Arsenal in wartime: January 1916. The end of the first wartime league.

By Tony Attwood

This is part of the history of Arsenal during the time of Henry Norris’ involvement with the club.  A full index of the articles so far presented, appears at the foot of this page.

Although it would not have been noticed in January 1916, as the war raged across the western world, there was an extraordinary medical development at the very start of the new year.  The Royal Army Medical Corps undertook the first successful blood transfusion using blood that had been stored and cooled.  Given the facts of the world war it was an incredibly important breakthrough for treating the wounded who made it back home.

In footballing terms, January 1916 was the final month of the first edition of the London Combination, the wartime league into which Arsenal had entered, and here Arsenal started with an away match at Millwall Athletic, which they lost 0-3.  It was a mark of the patchwork nature of the teams that were put out that Arsenal’s prime goalscorer Harry King played at full back.

By this point in the war, Saturday was just a regular working day (as of course was New Year’s Day) and on this particular 1 January, Henry Norris held the first meeting of the local tribunal which heard requests from men seeking exemption from the Group and Canvas Scheme (known as the Derby Scheme) which aimed to get more men signed up as volunteers for the army.

In reality it was already known in government (and the story was slipping out into the public domain) that the level of recruits needed was now so great that the Derby Scheme was not going to happen and conscription was indubitably coming, but there was a belief, or maybe it was just a hope, that those who managed to get excused the Derby Scheme would stand a chance of getting excused conscription.

The tribunals were organised by the local councils and local councillors elected the juries who were to sit in judgement at the tribunals.  George Peachey had a significant involvement in the Fulham Military Service Tribunal throughout the war, and was awarded an OBE for this unpaid work, at the end of the war.

2 January 1916 was designated the Day of National Intercession, for national praying for an early cessation to hostilities.  Henry Norris attended the prayers at Fulham parish church with his wife, and he was joined by a number of councillors.

And then on 5 January the Military Service Bill started its journey through Parliament – this being the bill that enforced conscription into the armed forces of young single men.  Subsequent bills extended the age limit upwards and brought in married men.  The tribunals mentioned above for the Derby Scheme, thus became the tribunals that heard appeals against conscription.

Henry Norris was by now the natural leader in the Fulham area to whom the authorities turned to operate any new administrative scheme, and by 8 January he was chairing the committee which heard 50 cases on that day.

This naturally meant that he did not attend the Arsenal home game against Southern League Croydon Common.  Arsenal won 4-2 in front of a crowd of 4500.  Harry King returned to his natural position at centre forward and scored a hattrick.

In the war, the Battle of Gallipoli occurred on the following day, as the joint French and British attempt to capture Istanbul failed.

One week on, Arsenal played the second of the Combination games against Chelsea – a match that had turned into by far the biggest game of the London Combination’s short season.   Chelsea had shown themselves to be the powerhouse within the league and were now already champions, being in an uncatchable lead at the top.  They were also getting by far the biggest crowds in the League.

This match also provided Arsenal’s biggest crowd of the first Combination campaign, with 15,000 present in Highbury, but Arsenal lost 0-6 despite putting out a team including Sands, Shaw, Ducat, Wallace, King and Rutherford.  It shows just how strong Chelsea had managed to make their team at this time.

Meanwhile Henry Norris obviously still had duties in running the Borough of Fulham for which he was mayor, but with all parts of local government now totally short of staff (due to more and more men having gone into the armed forces) it, like all local councils, was simply unable to complete its statutory duties of running the council, keeping the roads in good repair, collecting household rubbish, and so on.

Fulham had elected a 100% Conservative Party council, and that meant there were no opposition motions expressing discontent, and by the large the local newspapers were restricted, publishing only four pages a day, although even they started to become irritated by the way things were being left.  Local and national elections were suspended from 1915 onwards and Norris clearly took the view that the duty of the council was to carry on doing what it could until the war was over.  Such meetings as there were therefore lasted just a few minutes, with any issues that needed approval going through on the nod.

I don’t know if there was much interest in the outcome of the London Combination as a league, but with everything settled within the League before the last game, and no question of any relegation from the League, the final match of the campaign on 22 January – a 2-2 away draw with Brentford – drew little interest and only 2,500 turned up.

At some time around now there must have been a meeting of representatives of the 12 clubs involved in the League as to what to do next.   I doubt that it could have been a very long meeting because the decision was simple: after a one weekend pause (29 January) the League would be played again but with two new clubs involved, in addition to the 12 in the first “season”.  These were Luton and Reading.

Now one would have then expected for the 14 clubs to play each other perhaps once (there not being enough saturdays left in the season to allow for 26 games if each club played the other home and away in the normal fashion).

But this was not the case at all.   Arsenal did not play QPR, Luton, Crystal Palace, West Ham or Croydon Common who were within the league, but played the remaining clubs twice.   This was not a case of the top clubs playing each other in a sort of play off campaign, because Arsenal did play Clapton Orient who had finished 11th out of 12 in the League.

I rather suspect that given the applications from other clubs to join, the short time available for the season, and the short time available to arrange the games, that the new campaign began without all the matches being arranged, and the fixture list was completed on an ad hoc basis.

Away from football on 27 January conscription was finally introduced through the passing of the final reading of the Military Service Act.  Unmarried men aged 18–41 were conscripted from 2 March with married men added to the list the following month.  Because of the political situation in Ireland the act only applied to England, Scotland and Wales.

Finally in this month there was one weekend left and on 29 January Arsenal beat Fulham 2-0.   This game was designated as the Footballer’s Battalion Charity Fund. match 06/5/1916 – with the money raised going to what was popularly known as the “Comforts Fund” (which provided cigarettes, newspapers and the like) for the men in the trenches.   It is noteworthy that an above average crowd of 6,500 turned up to support the cause.

Here is a list of the January 1916 games

Date Opposition Venue Result Score Crowd
1/1/16 Millwall Athletic A L 0-3 5,000
8/1/16 Croydon Common H W 4-2 4,500
15/1/16 Chelsea H L 0-6 15,000
22/1/16 Brentford A D 2-2 2,500
29/1/16 Fulham (friendly) H W 2-0 6,500

The first outing of the London Combination now being over it was possible to produce a league table.

Pos Club P W D L F A Pts
1 Chelsea 22 17 3 2 71 18 37
2 Millwall Athletic 22 12 6 4 46 24 30
3 The Arsenal 22 10 5 7 43 46 25
4 West Ham United 22 10 4 8 47 35 24
5 Fulham 22 10 4 8 45 37 24
6 Tottenham Hotpsur 22 8 8 6 38 35 24
7 Brentford 22 6 8 8 36 40 20
8 Queens Park Rangers 22 8 3 11 27 41 19
9 Crystal Palace 22 8 3 11 35 55 19
10 Watford 22 8 1 13 37 46 17
11 Clapton Orient 22 4 6 12 22 44 14
12 Croydon Common 22 3 5 14 24 50 11

Which just leaves the issue of who played for Arsenal in these matches.

Andy Kelly has produced a list of all the players who took part across the two campaigns of this first wartime season, and they number 48 players, 10 of whom were guest players.  There were also other players who appear to have had no affiliation to a recognised team.

I shall look at the overall list of players who played in this season in the article for April 1916 which concludes the first wartime season.

The Henry Norris Files Section 1 – 1910.

Section 2 – 1911

Section 3 – 1912

Section 4 – 1913

Section 5 – 1914

Section 6 – 1915



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