April 1919: the end of wartime football (at least for 20 years)

By Tony Attwood

In the last article I took the story of the Victory Cup through to its conclusion, which means we now have to go back to the start of April 1919 to catch up with the rest of the Arsenal story for this month. I will however mention the key events from the Victory Cup fiasco as we proceed to make it easier to see how they fit into the overall story.

You may recall (if you have been paying attention) that by the start of April Arsenal had secured their place back in the First Division, the league had been expanded by adding two more teams to each division, and Sir Henry Norris had started life as an MP while appointing Leslie Knighton as the club’s new manager.

But we should not forget that the effects of the war were still within the country.  Men were slowly coming back from the campaigns across the world, there was a war in Ireland, there was still rationing – and indeed for some foods it continued until 1920 – and the measles epidemic was still present in parts of the capital.

And less a reminder of the effects of wartime was needed, it came with the fact that it was not until 3 April that the government agreed to begin the release of imprisoned conscientious objectors.  Quite what the benefit was of keeping these people imprisoned for so long was never explained.  It certainly was costing the state money.

The following day the complaint against Fulham by Sir Henry Norris over their playing unregistered players in the post-war knock out cup was heard by the Committee of the London Combination.  For full details see the previous post in the series.  

For the first Saturday in the month (5 April) 35000 turned up for Arsenal 2 Chelsea 1, a record not just for this season, but for the whole of the wartime campaign.  The last time this figure was seen at Highbury was for the local derby against Clapton Orient on 18 April 1914.  Sir Henry was at the match doing what he had regularly done in pre-war games, talking to journalists – in this case Arthur Bourke, Norseman of the Islington Daily Gazette.

No longer actively involved in property development Sir Henry was now a regular attendee at the House of Commons (something that cannot be said of every elected representative) and the questions that he is recorded in Hansard as putting, show his strong affiliation with the working man.  On 7 April for example he sought to push the President of the Board of Trade on issues relating to the massive rise in train and bus fares in London – something Sir Henry was committed to getting reduced.

But meanwhile culture moved on.  In my book “Making the Arsenal” I tried to give a little flavour of this with a brief focus on the way young people were starting to establish their own dance forms in 1910, and what passed for recreational activity of working class men.

Now another radical change occurred on 7 April as the Original Dixieland Jazz Band brought a completely new form of music to England.  So successful were they that their three month tour was extended and extended.  In the end they stayed for 15 months.  In case you are interested, here’s an example.

Back in the Commons Sir Henry kept up his onslaught on government activities, asking on 9 April if the government would consider giving a grant to subalterns (ie officers below the rank of captain – the level at which Henry Norris had entered the army when appointed to the War Office) who had opted to stay on in the Army of Occupation.

These men would need new uniforms and Sir Henry argued that the state should pay. The government refused.

Next Sir Henry turned his attention to the area of administration – the area of work in which he had made such an impact first in Fulham, then on the south coast, and finally in the War Office in terms of both voluntary recruitment and then conscription.

He made the point for example, that the London County Councils, the Boards of Guardians, and Local Authorities such as Fulham, all held elections on different days, which was clearly inefficient and wasteful.   The idea was turned down because it would be “very difficult”.

On 10 April 1919: Leslie Knighton formally joined Arsenal as the club’s first post-war manager.  Towards the end of his tenure Arsenal struggled against relegation and he was relieved of his duties in 1925 to be replaced by Chapman.  Knighton’s autobiography and Sunday newspaper “revelations” written 20 years later made numerous serious allegations against Henry Norris, which have since been shown to be unfounded.

On 11 April as the dispute over the London Combination Victory Cup match between Fulham and Arsenal heated up Sir Henry wrote an open letter for publication in the press accusing Fulham FC of violating “all the canons of true sportsmanship”.  He didn’t have much good to say about the London Combination either.

The following day, 12 April, Arsenal and Clapton Orient drew 2-2 in front of 10,000 at the Clapton Stadium.  Meanwhile at Highbury Tottenham played QPR (losing 2-3) while the result Brentford 5 Fulham 0 secured the last London Combination of the war era for Brentford.

But less we forget, British troops were still stationed around the world managing the Empire, and on 13 April the Amritsar Massacre occurred as British and Gurkha troops killed nearly 400 Sikhs and injured well over 1000.

On 14 April Athletic News published the news that Sir Henry had resigned as a director of Fulham in protest over their handling of the Victory Cup issue.

At the same time Arthur Hutchins and Ernie Williamson signed from Croydon Common.  CC were the only Southern League team not to return after the first world war, having dropped out of the London Combination part way through the war.  Both players had played for Arsenal in the Combination during the war, after the Common had dropped out of the League in the 1916/17 season.

Hutchins played over 96 games for Arsenal in wartime, and 104 games thereafter.  Williamson likewise moved over to Arsenal when CC stopped playing in the war league, and then continued to play in the league until 1923 playing 105 games.

On this same day the FA held a meeting which resulted in an agreement to raise the basic price of entry for men to all professional football grounds to 1 shilling (5p).  The FA did not lay down a price for seated accommodation, nor did it prohibit clubs levying a second charge for supporters to go into the parts of the ground where they might get a better view.  The  FA also made no ruling on the price for men under the age of 21, or for ladies.

Easter saw the final Combination games being played – with the championship already decided, and a couple of friendly games fitted in to maximise the income to be gained, now the numbers attending matches had risen.

And certainly the numbers were up on Good Friday, as Arsenal played their penultimate Combination game at Crystal Palace in front of 20,000, winning 0-3.

The following day the semi final of the highly controversial London Victory Cup was played at Highbury, but with Arsenal not involved.  23000 turned up to see Chelsea beat Palace 4-0.  Arsenal meanwhile played Clapton Orient away and won 3-1.

Then on Easter Monday 21 April  the final Combination fixtures were played, and Arsenal beat Palace 3-2 at Highbury in front of 10,000.  On the next day workmen arrived at Highbury and began repair work and upgrades, adding a new enclosure in front of the stand erected in 1913 for the first season at Highbury, and improving the terracing elsewhere.

On 25 April 1919:  The London Combination which had been the league for the capital during the first world war prepared to vote itself out of existence, to make way for the return of the Football League.  In the event it didn’t, and instead became the reserve league for London.

Also during this week following Easter, Clem Voysey was signed officially by Arsenal FC.  He’d probably already played several times for them in recent weeks, described as ‘Newman’ in the match-day programmes.

He was signed from Manchester City, Leslie Knighton’s old club, and nothing particular was made of the deal until the FA investigated it in 1925 – exactly at the moment that Knighton was sacked by Arsenal, following a series of disastrous seasons which almost had Arsenal relegated back to the second division.

Voysey had by this time played just 35 games and scored 6 goals for Arsenal in the League from 1919 to 1926, and I want to deal briefly with Voysey at this point as it is a name you may recall in relation to Sir Henry.

Voysey was training to be a teacher when war broke out, and joined the RAF.  Once the league resumed it was either found that in reality he was not that good or he suffered a series of injuries or illnesses.  He played the first five games of the 1919/20 season but then was dropped.  He is reported to have had a spell of treatment at the Great Northern Hospital and after that never became a regular in the Arsenal team.

In October 1922 Clem went onto the transfer list after reportedly refusing to play in a match for the reserves, but he stayed at Arsenal, and suffered another injury at the end of 1922. But he is reported as signing a new contract at the start of each season – which is interesting in the light of the subsequent investigations into his original contract.

The first such investigation in 1925 was held by the FA Emergency Committee whose remit was to simply to investigate the contract.  The records do not show who asked for this investigation or what was alleged – but one candidate as whistle blower must be Knighton who had just been sacked by Sir Henry.  The Committee did find a technicality that was wrong in the contract in that clauses 8 and 9 “were inconsistent with each other” but that was it.

Nothing seems to have happened as a result of this enquiry.  Knighton had left the club so making any further complaint was unlikely and Voysey stayed on at Arsenal FC until the end of season 1925/26 when Herbert Chapman released him.

In the second investigation, (again we don’t know the source of the complaint, but again it looks like Knighton once more trying to have a go at Sir Henry,) Sir Henry admitted that in 1919 a player was paid a signing-on fee of £200 in cash by Arsenal FC, whereas the maximum such payment allowed by the Football League was £10.

Certainly it seems unlikely that it was Voysey who got this signing on fee.  £200 in 1919 would buy a small house.  If we compare this to average earnings this is something akin to £50,000 today.  But when the signing of Voysey took place Sir Henry Norris was not at Highbury, but in Torquay, and so clearly either he was not in this matter on his own or the money was paid at some other time or by someone else.  It does look like an attempt by Knighton to get Sir Henry in trouble with the authorities in 1925, little more.

But now let us go back for 25 April 1919 – as we have seen earlier this was the day the London Combination did not vote itself out of existence but instead created a reserve team league for the capital, and also took on the role of representing the capital’s football interests against the dominant position of the northern clubs.

On 26 April the Combination’s Victory Cup Final was played at Highbury with 36000 present, Chelsea beating Fulham 3-0.   Norseman in the Islington Daily Gazette reported anti-Fulham feeling at the match and even in the press room.   Meanwhile Arsenal played a friendly away to Brentford.  It ended in a 3-3 draw in front of 3,000.  And with that match between the top two of the final London Combination season the London wartime league of the first world war was over.

There was however one more game to see, a charity match at Highbury between the Metropolitan Police and the London Fire Brigade.

Here is the list of Arsenal matches that take us through to the end of the season… 

Match Date Opposition H/A Res Score Crowd
Cup 2 31/03/1919 Fulham H L 1-4 20,000
Lge 33 05/04/1919 Chelsea H W 2-1 35,000
Lge 34 12/04/1919 Clapton Orient A D 2-2 10,000
Lge35 18/04/1919 Crystal Palace A W 3-0 20,000
Fr 19/04/1919 Clapton Orient A W 3-1
Lge 36 21/04/1919 Crystal Palace H W 3-2 10,000
Fr 26/04/1919 Brentford A D 3-3 3,000

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

Section 10: 1919, the reform of football

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