Arsenal prepare for the vote on who should be promoted to the First Division

By Tony Attwood

We left Sir Henry Norris having taken his seat in the House of Commons, and the media having fully debated the issue of who should be given the places in the expanded first and second divisions of the Football League.

You will have noted perhaps that we have not discussed the question of Sir Henry corrupting the vote, perhaps by offering money or favours to the directors of other clubs in return for their vote.  This is because we have found no evidence whatsoever either of corruption, or any debate in the media to the effect that there was corruption.   Not a word was written anywhere suggesting he had tried to manipulate the vote of the League chairman, other than by issuing a note explaining why he thought Arsenal had a good case, and circulating it to other clubs, exactly as Tottenham and West Ham had done.

This is itself particularly interesting, for the media at this time had no hesitation in calling individuals to account.   And indeed the local Fulham paper had (as we have noted) been critical of Sir Henry’s role as the Mayor of Fulham during the war, particularly criticising the fact that the council did not take up the offer made by the Bishop of London for the council to take over the gardens of his palace for food production.  The council’s case was that they didn’t have any manpower at their beck and call, and were already struggling to pay the gravediggers, but the paper kept up their attack on the elected officials.

And certainly in football matters Sir Henry’s judgement can be questioned, not least over his decision in mid-February 1919 to appoint a new manager for the club.

Because Arsenal has chosen not to make the minutes of the board meetings available we don’t quite know when or indeed why the board of Arsenal decided that they wanted to offer their vacant managerial position to Manchester City’s assistant secretary, Leslie Knighton but that is what they did.  Knighton subsequently met the directors of Arsenal at the House of Commons, was offered and accepted the job.

Arsenal needed the new manager because, you may recall, sometime around 19 April 1915 – before the end of the 1914/15 season – George Morrell had suddenly resigned as manager of the club.  He knew of course that all staff were going to be laid off after the final match of the season on 24 April, because the Football League had voted to close down the League and the FA had voted to forbid the paying of players from that point on, but even so that was a poor response to the years of employment the club gave him.

Indeed Arsenal (and Sir Henry Norris) had shown great loyalty to Morrell in the past, continuing his employment with the club when the ownership changed, standing by him after After were relegated in 1913, and giving him the high prestige job of management of the club at Highbury.   Morrell was in fact the only manager to get Arsenal relegated.   (Bertie Mee had a valiant attempt at repeating the trick, but missed relegation twice during the tail end of his tenure).

Of all Arsenal managers he is recorded as having the seventh longest tenure (292 league games) but with a very low win percentage.  He won only 35.27% of all the league games he managed at Arsenal – and the only long term manager who did worse was the man whom Sir Henry Norris now made manager: Leslie Knighton.

Morrell went back to Scotland (he had previously been secretary of the reserves of Rangers FC, and Manager of Morton, from August 1904 to January 1908) probably because he had heard that First Division football was going to continue in Scotland during the 1915/16 season, even though it was abandoned in England.

However he didn’t seem to get a permanent job in football at once, and he was next seen as manager of Third Lanark, a job that he took over on 18 August 1917 and in which he continued until April 30 1921.  After that I regret we have no knowledge of him, and cannot even offer a date of his passing.

Meanwhile back in London Fulham FC held its AGM on 6 February.  Sir Henry was still a director, but it was the last year in that position, because footballing events at the end of February were about to cause a huge rift between Sir Henry and the club which he had helped guide long and whose stadium he helped improve, long before he came to the Arsenal.

On 8 February Arsenal played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and won 2-1.  The crowd however was not as large as might have been anticipated, with only 12,000 present, perhaps because Chelsea were no longer the all conquering club in the London Combination – although also the weather and the flu epidemic would have played their part.

Indeed the flu epidemic has been mentioned several times in these notes, and at this time it was still present, and the number of flu deaths in Islington was reported in the press as rising at this time.  It took many more months for the epidemic finally to pass and with no medical protection against it, the death toll was enormous.

Also the weather in London in the first two weeks of February was particularly cold and with occasional snow falling. On the 8th, for example, when Arsenal played Chelsea, it was sunny all day, but the temperature only rose to minus 0.5°C. The following night was again very cold, although after that temperatures slowly rose, but this was accompanied by heavy rain.  Indeed on the 16th, nearly 14mm of rain was recorded, making already very sodden ground rather like a bog.

Although the match on 15 February against Clapton Orient came one day before the worst downfall, the pitch was described as a mud heap, following the recent thaw.  16,000 saw Arsenal win 4-0 to leave the club second in the London Combination, six points behind Brentford.

By the 19th the constant rain meant much of London was flooded, including the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey and the Royal Small Arms Factory in the Lea Valley.  Roads and tram lines were blocked, and although  Highbury, being on a hill, of course, wasn’t flooded but the pitch was a mess – not least because it had been used through the previous summer for baseball, and had had no groundsman in attendance since April 1915.  Shepperton Lock in Middlesex (now Surrey) was also severely flooded with the river being reported as three miles wide in places and the height of the river eight feet above the norm.

22 February saw a meeting between the Scottish and English Leagues in Birmingham to discuss the issue of transfer fees, while the English league had another go at discussing the size of the league (rather necessary since they had voted not to increase the number of clubs while the media and clubs were acting as if the expansion of the Football League by two clubs in each division was a given fact.)

The League now recognised the sentiment of the day, and the impossibility of it holding its existing position, and voted for 22 clubs in each League with the recommendation that Chelsea FC should be elected into Division One despite their relegation in 1915.  This is an important point because it recognised the impact of the corruption of the 1914/15 league, and Chelsea’s special position within that.  In particular it is worth noting that the League made no mention of Tottenham who had finished below Chelsea in the 1914/15 season.

In the afternoon the English League beat the Scottish League 3-0, while at Highbury Arsenal lost 1-3 to QPR in front of 13,000.

On 25 February West Ham lodged their anticipated application to be members of the expanded Division II for the 1919/20 season, and started canvassing clubs and the media in the way Tottenham had been doing with its application to stay in the First Division.

The following day (Wednesday 26th) a charity match was played at Stamford Bridge in aid of the Chevrons Club and the RAF Overseas Contingent – it ended RAF 2 George Robey’s XI.  You may recall my mentioning of George Robey, the very famous comedian, singer and actor who was an acquaintance of Henry Norris, in the article on Arsenal in Autumn 1918.   Robey’s team was made up of players from the London Combination, including a number from Arsenal.

Here are the Arsenal games for February.

Game Date Opposition H/A Result Score Crowd
24 01/02/1919 Tottenham Hotspur H L 2-3 18,000
25 08/02/1919 Chelsea A W 2-1 12,000
26 15/02/1919 Clapton Orient H W 4-0 16,000
27 22/02/1919 Queen’s Park Rangers H L 1-3 13,000

Up next: the vote and the search for corruption.

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


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