February 1920: the press discuss Arsenal (and gets it totally wrong.)

by Tony Attwood

In our last episode we left Arsenal happily settled in mid-table, and Sir Henry Norris seemingly quiet on all fronts.  Now we can see what he had been up to: having extracted himself from his numerous wartime duties with the War Office and chairing the committee on demobilisation, and having removed himself from Fulham Council, he had been returning to the world of property development.

We have seen previously that in the area of property development Sir Henry ceased his work in Fulham during the first world war and went through several years without being engaged in this type of work at all.

However by February 1920 he had resumed his interest in this field – and was by this time chairman of  Kinnaird Park Estate Company although Sally Davis (who has done some extraordinary digging into the history of the company) cannot confirm exactly when Sir Henry joined the company, or how he came to be its chairman rather than just a director.  She has however found indirect connections between Sir Henry and the company going back at least to 1913 – although I don’t think he was actively leading the company at that time.  Rather I suspect he may have agreed to lead the company once the war was over.

Indeed it appears that Kinnaird Park had not been doing much since it became clear that the war was not going to be “over by Christmas” as the saying went in 1914, but in 1920 Bromley UDC passed a plan for 16 Kinnaird Park houses in Bird-in-Hand Lane, Bickley.  Sir Henry was back in the property business.

Its business activity was in buying plots of land and then seeking planning permission and developing them.   But there is also another interesting connection between the company and Sir Henry beyond it being involved in his central business concern of property development.  For the founder of the company the 11th Lord Kinnaird, was very much a football man.  Sir Henry and his lordship must have thought of each other as obvious and natural partners.

Lord Kinnaird played in the FA Cup final in 1873, and went on to play in an amazing total of nine Cup Finals, more than any other man in the history of football.  He won the cup with Wanderers three times and twice with Old Etonians, playing in the cup in every possible position, including goal keeper.

He is also noted as scoring the first own goal in a major match, although for many years the records apparently did not show the fact.  On a happier note he also played for Scotland against England in 1873.

Reports credit him with being a tough tackler, not to mention occasional leg breaker, with a habit of “hacking” (a gentleman’s term for deliberately kicking the opponent).

Nicholas Lane Jackson, founder of the Corinthians Football Club and also a committee member of the FA wrote that, “The keen rivalry which at one time existed between the Old Etonians and Old Harrovians lent an additional zest to the matches between them, and in one of these Lord Kinnaird’s energy was expended as much on the shins of his opponents as on the ball. This at length caused a protest from the captain of the Harrovians, who asked, ‘Are we going to play the game, or are we going to have hacking?’ ‘Oh, let us have hacking!’ was the noble reply.”

The match in question was described by The Graphic (a 19th century newspaper) as ‘a friendly, but most vicious game of football’ in which two players were badly injured and unable to play for England in the very first official international two weeks later.

J.A.H. Catton, writing in Athletic News, described Lord Kinnaird as being of “yeoman build and shaggy auburn beard.  He did not quite look the part of a Scottish laird, until one spoke to him, and heard his rich, resonant voice and his short ejaculatory sentences. Of course, he had the voice and manner of an educated man of distinction.
“He was a leader, and above all things, a muscular type of Christian… As a player, in any position, an examplar of manly robust football. He popularised the game by his activity as a footballer among every class. He was at much at home with the boys of the Polytechnic, London, as he was with the Old Etonians.
“There was a time when the white ducks of Kinnaird, for he always wore trousers in a match, and his blue and white quartered cap were as familiar on the field as the giant figure of W.G. Grace with his yellow and red cricket cap… Lord Kinnaird used to say that he played four or five matches a week and never grew tired, but he added, late in life, that he would never have been allowed to stay on the field five minutes in these latter days. Nevertheless, he was fair, above board, and was prepared to receive all the knocks that came his way without a trace of resentment.”

But what seems to have drawn Lord Kinnaird and Sir Henry together was that they were not both football men and also property developers but also both administrators of renown, in an era when being good at administration was something that was admired rather than being something to be decried with the use of phrases such as “pen pushers” and “bureaucrats”.

Kinnaird became a member of the FA committee at the age of 21, in 1868. He was made treasurer nine years later and president 13 years after that, in 1890.  He remained president for 33 years until his death in 1923, just prior to the opening of Wembley Stadium.

As for his engagement in property development this was something that became very common for the nobility who were now starting to pay tax on their wealth in a way that their ancestors had never had to do in the past.

Thus around 1900 the company had started creating whole new streets on the land that it was developing including one called Kinnaird Avenue with the houses being developed across a 20 year period.  It then moved on to developing property on land other than that owned by the ennobled family.

Thus Sir Henry had a new business, and a new contact who shared his passion for football.   And meanwhile of course the football continued.  Arsenal’s misadventures in January had allowed them to slip down the league, and at at the start of February they found themselves in 12th

Pos Team P W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 West Bromwich Albion 25 19 0 6 74 33 2.242 38
2 Burnley 27 13 7 7 40 39 1.026 33
3 Sunderland 26 15 2 9 48 36 1.333 32
4 Bolton Wanderers 27 11 8 8 47 40 1.175 30
5 Chelsea 26 13 3 10 37 31 1.194 29
6 Newcastle United 26 12 5 9 31 26 1.192 29
7 Manchester City 26 11 6 9 53 46 1.152 28
8 Liverpool 26 11 5 10 36 32 1.125 27
9 Aston Villa 25 12 3 10 45 41 1.098 27
10 Everton 25 9 7 9 47 40 1.175 25
11 Bradford Park Avenue 24 9 7 8 40 36 1.111 25
12 Arsenal 25 8 9 8 38 40 0.950 25

On 7 February Arsenal were home to Oldham Athletic who were currently 21st in the league (one from bottom) although they had two games in hand.  And encouragingly for this game their problems were away from home where they had won just one game all season scoring just six – at their own ground they had won seven, drawn one and lost just four.  Arsenal would have to play Oldham away later in the month, but for now the focus was on Highbury.

Arsenal won 3-2 – not as big a margin had perhaps had been hoped for, but it was a win.  This was also the first game for Joe North who scored.  He had been with the tank corps in the war, and was awarded the Military Medal, and had registered with, but not played for, Sheffield United.

However he was always seen as a reserve for Henry White and Fred Pagnam and he played this game because White played inside forward while Pagnam was missing, presumably injured.   Graham and Blyth got the other goals, Arsenal moved up to 11th.

On 11 February Arsenal had the return game with Aston Villa, having lost 0-1 at home.  And the result was just as disappointing away – Arsenal lost again 1-2.  White got a penalty for Arsenal as they slipped down to 12th.  On the same day in a sign of the rebuilding of Europe in the aftermath of the war, the Council of the League of Nations met for the first time in London.

The following day Parliament held its ballot for the right to present a private members bill and Sir Henry was one of the MPs who gained the right to present such a bill – Sir Henry presented the Ready Money Football Betting Bill which he presented on behalf of the Football Association and the associations of Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

The purpose of the bill was to make it illegal to distribute leaflets which advertised football betting schemes.

The Gaming Act of 1845 and the Betting Act of 1853 prohibited most commercial gambling except on-course betting which was the preserve of the upper classes who successfully had lobbied their fellows in Parliament to protect this activity.

The 1906 Street Betting Act further criminalized gambling in public, but was not particularly effective although the numbers of arrests for illegal bookmaking did increase as a result of the act.   Then, just as the war resulted in changes in the way the sale of alcohol was restricted, so gambling was further regulated, but there was wholesale disregard of the existing legislation and gambling remained rife, and in effect unregulated.

Indeed gambling on football matches had been the centre of the match fixing that Liverpool FC was involved in prior to the first world war, and the notorious match that Henry Norris commented on as being fixed (which had got him into so much trouble with the League) was one that he alleged was fixed not for the benefit of the clubs, but for the benefit of those seeking to beat the bookmakers.

What was needed at this time was a liberalisation of the law, but the government just a year after the end of a total focus on the military was not in any mood to consider giving in to what it saw as wholesale illegality.

However if only the bill given to Sir Henry to promote in Parliament had looked at matters in a slightly different way, it could have stood a chance, for just three years later in 1923 Littlewoods Football Pools was founded taking up the ideas within the FA’s bill, and adding one extra twist.  They proposed a way of getting around the law, and the first pools coupons (which punters filled in, normally seeking to predict the results with a “1” for a home win, a “2” for an away win and “x” for a draw), came into being.   Indeed the first football pools coupons were distributed to fans outside Old Trafford in 1923.  

“The Pools” as they became known, got around the law by claiming that they were games of skill (ie you had to know about the relative merits of each team in order to predict the results) as opposed to games of chance (such as throwing dice or playing cards).   What the law made illegal were games of chance.

Indeed as we have noted elsewhere, on 2 January 1903 Harry Bradshaw, was charged with “keeping the Manor Ground for the exercise of a lottery” and found guilty and fined after Arsenal’s archery tournament was found to be a lottery, not a competition of skill.  The fine was £5, but the tournament raised £1200 – almost a quarter of the annual income of the club.

That ruling was probably the one that Littlewoods Pools seized upon and obviously over time gambling did become fully legalised and indeed eventually led to institutions such as the online casino.

But to return to Sir Henry’s sponsored bill… eight MPs gave the bill their support but very notably one football man who was an MP who did not support the bill was Sir Samuel Hill-Wood.

Hill-Wood was an MP of long standing – having entered Parliament in 1910, and he served with the Cheshire Regiment being promoted to the rank of Major.  Given that his knighthood was not granted in 1921 Sir Henry at this time outranked him both in military matters and with his civil award.

In 1929, Hill-Wood took over as chair of Arsenal, and although he took a break in 1936 he returned in 1945 and remained there until his death in 1949, passing his position as chairman onto his family, who ruled the club from then on into the 21st century.

Quite why Sir Samuel did not support the bill I have no idea – maybe he simply had no interest in the matter, although he had been a football man before the war, running Glossop North End who became a 2nd division club.  However Glossop could never gather big enough crowds to survive and the club went out of business at the end of the 1914-15 season after coming bottom of the league.

But maybe he had taken a dislike to Sir Henry.   Arsenal had played Glossop four times prior to the war, and Arsenal had won all four games.

Moving on, 14 February saw the return game against Oldham, and Oldham showed they were a different kettle of fish at home, winning 3-0 in front of 14,000.  However results elsewhere meant Arsenal stayed in 11th.

But Arsenal had lost four and won just one game in the last five and were in need of a change of fortune, and they had the chance with a home game against Manchester United who were in 19th place, on February 21.  However Manchester United’s problems were the reverse of Oldham’s – they could not win at home but they could win away, and so it proved as Arsenal lost 3-0 for the second game in succession in front of 25,000.  Arsenal had scored just four and conceded 11 in the last five games and were now 14th, level on points with Manchester United and Everton.

However this analysis is, I think, overly simplistic.  Arsenal had scored 42 goals thus far in the season, which was very much a mid-table position.  Of course the club wanted to be higher up the league, but for a first season back in the top division, that was not too bad.   The core problem was with defence where, having conceded 50 goals thus far Arsenal were the fourth worst team in the league.

And not only had Arsenal lost their highly reliable full back, they had also lost their first choice goalkeeper after the 3 January match.  In the following six games since then Arsenal had won one and lost five.

In terms of the full back situation, from 7 February onwards Arsenal were without Joe Shaw, the highly experienced right back, who was replaced by Frank Cownley.  Cownley joined in 1919 after serving his country in the Royal Field Artillery.  However he was never a first choice player, playing 64 for the London Combination reserve team, plus 19 Arsenal friendlies but only made the first team 15 times.

And yet despite all the facts and figures showing that Arsenal had a defence problem, the following Monday 23 February Arthur Bourke, writing in the Islington Daily Gazette voiced the growing criticism of the team’s recent performances, suggesting that with the large crowds the club had they could afford to buy better players, particularly levelling criticism at … the forward line!  It was, it seems, ever thus.

On 23 February Winston Churchill as War Secretary, signed off the work of Sir Henry as chairman of the committee overseeing the return of conscripts to civilian life, as he announced that Great Britain now once again had a professional army, and would maintain this at 222,000 men – which is also why Sir Henry was no longer shown on the Army List, as we noted previously.

Back on the pitch, Joe Shaw returned for the last match of the month, the return game with Manchester United on 28 February.  Rutherford scored to make it 1-0 in front of 30,000 at Old Trafford.  Not a high scoring game, but enough to take Arsenal up to 13th.

The Times described Arsenal’s approach as including “a few bold experiments” including playing defender Bradshaw as a centre-forward and putting a completely untried pairing on the left wing.  Of course their man was there and so we must note what he said, but we might also remember that it was the Times who in the 1914/15 season sent their man to report on an Arsenal game who noted the exceptionally poor crowd, while seemingly failing to realise he was watching a reserve match.

The team for the second Manchester United game however was certainly unusual as this positional list shows.

Goal: Dunne – the reserve keeper playing his 8th game of the season

Right back: Shaw – highly reliable, returning after missing four games through injury

Left back: Hutchins – the reserve left back playing his 5th game of the season – but notably he now made the position his own, and kept it for the rest of the season becoming the first choice thereafter.

Right half: Butler- the reserve right half who could also play centre half.

Centre half: Buckley – making his 20th appearance at centre half

Left half: McKinnon – the long term first choice left half.

Outside right: Rutherford – the first choice outside right, one of Arsenal’s outstanding players of the era.

Inside right: Bradshaw – this was the odd one, the left back playing inside right.

Centre forward: Pagnam – the back up centre forward, White once again being injured.

Inside left: Graham – the right half playing inside left

Outside left: Blyth – with Toner injured and Lewis dropped the inside left was moved to outside left, a position he stayed in through the rest of the season, and into next season, until he moved back to inside left.

So yes, there were changes, but wholesale experiments?  Well, that’s not how it reads to me.  These newspaper reporters – they’ll write anything!!!

Here’s the table.

Pos Team Pld W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 West Bromwich Albion 30 21 1 8 80 38 2.105 43
2 Burnley 32 17 7 8 49 42 1.167 41
3 Liverpool 31 15 5 11 46 33 1.394 35
4 Chelsea 30 16 3 11 44 36 1.222 35
5 Sunderland 29 16 2 11 52 41 1.268 34
6 Bolton Wanderers 32 13 8 11 52 49 1.061 34
7 Newcastle United 31 14 5 12 37 29 1.276 33
8 Manchester City 30 13 7 10 59 50 1.180 33
9 Aston Villa 29 14 5 10 53 46 1.152 33
10 Bradford Park Avenue 29 12 8 9 50 39 1.282 32
11 Sheffield United 31 13 6 12 49 49 1.000 32
12 Middlesbrough 31 11 7 13 43 49 0.878 29
13 Arsenal 30 10 9 11 43 50 0.860 29

Arsenal were not doing as well as their fans of the day would have liked, but they were still nine points ahead of the first of the two relegation teams in their first season back.

Here are the results for the month.

Game Date Opposition H/A Res Score Crowd Pos
26 07/02/1920 Oldham Athletic H W 3-2 32,000 11
27 11/02/1920 Aston Villa A L 1-2 20,000 12
28 14/02/1920 Oldham Athletic A L 0-3 14,000 14
29 21/02/1920 Manchester United H L 0-3 25,000 15
30 28/02/1920 Manchester United A W 1-0 30,000 13

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.

Section 11: 1920 – the second half of the first post-war season


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