Arsenal in 1918: Chapman’s downfall, votes for women, schooling for all, Arsenal erratic

by Tony Attwood

Through the first part of the 1917/18 – the third season of the London Combination wartime league, Arsenal had had a topsy turvy time, starting off brilliantly and then slumping to a series of defeats and draws.

By December they had recovered to a moderate middle-of-the-table form with 3 wins 2 draws 2 defeats over the course of the month.

The war that was supposed to be over by Christmas 1914 was now in its fourth year, and people were starting to talk about raising money for memorials to the war dead. Conscription had started in 1917 and now rationing was taking place on an ever increasing scale.

The new year’s football began on 5 January with a home game against Millwall Athletic.  Only 4000 made it to Highbury to see Arsenal win 1-0.

Meanwhile a lot of work went on, as the war itself dragged on, in trying to salvage something from the wrecked economy of the country, and War Savings Committees had been set up around the country.

The National Savings Movement had been founded in the autumn of 1915 when the Committee on War Loans for Small Investors, was announced as a way to encourage the public to save money to help the war effort. In January 1916 the committee proposed setting up local voluntary savings associations and the introduction of ‘war savings deposits’, later designated ‘war savings certificates’.  Eventually they mutated into ‘national savings certificates’.

In February 1916 two committees were set up which in April were merged into the National War Savings Committee which became the National Savings Committee after the war ended.  The aim was to maintain an organisation to encourage the public to save by investment in national savings securities and deposits in the National and Trustee Savings Banks.  Saving with these banks became portrayed as a patriotic duty.

On 8 January Sir Henry Norris chaired a meeting of the Fulham War Savings Committee at the Town Hall at which ideas were put forward to encourage people to buy the latest war bonds.  I’d guess matters were not resolved at this meeting as another was held two days later again with Sir Henry in charge.  One hopes he wrapped up warm for the journeys – London had a temperature of minus 6°C. and snow had been falling off and on.

The next match was on 12 January, technically an away game to Tottenham.  If you have been reading the previous editions of this history (there is a full index at the end) you’ll know that Tottenham’s ground had been taken over by the military (my guess is for testing Enfield rifles) and so Tottenham were playing their “home” games at Highbury.   However we know that at least one of the Tottenham v Arsenal games was played at Clapton Orient’s ground, presumably to give Arsenal less of an advantage.

Whatever the venue, the match was a disaster for Arsenal, 0-4 down at half time Arsenal finally lost 1-4 in front of a crowd of 9000. TheArsenalHistory site has the match being played at Highbury, so maybe Tottenham had by now, given up on the idea of using the Clapton Orient ground.  Sadly there seems to be no comparative Tottenham site to the Arsenal History Society website, and it seems hard to find out from Tottenham sources exactly what was going on in terms of where the matches were played.

By 15 January snow turned to rain, and over 20mm fell on that day alone presaging a thaw and then a continuing rise in temperatures until they became unseasonably warm.

However the weather was the last thing on anyone’s mind as the Minnie Pit disaster in Staffordshire hit the news. 155 died in the latest of a series of mining disasters through the decade.  Meanwhile the destroyers Narborough and Opan created a disaster of their own, as both ran aground and were wrecked off the coastline of Orkney in a severe storm.  Only one man survived.

But in more positive news, on the same the the keel of the country’s first ever purpose built aircraft carried HMS Hermes was laid.  A new type of warfare was being prepared for.

Meanwhile on 14 January a new type of war bond was put on sale, as the government continued its attempt to manage an economy that was now truly creaking under the strain of the years of warfare.

But football continued and on 19 January 7,000 saw Arsenal beat Chelsea 4-1.  Considering the powerhouse Chelsea had been in the early days of the Combination this was quite a downturn for them.  Considering the result against Tottenham it was quite an upturn for Arsenal.

22 January is a day which gives further weight to the notion that Lt Col Norris was again working full time for the War Office.  He attended a scheduled meeting of the London County Council in the afternoon on that day, but the following day did not attend an emergency meeting of the Education Committee which was discussing the Education Bill which, as we have noted previously, radically changed the way education was funded and organised in England and Wales.  I suspect a sudden absence from the War Office for an unscheduled committee meeting was not the sort of example at Lt Colonel would be expected to give.

If you have been following these articles over time you will have noticed also that Sir Henry was rarely at the football these days.  Given the amount of work he was doing and the number of evenings he was out, a free afternoon would perhaps more likely have seen him having a nap by the fireplace.  But on 26 January he went to a match at Highbury, to see, of all teams, Tottenham.  The reason was they were playing Sir Henry’s other club: Fulham, and Fulham dutifully responded by winning 1-0.

Sir Henry went to the game with his daughter Joy and it appears, according to research by Sally Davis that Joy took her dog into the directors’ box!  The dog then escaped and then ran on the pitch and play was stopped while it was rounded up.  I wonder who was the most embarrassed.  Probably not Sir Henry.

Meanwhile Arsenal were away at Brentford and Sir Henry would have been doubly happy to hear that not only did Fulham win, but also Arsenal.  The score was 2-3 and the crowd 3,000 and no dogs entered the arena.

Returning to the war theme however, you may recall that there has been mention earlier of aircraft flying over London and dropping bombs.  This activity had increased and on 28 January London experienced its heaviest bombing of the war.  There was also considerable activity of a similar type in other parts of south-east England.

Finally by the end of the month the regularly changing temperatures resulted in a very intense fog, as the coal dust in the air worked to create a smog that stopped virtually all traffic.

I am not sure if similar conditions existed in the Firth of Forth, but this was also the night in which the Royal Navy fleet steamed down the Firth of Forth only to collide with five British submarines and a light cruiser.  104 men were killed, without a sight of the enemy.

On 2 February a meeting took place which would have consequences for Henry Norris in 1925: Charles Buchan played for Leeds City in their 2-0 defeat of Nottingham Forest in the Midland Section of the Football League.  Leeds City’s peacetime manager was at the match, taking time off from managing a munitions factory, a certain Herbert Chapman.  Buchan was in England waiting to go on a course before being promoted to officer rank.

As you may well know that Buchan was an ex-Arsenal player who having left the club in a dispute over salaries, returned to become one of Chapman’s first and certainly his most famous, early signings after he became Arsenal manager in 1925.   But there is more significance to the event, because of what was about to happen to Chapman.

In 1918 when the war concluded Chapman left his wartime work and returned to Leeds City full time, as manager, but then suddenly resigned (while the final war time league was being played, the Football League not resuming until September 1919).  He moved to Selby and apparently gave up football to become a superintendent at an oil and coke works.

Leeds City were subsequently reported by some former players of paying “guest” players who had appeared for them in war time friendlies – something that was illegal – although gossip and reports suggest it happened quite a lot in the wartime leagues.  My suspicion is that Chapman realised this was happening, wanted nothing to do with it, and left the club.

In the subsequent case brought by the League against Leeds City the League had no documentary proof that payments were given, save the say-so of the ex-players  – but then there was not likely to be any, as “guest” players who had been paid would have been paid cash and no records kept.

However what turned the matter against Leeds was the fact that the club would not give the League their detailed financial records, and so in the arbitrary way that it has so often dealt with matters across the years, Leeds were thrown out after eight matches of the 1919-20 season and suspended five officials, including Herbert Chapman, for life.  Leeds City was wound up, the players sold, and out of the mists a new club appeared using the same ground: Leeds United.  They were admitted to the league for the 1920/21 season, replacing Grimsby in Division 2!  Hardly a victory for anyone – but something that left Herbert Chapman high and dry.

And for Herbert Chapman matters went from bad to worse since in late December 1920 he was laid off from his job at the coke works.  He was unemployed, and banned for life from his previous mode of activity.

Then he was approached by Huddersfield Town to be assistant to Ambrose Langley, who had played with Herbert Chapman’s brother Harry at The Wednesday (where Harry had made over 200 appearances).

We shall of course catch up with Chapman as we continue to follow Arsenal and Sir Henry Norris in the post-war years, but for now returning to 1918, after their defeat to Brentford Arsenal returned to winning ways with a 4-1 win over Crystal Palace away from home, in front of 3,500.

Thus Arsenal had so far in 1918 won three and lost two, scoring 12, conceding nine.  The crowds, small though they were, were certainly getting some entertainment: 21 goals in five games!

On 5 February the new version of what was proving to be the highly contentious Education Bill was debated at the London County Council in a full meeting – a full meeting (rather than the Education Committee) because of the huge cost implications the bill would have for the local councils who were to have to spend a lot more money than before on schooling due to the extension of free schooling to the whole population.

However the debate both in Parliament and the country councils was not just about cost – it was also about the desirability of educating the working classes in this way, and there was talk about the dangers of educated young men who had not been brought up in the traditions of the country (ie were not part of the upper classes) using their new found literacy to ferment revolution of the type so recently seen in Russia.  There was also awareness of the insurgencies within the French army, and a growing concern about the way men who were leaving the front for periods of home leave were talking about the futility of trench warfare.

The debate was certainly important, and Sir Henry took time off from his War Office duties to attend the two and a half hour debate – quite possibly also reporting back to his superior officer on what the mood of the council could tell the army about changes in public opinion.

Political matters of this nature were at the fore the following day in Parliament, as the members passed the Representation of the People Act (also known as the Fourth Reform Act) which gave women over 30 the vote provided they were either on the local government election list or married to a man who was.   It removed most property qualifications, giving all adult (over-21) male resident householders the vote, and requiring elections to be completed in a single day, rather than across a week, as was previously the case.  However many conscientious objectors were barred from voting until five years after the end of the war.

On 9 February Arsenal continued their up and down campaign by losing to Fulham at home 0-3 with a crowd of 8000 at Highbury.  The following Wednesday margarine rationing was introduced.

It is interesting to note that in the coming week Sir Henry Norris is recorded as attending both the education committee and the full meetings of the LCC, and he was involved in the arguments about the new pay scales for teachers.  The teaching unions, already well established, and with their members excused military service as of right, were threatening to strike if significant changes in their conditions were not made following the move to broaden free education for all.

The next match was on 16 February – a 3-0 away win over QPR, meaning that Arsenal had just won its last two away games 4-1 and 3-0 while in between had lost at Highbury 0-3.

Sir Henry’s increased attendance at London County Council meetings as noted above suggests that the workload at the War Office was declining, for not only did he attend an LCC committee meeting on 20 February, he also as at the Fulham council meeting that evening, It appears that on 15 March a tank would be driven through part of Fulham as part of the latest scheme to encourage people to save money through the various war time savings schemes mentioned at the start of this article, and as it was coming to Fulham, the council had to do their bit for what became known as Tank Day.

On 23 February the last Arsenal game of the month was played, and the erratic progress of the club took another surprising step as Arsenal got their biggest war time league win – 7-1 at home to Clapton Orient.  4000 people saw the game.

But bringing the celebrating fans back to earth was the announcement that by now rationing was being introduced thick and fast.  Meat rationing was introduced on 25 February, all butchers’ shops in Fulham would be shut on Mondays and Thursdays.  There were now very few essential foods left that were not on ration.

Here are the Arsenal results through January and February

Date Opposition Venue Res Score Crowd
5/1/18 Millwall Athletic H W 1-0 4,000
12/1/18 Tottenham Hotspur A* L 1-4 9,000
19/1/18 Chelsea H W 4-1 7,000
26/1/18 Brentford A L 2-3 3,000
2/2/18 Crystal Palace A W 4-1 3,500
9/2/18 Fulham H L 0-3 8,000
16/2/18 Queen’s Park Ranger A W 3-0 3,500
23/2/18 Clapton Orient H W 7-1 4,000

The series continues…

We are currently evolving a series on Henry Norris at the Arsenal.   The main part of the story is listed below in a chronological order.  Below that you will find other articles on Henry Norris relating to specific issues.

Perhaps the most popular element in the Norris story is that of Arsenal’s promotion to the first division in 1919.  The most complete review of this, which puts right the numerous misunderstandings of the events of that year appears in

10 March 1919, Arsenal elected. Find the bribery and get the reward

However as we are working on this complete history more information has come to light.  These will of course all be pulled together when the history reaches 1919, but for the moment in addition to the above article you might also like to read these two pieces…

Here’s the year by year account.  We’re adding two or three new articles a week.


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


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