What the media said about the election of Arsenal to the 1st division in 1919

By Tony Attwood

The first London Combination game of February 1919 was another home match against Tottenham, but this time it resulted in a defeat.  I doubt however that the directors of Arsenal worried unduly, for the crowd was 18,000 – things were most certainly on the up and these crowd numbers showed that the returning soldiers and other released from their wartime occupations were as keen on football as ever.

Although we must remember that while the first world war was of course over, the war in Ireland was now gaining pace as on 3 February Éamon de Valera, the leader of Sinn Féin, along with two other prisoners, escaped from Lincoln Prison in a break arranged by Michael Collins and Harry Boland.  It did not reflect well on English prison security.

Meanwhile back with the football, the apparent clash between the formal vote not to increase the size of the league, and the clubs that were actively debating how the league should be expanded, was itself not engendering much debate at all; everyone was assuming that the leading magazine, Athletic News, knew what it was talking about and that each of the two divisions would be expanded by two clubs.  Not matter what the Football League said.

At the same time Tottenham and Arsenal issued circulars to members, stating their case for inclusion in a larger FL Division One.  And as we shall see, clubs currently outside the League started to consider applying for what they assumed would be somewhere between two and four spare places in Division Two.  For quite clearly whatever happened in the battle for places in Division One there were going to be at least two vacancies in Division Two.

As a reminder, here’s what the League Division I table for 1914/15 looked like at the end of the season.   There were two points for a win, and clubs on identical points were separated by goal average not goal difference.

Pos Team Pld W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 Everton 38 19 8 11 76 47 1.617 46
2 Oldham Athletic 38 17 11 10 70 56 1.250 45
3 Blackburn Rovers 38 18 7 13 83 61 1.361 43
4 Burnley 38 18 7 13 61 47 1.298 43
5 Manchester City 38 15 13 10 49 39 1.256 43
6 Sheffield United 38 15 13 10 49 41 1.195 43
7 Sheffield Wednesday 38 15 13 10 61 54 1.130 43
8 Sunderland 38 18 5 15 81 72 1.125 41
9 Bradford Park Avenue 38 17 7 14 69 65 1.062 41
10 West Bromwich Albion 38 15 10 13 49 43 1.140 40
11 Bradford City 38 13 14 11 55 49 1.122 40
12 Middlesbrough 38 13 12 13 62 74 0.838 38
13 Liverpool 38 14 9 15 65 75 0.867 37
14 Aston Villa 38 13 11 14 62 72 0.861 37
15 Newcastle United 38 11 10 17 46 48 0.958 32
16 Notts County 38 9 13 16 41 57 0.719 31
17 Bolton Wanderers 38 11 8 19 68 84 0.810 30
18 Manchester United 38 9 12 17 46 62 0.742 30
19 Chelsea 38 8 13 17 51 65 0.785 29
20 Tottenham Hotspur 38 8 12 18 57 90 0.633 28

To remind you briefly of the background, Chelsea and Tottenham were relegated, but Manchester United and Liverpool were then found guilty of match fixing.  Neither club was punished, but it was clear that Chelsea would not have been relegated had Manchester United not colluded in the match fixing.  When the debate began about re-starting professional league football for the 1919/20 season (it having been suspended during the war) suggestions were made that the League should be extended to 22 clubs. Chelsea immediately campaigned to stay up, and got widespread support.

Then Tottenham also put in a claim that it should stay up, even though it had no engagement with the match fixing affairs.  It’s argument was that when the league had expanded in the past, teams at the foot of the table had stayed up and although this was true such arrangements had never been seen at the time as anything other than a way of handling the current situation.  No rule had been changed and not precedent overtly set.

On 3 February 1919 the most authoritative football publication of the era, Athletic News responded to Tottenham’s claim that they should stay in Division I despite having come bottom of the League in 1915.

You can see a scan of the original article here but as it is hard to read I have also transcribed it below.  I believe this is the first transcription of this article to be produced in modern times, despite the consistency of subsequent claims that Arsenal somehow fixed the vote in order to stay in the First Division.  Yet it is a fundamental document in considering how the election of Arsenal in 1919 came about.

We must remember that Athletic News was, as noted in earlier articles, the pre-eminent weekly newspaper covering football.  It was published in Manchester, and like the League itself, spent a lot of time on northern affairs.  But above all it was highly regarded and considered authoritative when it came to understanding the League, and its workings.

What I fine particularly interesting is the second paragraph which says, “Hotspur rely on precedent, The Arsenal rely on service.”  It is an early 20th century use of language, but it makes the point well.  Each club was bidding for a place in the first division in its own way, just as people who stood at the General Election two months earlier had done.

This is what the article says… and I’ve kept the original language throughout, even where it does make the meaning slightly less transparent.


Tottenham’s election address

In the event of the extension of the League it is conceded that Chelsea must return to the First Division.  But there is a fine flutter among their Metropolitan neighbours concerning the partner for promotion.

Tottenham Hotspur and The Arsenal are now opened and avowed candidates and each club has issued a circular letter to the voters who are, of course, their fellow members of the League. Hotspur rely on precedent, The Arsenal rely on service.

Tottenham declare that when the First Division was extended in 1898, Newcastle United and again Blackburn Rovers, and again in 1905 Bury and Notts County, retained their ranks in the senior section.  Precedent only applies when the circumstances are exactly similar. Fortunately for League football there has never been such a case as now obtains.

To do justice to one club another must be given the great favour of accompanying it. Chelsea did not relegate themselves to the Second Division.  That was the sequel to a conspiracy.  Tottenham did relegate themselves and if they remain in the class to which they have descended, it is a quaint idea to suggest, that the League will confirm their self-inflicted degradation.

The cases of Chelsea and Tottenham are not on all fours.  In fact no club should be coupled with the Stamford Bridge team whereas it seems as if Spurs are standing on Chelsea’s shoulders with the idea that they are broad enough to accommodate them and that Chelsea’s legs will serve both.

Tottenham declare that voluntary enlistments in the army during 1914-15 lost them their position.   In the season of 1913-14 Hotspur played 27 men. Of these they transferred Jas. Bauchop to Bradford and placed JA Tate on the transfer list.

Of the remaining 25 we find that 17 played in 1914-15 when Tottenham introduced such men as Jacques, Lightfoot, Pearson, and Rance of whom the first three were instantaneous successes.  Grimsdell did not appear in the team after December 19.

He had if we remember rightly, joined the Life Guards.  This is the player who, having served his country, desired a temporary transfer this season, and it was stated publicly without repudiation, that the request was refused.

If Tottenham are accorded the favour that they ask it will not be because of precedent or because of the enlistments of their players, but because of any popularity that they may possess and that they can pose as the one Southern club which has won the Association Cup since professionalism was legalised.

* * *

The Arsenal scout precedent, patriotism, privilege and any other plea but one of service.  The Arsenal have been members of the League for 26 years. As the pioneers of professionalism in the south, they refused to join any other organisation.  In the Metropolis the Arsenal have always kept the flag of the League at Masthead.  

The peculiar position at Woolwich entailed the loss of their position in the First Division.   Energy and enterprise brought The Arsenal to Highbury and saved the club for The League.  Only by the fraction of a goal did The Arsenal fail to secure promotion in the season before the war.

Since August 1914 the club has lost much money.  Indeed The Arsenal are still in the midst of a great scheme, and the League having sanctioned the removal to Highbury are asked to give the old club the chance of carrying it through without serious loss to gentlemen who have made great sacrifices for North London football.  

* * *

North London football

Tottenham have bought their ground and made money and have little to grumble at.  No one can complain of their application.  The directors are entitled to do the best possible, consistent with honour, for their club.  The same is true of The Arsenal.  

There is however the difference that Tottenham only came into the League in 1907-08 when it suited their purpose and that since then they have been among the successful.  

Naturally sportsmen feel a large measure of sympathy for the weaker club which did much spade work in 1983-94 in the days of Ardwick, Burton Swifts, Crewe Alexandra, Middlesbrough Ironopolis, Northwich Victoria, Walsall Town Swifts and the like.  

Some courage was needed on the part of Royal Arsenal to enter that company.  The election is full of interest and novelty.

Above all else it seems to me that with such a highly regarded publication as Athletic News on its side, and with Sir Henry Norris also able to point out to the League that it was he who had twice brought the issue of match fixing to the League’s attention, before the antics of Liverpool got completely out of hand in 1915, it seems extraordinarily unlikely that he would risk undoing all that work by offering a bribe.  Quite clearly from this article, he already had quite a few of the good and the great on his side.

Indeed even if he didn’t feel that his warnings to the League about the match fixing problem, nor the above article, were enough to help his cause, he could also rely on the reputation he had built by launching the Footballers’ Battalion and his work in the War Office, with recruitment, conscription and re-settlement.   Why on earth would he risk all that had been achieved, and the fact as we have seen earlier that Arsenal had become the 10th best supported club in the country, even in Division II, by then trying to bribe people when he clearly had so much support?

Of course that does not prove that he didn’t, but then even after several years of offering a reward on this site to anyone who can come up with proof of anything underhand going on in the election of a new club to the First Division, no proof has come forward there.

In short there is no proof that Norris did bribe anyone to get Arsenal into the First Division, but plenty of evidence to suggest why a man in Norris’ position, where he was holding all the cards, would not.  Even the suggestion that Sir Henry was a wrong ‘un as evidenced because he was forced to resign from Arsenal because he took money which was due to the club for himself is false.  He and the board resigned some eight or so years later, because Fulham FC and Arsenal FC were suing each other, and that was against League rules which stated that all disputes had to be resolved via the League not the court.

But that event was years in the future.  For now, as the article above, and the history of Sir Henry up to this point shows, he was a highly regarded man who was standing up for the rights of footballers not to be restricted by a maximum wage, who wanted equal pay for women, wanted repatriated soldiers to have a state pension, and wanted rail fares cut, and who had spent a large part of his own money funding the Footballers’ Battalion before it was incorporate into the Middlesex Regiment.  With Athletic News on his side he was getting the support of the working people and of the establishment in terms of Arsenal’s position.

And if the support of Athletic News were not enough to make Sir Henry happy then he would surely have felt rather pleased on 4 February to take his seat in the House of Commons for the first time with Lloyd George as Prime Minister, Bonar Law leader of the House of Commons, and J Austen Chamberlain the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

And yet despite this, Sir Henry was not forgetting his other duties as that evening he went to a charity concert in Fulham to support the local branch of the Dispensary for the Treatment and Prevention of Consumption (TB), for as Mayor of Fulham he was the chair of the Dispensary.

Indeed if you have been following our story from its early days you will have gathered that Sir Henry was assiduous in attending meetings, only dropping out when there was a clash (as happened with the LCC meetings and his work at the War Office for example as reported in earlier episodes).  It appears from the records that he was one of the most regular attendees of the House of Commons, although that was made easier for him, as he represented a London constituency and was able to get to the House by car.


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

Section 10: 1919, the reform of football

6 Replies to “What the media said about the election of Arsenal to the 1st division in 1919”

  1. It’s a well known fact that arsenal did bribe the fa and the media to get the promotion, and the article published here only proves how biased the media was about the whole affair.

    Arsenal have never earned their place in the top division, and are the only team who can be described this way.

    Sit down, shut up

  2. That is extremely interesting Ross and I am sure that you will have seen that we have offered to give £100 to charity if anyone can give any evidence to back up that story. We’ve provided lots of evidence to show that this was not the case over a whole series of articles over the past five years, but if you can do what no one else has ever been able to do, then you can nominate the charity.

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

  3. One more bit I meant to add Ross, when you say “Arsenal have never earned their place in the top division, and are the only team who can be described this way” are you not forgetting all the other teams that were also elected to the top division in earlier expansions of the League. If you are, you’ll find details of them on our site.

  4. It’s a well known fact that Ross knows f*ck all. He should know that even Tottenham has been elected up to a higher league. Maybe they bribed their way on that one?

  5. Just one comment. Today is 5th August 2020 nearly 3 years after the challenge from Tony Attwood for someone to provide proof of the bribery. The result is as the Bard (that’s William Shakespeare for you Spurs’ fans) said, “The rest is silence”.

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