May 1919: war football ends and the wonderful Alf Baker is signed

By Tony Attwood

We have reached the stage in this football history wherein the war in Europe was over, the last wartime league had been completed and the future of football in England had been sorted out.  But less we think that peace reigned supreme we should note that this month also marked the start of the Third Anglo-Afghan War, and war which ended in Afghanistan’s independence.  There was always a war going on somewhere.

Here is the list of players used by Arsenal in the season who played more than five league games, with thanks to Andy Kelly’s website for compiling the data.

League Cup Friendlies
Player Registered Club Games Goals Games Goals Games Goals
F Bradshaw 28 1 1 4
J Carville 6 3
JJ Chipperfield Luton Clarence 26 18 2 3 1
AA Dominy Southampton 12 6 1
A Ducat Aston Villa 23 2 1
VF Gregory Watford 13 1
FW Groves 33 5 1 5 +1
HTW Hardinge 28 18 2 3 3
AV Hutchins 31 1 3
E Liddell 24 1 1
A McKinnon 9 1 6
W Miller Merthyr 11 5 2 1
DJ Plumb 13 1 1 1
D Robson 9 4 1 5 1
J Rutherford 15 6 1 1
JE Shaw 16 1 2
WA Spittle 19 5 1
AA Thompson 11 4 1 1 2
CR Voysey 5 4
EC Williamson Croydon Common 35 (10) 52 2 (1) 4 6 (1) 9

Williamson is still listed as a Croydon Common player as CC still retained his registration since no transfers had been allowed during the war years.  However the Common had ceased to play part way through the war, and had been wound up before this season started and so in effect all Common players were available on a free transfer now that registrations were possible once more.

Below is the league table for the final war league season, showing Arsenal missing out on the championship by four points.    In previous war leagues Arsenal had come 3rd, 11th, 5th and 5th, the first two leagues being played in the 1914/15 season.  Thereafter it was one league programme a year.

 Pos Team P W D L F A Pts
1 Brentford 36 20 9 7 94 46 49
2 Arsenal 36 20 5 11 85 56 45
3 West Ham United 36 17 7 12 65 51 41
4 Fulham 36 17 6 13 70 55 40
5 Queen’s Park Rangers 36 16 7 13 69 60 39
6 Chelsea 36 13 11 12 70 53 37
7 Crystal Palace 36 14 6 16 66 73 34
8 Tottenham Hotspur 36 13 8 15 52 72 34
9 Millwall 36 10 9 17 50 67 29
10 Clapton Orient 36 3 6 27 35 123 12

Arsenal, as with all other teams now had just under four months to get themselves back together and prepare for the first League programme since 1914/15, and of course to prepare for life in the First Division.

But as there was no formal end to the 1918/19 war time season, the clubs used May to play a number of friendly games, many of which were charity matches, and which were also used to see what their team looked like and to integrate early signings.  It was in games like this that players such as Voysey could be tried out.  The last of these four matches was of particular significance in view of what had gone before as we shall see shortly.

Naturally new players were needed and Alfred Baker was the first of a group to join the club.  Born in Ilkeston on 27 April 1898 he had worked as a miner and  played for Eastwood Rangers and quite possibly other amateur teams, while during the war he played for and during the first world war he played for Chesterfield, Crystal Palace and Huddersfield Town.

Knighton told the tale in his autobiography that he signed Baker at the pit head where he was working as a miner, in order to ward off interest from other teams.  There is however no evidence to support this and in the light of the numerous tales told in Knighton’s autobiography which can be proven to be incorrect we should perhaps not put too much value on the accuracy of this story.

But Alf Baker was a fine player and ultimately a great servant to the club and indeed he has a unique place within the club.

Alf turned pro with Arsenal in May 1919 (the first month in which clubs could register new players) and stayed at the club until he retired from football, making 351 appearances for Arsenal, scoring 26 goals.

He also played in our first-ever FA Cup Final – against Cardiff in 1927 and in the first FA Cup Final win in 1930– our first ever major trophy.  He only just made it because he only played one more first team game after this (also against Huddersfield, on 7 March 1931) before retiring from the game aged 33 in the summer of 1931.

He was, I think, the only player who both played in that very first 1st division Highbury match and who won an FA Cup winner’s medal with Arsenal.

One of the reasons he stayed around so long was that apart from being a fine player he could play in all sorts of positions, including in goal.  I haven’t gone through every match, but I have seen it said that he played in every position from 1 to 11 at some time during those 351 games.

In 1924/25 he captained Arsenal in Leslie Knighton’s last season, and in 1924 he also played for the Football League against the Scottish League and in November 1927 he won a single cap for England against Wales.   After retiring in 1931 Alf then went on to be a club scout.

And so, on 3 May 1919, Arsenal played their first post-season friendly, a 1-0 away defeat to West Ham in front of 8000.

On the evening of 7 May there was an event which may around 100 years later seem utterly trivial to us, but which really needs to be remembered, as after the meeting of the council of the  Borough of Fulham Sir Henry met a delegation of Belgian war refugees.

Now if you have been following my tale all the way through you might recall that soon after the Belgian refugees arrived in Fulham, stories circulated that they were colluding with Germans to use the club at which they met of an evening as a place in which Germans could plot the takeover of England from within.   It was all nonsense of course, Belgium was occupied by the Germans which was why the refugees were in London, and Henry Norris as Mayor had done what he could to put a stop to such scaremongering.  Now the delegation gave Sir Henry a plaque which thanked the people of the Borough who helped them during the years the refugees stayed in London.  It was a nice touch.

The next match was on 10 May at Highbury as Arsenal beat West Ham 3-2 with 8000 in the ground.  Sally Davis writes that this was Knighton’s first game in charge, but I can’t see how this can be right.   Although Knighton’s recounting of events is certainly unreliable it does seem likely that he was indeed appointed as  manager in mid-February and would have been actively involved in the club thereafter.  I can’t see why he would not have been on the bench as manager at least very shortly after that.

On Saturday 17 May Arsenal played their third post-season charity friendly an a crowd of 5000 watched Arsenal 1 Chelsea 2, and the following weekend wrapped up the series as Arsenal played Tottenham at Highbury.  While Tottenham had been obliged to play Arsenal through the final war season of 1918/19, they had no obligation to play this match on 24 May.  But play it they did, and this suggests once again (if any more suggestions were needed) that there was no all-out war between Arsenal and Tottenham over the question of who was elected to the First Division for the coming season.

On the same day as the Arsenal / Tottenham friendly (24 May), Arsenal signed Daniel Burgess from Goldenhill Wanderers.  He made his league debut on 1 September 1919 in a league match against Liverpool.

Burgess was born in Goldenhill, in Staffordshire, on 23 October 1896 and was an inside forward. who started out with Port Vale, which would have been his local club, and then moved to Arsenal.  In 1922 he moved on to West Ham for the 1922/3 season, followed by Aberdare Athletic (1923), QPR and Sittingbourne.

However although he stayed for three seasons he only played 13 times for Arsenal, playing his first game on 1 September 1919 against Liverpool at number 8 (inside right).  Having lost the first match of the season at home, Arsenal went to Liverpool and won 3-2.

He scored his first and indeed only goal on 27 September 1919 against Blackburn (away), but after the return match the following week (this being the season that home and away games were played against the same team consecutively), he dropped out of the team.  So that was seven games in a row, and one goal, and then no more.

Burgess did not return to the side until 12 March 1921 (ie 18 months later) when he got two more games, but he never became a regular.

Here is a list of the post-season friendlies

Date Opposition Venue Result Crowd
03/05/1919 West Ham United A 0-1 8,000
10/05/1919 West Ham United H 3-2 8,000
17/05/1919 Chelsea H 1-2 5,000
24/5/19 Tottenahm H 0-0 6000

The month in Parliament ended with the votes on the Ireland Bill – another moment in the movement towards what eventually became an independent republic covering most of Ireland, although this of course was the opposite of the British intentions.  This bill became the Government of Ireland Act 1920.

The Act divided the country into the six north-eastern counties now to be known as “Northern Ireland”, and the rest, both of which remained part of the UK.  However the Irish War of Independence continued and ended in the treaty of 1922 which established the Irish Free State.  But the N Ireland facilities continued until suspended by Parliament in 1972.  The rest of the Act was repealed under the terms of the momentous 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Sir Henry Norris was understandably more concerned with the Housing and Town Planning Bill, which made its way through Parliament at the same time and he proposed amendments to the bill and asked questions about housing, and quite probably annoyed a number of people by asking particularly about the competence of the Government appointed housing commissioners.  Sir Henry wasn’t made a commissioner, and may have thought with his experience he ought to have been.

Elsewhere, and one might say in a totally different reality, on 29 May, the astronomer and physicist Arthu Eddington made the observations of a solar eclipse which offered the first practical confirmation of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

We’ll move into the summer preparations for the return of League Football in the next episode.

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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