The first north London derbies, Knighton gets another star; Highbury’s top crowd: Jan 1921

By Tony Attwood

Continuing our series on Henry Norris at the Arsenal.

At the end of 1920 the top of Division 1 looked like this…

Pos Team Pld W D L F A GAv Pts
1 Burnley 21 13 5 3 43 17 2.529 31
2 Bolton Wanderers 22 10 7 5 44 28 1.571 27
3 Liverpool 21 10 6 5 38 21 1.810 26
4 Newcastle United 21 11 4 6 36 22 1.636 26
5 Manchester City 21 11 4 6 35 27 1.296 26
6 Middlesbrough 21 11 4 6 33 27 1.222 26
7 Everton 23 9 8 6 35 32 1.094 26
8 Tottenham Hotspur 21 10 4 7 49 30 1.633 24
9 Arsenal 21 8 8 5 32 27 1.185 24

Arsenal had no pretensions at being league winners, and a solid mid-table position was perfectly satisfactory at this time.  Although Leslie Knighton’s fantastical claims about restrictions being placed on him in terms of signings have been shown to be nonsense, it is no doubt true that Arsenal were not in the business of competing for the top rated players who came into the transfer market.  What they did have however was a very famous name, and a large local catchment area with only two rival first division clubs: Chelsea and Tottenham and so every chance of finding up and coming young players.  Plus as we shall see here, a developing ability to pick up interesting amateur players.

The opening match of the new year was against Bradford City, who had won three, drawn three and lost five of their games away from home this season, but from mid October to mid December had gone nine games without a win.  But they had picked up a little of late, and Arsenal simply didn’t have the strength to see them off, losing 1-2 on a mudpile of a ground in continuous rain, with a very modest crowd of 20,000 watching.

Graham, the centre half, scored his third goal of the season – and like the previous two this was a penalty.  Dr Paterson was missing and Toner came in for this third match at outside left.

With this result Bradford City did the double over Arsenal for the season, and I think it is worth pausing for a moment to consider this club and their city rival Bradford (later referred to as Bradford PA).

Bradford City was founded in 1903 and were instantly elected to Division 2.  In other words, they were a Chelsea, two years before Chelsea – a wholly artificial club created (in this case) to take football to a part of the country that was deemed by the League to be under represented, and where other sports had too much of a hold.

As we have seen they did have some success and were FA Cup winners, but both Bradford teams were now heading for serious decline, for at the end of this season Bradford came bottom of the league, and thus were relegated.  The following season Bradford City were also relegated to the second division, but they were not set to play more local derbies for in 1921/22 Bradford were relegated again to the Third Division North.  Bradford City held on until 1926/7 when they came bottom of the second division and were also relegated to the Third Division North.

Thus in 1927/8 Bradford City and Bradford played their local derbies in the Third Division North, just eight years after they played their derby games in the First Division.  Two years on from there Arsenal won the FA Cup, three years on Arsenal became the first London team to win the league.  A tale of two cities indeed.

But one thing is clear from the reports of this match: the weather had not helped the now familiar problems of Arsenal’s ground with its poor drainage (undoubtedly a result of the speed of the development of the ground in 1913).   Wintry snowy weather in December 1920 had been followed by much milder but decidedly wet weather in January so the pitch had had no chance to recover from the earlier snow and frosts.  I also suspect Arsenal were training on the pitch, and the reserves were certainly playing there too.

Meanwhile the government continued with its reforms – and saw that the rapid growth in the number of cars offered a chance to raise extra revenue, and so a tax on owning a car – the car tax disc which had to be displayed – came into effect on 1 January.  However there remained huge resistance to the notion of a driving test – and that was still 14 years away.

As for Sir Henry Norris having had the pleasure of seeing a bill he introduced into Parliament now become law (the anti-gambling legislation aimed at football) he continued to focus on his role as an MP.   According to Sally Davis who has studied the parliamentary records for the period Sir Henry was not one of the regular speakers, but he was certainly taking his position as an MP seriously, although as far as I can tell, generally voting according to his beliefs rather than the party whip.

There is also an interesting suggestion from Sally Davis that Sir Henry was now going to fewer Arsenal matches than before – it is as if he had done the job he set out to do in 1910 in rescuing Arsenal from oblivion, and although the club had not yet repaid him all the loans he had made to the club, that was happening step by step, as the income from the regular large crowds allowed.

And indeed one can have some sympathy with him here because he had after all achieved a considerable amount after such humble beginnings, and I wonder if his years in the War Office had not exhausted him.  Of course being an administrator is not like fighting at the front, but he clearly took on more and more as he moved up the ranks, and he must also have suffered the frustrations of his position as a person who had earned his honours but could still be overruled by the many who had simply inherited them.

In fact I wonder if the launch of the Anti-Waste League – a political movement supposedly set up to hold the government to account over its expenditure, did not further reduce his enthusiasm for trying to promote his own ideas of equality and social justice, pensions for ex-soldiers, equal pay for women, a return to lower cost rail fares, the abolition of the maximum wage in football, and so on.  Put another way, he was trapped in the wrong party.

Indeed in January 1921 Sir Henry was once again making a big effort to get the railway companies to bring back the old excursion fares on match days.  In the war years the clubs, as we have seen, played in regional leagues and crowds were generally tiny, meaning there was no need for “football specials” as they were called, nor any call for the return to lower fares for pre-war years.  It was one of his campaigns and quite possibly involved a lot of meetings, but no changes were introduced.

As for the Anti-Waste League, that was in fact a front for trying to reduce government activity and thus reduce taxation, and was typical of the ventures of a man who within a year would own three national morning newspapers, three national Sunday newspapers, two London evening papers, four provincial daily newspapers, and three provincial Sunday newspapers.    During this process his right wing views become ever more hardened and by the 1930s he was an open supporter of Nazi Germany.

But now to return to the football, and after the defeat to Bradford City Arsenal moved on to their second match of the year – an FA Cup game away to Queens Park Rangers.  This was the first match against QPR (other than in the war league) as QPR were still several months away from joining the Football League – entering the 3rd Division (South) upon that league being formed, as the Southern League clubs moved wholesale into that new league.

And thus it was that Southern League QPR beat 1st division Arsenal – which was quite an upset and indeed headline news.

But the team sheet showed two particular points of intrigue.   The first to note was that George Grant played for QPR in this match.  Grant was an ex-Arsenal man who played for the club 57 times and scored four goals, playing for Woolwich Arsenal, The Arsenal and Arsenal.  But what makes him particularly stand out was the fact that in the pen pictures of players in the 1914/15 Arsenal handbook he claimed to be a Chinese International!  One wonders how that claim was justified.

The second was that although Arsenal put out pretty much their regular team, at centre half Clem Voysey made an appearance.  It was his only game of the season and this suggests that he had come back from injury but was either clearly not up to standard or immediately got injured again.

So a poor start to the new year for Arsenal, and for Sir Henry there was also difficulty on the political front because around this time it seems that the Fulham Conservative Party was running very short of money and looking to Henry Norris to bail them out.

Now I am most certainly not an expert on the history of political parties but as far as I can work out, at this time local parties – the groups that worked hard to get their chosen man elected – were self-funding and received no money from the central party itself nor from the state.  But of course they had expenses – the renting of their office, printing costs for leaflets and so forth.  The central party likewise received no state funding at this time but received money mostly from wealthy donors.  However political parties were also widely known to sell honours (particularly noble titles such as “Lord”) in return for significant donations, until 1925 when this was outlawed.

In many cases it appears that the local party, which rarely benefited from funds given to the central party, then looked to their MP to bail them out, particularly when, MPs had started to receive a salary which was around double that of the average worker.  The local parties began to think they should get some of that and while Labour Party members tended to agree, most in other parties did not.  It seems, perhaps over this issue, or perhaps over the fact that Sir Henry was simply not following the party line in terms of rail fares, women’s equality, pensions for soldiers and the like, relationships were becoming strained.

And all the time in the background there was the massive growing problem of unemployment.  Non-existent of course as an issue during the war years, it now stood at not far short of one million, and unrest was growing.

So we have a couple of interesting developments here.  Sir Henry seeming to lose some of his interest in football, and difficulties within his local party over a shortage of funds.

Back with the football, Arsenal’s poor start to the year of consecutive defeats continued with the first league derby following Arsenal’s move to north London.   Tottenham beat Arsenal at White Hart Lane 2-1 in front of 39,221 – just a little over their average league attendance of 36,010 for the season.

The capacity of White Hart Lane ground at the start of the war in 1914 was over 50,000, but as we have seen in this history, the ground was then taken over by the Ministry of War.   I wonder if as a result of this, part of the ground was still closed (it appears the East Stand was particularly re-developed during the war for military purposes) and the work on taking the ground back to its capacity was still not done.

Sadly, although Arsenal has this site to chart its history, Tottenham does not seem to have an equivalent – but if you have an information on the capacity of WHL at this time I would be interested to know.

So the first local derby ended in defeat – and this was sadly to be the pattern in the early years in north London.  A list of all the early games between the two clubs appears within the article on August/September 1933, which looks back through the derbies in this inter-war era.   However on this occasion, injuries might well have been the cause of Arsenal’s  Williamson, the keeper who had been ever present thus far, missed the next game and I suspect he was injured in this outing.  Pagnam (who had scored 12 goals so far in the league campaign) also did not play in the return match – although he too had been ever present in the season up to this point, again suggesting an injury.

The one compensation was that Rutherford scored his first goal of the season.

But before the return match, on 19 January Robert Hamilton Turnbull (known as Bob) joined Arsenal as an amateur, and as this man has quite a place in Arsenal’s history, and because the prime complaint of Knighton to excuse his side’s poor performances was a lack of transfers into the club, I want to pause here and consider him in a little more depth.  

Bob Turnbull had a military training with the Royal Corps of Signals, and played initially for the illustrious Royal Engineers AFC (cup winners, the first football tourists and the club that invented the passing game).

He played his first game for Arsenal on 27 December 1921 so we’ll come to that in considering the next season – but it does mean he played alongside Dr Paterson, of whom a lot has already been said.  What was remarkable about this player was that he was sometimes used as a full back, but at one stage he played 27 consecutive games at centre forward scoring 20 goals.

So for a second time we find a player signed in the Knighton era who had major talent – 20 goals in 27 games would be noteworthy now, but in the days of much stricter offside rules this was extraordinary.  And yet after making just one appearance in 1924/5 he was put on the transfer list and sold to Charlton Athletic.

Now it may be thought that through injury or loss of form, he was no longer up to scratch when it came to the first division, but from Charlton, Turnbull quickly went to Chelsea where he scored 58 goals in 87 first team games.  So what we see is a man who from 35 appearances in 1922/3 managed 20 goals, but then saw himself cast aside, until Chelsea picked him up, and off he went again.   Of course injuries might have played a part, and there is not enough information to blame Knighton for this failure of form, but it is interesting that Knighton makes no mention of the player in his autobiography in which he blames all problems on Henry Norris.  I wonder why.

But back to January 1921, on 22 January Arsenal played the return game with Tottenham, and at last after three consecutive defeats and no wins in four, Arsenal got a victory in the first Highbury derby between the two teams.  60,600 turned up making this the largest crowd at Highbury thus far.  Rutherford having got his first goal in the WHL game now clearly decided that goalscoring was possible after all, and got two more.  White playing at inside right got the other goal.

As noted above, I suspect the match at Tottenham had resulted in injuries to Arsenal players because the keeper Williamson and centre forward Pagnam each missed a game for the first time in the season being replaced by Dunn and North.

So after three games without a win, Arsenal beat their local rivals, but there was more misery to come as on 29 January Arsenal lost at home 1-2 to 16th placed Sunderland who up to this point had not won a single game away from home.  The recently promoted players: Butler, Toner, Dunn and North were all back in the reserves and even Dr Paterson was not able to produce enough magic to turn the game around single handedly.

Here are this month’s games…

Date Opposition H/A Comp Score Res Crowd Pos
01/01/1921 Bradford City H FL 1-2 L 20,000 9
08/01/1921 Queen’s Park Rangers A FAC-1 0-2 L 20,000
15/01/1921 Tottenham Hotspur A FL 1-2 L 39,221 9
22/01/1921 Tottenham Hotspur H FL 3-2 W 60,600 9
29/01/1921 Sunderland H FL 1-2 L 40,000 9

The League Division One table after the close of play on 29 January 1921 now read…

Pos Team Pld W D L GF GA GAvg Pts
1 Burnley 24 16 5 3 53 19 2.789 37
2 Newcastle United 24 13 5 6 47 26 1.808 31
3 Bolton Wanderers 25 11 9 5 46 29 1.586 31
4 Manchester City 24 13 4 7 40 30 1.333 30
5 Everton 26 10 10 6 41 36 1.139 30
6 Liverpool 24 11 7 6 41 23 1.783 29
7 Middlesbrough 25 11 7 7 37 32 1.156 29
8 Tottenham Hotspur 24 11 4 9 53 35 1.514 26
9 Arsenal 25 9 8 8 38 35 1.086 26

This article comes from the series “Henry Norris at the Arsenal”

Perhaps the most popular element in the Norris story is that of Arsenal’s promotion to the first division in 1919.  The most complete review of this, which puts right the numerous misunderstandings of the events of that year appears, and most importantly cites contemporary articles and reports, such as the minutes of the FA meeting where the promotion was confirmed, and the reports in local papers thereafter, here in these two sets of articles…

The preliminaries

The voting and the comments before and after the election

The Second Libel


Here’s the year by year account.  We’re adding two or three new articles a week.


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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