1919: The first Christmas for the new expanded league

by Tony Attwood

December 1919 started with the first woman ever taking her seat in the House of Commons.  She was not the first to be elected – that honour fell to an Irish Republican who upon winning the election refused to take her seat, but on 28 November Nancy Astor won a by-election to succeed her husband in Plymouth.

As for the football on 6 December 1919: 50,000 came to Highbury – another record for the ground – to see the 1-1 draw with Chelsea.  It was also the day on which the programme referred to the club on its title page for the first time simply as “Arsenal,” rather than “The Arsenal” although as we have noted the club did not formally change its name as recorded in the Companies House register.

The Islington Daily Gazette noted in its coverage of the game that the club were continuing to offer free seats to men wounded in World War 1, and that this was costing the club over £100 per match.  This of course was a time when the club – and indeed Sir Henry Norris – were struggling to recover the debts of the club, which had had no income during the war, and had entered the war years with the costs of the move from Plumstead still to be paid.

It is of course possible to put this down as a publicity stunt, but in fact this was more of a case of Arsenal letting it be known that the facility was there rather than boasting about it in the press.  Sir Henry had spoken regularly on the need to support injured soldiers returning from the conflict, rather than having them beg on the streets and he was doing his bit.

Arsenal entered this game against Chelsea after four draws and a win in the previous month – results which in 1919 were not as bad as they might appear today, since although the draw only gained one point, the win got two, not three, and so it was harder for clubs to pull right away from the pack.

In the league the two clubs were in the top half, separated by three places but just one point.  A win for Arsenal would have seen them rise up a couple of places in the table, but this was another draw at 1-1.

Pos Team Pld W D L F A GAv Pts
1 Burnley 17 10 3 4 28 24 1.167 23
2 West Bromwich Albion 16 11 0 5 45 23 1.957 22
3 Newcastle United 16 9 3 4 23 14 1.643 21
4 Sunderland 16 9 2 5 30 21 1.429 20
5 Manchester United 15 6 6 3 27 17 1.588 18
6 Chelsea 16 8 2 6 24 17 1.412 18
7 Manchester City 16 7 4 5 40 33 1.212 18
8 Everton 16 7 3 6 36 31 1.161 17
9 Arsenal 16 5 7 4 26 25 1.040 17

This was also considered not too bad a result since Arsenal were one of the worst performing home teams thus far, and a point at home was very acceptable.

The goal was scored by Harry White, who had started the season at centre forward scoring nine goals in the first nine games, but who had moved to inside right to make way for Fred Pagnam who had scored five in the last four.

The following Monday the Norris v Cook libel case that arose from the run up to the general election in December 1918 took place.  I have no idea why it took so long to get to court, and why it actually went to court at all, given the fact that in court the defendant immediately admitted his guilt and set about agreeing a settlement.  £100 was agreed upon and Sir Henry announced it was given to charity.

By a curious coincidence the announcement of Sir Henry’s elevation to be a Deputy Lieutenant of the County of London (as noted in the previous month’s coverage) was officially made on the same day.

Then, as per the practice throughout the whole season, the following Saturday, 13 December, the reverse fixture was played at Stamford Bridge and here an even bigger crowd turned up – 60,000, although this in itself was not particularly surprising given that Chelsea had been the best attended club in the league in recent times.

In fact in the three seasons from 1911/12 to 1913/14 Chelsea had the best average crowd figures in the League ranging from just over 26,000 to just over 37,000.  Obviously there was a decline in the 1914/15 season played during the first year of the war when they came bottom of the league (their average dropped back to 20,205 and they were overtaken by Manchester City, who were less affected by the war during the period before conscription).

But Chelsea, having escape relegation after the League enquiries into match fixing and expansion in 1919, now saw their average attendance rise to 42,615 against a league average of 24,036.  (In the season overall Newcastle were the second best supported club with an average of 38,390, and Arsenal third with 34,485.)

However now Arsenal’s run of draws with the occasional win finally came to an end and they lost 3-1, with White once again getting the goal.  White however was injured in the match (which certainly affected the result) and missed the next three games, his place being taken by Groves.  The Times reported the game to be the “best display of football…in London this season.”

The following Monday, 15 December, the hated rationing of meat ended, although it appears many butchers did not have enough supplies to meet demand on that day.

Next up, on 20 December Arsenal were at home to Sheffield Wednesday a team that had thus far won one, drawn one and lost seven of their away games scoring just eight games in the process.   They were in fact bottom of the league, two points adrift of Oldham who were in 21st place.

Also on this day it was revealed in the media that Sir Henry Norris’ friend George Peachey was to be made a director of the club.  He was a long term friend of Sir Henry, and, Sally Davis reports, very competent with handling finances (although himself not a qualified accountant) and so exactly the sort of person the club needed.

In the game against Sheffield Wednesday, Hardinge, Pagnam and Butler (playing right half) scored.  The reports of the match mention a large number of off-side decisions, and indeed this was something that began to be mentioned more and more: clubs further down the league were trying to make up for a lack of talented goalscorers by playing a very negative offside trap.   It was indeed performances like this that led to the change in the offside rule in 1925, which Chapman and his team utilised with the WM system and counter-attacking approach played both at home and away and this perhaps might be a moment to look at the evolution of the off side rules.

And because of the importance of this change, and indeed Arsenal’s engagement with the rule in the yeas to come, I’d like to pause for a moment in our review of Arsenal and add a little background here.

The original “Laws of the Game” in 1866, evolved the notion of “at least three” players from the defence being between the attacker and the goal.  This was generally the keeper and two defenders (remembering at the time that the keeper was allowed to handle the ball anywhere in his half).

The role of the goalkeeper had changed but the three player rule continued, and particularly from 1919 onwards this was the tactic used by less talented teams to stop the more attack minded teams – and to do so in a way that tended to reduce the excitement of the matches.

In the season we are following, 1919/1920, the number of goals per match in the first division was 2.88.  In fact this number had been declining year on year since 1905/06 when it was 3.26 per game, while in the last decade of the 19th century it was regularly over four goals a game.

It wasn’t so much that the authorities now threw up their hands in horror but rather that at this point it became clear that teams were starting to become more adept at working out how to use rules intended for one purpose, for a completely different use – and the authorities were not sure what to do.

The decline continued until by 1924/25 the goals per game was down to 2.58 and still falling, and at the end of the season the rule was changed.  We have already looked in detail at the build up to this change in another article and to quote the key point:

“The Scottish FA tried to change the offside law in 1923; but the International Board that was in charge of the laws of the game voted against this. The International Board comprised one representative from each of the English FA, the Scottish FA, the Welsh FA, the Irish FA and one member representing the whole of FIFA. This still stands today [although the voting balance has changed].

“During the 1924-25 season the International Board decided to experiment with the offside law and chose Arsenal v Huddersfield Town on 14 February 1925 as one of two games for the experiment. For these two games, an attacking player would only need two opponents between himself and the goal to ensure he was onside. Chapman took full advantage of the rule change as his Huddersfield side took a quick 3 goal lead and easily won the game 5-0. The other game finished Bury 4 West Ham 2.

“The experiment was deemed a success and during the summer of 1925 the laws were changed permanently. The results were immediate with a whopping 43% increase in goals in the first division to 3.69 goals per game.”

I should also add that it was not until 1990 that the law was amended again, this time to adjudge an attacker as onside if level with the second-to-last opponent, with a further change in 2005 that clarified that a player is offside only if a part of his body with which he is legally able to play the ball is beyond the penultimate defender and that, “Interfering with play means playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a team-mate.”

That brings us up to date with the major changes, but for now, in 1919, crowds were faced with certain clubs trying to play an offside game that had never been envisaged when the rules were introduced, and its sole purpose was to nullify the attacking spirit of the game.

Meanwhile away from football, on 23 December the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act removed all legal restrictions on women entering the secular professions.   This didn’t mean that it was illegal to discriminate on grounds of sex when an employer was offering a job, but it meant that the remaining restrictions in law from women doing certain jobs were removed.

It was in part a direct result of the involvement of women in wartime activities and is interesting here because Sir Henry Norris was an early advocate of the equality of women in employment.  One week after the passing of the law Lincoln’s Inn admitted its first female bar student.

Arsenal now approached one of the two busiest times of the season, with three games on consecutive days.

Christmas Eve saw Arsenal sitting 8th in the league, behind Man U and Bolton in 6th and 7th only on goal difference and with a game in hand over Bolton.  Looking back from a position nearly 100 years on, I suspect everyone in Arsenal’s hierarchy would have been happy with this – they had returned to the top league and were securing their place there.

Pos Team Pld W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 West Bromwich Albion 19 14 0 5 54 25 2.160 28
2 Burnley 20 12 3 5 31 26 1.192 27
3 Sunderland 19 12 2 5 36 23 1.565 26
4 Newcastle United 20 10 4 6 27 19 1.421 24
5 Chelsea 19 9 3 7 29 22 1.318 21
6 Manchester United 18 7 6 5 30 22 1.364 20
7 Bolton Wanderers 20 7 6 7 35 32 1.094 20
8 Arsenal 19 6 8 5 31 30 1.033 20

On Christmas Day the game was against Derby County away from home.  Derby were 19th in the league, but at home they had won four, drawn four and lost two and thus a 2-1 defeat of Arsenal was not seen as a particularly surprising result.  Pagnum scored Arsenal’s goal from the penalty spot.  Toner was missing and Baker was tried again at outside left.

Boxing Day saw the return match, which Arsenal won 1-0 in front of 25,000.  Now Butler was also missing, Lewis came in at outside left for his first game of the season and Groves now playing at inside right (his fourth position of the season) got the goal.

The third game was again away, this time to Sheffield Wednesday, now one point off the bottom of the table but only by virtue of having played two more games than Oldham who sat at the foot of the table.

Arsenal’s away form continued to benefit the club and they won 2-1 with goals from Hardinge and White – White returning to the position of centre forward which he had occupied for the first ten games of the season.

After this match Arsenal returned to London for their their Club Christmas dinner.  Sally Davis reports that this was in part celebrating six points out of six in three days, but I think this is wrong – the Christmas Day game was a defeat but celebrations were still in order.

Here is the full table for the end of the year

Pos Team Pld W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 West Bromwich Albion 21 16 0 5 61 25 2.440 32
2 Burnley 23 13 5 5 37 30 1.233 31
3 Newcastle United 22 11 5 6 29 20 1.450 27
4 Sunderland 22 12 2 8 38 31 1.226 26
5 Chelsea 22 11 3 8 33 27 1.222 25
6 Bolton Wanderers 23 9 7 7 42 35 1.200 25
7 Arsenal 22 8 8 6 35 33 1.061 24
8 Aston Villa 21 11 1 9 42 37 1.135 23
9 Bradford Park Avenue 22 9 5 8 37 33 1.121 23
10 Everton 22 8 6 8 42 38 1.105 22
11 Liverpool 22 9 4 9 29 29 1.000 22
12 Notts County 21 8 6 7 41 43 0.953 22
13 Manchester United 20 7 7 6 31 24 1.292 21
14 Manchester City 22 8 5 9 45 43 1.047 21
15 Sheffield United 23 8 5 10 37 38 0.974 21
16 Middlesbrough 22 7 6 9 29 37 0.784 20
17 Derby County 23 6 7 10 22 35 0.629 19
18 Bradford City 23 6 6 11 37 46 0.804 18
19 Blackburn Rovers 22 6 6 10 29 44 0.659 18
20 Preston North End 22 6 5 11 31 50 0.620 17
21 Sheffield Wednesday 22 4 5 13 17 35 0.486 13
22 Oldham Athletic 20 5 2 13 23 34 0.676 12

Seventh I think was very encouraging considering the club was above Everton, Manchester United and Blackburn all of whom had won the League in the years immediately before the war.

As usual, on the last day of the month the Army List was published, showing the officers serving with the armed forces, and Sir Henry Norris was still listed as a Lt Colonel meaning that as Chairman of the Ministry of Labour’s Advisory Committee on demobilisation he had not yet demobilised himself.

But the work of that Committee, one year on from the end of the war, was now almost done with only the colonels, generals and field marshals left to consider, and in fact within the next month Sir Henry in effect demobilised himself, for his name does not appear in the January 1920 list.  Those who were left remained with the military as the professional army of the Empire.

All those who were demobilised were not only entitled to, but indeed encouraged to keep and proclaim their rank, both as a sign of their service to their country and through that as a reminder to the nation of the service so many had given.   Sir Henry, as chairman of Arsenal, continued to be referred to as Lt Colonel Sir Henry Norris in the list of directors published in the club programme.

As for Arsenal, having had four draws and a win in the last five prior to the start of the month, had three wins, one draw and two defeats through December: seven points out of a possible 12.

Game Date Opposition Venue Res Score Crowd Pos
17 06/12/1919 Chelsea   H D 1-1 50,000 10
18 13/12/1919 Chelsea   A L 1-3 60,000 12
19 20/12/1919 Sheffield Wednesday   H W 3-1 30,000 8
20 25/12/1919 Derby County   A L 1-2 14,000 12
21 26/12/1919 Derby County   H W 1-0 25,000 9
22 27/12/1919 Sheffield Wednesday   A W 2-1 23,000 7

Meanwhile Tottenham were still at the top of the second division, six points above Huddersfield in second place having won 18 drawn 2 and lost 2.

Henry Norris at the Arsenal

For the files that deal with the election of Arsenal in 1919 in more depth than provided anywhere else, please see the top of the article at Henry Norris at the Arsenal

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, the promotion of The Arsenal.

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