March 1920: Henry Norris threatened at Parliament, Arsenal win 2 lose 2.

By Tony Attwood

Arsenal started the month in 13th position in the league, knowing full well where their problems lay – at home.  Below is the home league table thus far.

Pos Team P W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 Sheffield United 17 12 3 2 37 17 2.176 27
2 Sunderland 14 12 1 1 33 12 2.750 25
3 West Bromwich Albion 15 12 0 3 48 17 2.824 24
4 Chelsea 15 11 1 3 25 8 3.125 23
5 Manchester City 15 10 3 2 42 23 1.826 23
6 Burnley 16 9 4 3 31 23 1.348 22
7 Newcastle United 17 9 3 5 25 11 2.273 21
8 Liverpool 16 9 3 4 28 16 1.750 21
9 Notts County 15 7 6 2 34 19 1.789 20
10 Oldham Athletic 14 9 1 4 27 16 1.688 19
11 Aston Villa 15 8 3 4 35 25 1.400 19
12 Derby County 15 7 4 4 23 17 1.353 18
13 Middlesbrough 16 7 4 5 24 18 1.333 18
14 Bradford Park Avenue 15 7 3 5 25 14 1.786 17
15 Bradford City 14 6 5 3 26 18 1.444 17
16 Bolton Wanderers 16 7 3 6 26 22 1.182 17
17 Arsenal 15 6 4 5 21 20 1.050 16

Away from home Arsenal were ninth.  Quite what the problem was at home, I don’t know, but we might have been seeing here an early incarnation of the boo-boys that Chapman railed against.

Pos Team Pld W D L GF GA GAvg Pts
1 West Bromwich Albion 15 9 1 5 32 21 1.524 19
2 Burnley 16 8 3 5 18 19 0.947 19
3 Bolton Wanderers 16 6 5 5 26 27 0.963 17
4 Bradford Park Avenue 14 5 5 4 25 25 1.000 15
5 Liverpool 15 6 2 7 18 17 1.059 14
6 Aston Villa 14 6 2 6 18 21 0.857 14
7 Manchester United 15 4 5 6 22 22 1.000 13
8 Everton 15 4 5 6 23 28 0.821 13
9 Arsenal 15 4 5 6 22 30 0.733 13

Meanwhile, still with football but now in the House of Commons, Sir Henry asked a question of the Chancellor of the Exchequer concerning the entertainment tax that had been added to the price of admission to football matches during the war.  His question was quirky, using a technique that we often see in Parliament today.

The first question asked how much money was gathered by the state by levying the tax on football matches.  As his follow up he asked the cheeky question as to whether the government would help football pay for the costs of collecting this tax by the government.

What we have to remember in relation to this was that the government was still fairly naïve on the issue of tax collection related to purchases, for purchase tax itself was still 20 years away, and there was still a huge amount of anger at companies and organisations being unpaid tax collectors on behalf of the government.  We’ve all got used to it since, of course, with VAT being part of our everyday lives, but in 1920 having a tax collected by the retailer was something new, and something  that was expected to be used only during wartime – which is what in effect the government had promised.

On 5 March Sir Henry moved the second reading of the Ready Money Football Betting Bill which we noted in last month’s account of his activities and which was about to bring about an interesting meeting.

On 6 March Arsenal were away to Sheffield United and suffered a further defeat, this time 0-2. in front of 25,000 people.  As we noted at the head of this page, Sheffield United were in excellent form at home, although with a poor away record that had reduced them overall to midtable.

And this was where the worrying began, because results elsewhere meant that Arsenal had slipped down the table yet again, and were now 14th.  They were still eight points above the relegation zone, but there was quite a bit of the season left to play.

Now it was sometimes from here onto the start of the 1920/21 season that, according to evidence Sir Henry gave to the FA in 1927, he was approached at the House of Commons by a stranger who offered the MP money if Sir Henry would ensure that the Ready Money Football Betting Bill didn’t become law.

It is fairly obvious that Sir Henry, an MP, friend of the leading figure in the FA, already the equivalent of being a millionaire today, and a man who was held in esteem by such commentators as those at Athletics News, and the man who had been the first to warn the League about the wrong doing of Liverpool, long before he was believed, was going to turn this down.  But, according to the story, the stranger then went on to say that if Sir Henry did not agree, the man would have him de-selected from the Conservative party nomination for Fulham East.  

There is nothing much to back up this tale, except that in the summer of 1920 Athletics News reported that the gambling firms were campaigning against the bill.   But then they would hardly do otherwise.

On 13 March the return match with Sheffield United took place, and this time for once Arsenal got a resounding victory at Highbury; 3-0.  With only five of the XI who started the season now in the side, there was another right back introduced (Shaw having been injured again in the first game against Sheffield Utd). Thus we had the first game for Jack Peart.

The Islington paper commented that the paper was pleased to see the club sticking by its own young players, and Peart was in this category, having been with Woolwich Arsenal from the start of his career in 1910.  During the war years he had played for Croydon Common and Brentford (probably because of where he lived or worked during the war), but had returned to Arsenal, although only to play six games before moving on to Margate.  That he went anywhere at all is perhaps surprising because at the time of his return to the Arsenal line up he was 36 years old.

The goals came from Pagnam (2) and Graham (now at inside right) getting the other.

The following Monday, 15 March the first ever international was played at Highbury.  The result was England 1 Wales 2, and it was Wales’ first victory against England in 38 years.  England’s goal came from Charlie Buchan.

Next up for Arsenal was another away game – this time against Middlesbrough.  Before the game Middlesbrough were one point and two places below Arsenal with a very modest home record but they won this game 1-0.  The result left Arsenal in 14th, but only four above the relegation positions.  It also meant Arsenal had won just two in the last six, losing the other four.

On 22 March Sir Henry was in Fulham Town Hall to discuss the Railways Bill, the aim of which was to pay for the work on the railways and the employees successful strike for higher wages, by increasing fares on the London commuter routes – which of course included the journey from Fulham into the City of London now used by thousands of workers.

For the first time, Sir Henry sat on the same platform as the Labour politician and trade unionist, Bob Gentry, who had taken his seat in the last elections and was now Mayor of the borough.  In his speech Sir Henry described higher wages as a fact of post-war life, and having opposed the cap on footballers wages he had shown himself to be a man who would argue for what he believed in all circumstances.

Also around this time the Norris family moved out of Richmond, and to Maidenhead, with Sir Henry also taking on a flat in central London which was clearly going to be helpful both for Parliamentary sessions, constituency business in Fulham and football meetings and events at Highbury.


The final match of the month was on 27 March and was the return match with Middlesbrough, and this time Arsenal won 2-1 with Blyth and Groves scoring and 25,000 in the crowd.

On 29 March Fulham’s War Memorial Fund Committee met but Sir Henry did not attend – I suspect he may have been in Parliament (there are no records of members who were in Parliament but who did not speak in a debate).

Sally Davis has undertaken one of her masterful pieces of detective work by finding Sir Henry’s letter of apology,  in which he says “that he thought the whole project should be abandoned in the face of public apathy.  He said that insufficient money had been raised to fulfil the original plan.”  A proposal was put forward that the money should be used to “finance the Fulham District Nursing Association, which Edith Norris was very closely associated with and which had (in the original plan) been going to take some but not all of the proceeds.”

Certainly two days later I suspect Sir Henry was in Parliament for the second reading of the Government of Ireland Bill which would set up the division of Ireland into two constituent parts – not least because of was the main political topic of the moment.  It was of particular importance because the government were in favour of the division of the island but the unionists saw this as a betrayal of unionists in the south and west of Ireland.

Here are the Arsenal results for the month

Game Date Opposition H/A Res Score Crowd Pos
31 06/03/1920 Sheffield United A 0-2 25,000 14
32 13/03/1920 Sheffield United H 3-0 35,000 12
33 20/03/1920 Middlesbrough A 0-1 22,000 14
34 27/03/1920 Middlesbrough H 2-1 25,000 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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