November 1918: war ends, FA / League quarrel, Henry Norris is called on (again).

This article is part of a continuing series on Henry Norris at the Arsenal.  An index of the 57 episodes of the story so far is published at the end of this piece.  However if you are keen to know what happened when Arsenal were elected to the 1st division, and the truth behind the idea that Arsenal bribed their way to the first division, we already have an article on that:

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

Now to return to November 1918.

By Tony Attwood

At the end of our last episode (see the foot of this article for details of all the articles in this series thus far), we left the country in a state of awareness that the war at last was coming to an end, with Lt Col Sir Henry Norris back at the War Office aiding the preparation for the return of troops to the UK, and the Spanish Flu pandemic raging across the country.   As for Arsenal they had started what everyone now knew would be the last wartime league with five wins and a draw, but then, just as in the season before had succumbed to two defeats (to Chelsea and QPR).

On 2 November however Arsenal returned to winning ways with a 1-0 home win against QPR.  6000 were present, so the club was not seeing a continuation of the massive crowds achieved a couple of weeks earlier for the games against Tottenham and Chelsea, but there again the December game last season at home to QPR had only drawn in 3,000, so the crowd had doubled.

On 3 November Austria-Hungary formally surrendered via an armistice signed in Padua, and the following day the newspapers started to report that Bavaria was trying to go it alone and sue for peace without the rest of Germany.  The German Parliament announced it was pushing through a Bill to removed Kaiser Wilhelm from power.

Two days later on 5 November there was news about the MP for Fulham, William Hayes Fisher.  He had been a long serving MP for the Borough of which Sir Henry Norris was Mayor, but although he been elected for the Borough in 1885 he had lost his seat in 1906. However he won it back in 1910 at which time he started to rise up the ranks of government.

Hayes Fisher survived the upheavals of the Lloyd George takeover of power in December 1916 and in June 1917 was promoted to President of the Local Government Board with a seat in the cabinet.  But the Local Government Board was heavily criticised for not dealing with the flu pandemic in 1918, and indeed it was clear that local government was already facing huge challenges as a result of the war, which the Board seemed incapable of addressing.

Thus in the time honoured fashion he was kicked upstairs in November 1918 by being made Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister of Information, which gave him a seat in the Lord as Baron Downham.   As a result one of the two seats in Fulham now had no sitting MP, and there was no doubt who would be the prime candidate to take up the position – not least because the election was expected to be called within weeks, even though British and French troops were still fighting, particularly in the assault east of Valenciennes.

On the same day MPs were given details of the Allies’ conditions for an armistice, and the proposals for demobilisation.  Cease fire discussions were now under way.

By 7 November it became clear that as well as trying to cope with the housing needs of the country in the years to come, the local councils were going to be given the job of handling demobilisation with the employment exchanges being the central locations for processing the men returning from the fighting for their country.

The issue of dealing with the soldiers from the army, and their demobilisation was very much like the territory Sir Henry Norris was now renowned for, and it is no surprise that he was appointed the Chairman of the Ministry of Labour’s Advisory Committee on demobilisation.  Again it confirms just how valued an administrator Sir Henry now was for the government – for this was a most senior and important position which the government had to get right.  Get it wrong, and these thousands of jobless men who had faced years of the most appalling conditions, fighting for their King and Country, would be turning to the ever more powerful socialist, communist and trade union groups.

At the same time as this Sir Hebrt was re-elected by the Council in Fulham to serve as mayor of Fulham for the tenth consecutive year (no elections yet being announced for local councils).

Sir Henry himself had no doubt that the Allies had to be very tough on Germany, and in this he was reflecting popular opinion that Germany had started the war and had lost the war and therefore should pay for the war.  The Fulham Chronicle signalled that it was going to continue to oppose Sir Henry at every point, by calling his views unrealistic.

That weekend a socialist government took over in Germany and the Kaiser abdicated  And of course back in England the football continued.  Arsenal played away at Millwall Athletic in a 3-3 draw in front of 4,000 on 9 November.   Two days later the war ended as Germany signed the armistice agreement with the Allies in a railway carriage near Compiègne in France.  Work places emptied; everyone took to the streets.  After over four years in hell, the country could start living again.

The next thing that happened was that the plans for the general election were set out, as the government announced its vision for electing creating a new Parliament to rule the country.

The government and other parties had been discussing what to do when peace returned for several months.  In a move aimed at keeping the rise of the Labour Party at bay, and having what in the 21st century might be called a “strong and stable government” which could resit the rise of trades unions and communists, it was announced that the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party would together support certain Coalition Candidates with the aim of bringing together a government that could rebuild the country without the distraction of party politics.

159 Liberal, 364 Conservative, 20 National Democratic and Labour, and 2 Coalition Labour candidates were offered the chance to be part of this scheme.  Of course not every MP was offered such a deal, and the bulk of the Labour Party rejected the plan and fought the general election as a separate party.  The key issue in the election was defined by the government as being how to build “a country fit for heroes to live in.”  For Labour it was about granting more power and rights to the working men. 

Back with the football, on 12 November, just one day after the war ended, the FA held a conference on the future of football and came down strongly in favour of continuing with the currently-operating amateur leagues for the rest of the 1918/19 season.  This was an interesting challenge to the Football League, because it was (obviously) the League that ran the Leagues, not the FA.

Because of his newly appointed role as Chairman of the Ministry of Labour’s Advisory Committee on demobilisation Sir Henry was unable to attend this FA meeting.  It is possible he might have welcomed a quicker return to professional football to help recover some of his huge losses at Arsenal, and as a way of providing employment and a higher level of entertainment in the immediate post war period.

But I suspect this was not the case, for if we jump forwards to 22 November we find that the Football League held its own first post-war meeting, the results of which tell us that the League clearly didn’t like the FA jumping the gun and telling it what leagues it should run and how it should run them.  William Hall as we have noted before, was Arsenal’s representative on the League Management Committee and almost certainly was present.

Countering the FA, the League gave clubs permission to start paying players immediately.  However this meant that clubs that had actively encouraged its players to volunteer for the service of their country before conscription was introduced were now at a significant disadvantage, since these clubs – predominantly in the London area, didn’t have their players back yet and were still dependent upon guest players.  Besides even if the players were back from active service, the army would most certainly not allow them to be paid before they had been demobilised.  And demobilisation would take time.

Combine this with the report we have already seen, of at least one northern club telling its player that he would be sued for breach of contract if he signed up for military service (prior to conscription) and the difference between the north and the London clubs can be clearly seen.

As things worked out, the London clubs continued to play in the London Combination for the remainder of the season, and this gave the League the chance to consider the expansion of its size, and thus the expansion of its power, not least by challenging the Southern League – its only real rival.   This move of course gave Sir Henry the chance he needed to return to the issue of gross corruption in League matches that he had exposed prior to the war and for which, at least initially, he was seriously warned by the League to shut up or face expulsion as a chairman.

The outcome of these two rival meetings and recommendations was that the London League continued, but as we shall see, in the coming months, the matches themselves were greatly overshadowed by a series of discussions about how the Football League should be run not in 1918/19, but in 1919/20 when the league programme did actually resume.

But to return to our chronology, as he was not yet an MP, Sir Henry of course could not attend the House of Commons on 12 November to take part in the first report of his committee of resettling the country’s war heroes – in which as Chairman of the Ministry of Labour’s Advisory Committee on demobilisation, he was very much involved.

The formal announcement of the general election was made on 14 November stating that the election would take place one month later on 14 December 1918, and the deal already made by the Coalition to try and continue in power was announced – the Coalition would fight the election as a Coalition.   That confirmed that Sir Henry could not fight the seat in Stockport, since that was now “taken” by the Coalition candidate.  But he was now cleared to stand for election in Fulham East.  As such Sir Henry would be fighting on a manifesto of getting the best possible peace deal out of Germany and the scheme for building local government housing – which was something he had spoken out on before, on the grounds that government was never efficient at doing such things and that private developers should be allowed to work on such a project.  For the moment both he and his party accepted this contradiction between his personal views and his party’s views.

On 15 November the first released British prisoners of war reach Calais and the following day Arsenal played Fulham at Highbury but lost 1-3.  8000 were in the crowd including Sir Henry Norris along with William Hall and Hall’s brother-in-law George Davis.  It was just like old times.

On 20 November U-boats started to arrive off the coast at Harwich and were handed over to the Royal Navy.  German warships started to be escorted to Scapa Flow.   On 21 November an Act of Parliament was passed giving women over 21 the right to stand for Parliament, and on 23 November the British military government of Palestine began.

That weekend, on 23 November, Arsenal played and lost again 1-4 to Brentford in front of 5000 fans, making it two defeats, one draw and one win in November.

The following monday Parliament was dissolved and on Friday 29 November Lt Col Sir Henry Norris, the man who had, at the start of the war been simply Mr Norris, started his campaign to become an MP.   By this time, what with his duties as Chairman of the Ministry of Labour’s Advisory Committee on demobilisation and his candidacy to become an MP, Sir Henry may not have noticed that Arsenal’s miserable month on the pitch ended miserably with a match against West Ham – a 0-2 home defeat in front of 7000.  Things, on that front at least, were not going well.

Here are the results for November 1918.

Game Date Opposition Venue Res Score Crowd
9 2/11/18 Queens Park Rangers H W 1-0 6,000
10 9/11/18 Millwall Athletic A D 3-3 4,000
11 16/11/18 Fulham H L 1-3 8,000
12 23/11/18 Brentford A L 1-4 5,000
13 30/11/18 West Ham United H L 0-2 7,000

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

Section 9: 1918 and the end of the war



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