By Tony Attwood
Arsenal, as we have seen, played in two competitions through the 1915/16 season – the London Combination and then the London Combination Supplementary competition.
The London Combination was put together quickly, organised locally, seemingly without any input from the Football League (which set up the two northern leagues, abandoning the clubs in the south, the south west and Wales to their own devices).
For this reason there is very limited information on how the leagues were arranged, and one can only make deductions from reading the fixture lists and league tables.
The opening league was presumably made up of all the clubs that either applied to be part of it, or were invited into it. Each played the other twice, on the normal home and away system used in all the leagues from the start of league football.
Some of the teams were from the Football League and some were from the Southern League. The one name in the league you perhaps will not know is Croydon Common who were a Southern League club. They were in financial difficulty before the war started, and the wartime leagues with their tiny attendances seems to have finished them off, for they did not reappear with the rest of the teams in 1919.
Here’s the league table from the first league programme that was organised…
|4||West Ham United||22||10||4||8||47||35||24|
|8||Queen’s Park Rangers||22||8||3||11||27||41||19|
I have no idea if there were plans as to what to do once each club had played its 22 games – which took the clubs from September 1915 into January 1916 – but at some time before February there must have been discussions on this issue.
The crowds thus far were not enormous, but sometimes decent numbers attended games, and with the established procedure of the clubs sharing the gate money between the home and away club, everyone was at least earning something. Besides which, all the clubs had given notice to all their officials and players upon the outbreak of war, so no one was being paid anything than “expenses” for the matches.
Whatever exactly happened the Supplementary League of spring 1916 was arranged with all the teams from the 1915/16 league plus several newcomers as noted in the monthly accounts on this site.
The fixture arrangements are a bit odd – clubs did not play each other once, but seemingly arranged games on a more ad hoc basis. Here is the final league table of this second league, which took place in the late winter and spring of 1916, as supplied by TheArsenalHistory website.
|2||West Ham United||14||9||2||3||32||16||20|
|13||Queen’s Park Rangers||14||2||5||7||14||37||9|
Arsenal’s poor performance is probably down to four factors.
One is that Henry Norris, as the driving force behind Arsenal, had from the moment of declaration of war, deeply immersed himself in the war effort. This was not something that happened to everyone, for many club directors and owners were aged 60+ or were running major businesses, and thus either had little that they could contribute to their country or were doing more important work keeping industry moving.
Norris’ business in building houses was probably not seen as vital. However, as we have noted, was a brilliant administrator whose work in recruiting, and indeed in organising first recruitment and then conscription was quickly recognised by the state.
Second, as we noticed, George Morrell the manager of The Arsenal, had left before the 1914/15 season and replaced by James McEwen, whose work we summarised in an earlier article: “James “Punch” McEwen: Arsenal’s manager in the first world war”
McEwen was a long time servant of the club, but not necessarily an established manager, nor a person who would necessarily be expert at recruiting guest players to Arsenal. Indeed with both Morrell and Norris absent, there was no one of stature and authority who might be able to bring in guests to keep Arsenal up the league.
And it is quite likely that the training regime slipped dramatically. While some clubs seemingly expanded the notion of “expenses” to pay for training sessions, Arsenal probably did not, since the only person who could come up with the necessary money was Henry Norris, who was busy elsewhere.
Third, not only was Norris absent serving his country, he was in fact actively encouraging players at Arsenal to leave the club and sign up for the two Football Battalions he created. While this was very much in the nation’s interest (1915/16 being a time of crisis in the recruitment of young men to fight Germany) it was clearly not in Arsenal’s interest.
Finally, there was the issue of having Guest Players. This was allowed under the rules of these competitions – players registered elsewhere could play for Arsenal. The lack of a manager or owner who were familiar with players who might be available did not help, nor did the lack of “expenses”.
But I suspect there was another issue: the involvement of Henry Norris in exposing the match fixing scandals that beset football from the 1912/13 season onward, had not gone unnoticed. Indeed the very first set of revelations about such an issue arose because of Norris’ article following his attendance at a Liverpool game. This, I suggest meant that players who were registered with northern clubs and who found themselves in London were much more likely to go to other clubs (such as Chelsea) and not Arsenal.
Of course until 1916 no one had to sign up for active service (although huge pressures were put on young men so to do as we have seen) but from 1916 onwards conscription meant that all single men not in a reserved occupation did indeed have to sign up.
In this table of 1915/16 players, those who were registered with a club have the name of their club shown. Those who had played for Arsenal in 1914/15 are indicated in the same column by a number showing the number of first team league games played in that final league sseason for The Arsenal. For Kempton I’ve added the note that he played in one of the club’s two FA Cup games the previous season, as he did not play in any league games in 1915/16.
|Player||Guest’s Club (AFC games 2014/5)||Games||Goals||Games||Goals|
|RH Beale||Manchester United||5|
|HS Bourne||Manchester United||6||1|
|J Caddick||Bristol Rovers||1||1|
|JJ Chipperfield||Luton Clarence||19||8|
|A Ducat||Aston Villa||13|
|AR Kempton||(1 FAC game)||27||1|
|SG Legge||Coventry City||1||1||1|
|CW Wallace||Aston Villa||22||1|
We thus have 47 men playing for the club. 10 were registered with other clubs, 20 had no registered club, and 17 had played for Arsenal the season before.
But to get a true impact of what happened we should consider this: in the previous season 12 players played 20+ league games for Arsenal. Only four of those players managed 20+ games for Arsenal in the two campaigns held in 1915/16.
Sadly I don’t a similar analysis for Chelsea, but it would be interesting to see how they are fared. I suspect they had more quality guest players and managed to retain more players from their final league season.
Of course come the end of the season, no one quite knew what would happen next September, for more of those who had continued playing for Arsenal were certain to be sent overseas and not be available for the club.
There is one other point: across these two first war seasons, Arsenal only had one goalscorer of note: Harry King with 19 goals in 24 games. Our second highest scorer was JJ Chipperfield scored eight in 19. He is a man of whom I know nothing other than the non-league club to which he was affiliated. A tantalising sneak view of man who clearly knew where the net was, but then vanished from our vision.
The Henry Norris Files Section 1 – 1910.
- Part 1. How Arsenal fell from grace.
- Part 2: heading for liquidation and the first thought of moving elsewhere
- Part 3: March and April 1910 – the crisis deepens
- Part 4: the proposed mergers with Tottenham and Chelsea.
- Part 5: The collapse of Woolwich Arsenal: how the rescue took shape.
- Part 6: It’s agreed, Arsenal stay in Plumstead for one (no two) years
- Part 7: Completing the takeover and preparing for the new season
- Part 8: July to December 1910. Bad news all round.
Section 2 – 1911
Section 3 – 1912
- 11: 1912 and Arsenal plan to move away from Plumstead
- 12: How Henry Norris chose Highbury as Arsenal’s new ground
- 13: Amid protests from the locals Arsenal’s future is secured
- 14: Arsenal relegated amidst allegations of match fixing
Section 4 – 1913
- How Henry Norris secured Highbury for Arsenal in 1913.
- Norris at the Arsenal: 1913 and the opening weeks at Highbury
- When Highbury opened, and “Victoria Concordia Crescit” was introduced
- The players who launched Arsenal’s rebirth and Arsenal’s games in October 1913.
- The rebirth of Arsenal after the move to Highbury: November 1913.
- December 1913, the alleged redcurrent shirts, and Chapman comes to Highbury for the first time
Section 5 – 1914
- Arsenal’s first ever FA Cup match at Highbury and a challenge for promotion: Jan 1914
- Arsenal February and March 1914; the wall falls down, the team slips up.
- The end of Woolwich Arsenal and of the first season at Highbury.
- Arsenal at the end of the world: May to August 1914.
- The newly named The Arsenal start their first season and go top of the League
- As the death toll mounts Arsenal keep playing: October 1914
- November 1914: The Times journalist goes to a reserve match without realising it.
- December 1914: The Footballers’ Battalion formed by Arsenal chairman and others
Section 6 – 1915
- January 1915: Arsenal players start to leave their club for their country
- Arsenal in February and March 1915: the abandonment of football is announced and the result is… curious
- April 1915: New revelations concerning perhaps the most important month in Arsenal’s history
- Norris promoted, the League loses interest but football pulls itself back together.
- Arsenal move into the London Combination in September 1915
- Arsenal in wartime: Norris’ genius for administration comes to the fore but reduces Arsenal’s playing staff.
- November / December 1915: the match fixing scandal comes to the fore: Norris is armed
Section 7 – 1916
- Arsenal in wartime: January 1916. The end of the first wartime league.
- Arsenal, February 1916: the 2nd league and a terrible tragedy on the pitch
- Arsenal: March – May 1916. The team in decline, entry to football taxed for the first time.