Arsenal establish themselves in the Division 1 amidst scandal, profiteering and strikes.

By Tony Attwood

As we saw, with Arsenal back in the first division after two years and a world war away from the top flight, the season began for the first time, in August, with an Arsenal home defeat by 0-1 to Newcastle.  Because of the expansion of the League by two more clubs, four more games had to be fitted in, which meant extra games in September, and this started with an away match on the first of the month at Liverpool.

Liverpool were the club fundamentally implicated in match fixing across the pre-war seasons, both in the 1914/15 season in which match fixing was proven and in 1912/13 when Arsenal were relegated, and it was at this time that Henry Norris wrote his newspaper column about Liverpool.  He was resoundingly censured by the League for having the nerve to suggest any club would fix a match.

Liverpool, despite their match fixing, had finished in the bottom half of the table for the last four years of League football ending the final season in 13th.  However they had won their first match of the 1919/20 season away to Bradford by a convincing 1-3 margin, and now were expected to give Arsenal a tough game.

But on 1 September Arsenal surprised the pundits with a 3-2 away win, in front of 15,000.  However next Arsenal had to play Newcastle to whom they had lost the first match of the season.  Perversely Newcastle had lost their second game (at home) but on 6 September reversed that situation by beating Arsenal for a second time 3-1 in front of 45,000.  Curiously, after three games not one team had a 100% record, and only one of the teams that had played their first two games at home had won both of them (Sheffield United).  Everyone, it seemed, was having trouble settling down.

Next up was Liverpool again, this time at home on Monday 8 September, and Arsenal needed a win to keep the crowd happy – not least because Tottenham were already out in front in division two being top of the league having won all three games scoring 13 and conceding one.  The worst case scenario could see Arsenal back down in division 2 by the end of the season with Tottenham passing them travelling in the opposite direction.

But Arsenal did not let their fans down, winning at home 1-0, with 20,000 in the stadium; not bad for a Monday game.

So with four games gone in the first division Arsenal were showing mid-table form with two wins and two defeats.  Next up was Sunderland away on 13 September. After four games Sunderland had won three and lost one, so the 1-1 draw Arsenal achieved away from home was certainly considered a good performance.  Arsenal were not flying at the top of the league, but they were holding their ground.

Now you might have noticed that unusually for these accounts, Sir Henry Norris has not been mentioned thus far – and this is unusual given that these matches were the summit of all he had worked for in football.

But the truth is that at this point we lose touch with him for a while – Sally Davis suggesting he might well have taken his family on holiday.  This is certainly possible, because in effect Sir Henry had been working non-stop seven days a week since the outbreak of the war in 1914, as Mayor of Fulham, in his various government and army recruiting jobs (which had taken up most of his time), as a London County Councillor and latterly an MP, working with various charities, and as a director of Fulham FC and Arsenal FC.  He had, as we have seen, now broken with Fulham, and finally it seems, had a break away from London.

We know however that he was back in action on 16 September since he went to two events organised by  the London Borough of Fulham for all its 28000 school children.  Sally Davis reports that the events was “at the Hurlingham Club and there were sports, a fair, food and ginger beer for all.  He was also there on the afternoon of Wed 17 September 1919, its second day.  In the evening, Wed 17 September 1919 he chaired the regular meeting of the London Borough of Fulham.  At the end of it, the press were ordered out while councillors discussed a plan they must have known would have a lot of borough residents up in arms: the Council was thinking of buying part of the Hurlingham Club’s large property in Fulham for its working-class housing programme.”

So presumably refreshed from his break, Sir Henry was back in the swing of things, and was probably quite pleased with Arsenal’s progress so far.

It seems quite likely that on 20 September Sir Henry did attend Arsenal’s return match against Sunderland, this time at Highbury, which Arsenal won 3-2 having been 1-2 down at half time.  There were 42,000 in the ground, which if we take the Ollier figure for the first day’s attendance as accurate, (40,000, as opposed to Davis’ 60,000),  was the largest attendance so far at the stadium.

Bert White had the honour of scoring the first Arsenal hat trick at Highbury in the first division, to add to his two against Liverpool and the scoring of the only goal in the away game against Sunderland.  Six goals in six looked like Arsenal had a real centre forward to relish.

However Bert White is one of those players about whom we don’t know too much, which is a great shame. Bert played for Brentford as an amateur before the war, and then served with the Royal Fusiliers.  And we know he was 27 at the time of these games in 1919.

So, Arsenal were still only 12th in the league, but also they were only two points behind Middlesbrough in third, with a game in hand.  It was not a bad start at all.

On 22 September Arsenal played in the first round of the London FA County Cup, a knock out competition for London clubs, which I believe Arsenal had first entered in 1908.  Although there were a few first teamers in the defence, this was pretty much the Arsenal reserve team, that played against amateur side Dulwich Hamlet.

This was to be quite a season for Dulwich, as they won the Isthmian League for the first time and also won the highly regarded Amateur Cup.  On this occasion however they lost 2-0, with just 2000 inside Highbury.

On 23 September Sir Henry appeared at Marlborough Street magistrate’s court as a character witness in a criminal case in which the Fulham Councillor, Mr James Littleboy, who was the Mayor of Fulham before Sir Henry Norris, “was accused of wilfully interfering with and annoying persons in Hyde Park.”   Two police officers saw the man and took him into custody, and in effect he was charged with propositioning the women in the evening.

The eminent defendant is reported to have then said in court that he denied the charges, had not spoken to any women, but that he suffered from noises in the head.

The main defence of the defendant came from a raft of eminent men in public life who all said that they could never believe such a man could behave in an immoral way.  Those supporting the accused included Lord Downham, Sir H. Wood MP, Sir C Cobb MP, the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, and various other dignitaries including of course Lt Col Sir Henry Norris.

However the magistrate said that he could not believe that the constables who seemed to give their evidence fairly, had invented  the charge.  The defendant was fined £5, but his public humiliation would have cost him far more than that.  I find it rather reassuring that just because the accused could call on a bunch of knights of the realm, the magistrate would not be influenced, given the paucity of defence that the man had.

But sadly (for my desire to see the upper class get the same treatment in court as their social inferiors) it didn’t end there.  For the Daily Mail reported on 13 October  1919 that

‘At the London Sessions today, the conviction of Mr James Matthew Littleboy, a former mayor of Fulham, for annoying persons in Hyde Park, was quashed. 

Two constables testified that on the evening of September 15th Littleboy tried to speak to two ladies. When arrested he denied having done so and said he suffered from noises in the head. Defendant stated on oath that he did not speak to any woman in the park. He was 73 years of age.

Counsel for appellant declared there had been a grave miscarriage of justice. Mr Littleboy was an insurance manager, and had recently lost his wife. He went to the Park for a little fresh air. 

Lord Downham, Sir Kingsley Wood , and a number of other gentleman testified two Mr Littleboy’s high character. 

The Bench, in quashing the conviction and a  fine of £5, said their were satisfied an mistake had been made, but it was an honest mistake on the constable’s part’.

(I am grateful to Dr Drew Gray, Head of History at the University of Northampton for his help in locating the reports of these cases).

Meanwhile relations between the National Union of Railwaymen and the government were breaking down following the government’s announcement of plans to  reduce rates of pay which had been negotiated by ASLEF and the National Union during the First World War. 

The strike began at midnight on 26/27 September and in response to this there were attempts to form a “Citizens Army” organised through Town Halls around the country, but the nation it seemed, now had no stomach for armies after the most devastating four years of war in the history of mankind.  Very few volunteered.

Arsenal were however immediately affected by the strike with the Football League insisting that all fixtures be completed irrespective of transport difficulties – Arsenal were away at Blackburn, whereas of course most League teams were playing other clubs much closer by.  The team travelled by coach (normally they would have gone by train, and apparently the journey back took 15 hours).

On the same day – 27 September – the last British troops left Archangel in Russia, leaving the Russians to sort out their own affairs.  The final leftovers of the war were being wrapped up.

According to Sally Davis by the time of the Blackburn match Arsenal had six men injured from the first team squad, but the stats I have don’t back that up. For the Blackburn away game only Voysey and Rutherford were missing from the team that played the first game of the season on 30 August.  Seven members of the team were ever present through these first seven games, while Rutherford and Burgess each missed just one of the seven league matches so far played. Bradshaw and Voysey had missed two games – it was in fact a fairly stable squad.

Voysey after his first five games of the season did not play again this season, and I suspect his issue was more one of being dropped, rather than being injured.

For the Blackburn away game that ended September’s league matches, White got another goal to make it seven goals in seven games, although the most extraordinary element of the game was the fact that only 5,000 turned up.  Blackburn’s average attendance was 18,110, so one presumes the rail strike took its toll with local people not being able to get to the ground.

However the football was not completely done and dusted as on 29 September, Arsenal played Tottenham in a friendly – Tottenham won, 1-0 with 10,000 in the ground.

I am not sure why this game was arranged, whether it was as a way of Tottenham saying “thank you” to Arsenal for the loan of Highbury during the war or simply as a way of bringing in more money, but either way Arsenal again played their first team, with the exception of Butler coming in for Buckley.  As a result this was the first senior game for John (“Jack”) Butler.  

Butler had played for Fulham Thursday (known in some reports as Fulham Thursdays), Dartford and Fulham although different sources disagree on the order in which he played for those clubs.  He signed for Arsenal as a reserve in 1914, and served in France in the Royal Artillery in the war.  He finally made his first team début on 15 November 1919 in a 2-2 away draw with Bolton.

It is said in some quarters that he was a centre half who rivalled Chris Buckley and Alex Graham for a place in the team from the start.  But the records show Butler often played in the same team as Buckley, playing right half or inside right, as well as centre half  on occasion.   Alex Graham also played right half and inside right, and again many games that season saw Butler and Graham both on the pitch.

In all he played 21 league games in his first active season of 1919-20 and scored one goal. He was a member of Knighton’s squad all through his reign and he was one of the manager’s more successful promotions from the reserves.   Herbert Chapman clearly liked what he saw, amd in Chapman’s first season he managed 41 starts.

In fact Jack Butler who appeared for the first time in this Tottenham friendly had the honour of being the first centre half to be the focus of the Chapman/Buchan WM formation that revolutionised Arsenal’s play under the new offside rule.   Arsenal came second that season, giving Butler two runners’ up medals (one for the FA Cup defeat to Cardiff in 1927, and one for 1925/6 in the league).

He continued for several more years as the preeminent centre half in the club, but after just two games in 1929/30 he was sold. Arsenal by then had a new centre half in Herbie Roberts.

Butler had played 267 times for the club and scored seven goals.  Including cup games that made 296 games and 8 goals.

Back with the politics of the day, on 30 September Sir Henry chaired a meeting of London Borough of Fulham to elect the members of its Profiteering Committee following the passing of the Profiteering Act in Parliament. This act, which lasted 18 months, authorised the Board of Trade to consider cases of ‘unreasonable profit’ and allowed the setting up of local committees to find and report cases of profiteering.

At the end of the meeting Sir Henry Norris moved a resolution of support for the Government against the strike on the railways – which he was pretty much duty bound to since he had campaigned on reducing the rail fares in half to help people search for work in post-war Britain.

Here’s the list of Arsenal games for the season thus far.

Date Opposition H/A Comp. Res Score Crowd
30/08/1919 Newcastle United H FL L 0-1 40,000
01/09/1919 Liverpool A FL W 3-2 15,000
06/09/1919 Newcastle United A FL L 1-3 45,000
08/09/1919 Liverpool H FL W 1-0 20,000
13/09/1919 Sunderland A FL D 1-1 30,000
20/09/1919 Sunderland H FL W 3-2 42,000
22/09/1919 Dulwich Hamlet H LFACC W 2-0 2,000
27/09/1919 Blackburn Rovers A FL D 2-2 5,000
29/09/1919 Tottenham Hotspur H Fr L 0-1 10,000

So Arsenal had completed their first seven games in the first division at Highbury and were now sitting 11th in the table, with three wins, two draws and two defeats.   Better still their league games had produced an average attendance of over 34,000 – which was quite remarkable.  Only Chelsea and Newcastle were getting bigger crowds.

Here’s the league table at the end of September 1919.

Pos Team Pld W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 West Bromwich Albion 7 6 0 1 22 9 2.444 12
2 Burnley 8 5 2 1 13 9 1.444 12
3 Middlesbrough 8 4 2 2 12 11 1.091 10
4 Bradford Park Avenue 7 4 1 2 14 8 1.750 9
5 Manchester United 7 3 3 1 13 8 1.625 9
6 Bolton Wanderers 8 4 1 3 18 12 1.500 9
7 Derby County 8 3 3 2 11 8 1.375 9
8 Liverpool 7 4 1 2 11 8 1.375 9
9 Newcastle United 8 3 3 2 8 7 1.143 9
10 Everton 7 4 0 3 15 14 1.071 8
11 Arsenal 7 3 2 2 11 11 1.000 8
12 Sheffield United 6 3 1 2 15 8 1.875 7
13 Sunderland 7 3 1 3 13 12 1.083 7
14 Manchester City 7 3 1 3 17 19 0.895 7
15 Bradford City 8 2 2 4 14 17 0.824 6
16 Blackburn Rovers 7 1 3 3 11 12 0.917 5
17 Chelsea 7 2 1 4 7 10 0.700 5
18 Notts County 6 2 1 3 7 10 0.700 5
19 Preston North End 7 1 2 4 8 20 0.400 4
20 Sheffield Wednesday 7 1 2 4 4 11 0.364 4
21 Oldham Athletic 7 1 1 5 8 16 0.500 3
22 Aston Villa 7 0 1 6 5 17 0.294 1

Meanwhile, along the road Tottenham were starting to talk about having an unbeaten season, and were sitting pretty at the top of the second division.

Pos Team Pld W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 Tottenham Hotspur 7 7 0 0 28 4 7.000 14
2 Birmingham City 7 5 1 1 19 6 3.167 11
3 Bristol City 6 4 2 0 10 1 10.000 10
4 Stoke 7 5 0 2 12 9 1.333 10

Football, as  they say, was back.


An index to our detailed review of how Arsenal got promotion in 1919, including articles from the publications of the era, is given here.

Here are the details of all the articles to date in this series.

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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