Arsenal hire a music hall star as their new centre forward. October 1920

by Tony Attwood

Arsenal entered October 1920 just two points and a couple of goals off the relegation places in 15th

Pos Team P W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 Aston Villa 8 6 0 2 19 12 1.583 12
2 Bolton Wanderers 8 5 1 2 19 7 2.714 11
3 Huddersfield Town 7 5 1 1 6 3 2.000 11
4 Everton 8 4 3 1 17 10 1.700 11
5 Liverpool 7 3 3 1 18 8 2.250 9
6 Sunderland 7 3 3 1 12 6 2.000 9
7 Blackburn Rovers 7 3 2 2 10 6 1.667 8
8 Bradford City 7 4 0 3 13 9 1.444 8
9 Newcastle United 7 3 2 2 13 9 1.444 8
10 Burnley 7 3 1 3 10 8 1.250 7
11 West Bromwich Albion 7 1 5 1 5 7 0.714 7
12 Tottenham Hotspur 7 2 2 3 10 11 0.909 6
13 Manchester United 7 2 2 3 9 10 0.900 6
14 Manchester City 7 3 0 4 13 16 0.813 6
15 Arsenal 7 2 2 3 8 13 0.615 6

 And the opening game of the month on 2 October immediately increased the sense of doom as Arsenal lost 2-1 to Middlesbrough, having been 1-0 up for much of the game.  The crowd of 25,000 was a disappointment too as the weather was particularly clement.

Now there clearly was a sense of crisis as following this match Arsenal were shown to be in real trouble at the foot of the table.  True it was very early days, but the bottom two of course would go down, and with only two points for a win, slipping into the bottom four could enhance a feeling of doom for any club that did it.   Here’s the foot of the table after the Middlesbrough game.

Pos Club P W D L F A G Av Pts
18 Arsenal 8 2 2 4 9 15 0.600 6
19 Bradford Park Avenue 8 1 3 4 10 16 0.625 5
20 Preston North End 8 2 1 5 9 17 0.529 5
21 Chelsea 8 1 3 4 6 14 0.429 5
22 Derby County 8 0 4 4 7 16 0.438 4

So it was time to strengthen the squad, and obviously at this point we have a particular interest in how this was done, having examined the way the manager, Knighton, invented a story concerning the star player he subsequently did bring into the team.  (Exposing the second libel against Henry Norris: the summer of 1920.)

And the transfer story continues as on 7 October Knighton purchased Harold Walden – although as you will see from story this was probably not of Knighton’s doing.  Indeed as this story continues one sometimes wonders what on earth Knighton was doing much of the time.

Harold Walden had been Bradford City’s top scorer in their 1911/12 campaign, which sounds very impressive but in effect it meant a total of 11 goals.  Two Arsenal players had scored more than this in 1919/20 – the season before Arsenal bought him.  In fact Bradford City scored only 46 goals in 1911/12, so he was the best of what we might take to be a modest bunch.   Worse, from that high point he had declined considerably as a goalscorer thereafter.

But as is so often the case, there is more to this story.

Walden played as an amateur in the GB football team at the Stockholm Olympics in which 11 countries competed.  Great Britain got a bye in the first round, beat Hungary in the 2nd round 7-0 (Walden getting a double hattrick), Finland in the semi-final and Denmark in the Final.  But a subsequent injury meant that he played little thereafter.

In April 1915 he joined one of the Pals Battalions.  These battalions were encouraged particularly by Lord Derby as a way of getting local friends to sign up together in the same regiment and were particularly popular in the north of the country.  The Footballers Battalion that Henry Norris created was a southern variation on this, focusing on the interest in the game rather than the locality, given that many Londoners had far less of a connection with their locality than their compatriots in the north.

Unfortunately the Pals’ Battalions had one tragic side effect which was not foreseen by Lord Derby, who knew little of working class life, as many of the “Pals” were subsequently engaged in the Battle of the Somme and as a result many towns found that when the troops came home, a significant segment of the young men of the town were simply wiped out together.  It was, as many sociologists have pointed out since, a disaster of an initiative.

Harold Walden joined one of the Bradford Pals battalion but having been injured in a training exercise he returned to England and started to work on the stage and became a full time entertainer.

Now this is particularly interesting because we know that Sir Henry Norris himself was friendly with various entertainers and we have noted in particular that the very prominent comedian, singer and actor George Robey, was an acquaintance of his, and was also engaged in work on the charity football matches circuit.  You may recall from the article covering the autumn of 1918 that Robey was particularly known for the song “If you were the only girl in the world,” and had already performed in the Royal Command performance of 1912.

As we noted there, Robey was also a keen amateur footballer, (hence his link with charity football) and had appeared in many charity matches against professional London teams.  He had also played as a semi-pro for Millwall Athletic in the pre-war years.  Robey was at the time one of the biggest stars of the day, and his being in the team would have ensured a big turn out for the event.

In terms of being a star performer Harold Walden was considerably less well known than Robey, but seems to have been a man who looked to emulate the success of George Robey in combining football and the world of entertainment.  In this regard his career took a step forward when Walden got himself a lead part in “The Winning Goal”, a short silent movie produced and directed by GB Samuelson.  The fairly modest scale of the production can be seen from the fact that it was one of no less than 10 low budget short silent films that Samuelson directed and produced in 1920 alone.

What made this film stand out however was not the name of the actors, nor the direction and production, but rather that it was based on the one act play “The Game” written by Harold Brighouse.  Brighouse was in the process of becoming a highly regarded name in the theatre as in 1916 he had written “Hobson’s Choice” which opened in New York and became Broadway musical, as well as later being filmed several times.

Thus although “The Game” was very much one of Brighouse’s minor pieces and Samuelson was very much a production line maker of very low budget shorts, this movie filmed largely at Brentford’s Ground, gained a certain popularity as it focused on the very popular war time message of winning against all the odds, and it got publicity on the back of “Hobson’s Choice”.

Harold Walden played Jack Metherill in the film which was released in the summer of  1920 as football prepared for the new season.

Meanwhile change continued in England as on 7 October the first one hundred women were admitted to study for full degrees at the University of Oxford.  Shortly after a number of women who had studied unofficially without being registered were given degrees – including Dorothy L Sayers.

By the time Walden signed for Arsenal, also on 7 October his football career was pretty much over, but he was at the height of his career as an entertainer in the music halls.  His Olympics Gold Medal was displayed outside theatres when he performed, several of the songs he wrote were becoming popular and he had his own signature tune which he had written and played on the  ukulele in all his shows: Only Me Knows Why.

So what on earth was this man who had played football, but had been injured and was now a musical hall act, doing signing for Arsenal – and then not playing for the club?

The first point to make was that although he did indeed have the honour of playing for the England Olympic team, he should not be mistaken for a footballer with a huge amount of experience or great long term track record…

Season Club Final pos Lge apps Lge goals FA Cup apps FA Cup goals
1911/12 Bradford City 11th 17 11 4 3
1912/13 Bradford City 13th 16 6
1913/14 Bradford City 9th 7 1
1914/15 Bradford City 11th 2
1919/20 Bradford City 15th 12 4
1920/21 Arsenal 9th 2 1

Looking at these figures we can see that Walden was an occasional player – never playing in half of the games of a season.  And his two appearances show that he was never seriously considered as an important part of the squad.

To give a spot more background…

Bradford City had won the second division in 1907/08, and in 1910/11 had won the FA Cup so they were seen as one of the up and coming teams of the era.  But much of their success had been based on the goal scoring of Frank O’Rourke who had averaged 21 goals a season across the three campaigns from 1907/8 to 1909/10.

In 1910/11 O’Rourke was still top scorer but now with only 14, the same as Walden got the next season as the club slipped to 11th.  The following year it was Fox with 13 and Bond with 10 who were the top scorers –  figures that were not unusual for jobbing middle of the table clubs.

Quite what happened in 1911/12 I don’t know – I don’t have enough data on the club’s season but I think we are looking here at a man who stayed as an amateur and took expenses for appearances when he was in the right place at the right time, and wanted by the club.

Now we also know from our study of Woolwich Arsenal that this was the era of the celebrity player, and indeed as we have seen with Leigh (Dick) Roose, Arsenal were happy to sign him as a celebrity amateur goalkeeper in 1911/12 in order to boost attendances at the matches for which he was available.

Thus I think the signing of Walden was another of these such procedures, and in a way it was a clever move.  As an amateur he would not be paid unless he played, and both he and the club could get some publicity from the affair.  Walden on stage would be able to talk for a moment or two about one of the most famous clubs in the country (Arsenal still being associated with the military from the Royal Arsenal days, being the club that was closely linked with the creation of the Footballers’ Battalion, and now one of the top three supported clubs in the league) and Arsenal would be able to get a little more publicity out of his name.  Every extra person added to the gate would help – it was a good bit of mutual publicity.

Meanwhile Walden was able to carry on his music hall work and could now be billed as not just the famous Harold Walden, but also as an Arsenal player.  His audiences around the country would never know he wasn’t actually turning out for Arsenal, they might well believe the publicity that he gained from appearing in the silent film (which was being shown across the country in this season) and think he really was a top goalscorer.

He even turned out for a couple of reserve games, which added to the profile of Arsenal’s reserve team (who of course played exactly at the same time as when Tottenham were at home – another way of having a dig at the team who had worked so hard to keep Arsenal out of north London and Arsenal out of the first division.)

So we have three people who were all very possibly involved in this rather odd transfer.  Sir Henry Norris, who had brought Dick Roose to Arsenal, and so knew all about celebrity amateur signings, Walden himself who like all music hall performers of the age had to be a master of self-publicity (there very obviously being no radio or TV shows for him to be interviewed on), and George Robey, who one can imagine as the go-between bringing Harold Walden and Sir Henry Norris together.   Plus of course there is the fact that the Finsbury Park Empire was just along the road from Highbury.

Picture from Islington Council

The Empire was opened in 1910 (it is still there as you will know if you walk from Arsenal to Finsbury Park via Seven Sisters Road, and in the post-war era really came alive as a major London entertainment venue, not least because it was, like the Arsenal, easy to get to on the trams, the underground and the railway.  A booking at the Empire and a meeting with Robey could easily have started  the whole escapade running.

As the notes above show Arsenal actually had to wait until February 1921 for Walden to get his first team games – and then he only had two – although he did manage to get one goal in a 2-2 draw with Oldham.

And there is one more factor that influences my thinking in all this.  In just a few weeks time Sir Henry  on 8 November made a speech about Arsenal being a business.  I have no doubt he always thought in this way, because without a business plan there would be no club.  What made Arsenal financially successful however was that Sir Henry simply explored more ways of making the club a business than most other owners.

So now, back to the football.

On 9 October, having played three games without a win, Arsenal got another draw – this time a goalless affair at home to Bolton in front of 38,000 in what is reported as being glorious sunshine.  After the cool and dull August and the cool and wet September it was rather pleasant reaching over 20 degrees C.  The local paper however started to get ever more angry with the Arsenal forward line and didn’t like the lack of goals.

The following Monday there was the next round of the London FA’s County Cup.  Arsenal beat Brentford 3-0 at Highbury with 6500 in the crowd.  At the same time away from the football it was  announced that compulsory hand signals were to be introduced for all drivers.

Arsenal continued the drawing habit on 16 October with a 1-1 scoreline away to Bolton in front of 35,000.   And some of those reading their Saturday night papers might have noted with interest that Clapton Orient were now top of the second division although having played a game more than the clubs immediately below them, and having a more modest goal average.

Pos Team P W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 Leyton Orient 11 6 3 2 17 12 1.417 15
2 Cardiff City 10 5 4 1 18 7 2.571 14
3 South Shields 10 6 2 2 22 12 1.833 14
4 Bristol City 11 5 4 2 16 9 1.778 14

But these were turbulent times indeed, for on 16 October – all the coal miners went on strike.

On 19 October Arsenal’s annual report was issued, and it showed George Peachey having been made a director while revealing that the club was still heavily in debt.  Sally Davis summarises the situation thus: “Humphreys Limited were still owed £10484 for their work of eight years before, building the grandstand; and sundry creditors were owed £5943.  In addition the club had an overdraft of £17000; giving evidence in court in 1929, Henry Norris said he personally guaranteed £10000 of it.”

And day after day the turmoil continued as 20 October – suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst was charged with sedition after calling upon workers to loot the London Docks.

Next up, on 23 October Arsenal got another draw, this time 1-1 away to Derby County which was followed by an away game at Tottenham – a charity match to raise money for the London Professional Charity Fund.   Continuing its solid anti-Arsenal pro-Tottenham agenda the local newspaper pointed out that although both clubs put out weakened sides, Tottenham had better reserve players than Arsenal.   Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of the London Combination table for this point in the season; it would be good to know if this were true.   However more to the point 17,436 turned up to see the game and support the charity.

It was then that Arsenal signed Dr James Patterson, a topic that we have considered at great length in the previous chapter, in order to tell the story of the manager’s later re-working of the signing to suit is own ego.

This left us with the last game of the month: Arsenal 2 Derby 0 on 30 October.  At last the local Islington paper had something positive to say about Arsenal, as they warmly welcomed the signing of Jimmy Patterson, saying it was exactly what Arsenal needed (not as Knighton said, that the club was reduced to playing the brother in law of the physio).   The paper certainly knew all about Dr Paterson and his two league titles with Rangers, and thought he was a rare capture for Arsenal.

Meanwhile on 25 October the Emergency Powers Bill had its second reading in the Commons.  Its aims was simply to combat the miners.  Meanwhile Terence MacSwiney, the Lord Mayor of Cork, died in Brixton Prison after a 78 day hunger strike.

On 28 October  Sylvia Pankhurst is jailed for six months.

Which takes to the last game of the month: Arsenal 2 Derby 0 on 30 October.  At last the local Islington paper had something very positive to say about Arsenal, as they warmly welcomed the signing, saying it was exactly what Arsenal needed.   The paper certainly knew all about Dr Paterson and his two league titles with Rangers, and thought he was a rare capture for Arsenal.

This was the 12th league match of the season, but only Arsenal’s 3rd win.  

Arsenal hadn’t gone up the league table with all these draws, but the arrival of Dr Patterson promised something special, and so it turned out to be.

Date Opposition Venue Res Score Crowd Pos
02 Oct 1920 Middlesbrough v Arsenal  A L 2-1 25000 17
09 Oct 1920 Arsenal v Bolton Wanderers H D 0-0 38000 17
11 Oct 1920 Brentford (LFACC) H W 3-0 6500
16 Oct 1920 Bolton Wanderers v Arsenal A D 1-1 35000 16
23 Oct 1920 Derby County v Arsenal A D 1-1 18000 16
25 Oct 1920 Tottenham Hotspur (Fr) A L 0-2 17436
30 Oct 1920 Arsenal v Derby County H W 2-0 45000 16

Here is the league table at the end of October 1920…

Pos Team Pld W D L F A GAv Pts
1 Newcastle United 12 8 2 2 28 11 2.545 18
2 Liverpool 12 7 4 1 28 12 2.333 18
3 Aston Villa 13 8 2 3 26 19 1.368 18
4 Burnley 12 7 2 3 19 11 1.727 16
5 Everton 14 6 4 4 20 17 1.176 16
6 Bolton Wanderers 13 6 3 4 28 17 1.647 15
7 Huddersfield Town 12 6 2 4 12 10 1.200 14
8 Sunderland 12 4 5 3 17 17 1.000 13
9 Tottenham Hotspur 12 5 2 5 24 16 1.500 12
10 Blackburn Rovers 12 4 4 4 17 12 1.417 12
11 Bradford City 12 5 2 5 18 15 1.200 12
12 Manchester United 12 4 4 4 17 17 1.000 12
13 Manchester City 12 5 2 5 18 20 0.900 12
14 Middlesbrough 12 4 4 4 18 20 0.900 12
15 West Bromwich Albion 12 3 6 3 14 18 0.778 12
16 Arsenal 12 3 5 4 13 17 0.765 11
17 Oldham Athletic 12 2 5 5 15 27 0.556 9
18 Sheffield United 14 3 3 8 12 27 0.444 9
19 Preston North End 12 3 2 7 15 20 0.750 8
20 Derby County 12 1 6 5 11 19 0.579 8
21 Chelsea 12 2 4 6 9 25 0.360 8
22 Bradford Park Avenue 12 1 3 8 12 24 0.500 5

Below is the full list of articles in the series with two or three new articles a week being added.  For an index to the two big scandals – Arsenal’s promotion and the case of Jimmy Patterson please see the top of the index to the series at Henry Norris at the Arsenal


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