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.
|2||West Bromwich Albion||16||11||0||5||45||23||1.957||22|
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.
|1||West Bromwich Albion||19||14||0||5||54||25||2.160||28|
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
|1||West Bromwich Albion||21||16||0||5||61||25||2.440||32|
|9||Bradford Park Avenue||22||9||5||8||37||33||1.121||23|
|20||Preston North End||22||6||5||11||31||50||0.620||17|
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.
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.
- Part 1. How Arsenal fell from grace.
- Part 2: heading for liquidation and the first thought of moving elsewhere
- Part 3: March and April 1910 – the crisis deepens
- Part 4: the proposed mergers with Tottenham and Chelsea.
- Part 5: The collapse of Woolwich Arsenal: how the rescue took shape.
- Part 6: It’s agreed, Arsenal stay in Plumstead for one (no two) years
- Part 7: Completing the takeover and preparing for the new season
- Part 8: July to December 1910. Bad news all round.
Section 2 – 1911
Section 3 – 1912
- 11: 1912 and Arsenal plan to move away from Plumstead
- 12: How Henry Norris chose Highbury as Arsenal’s new ground
- 13: Amid protests from the locals Arsenal’s future is secured
- 14: Arsenal relegated amidst allegations of match fixing
Section 4 – 1913
- How Henry Norris secured Highbury for Arsenal in 1913.
- Norris at the Arsenal: 1913 and the opening weeks at Highbury
- When Highbury opened, and “Victoria Concordia Crescit” was introduced
- The players who launched Arsenal’s rebirth and Arsenal’s games in October 1913.
- The rebirth of Arsenal after the move to Highbury: November 1913.
- December 1913, the alleged redcurrent shirts, and Chapman comes to Highbury for the first time
Section 5 – 1914
- Arsenal’s first ever FA Cup match at Highbury and a challenge for promotion: Jan 1914
- Arsenal February and March 1914; the wall falls down, the team slips up.
- The end of Woolwich Arsenal and of the first season at Highbury.
- Arsenal at the end of the world: May to August 1914.
- The newly named The Arsenal start their first season and go top of the League
- As the death toll mounts Arsenal keep playing: October 1914
- November 1914: The Times journalist goes to a reserve match without realising it.
- December 1914: The Footballers’ Battalion formed by Arsenal chairman and others
Section 6 – 1915
- January 1915: Arsenal players start to leave their club for their country
- Arsenal in February and March 1915: the abandonment of football is announced and the result is… curious
- April 1915: New revelations concerning perhaps the most important month in Arsenal’s history
- Norris promoted, the League loses interest but football pulls itself back together.
- Arsenal move into the London Combination in September 1915
- Arsenal in wartime: Norris’ genius for administration comes to the fore but reduces Arsenal’s playing staff.
- November / December 1915: the match fixing scandal comes to the fore: Norris is armed
Section 7: – 1916
- Arsenal in wartime: January 1916. The end of the first wartime league.
- Arsenal, February 1916: the 2nd league and a terrible tragedy on the pitch
- Arsenal: March – May 1916. The team in decline, entry to football taxed for the first time.
- Arsenal wartime league tables and player appearances: 1915/16
- Arsenal at war; Tottenham move out of WHL, Arsenal hit rock bottom. June to Sept 1916.
- Arsenal Oct 1916: a tragic death, a slow recovery
- Arsenal in wartime: November and December 1916
Section 8: 1917
- January 1917: Arsenal’s upturn continues, gang culture in London, turmoil in Russia.
- Arsenal in February 1917: Arsenal on the up, George Allison’s contribution.
- Arsenal – March 1917. Measles, price rises, women start to serve.
- Arsenal in April and May 1917. Norris goes missing, Arsenal continue winning.
- Norris at the Arsenal: Arsenal Players in the wartime league, 1916/17
- Henry Norris is knighted for setting up the Footballers’ Battalion. June 1917
- Sir Henry Norris promoted to Lt Colonel in recognition of his work in the War Office
- September 1917: Arsenal’s form definitely on the up.
- October 1917: Arsenal slip into sharp decline; Norris gains a new appointment
- Arsenal at the end of 1917. Crowds collapse, results poor, the war drags on.
Section 9: 1918 and the end of the war
- Arsenal in 1918: Chapman’s downfall, votes for women, schooling for all, Arsenal erratic
- Norris at the Arsenal: March 1918, crowds drop, rationing, the war turns
- April 1918: the third wartime league ends; Ireland rebels against conscription.
- The 1917/18 season; Arsenal’s players and the final league table
- Autumn 1918: Arsenal winning, the war grinds to an end, crowds return
- November 1918: war ends, FA / League quarrel, Henry Norris is called on (again).
- Norris at the Arsenal. 1-10 December 1918; allegations of corruption heard in court.
- Arsenal, 11 – 31 December 1918. A 9-2 victory, the chairman becomes an MP, footballers unionise.
Section 10: 1919, the reform of football, the promotion of The Arsenal.
- The first suggestion that Arsenal could be elected to the 1st division.
- Arsenal in January 1919: rioting in the streets and the question of promotion
- What the media said about the election of Arsenal to the 1st division in 1919
- Arsenal prepare for the vote on who should be promoted to the First Division
- March 1919: The vote to extend the league and what the media said
- Why did the clubs vote for Arsenal rather than Tottenham in March 1919?
- Arsenal in March 1919: the London Victory Cup and its consequences
- April 1919: the end of wartime football (at least for 20 years)
- May 1919: war football ends and the wonderful Alf Baker is signed
- Summer of 1919. Widespread rioting as Arsenal prepare for division 1.
- August 1919: Arsenal return to the First Division for the next 99 years
- Arsenal establish themselves in the Division 1 amidst scandal, profiteering and strikes.
- October 1919: Chapman banned for life, Leeds kicked out, Whittaker joins
- November 1919: Arsenal solid but in debt, Labour advances, another goalscorer, Norris honoured.