

Section 2 – 1911

Section 3 – 1912

Section 4 – 1913

Section 5 – 1914



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