Arsenal – March 1917. Measles, price rises, women start to serve.


By Tony Attwood

We have something of a conundrum on 3 March 1917 with a contradiction in the football records.   As the severe weather continued Sally Davis tells us “there was snow on the pitch at Highbury for Spurs v Portsmouth”.  However Andy Kelly shows that Arsenal beat Clapton Orient at home 3-1 in front of a crowd of 4000 on that day.

Now we have already noticed that the League fixtures were not totally balanced as they were in a normal peace time league (during which of course each club plays all the others once at home and once away).

There were 14 clubs in the League, but 40 days to be filled in the League season (each saturday plus the holiday games over Christmas and Easter).  Most clubs played each other four times (twice at home and twice away) but since that would have given 52 games each, this was reduced to 40 with some matches being omitted from the schedule.  Arsenal played QPR, Fulham, Luton Town, Watford, Millwall Athletic, and Brentford, only twice each.  The choice of Millwall as a club to miss two games with must have upset both sets of directors – it was a game guaranteed always to bring in the crowds.

Unfortunately, Tottenham Hotspur does not have a history website akin to this one for Arsenal so I don’t have an immediate way of checking their whole schedule, but I can say that Arsenal did play Clapton Orient four times as one would expect (being that they were close neighbours), and one of those four games was on 3 March.

We also know that Tottenham would normally never be given a fixture at home on the same day as Arsenal, so when Tottenham’s ground was closed for this season (an issue we have previously explored) they played their “home” games at Highbury.  The most likely explanation therefore was that Arsenal did indeed play Clapton at Highbury while Tottenham were away at Portsmouth.

I imagine Sally Davis took her information from a newspaper the following Monday, and as we have already seen with the report in the Times of the paucity of the crowd at Arsenal (the reporter being unaware he was watching a reserve game rather than a league game in 1915) so again the most likely explanation is that the report, probably written by an amateur reporter, was simply muddled.

The Arsenal game certainly did take place and gave the club its fourth victory in a row and left them unbeaten in six – such an incredible change from the earlier part of the season.

Meanwhile the only records we have of Henry Norris’ activity is through his attendance of meetings at the London County Council and the London Borough of Fulham on 6 and 7 March.

However the issue of the government’s campaign to grow more food by using every scrap of land (with the grounds of Fulham Palace – the residency of the local Bishop –  being offered to the council, and the council declining the offer on the grounds that they did not have the manpower to cope with the work) was one that seemed to be central to the minds of journalists.  Food shortages were growing, and prices of even the most basic foods were rising rapidly.

Inevitably everyone was accusing everyone else of profiteering.  As Sally Davis points out the price of potatoes had risen in three years by over 400%.  Meanwhile a measles epidemic had taken hold of the country.  Things were not looking at all good on the home front.

But the football continued of course and on 10 March Arsenal were away to West Ham, and the huge improvement in their results continued further with a 3-2 victory in front of 6,500.  The following day there was news that British forces had captured Baghdad, the southern capital of the Ottoman Empire.

Elsewhere Russia was suffering the same food shortages as Britain and the fall of the Tsar approached, with abdication taking place on 16 March, effectively taking Russia out of the war.

Although of course the news of such events took its time to reach England, back at home things started to take an even grimmer turn as German warships attacked British patrol vessels off the Kent cast, and launched shells against Ramsgate and Margate.  The surge in German activities following the end of the Sussex Pledge seemed relentless.

However meanwhile the football continued as on 17 March Arsenal’s best run of the season came to an end with defeat at Crystal Palace by 1-0 with just 2500 in the crowd.

Three days later Henry Norris was elected to the Education Standing Committee of the London County Council.  Then, as was the case until the invention of the “Academy” programme (started by the Labour government in 2000), by far the biggest area of expenditure among all local councils was schooling, and thus the education committee was one of the most important parts of the council’s work.   Norris served on the Accommodation and Attendance sub-committee – undoubtedly being elected to that in respect of his experience in the building industry.

Schooling did of course continue during the war, and teachers were not called up into the armed forces because of the perceived need to keep the schools open – although I suspect this was far more to keep children off the streets while their parents were either at war or taking over jobs that the soldiers had vacated.

Indeed the notion of keeping people occupied and their minds off the ever worsening situation was undoubtedly part of the reason for keeping football running, and on 24 March Arsenal played Portsmouth and returned to winning ways with a victory by 2-1 over Portsmouth with 4,500 in the crowd.


The following Monday saw the first Battle of Gaza, which ended with a British retreat while on 28 March the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps was created – the first women’s unit in the British Army.   This regularised the fact that women had already started to serve in the military from January of this year, and indeed over 57,000 women served between January 1917 and November 1918.

On 31 March 1917, women in the WAAC were sent to the battlefields in France, for the first time, although primarily as cooks and waitresses (officers still expected to be waited upon at table).  It was not until 1918 that women medical personnel were sent to the front in France.

The final game of the month came on 31 March with a 2-0 away defeat to Chelsea in front of 6000.


Here are the matches for March 1917.

Game Date Opposition Venue  Result Score Crowd
28 3/3/17 Clapton Orient H Won 3-1 4,500
29 10/3/17 West Ham United A Won 3-2 6,500
30 17/3/17 Crystal Palace A Lost 0-1 2,000
31 24/3/17 Portsmouth H Won 2-1 4,500
32 31/3/17 Chelsea A Lost 0-2 6,000



For work that we have done so far on the issue of the promotion in 1919 please see 


The Henry Norris Files Section 1 – 1910.

Section 2 – 1911

Section 3 – 1912

Section 4 – 1913

Section 5 – 1914

Section 6 – 1915

Section 7: – 1916

Section 8: 1917

2 Replies to “Arsenal – March 1917. Measles, price rises, women start to serve.”

  1. We’re getting close now to when you bribe your way into the First Division …….

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