The 3rd Knighton allegation against Norris: did he sell much-needed Fred Pagnam just for profit?

By Tony Attwood

My prime reason for writing this long series about Henry Norris at the Arsenal has been to investigate whether the stories about him as a cheat and conspirator, which began to emerge after the Hill-Wood dynasty took over the club from Norris, were actually true.   They have certainly been repeated and enlarged ever since – but what was noticeable to me was that before I started writing about Norris, no one had actually gone back to original sources and investigated the claims.

So far, in telling the story of Norris and the Arsenal since 1910 we’ve debunked any notion that he attempted to oust the local support with his rescue package that year – rather the reverse is true.  He saved the club from liquidation, and repeatedly offered the shares to local supporters, who failed to buy them.  He kept the club in Plumstead for three years, having only promised at first to do this for one year (later two), and then paid for the move to Highbury.

In terms of Highbury, Tottenham Hotspur objected ceaselessly to the move, and yet they benefited from the move in every way.  Their crowds went up after Arsenal moved to the area due to a growth in interest in football locally, and when the War Office took over their ground during the first world war, they were offered the use of Highbury for their war time matches – an offer they gratefully took.  In short everyone benefited from the move.

Third came the big allegation, that Norris fixed the promotion of Arsenal in 1919.  This has been our biggest investigation and has shown that the allegation had now foundation whatsoever.  I’ve repeated the details often enough, but you can read the articles (highlighted below gives clear evidence that nothing was amiss in 1919, or before, except the behaviour of the clubs involved in the match fixing scandals.

So that gives us the rescue, the move, the election.  The fourth invented scandal came with the allegation from Leslie Knighton that Sir Henry Norris, as manager, sold off the best players so much that he was forced to play the brother in law of the club physio.  An utterly outrageous suggestion which turned the truth on its head (not for the first time).  Again details are recorded in the list of articles shown below.

What is ignored in all these commentaries is the fact that amidst everything else (on 5 March 1920 to be exact) Sir Henry Norris was, in parliament, the man who introduced the “Ready Money” bill as a method of controlling gambling on matches.   At the time the punters were being offered really awful odds by the bookies, and there was a widespread feeling that regulation was needed.   Of course that is all different now as we have online games where everyone can see what is going on.

Thus now in our review of the actions and activities of Sir Henry we come to a second round in this “sell the best players” allegation of Knighton: the case of Fred Pagnam Arsenal’s centre forward and prime goal scorer who was sold to Cardiff City.

Although this saga spread over February and March 1921, to make it easier to follow I am keeping it all together in this episode – I hope you’ll understand why as the story unfolds.

But first we have what was eventually the good news for Arsenal that 1 February 1921 following a successful appeal to have his lifetime ban from football (handed down as part of the Leeds City scandal) rescinded, Huddersfield gave Herbert Chapman a job as assistant manager.  For more details see here.  At least Chapman being banned from football for life has never been blamed on Henry Norris!

As for Fred Pagnam, the centre of this episode, we pick up his story with his final match for Arsenal, on 5 February away to Sunderland, a game which Arsenal lost 5-1 – a score all the more remarkable since in the previous 12 home games Sunderland had only scored 19 goals – exactly the same as Arsenal had scored away.  A draw looked the more likely outcome before the game kicked off.

The man who did the damage was the ex-Arsenal man Charlie Buchan, who had walked out on Arsenal when an amateur in a dispute over his time off to train as a teacher, and his wages.   The report shows that Arsenal were 2-0 down at half time, but pulled one back in the second half, and conceded the remaining three in the last ten minutes, the first as they were pushing forward for an equaliser which up to that point they appear to have warranted.  As a result Arsenal sank down to 10th.  I’ve no idea if Sir Henry was at the game, but I suspect that when Chapman came to him for the money to sign Buchan four years later, reminders of this day were offered by way of supporting evidence.

But Arsenal were not a disaster when it came to goal scoring.  With their 39 goals thus far this season Arsenal were not only 10th in the League but also the 10th highest scoring club in the league, so it was not as if the attack was their big problem.  I don’t know exactly what happened with Pagnam in the game, he may have got himself injured, but whatever the cause that was his last game for Arsenal.  He did not play in the next three league games, nor in a friendly organised for 5 March, and he was transferred to Cardiff on 9 March.  And I think with a bit of research we can put together the most likely scenario.

Fred Pagnam was the man who had testified against his own team mates in the Liverpool/Man U match fixing scandal of 1915 – and comes over in history as a man of great honour at a time when every dirty trick possible was being pulled by those around him.  

Clearly Fred had had to leave Liverpool; the club was crooked and as you may have read in our earlier reports, as a journalist Henry Norris had called the club out as early as 1913 for match fixing, only to be told by the League to shut up or risk being banned from football for life.  No investigation, no enquiry, just shut up.  He obeyed, knowing full well the truth would eventually out.

That Liverpool were finally found guilty of match fixing vindicated Sir Henry utterly, and indeed it may well have formed a bond between Sir Henry and Fred Pagnam.   We also know that Fred was the son of a bank manager, and attended Baines Grammar School in Pulton-le-Fylde, thus a more educated young man than most footballers – and indeed this showed up in his later life.  But he was from a similar background to Henry Norris as a young man, which might have been another reason why Arsenal sought him out after he had to leave Liverpool.  He cost Arsenal £1500.

Thus as we have noted Fred’s final game came on 5 February 1921.  At the time of his leaving he was Arsenal’s top scorer; he had scored 12 in 25 in the previous season and 14 in 25 this season.  The second best at the moment he left in the 1920/21 season was Harry White with 10 goals.

So the question is why would a club let their top scorer go?

The first set of reasons are obvious: he was prone to injury, was 30 years old, and had cost £1500 and was being sold for £3000.  And it is quite true that Sir Henry Norris was still waiting to get most of his money back from Arsenal.   But was he desperate to get his money back?  So desperate that he would reduce the club’s chances of survival in the first division, just to lay his hands on a profit of £1500?

The fact is that we know that Henry Norris left a considerable fortune in his will when he died, and we know that this money came from his work in property development.  What’s more we know that he had made much of that fortune before the outbreak of war in 1914, and that as we have seen in this series that as soon as possible after the cessation of his work in the War Office, he had joined a new property development company  that once again was building and renting out houses at quite a pace.   So yes, Arsenal had owed him a lot of money, and yes he was guaranteeing the overdraft, but there is not a scrap of evidence that he personally wanted the £1500 profit for himself.

Yet this is what Knighton alleged so many years later, suggesting that Sir Henry was willing in effect, to put the whole future of the club at risk by selling off its prize asset.  (Knighton made no reference to Norris’ other source of income, which makes the whole argument look fragile.  But let us see if any facts can be found to support Knighton’s allegation of selling off the best players, in this case.)

By the end of the season Arsenal were 9th, although only 12th in the league in terms of goals scored.  They scored 20 goals fewer than the league winners, and 27 goals more than the bottom club – a mid-table position.   So in effect the selling of this player at a profit was not too bad a move, and overall didn’t ruin the club.  Indeed in the ten league games before Pagnam was sold Arsenal scored 16 goals.  In the ten games after he was sold Arsenal scored… 16 goals.

So yes, with a top scorer maybe Arsenal would have won a few more games and finished a little higher – although certainly there was no chance of winning the league.  That was still nine years away under a different manager.  But would Pagnam himself have made a difference?  There is little evidence to suggest that even if he had, the difference would have been small.

Yet he had scored 28 goals in 37 games (a good run for this era of the much stricter off side rule) for Liverpool, but since then there had been four years of no league football due to the first world war.  He was a goal scorer, yes, and he was most certainly a natural ally for Sir Henry Norris in the fight against corruption, and so his arrival at Arsenal in 1919 was no surprise.  But he was not at the very peak of goal scoring nor one of the top goal scorers in the country.

For example, in 1919/20 the top goalscorer in the first division was Fred Morris of West Brom with 37 goals.  In 1920/21, the season we are considering here, the top man was Joe Smith of Bolton with 38.  Pagnam was a good player, but he was not in this league.   We might also note that the record transfer at this time had been set in December 1920 when David Mercer went from Hull to Sheffield United for £4500.  Just as the sale of Pagnam was going through this record was broken again with Falkirk paying West Ham £5000 for Syd Puddlefoot.  The following month the record stood at £5500.  So at 60% for the record transfer fee at the time this was a major deal, but not a record breaker, and Pagnam was not a 30 goals a season man.

But it still made sense for Cardiff in their eventually successful push for promotion, for their average gate went up from 28,430 in 1920/1 to 32,760 in 1921/2, by which time they had the fifth highest gate in England and Wales.  Getting that promotion really worked for them.

At Arsenal Pagnam’s goal scoring was impressive (26 in 50 games) but not as impressive as the most expensive players, and sadly for the player and for Cardiff, aged 30 his best days were behind him.  At Cardiff he failed to live up to his reputation and only scored 8 in 27 with most of those games in the second division.  So what went wrong?

First I do think he was injured, which was why he didn’t play after the Sunderland game.   But he was attractive to Cardiff because having joined the League from the Southern League and gained promotion to the second division just one year before, now had the first division in their sights and visions of making South Wales a major part of the 1st Division.

Here is how the second division league table looked at the moment he signed for Cardiff

Pos Team P W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 Birmingham City 30 18 6 6 61 25 2.440 42
2 Blackpool 31 17 6 8 38 27 1.407 40
3 Cardiff City 28 15 8 5 41 22 1.864 38
4 Bristol City 30 15 8 7 34 21 1.619 38
5 South Shields AFC 30 14 7 9 48 30 1.600 35
6 West Ham United 30 14 6 10 38 19 2.000 34

You will notice that Cardiff’s greatest rivals, Bristol City, were lurking just behind them on goal average.  National pride, local rivalry and the progression of the club were all at stake – a combination that always makes clubs pay more than they ought.

At the time the top two went up, and it was two points for a win, so harder to make up even a two point deficit.   Fred could not play in the FA Cup being cup tied with Arsenal but he could and did play all the rest of the season in the league and in his 14 games he scored six goals.  Just to prove it, here are the results…

Date Match Res Score
09 Mar 1921 Cardiff City v Barnsley W 3-2
12 Mar 1921 Rotherham County v Cardiff City L 2-0
26 Mar 1921 Cardiff City v Port Vale L 1-2
28 Mar 1921 Cardiff City v Leeds United W 1-0
29 Mar 1921 Leeds United v Cardiff City W 1-2
02 Apr 1921 Port Vale v Cardiff City D 0-0
04 Apr 1921 Cardiff City v Nottingham Forest W 3-0
09 Apr 1921 Cardiff City v South Shields AFC W 1-0
11 Apr 1921 Cardiff City v Rotherham County W 1-0
16 Apr 1921 South Shields AFC v Cardiff City W 0-1
23 Apr 1921 Cardiff City v Hull City D 0-0
30 Apr 1921 Hull City v Cardiff City L 2-0
02 May 1921 Cardiff City v Wolverhampton Wanderers W 2-0
07 May 1921 Wolverhampton Wanderers v Cardiff City W 1-3

The end of the season table looked like this for Cardiff: the first ever Welsh club to get into the top division.

Pos Team P W D L F A GAv Pts
1 Birmingham City 42 24 10 8 79 38 2.079 58
2 Cardiff City 42 24 10 8 59 32 1.844 58
3 Bristol City 42 19 13 10 49 29 1.690 51

Blackpool had faded away and Cardiff had seen off Bristol City.  They probably reckoned it was worth paying over the odds for just six goals, and besides, transfer fees were rising daily.  It was a bit like house prices during parts of the early 21st century.  Buy an asset, sit on it, sell at a profit.

So clearly the new man helped.  But back in the first division, Fred Pagnam’s form faded, and nine months after Cardiff had signed him they sold him to Watford of the Third Division South for £1000.   Only £1000 because after that rush of increases in the top transfer fees, the football market (just as the property market can) stopped growing.  The record fee, having been broken three times in 14 months was then not breached again for three years nine months.  The bubble had burst – for a few years at least.

Looked at this way, that fee to Arsenal of £3000 was possibly over the odds, and now we begin to see a player who was not longer at his best, although still a goalscorer, whom Cardiff had bought in an attempt to get into the top league, no matter what it took – and they had bought him during a period of transfer fee escalation.

Fred Pagnam played 27 games and scored eight for Cardiff, providing more evidence that in the First Division his days as a number 9 were over.   But Cardiff City got an extra 90,000 in the ground during the subsequent season which must have been good news.

Put all this together and now the story looks different.  Yes Arsenal sold their top goal scorer, and quite probably it was Sir Henry Norris who approved the deal, maybe against the wishes of the manager (not the first club owner to do this is in the years of austerity after the war, nor the last) but it was Sir Henry’s judgement that was in the end the more accurate.  Pagnam was losing his touch, and within another year would not be delivering goals at the top level – and another £3000 offer was absolutely unlikely.

Pagnam however was still a success at the lower levels, and in 144 league matches across the next five seasons he scored 67 goals (74 from 157 appearances in all competitions) for Watford,  and was the Third Division South top scorer in the season after his move there with 30 goals.

As for Arsenal the club tried a whole range of players at number nine from here on: Walden, White, North and Blyth and it is true that the departure of Pagnam left Arsenal without a centre forward on whom they could rely.  The following season White, Baker, North, Henderson, Turnball, Young and Butler all had a go at the position.  Harry White was top scorer with 14.

But what of Pagnam after Watford?   In fact he became a manager and it is a measure of the man that he became one of the ambassadors of the game.  He started out by staying at Watford and took them up to 8th in the Third Division South in his final season of 1928/29.

We then lose site of him for two years until he suddenly emerges as manager of Galatasaray in Turkey for part of the 1931/2 season (records are contradictory as to how long he was there) before he became manager of the Turkish national team for a couple of matches.

After that he managed ASV-DWV in the 3rd Division of the Dutch league, as well as Den Haag and ASV-DWV, and finally CVV Vriendenschaar.   As a manager he does not appear to have had great success, but he clearly found himself a niche in the lower levels of Dutch football and married a Dutch lady, settling in the country.

Upon the outbreak of second world war however he had no alternative but to move back to England with his wife and thereafter ran a pub, passing away in 1962 aged 70.  Thus he was neither one of the great managers nor the very greatest of players, but he should be remembered as a man of honour – the man who stood up to the match fixing shenanigans of Liverpool and other clubs.  Without his evidence Liverpool might never have been caught, and although they were never punished for what happened (the League punished the players not the club) his evidence allows us to remember the truth.   He was a man who should be honoured.

Thus when it comes down to it, the allegation that at this time the best players were always sold does not stand up to scrutiny.  Yes, Arsenal could have kept the player, but he was by this timein decline.  The fee was simply too good to turn down.

Now returning to Arsenal in February 1921, having lost 5-1 away to Sunderland, Arsenal now had another game away, on 12 February to Oldham who were 20th in the league with only three wins all season.  Arsenal were one down at half time but pulled the match back to 1-1.  Everyone expected more, but then it was better than another defeat.  Arsenal remained 10th.

Meanwhile trouble was brewing in the country as a whole as on 16 February the unemployed total breached 1 million.  The government responded by raising unemployment benefit.

The return match with Oldham was on 19 February, and it was another draw 2-2.  That made it four games without a win, although the crowds were still there – 40,000 for a match against a team that could hardly be seen as top class opponents – it was quite remarkable.

Finally on 26 February Alex Graham, Arsenal’s regular centre half through the season gained his one and only cap for Scotland in a home International against Ireland.  Scotland won 2-0. But as was the norm these days the League games carried on as normal and Arsenal at last got a win – away to Preston 1-0.  Before the match Preston were 15th, and with a moderately good home record, having won 8 drawn 1 and lost 5 of their games at home this season.   And they had only lost two of their last eight, so the win was rather pleasing for Arsenal

Arsenal were 10th, and their goals in the four league games in February were scored by Blyth, Graham, Rutherford, Walden and White, all of whom got one apiece.

Pos Team P W D L F A GAv Pts
1 Burnley 29 19 7 3 65 22 2.955 45
2 Newcastle United 29 17 5 7 54 29 1.862 39
3 Liverpool 29 14 9 6 50 26 1.923 37
4 Everton 30 13 10 7 47 39 1.205 36
5 Bolton Wanderers 29 12 11 6 52 36 1.444 35
6 Tottenham Hotspur 29 14 5 10 60 39 1.538 33
7 Middlesbrough 29 13 7 9 40 38 1.053 33
8 Manchester City 28 14 4 10 42 37 1.135 32
9 Arsenal 29 10 10 9 43 43 1.000 30
10 Manchester United 28 11 7 10 47 46 1.022 29
11 Sunderland 29 10 8 11 41 45 0.911 28
12 West Bromwich Albion 29 9 10 10 36 43 0.837 28
13 Aston Villa 30 11 6 13 45 57 0.789 28
14 Bradford City 29 8 11 10 39 41 0.951 27
15 Chelsea 28 10 7 11 31 38 0.816 27
16 Blackburn Rovers 29 7 12 10 39 41 0.951 26
17 Preston North End 28 10 5 13 40 39 1.026 25
18 Huddersfield Town 30 8 7 15 24 39 0.615 23
19 Oldham Athletic 29 5 12 12 34 65 0.523 22
20 Sheffield United 32 5 12 15 27 53 0.509 22
21 Derby County 29 3 12 14 24 41 0.585 18
22 Bradford Park Avenue 29 5 7 17 32 55 0.582 17

Here are the results for the month in summary

Date   Opponents H/A  Res Score  Crowd  Pos
05/02/1921 Sunderland A L 1-5 30,000 10
12/02/1921 Oldham Athletic A D 1-1 18,313 10
19/02/1921 Oldham Athletic H D 2-2 40,000 10
26/02/1921 Preston North End A W 1-0 25,000 10

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 and onwards.

Section 12: 1921

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