As the death toll mounts Arsenal keep playing: October 1914

by Tony Attwood

By October 1914 the new life of Henry Norris in war time was taking shape.  The recruitment of young men at football matches was developing and the committee meetings and events such as that on 1 October at which Henry and his wife Edith and George Peachey went to a “patriotic concert” at the local Conservative Club, were continuing to evolve.

Elections for local and government officials and representatives were abandoned for the duration, and around this time Henry Norris agreed (as did most mayors) to continue in his position in office for as long as his country wished to call upon him.  In effect  this meant he put himself at his country’s disposal, agreeing to take on any task allocated – which as it turned out, was one that particularly involved a lot of recruitment activity.

To clarify this point, it very quickly became obvious that voluntary recruits were not enough to maintain the war effort.  But given that the newspapers were not allowed to carry details of the mass slaughter of British troops in Europe, there was little knowledge of just how many men were dying.  So the government caught out by its own propaganda and media control, felt it could not suddenly move to conscription without causing panic.  So it attempted to continue with an army supplemented only by voluntary recruits.

Lord Kitchener’s campaign using the “Your Country Needs You” poster, gained over one million men who enlisted in the army by January 1915.  But this was still a woefully inadequate total given the way the war was going.  However not only was there the issue of admitting just how many more were needed, Parliament was also deeply divided on the issue.

But many others recognised that there was a chance of the imminent collapse of the morale of the French army, and thus immediate action was essential.  Blaming the French was a way out.

The National Volunteer Reserve was opened to men up to 45 years old, and the West London and Fulham Times reported that it was getting hard to find a doctor in London as so many had signed up for the forces.

It was not to be until January 1916 that the Military Service Act was passed imposing conscription on all single men aged between 18 and 41, excepting the medically unfit, clergymen, teachers, certain classes of industrial worker needed to produce armaments and conscientious objectors who were in most cases given civilian jobs or non-fighting roles at the front.

However almost at once this recruitment was itself seen as inadequate in a second Act passed in May 1916 extended conscription to married men – although the act was never applied to Ireland because of the 1916 Easter Rising.  However many Irishmen did volunteer to fight.

Thus throughout the football season we are looking at here, there was no conscription, which is why Henry Norris and other Mayors were given the task of recruiting volunteers.  No matter how horrific it might seem to us today, with the benefit of hindsight in terms of what those young men were sent out to, it was seen at the time very much as the patriotic duty of the older men to recruit the younger, and for everyone to serve King and Country.  Henry Norris gained high praise for the effectiveness of his recruitment work both at Fulham and Arsenal.

For as we have seen in the previous article, football continued and on 3 October Arsenal had their first match of the month, away to Leeds City (managed as we have noted previously by Herbert Chapman)  and secured a 2-2 draw with 12,000 in the crowd.  But then came what, in retrospect looks a surprise move.

On the eve of the next home game (9 October) Henry Norris, backed by the other directors of Arsenal launched a new share issue, selling 276 new shares.  (Share issues are only allowed to stay open for a fixed period – at this time one month.  After that the issue of new shares is stopped.

This time however the directors also used the share launch as a way to give the club yet another new name.

To clarify this point, Arsenal spent most of its first year at Highbury with the name Woolwich Arsenal Football and Athletic Company Ltd – the name of the club in previous years, since it joined the League in 1893.

Then somewhere between 20 and 23 April 1914 that name was changed to The Arsenal Football And Athletic Company Limited.  Although the club had made much, in its opening programme at Highbury, of the fact that it was the same club as had played at the Manor Ground in Plumstead, the acceptance of the club by north London had been a huge success (as we saw from the crowd figures for 1913/14) and so the change to “The Arsenal” (which is what most people called the club anyway), while dropping the historic connection, was considered fair enough by both supporters.

But then under six months later (on 8 October 1914 to be exact),  The Arsenal Football And Athletic Company Limited became The Arsenal Football Club Limited with the launch of the new share issue.

The first public presentation of the name (other than on the new shares) was not seen however until 26 October when the programme for the Football League vs the Southern League representative match (played at Highbury) was put on sale.

The reason for this, I suspect, is that the printers ran the masthead on the front page of the programme in a long print run to be used across perhaps a dozen or more programmes, and then printed the match details in a second print run onto the same page, using the standard approach of the time (offset litho having only been invented towards the end of the 19th century).   The printers thus had a lot of already printed front covers left over, and presumably negotiated with the club to use them up.

One particular reason for 9 October as the date to launch the shares and the new name was the fact that on the next day, 10 October, Arsenal had their big local derby – the match against Clapton Orient.  According to Sally Davis the crowd of 30,000 was the biggest in England on the day (not bad for a division 2 game).  Only one Highbury match had thus far recorded a higher crowd figure – and that was the equivalent game against the Os in the 1913/14 season when 35,000 were recorded as being in the ground.  It suggested that football could survive while the nation was at war.  Arsenal won 2-1 and King got yet another goal.

As to why the club’s name changed twice, and wasn’t fully changed to drop the “Athletic” part first time around, I’ve no idea, but one can only presume it was because either no one thought about it at the time of the April name change, or because Norris was looking for an extra bit of publicity to coincide with the share sale.  He might have dressed up the name change as symbolic of the way Arsenal had established itself in North London.  “Be one of the first to get a share certificate showing the new name” could have been the cry – but I am just guessing.

Certainly anyone who did buy a £1 share in 1914 and then bequeathed it to his/her family would have done them a good turn.  Apart from the value of the share certificate as an interesting historic document, these shares (which are still valid as shares in Arsenal FC) are currently trading at around £2m each.  That equates to a rise of around 19,000% per annum.

Elsewhere however the war news (where it was not heavily censored) was very bad, for on 15 October HMS Hawke  was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the North Sea and sank in less than 10 minutes with the loss of 524 lives.

Back with the football the crowd for the next home game (a 2-0 win against Blackpool on 17 October) was only slightly down on last season’s equivalent game: 17,000 this time, 20,000 last season.  But there was a significant loss for Winship and Buckley were forced off injured and Arsenal played with nine men and reports suggest they just hung on for the victory.

Harry King however was unaffected by the injuries and made it 10 goals in nine games.  Nothing it seemed would stop him.   Two days later the First Battle of Ypres began.  It continued for over a month, and ended eventually in a victory for the combined British and French forces.

Back with football Arsenal returned to the London FA Challenge Cup, on 20 October, safely seeing their way through to the next round.  However in the next game, with both players missing, Arsenal suffered their heaviest defeat of the season – 0-4 away to Derby on 24 October.

It was two days after this that the Football League v Southern League match mentioned above in relation to the change of the masthead on the programme, was played at Highbury.   Unfortunately I can find out very little about this match.  There was just such a match played at Stamford Bridge in 1910 (a 2-2 draw), and another played at Stoke on Trent in April 1911 (the Football League won 2-1).   In September 1912 the match was played at Old Trafford, with the same outcome – a 2-1 win to the FL.    In February 1914 the match was played at the Den (Millwall’s ground) the FL winning 3-1.

But of this game in October 1914, I can find no details.  If you have reference to it please do write in.

Such war news as made it back to England (and there was little that was reliable) was bleak.  On 27 October the British battleship HMS Audacious was sunk off the north-west of Ireland, by a minefield.  Three days later the SS Rohilla, which was requisitioned as a military hospital ship, was lost in a storm on rocks off Whitby with the loss of 85 lives.

And so the two realities continued – war and football.   For the final game of the month – on the 31st Arsenal played a 1-1 draw against Lincoln and the crowd was down by 10,000 compared to the previous year, to 15,000.  Newspaper reports of the day suggested there was crowd trouble, with the police moving into the crowd.

Now this engagement of the police on the terraces was never an acceptable move to the crowds at the time, and although it is doubtful that anyone who was present at the events 20 years previously which resulted in the Manor Ground being closed, was also at this game, the folk memory was strong.  The football terraces were the province of the fans, not the police – and the police rarely had much success in pushing their way through the crowd to find “trouble makers” who were as likely as not to be subsumed back into the crowd by the time the police got there.

Here are Arsenal’s results for the month

Date Fixture Res Score Crowd Competiton
03 Oct 1914 Leeds City v Arsenal D 2-2 12,000 Division Two
10 Oct 1914 Arsenal v Capton Orient W 2-1 30,000 Division Two
17 Oct 1914 Arsenal v Blackpool W 2-0 17,000 Division Two
20 Oct 1914 Arsenal v QPR W 2-1 4,000 LFACC
24 Oct 1914 Derby County v Arsenal L 4-0 8,000 Division Two
31 Oct 1914 Arsenal v Lincoln City D 1-1 15,000 Division Two

The results meant that Arsenal had now slipped back to second place as Huddersfield had powered ahead…

Pos Team P W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 Huddersfield Town 11 8 2 1 21 9 2.333 18
2 Arsenal 11 6 3 2 20 11 1.818 15
3 Derby County 10 6 1 3 23 7 3.286 13
4 Bristol City 10 5 3 2 17 10 1.700 13
5 Preston North End 11 5 3 3 14 12 1.167 13
6 Fulham 11 5 2 4 20 16 1.250 12
7 Bury 10 6 0 4 22 21 1.048 12
8 Clapton Orient 11 4 3 4 11 10 1.100 11
9 Wolverhampton Wanderers 11 4 3 4 13 15 0.867 11
10 Barnsley 10 5 1 4 11 16 0.688 11

The Henry Norris Files

Section 1 – 1910.

Section 2 – 1911

Section 3 – 1912

Section 4 – 1913

Section 5 – 1914





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