November 1914: The Times journalist goes to a reserve match without realising it.

By Tony Attwood

In the last article, covering October 1914, we saw the football season at home continuing, while the war evolved in Europe.  There was no conscription but there was a lot of recruiting of volunteers going on.

By 1 November the war had reached the eastern Pacific where a Royal Navy squadron was defeated by superior German forces.  It was the first British naval defeat of the war losing two ships.

This was followed on 3 November by a German naval raid on Yarmouth.  Little damage was done to the town since shells only landed on the beach, after German ships laying mines offshore were interrupted by British destroyers.  The submarine D5 was sunk by a German mine as it attempted to leave harbour and attack the German ships. A German armoured cruiser was sunk after striking two German mines outside its home port.

On 5 November, Britain annexed Cyprus and declared war on the Ottoman Empire, while the following day Carl Hans Lody became the first spy to be executed for treason during the War.  He was shot by firing squad in the Tower of London.  It was the first execution for treason on UK soil since 1747.

And yet football continued – with, it must be remembered, most supporters completely ignorant of the course of the war due to the wholesale censorship of the newspapers.  On 7 November Arsenal lost 3-0 away to Birmingham in front of 15,000.  Part of the explanation was that two stalwarts of the side were now missing: Rutherford and Winship, the two wingers.  With Groves and Norman making their first appearances of the season the forward line posed far less threat than normal, and Birmingham were able to push their half backs and inside forwards further forward, without much fear of a rapid counter attack.

On Monday 9 November it was announced that the most recent share issue had resulted in the sale of 276 new shares had been sold to individuals.  Also on this day Arsenal played in the semi-final of the London FA County Cup, and beat Crystal Palace.

Starting in this week the war extended to the east as the Empire forces took Basra from the Ottoman Empire.  And on the following Saturday Arsenal played Grimsby.  The result was a 6-0 victory which included a hat-trick by King meaning he had now scored 13 goals in 12 games.  15,000 in the crowd showed that numbers were still holding up.

The following Monday the government doubled income tax, meaning that the working men were now fighting the government’s war and having to pay for it as well.

Arsenal then had a midweek match against Nottingham Forest, with only 3000 recorded as the attendance.  This match would have kicked off in the afternoon to accommodate the autumn light, and with the factories now working additional time to cope with the war demand, and that may well be the explanation for the smallness of the crowd.

Although the FA had made the ruling for football to continue, on Thursday 19 November the Association issued another appeal to encourage players and fans to volunteer for the forces.

Certainly many of the strongly middle class right wing newspapers were still openly hostile to football as a distraction for working men from their duty towards their country, and for the next Arsenal match one of their reporters from the Times went along.  However what he went to was a reserve game at Highbury on 21 November, while the first team were playing at Huddersfield, who like Derby, were making a serious challenge for the promotion places.

His rampant, raging piece said that the crowd was tiny suggesting he clearly didn’t know he was not watching the Arsenal first team, and he said very few in the crowd volunteered.  He failed to mention that it was the reserves who were playing Chelsea reserves.  Arsenal reserves lost 1-2.  The whole report shows the perfidious nature of newspaper reporting when it comes to football which we see today, goes back over 100 years.

Meanwhile Arsenal lost 0-3 to Huddersfield, in front of 9000.  Billy Blyth made his debut at left half and thereafter kept his position for much of the rest of the season.

William Naismith “Billy” Blyth (born in Dalkeith on 17 June 1895 and died 1 July 1968), played for Wemyss Athletic (a junior club), and Manchester City, before coming to Arsenal in May 1914.  After making 12 appearances in 1914/15 he served his country with honour in France during the war, and then established himself as a regular, and got to be known as a high-energy midfield player playing inside left or left half.

He played 314 league games in all, finishing in 1928, scoring 45 goals for the club, and he played in Arsenal’s first ever Cup Final in 1927 against Cardiff City.  Including cup games he made 343 appearances and scored 51 goals.

He then moved on to Birmingham City and played for one season for them, before returning to Arsenal (although I don’t know in what capacity – he did not play for the first team again).

However he did have an acting role in the movie “The Great Game” which was filmed in 1930, largely at Chelsea’s ground.  This was, I believe, just about the first movie (as opposed to a film of a game) which involved an Arsenal player, pre-dating the Arsenal Stadium Mystery by nine years.

The plot of The Great Game looks hackneyed to us now, but at the time it contained elements that would have the audience nodding with interest and acknowledgement.  A young footballer plays for a struggling side that goes on a great cup run.  He falls for the daughter of the chairman (who is against young players coming into the team, and wants to play only established stars), does get into the team despite all the odds, and wins the Cup.  The film also has the first appearance on screen of Rex Harrison.

Shortly after the completion of the film Billy moved to Scotland, and ran a public house in Port Seton in East Lothian, before retiring to Worthing in Sussex where he died aged 73.

Back to 1914, not every newspaper was against football and pro-government, and the (now) Arsenal supporting Islington Daily Gazette on the Monday following the Huddersfield game, said that it was the government’s fault if young men didn’t sign up.  The censorship, it wrote (clearly from inside knowledge) was now so stringent no one realised how desperate the situation was.

The paper also stated that as long as joining up was voluntary, no one should criticise those who didn’t volunteer.  Indeed the government was in effect criticised for wanting to have its cake and eat it.  One can indeed see the early signs of left wing intellectual Islington in the paper.

The following Thursday it was revealed in the media that large numbers of Belgians, fleeing the fighting following the invasion of their country, were now in London, and were being housed in the Earls Court exhibition centre.  The mayoress of Fulham, Edith Norris organised a collection for them and raised £162 5s 7d.

The final match of the month was the following Saturday, 28 November, a home game against Bristol City.   Before the game Henry Norris was interviewed by the Times on the subject of recruiting volunteers at football matches and he made the point that this was indeed what Norris was doing.

As a result of the interview the reports of the game in the press focused as much on the crowd as anything else, of which there were just 7000.  It was said that 2,000 of these were in uniform and the rest too old, or too young to serve.  The Times didn’t apologise for its complete mistake in previously thinking a reserve match was a first team game.

Arsenal won 3-0, including another goal from King.  The following Monday, the last day of the month, representatives of all the London clubs attended a meeting at Stamford Bridge to discuss what more the clubs could do to encourage recruitment into the forces.

Here is a quick run down of the Arsenal games from November 1914.

Date Game Res Score Crowd Competition
7 Nov 1914 Birmingham City v Arsenal L 3-0  15,000 Division Two
9 Nov 1914 Crystal Palace v Arsenal W 2-0 2,400 LFACC
14 Nov 1914 Arsenal v Grimsby Town W 6-0 15,000 Division Two
18 Nov 1914 Nottingham Forest v Arsenal D 1-1 3,000 Division Two
21 Nov 1914 Huddersfield Town v Arsenal L 3-0 9,000 Division Two
28 Nov 1914 Arsenal v Bristol City W 3-0 7,000 Division Two

As a result of just two wins through the month Arsenal had slipped back further down the league table.

Pos Team P W D L F A G.Av Pts
1 Derby County 20 14 3 3 44 14 3.143 31
2 Huddersfield Town 19 12 2 5 34 16 2.125 26
3 Birmingham City 20 11 4 5 36 19 1.895 26
4 The Arsenal 20 10 4 6 42 24 1.750 24
5 Bristol City 19 9 4 6 41 27 1.519 22
6 Preston North End 20 8 6 6 25 25 1.000 22
7 Barnsley 19 10 2 7 23 27 0.852 22
8 Fulham 19 9 3 7 30 23 1.304 21
9 Hull City 18 9 3 6 30 23 1.304 21
10 Wolverhampton Wanderers 20 8 3 9 33 29 1.138 19


The Henry Norris Files

Section 1 – 1910.

Section 2 – 1911

Section 3 – 1912

Section 4 – 1913

Section 5 – 1914



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