April 1921: Strikes, the best run of the season, and a film of a 1921 game.

This article is part of an ongoing series on Arsenal’s history from 1910 to 1927 – the Henry Norris years.  Details of the articles are given at the end.


by Tony Attwood

Arsenal started April 1921, with its usual busy Easter programme, sitting in 9th in the First Division league of 22 clubs, but with little chance of getting more than one place higher.  On the plus side there was absolutely no danger of slipping into the relegation zone where matters were almost totally sorted out.

What’s more, after a run of just one win in eight and a 2-6 home defeat to Sheffield United, the club had rallied a little with successive victories over last season’s champions, West Bromwich Albion, and there was clearly hope of a late season revival.

In particular the introduction of James Hopkins at inside left brought fresh hope to the side.  He had played with Belfast United during the war and signed for Arsenal in the build up to the resumption of football after the war, at which time he was 18.  He immediately went into the London Combination team and got his first chance in the shake up after the Sheffield United defeat, playing in the match against West Bromwich at Highbury, scoring a goal in that game going on to play in every game except one in the rest of the league season.

Thus as Arsenal went into their first match of April – the return fixture with Sheffield United on the 2nd the table looked like this…

Pos Team P W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 Burnley 35 22 9 4 72 27 2.667 53
2 Liverpool 35 16 12 7 55 30 1.833 44
3 Newcastle United 35 18 8 9 60 36 1.667 44
4 Bolton Wanderers 35 15 14 6 66 45 1.467 44
5 Manchester City 34 19 4 11 54 42 1.286 42
6 Tottenham Hotspur 34 17 6 11 65 42 1.548 40
7 Everton 35 15 10 10 58 50 1.160 40
8 Middlesbrough 35 14 9 12 45 46 0.978 37
9 Arsenal 34 12 11 11 52 55 0.945 35
10 Bradford City 35 10 14 11 51 50 1.020 34

The following day coal rationing was introduced, as a result of the miners’ strike.  The board of directors at Arsenal were undoubtedly already trying to work out how they would complete their away trips to Bradford, Liverpool and Newcastle if, as expected the railway timetables were disrupted.

To understand this we need to take a short step backwards for a couple of paragraphs and explore how matters relating to transport and mining had evolved in recent times.

In the years before the war the major unions involving transport workers, railwaymen and miners came together in the Triple Alliance with a view to co-ordinating action in the event of attempts by employers to cut wages.  However during the war the state had taken control of these key industries and had held back on any cuts in pay in order to avoid strikes during wartime and the possibility of political unrest.

The regulations prohibiting a reduction in salaries were removed on 31 March 1921, and pay cuts were almost immediately introduced.  The miners refused to accept this and were locked out.  It was expected that the Triple Alliance would now bring much of the country to a standstill by calling out everyone involved in transport, but there were delays and at first only the miners came out on strike.

While the nation waited to see who would blink first in the growing industrial confrontation, the football continued.  Arsenal played Sheffield United away on 2 April and the result was a 1-1 draw with Rutherford scoring Arsenal’s goal in front of 35,000.

After this came the two games against Bradford who were looking to be certainties for relegation, and in the home match on 9 April  a crowd of 30,000 saw Arsenal win 2-1.  Goals from Toner and Rutherford saw Arsenal through, and Sally Davis reports that the match was nominated as a benefit game for Arsenal’s long serving quartet of Bradshaw, McKinnon, Hardinge and Rutherford with each player guaranteed a minimum of £500.

Arsenal remained in 9th position but there was now hope they might creep a little further up the table as they had a game in hand over Middlesbrough who were now just one point ahead.

The return match with Bradford on 16 April was the first that could prove difficult for Arsenal if as expected the unions combined in the Triple Alliance and so the club travelled to Bradford on Friday by coach (instead of taking a Saturday morning scheduled train as was normal procedure).

However, while Arsenal were making their way to the game on 15 April, the executives of the  non-mining parts of the Alliance voted against strike action after differences between the mining unions and the transport unions emerged; in Trades Union circles it became known as Black Friday.  However there was some action as members of the Alliance were told by their unions not to handle imported coal – and this part of the deal held firm.

Despite the very long coach trip Arsenal won the game 1-0, with Toner getting the goal.  They were still one point behind Middlesbrough with a game in hand, but there was now a three point gap between Arsenal and the club immediately below them: Manchester United.

This season of 1920/21 also proved to be a year of note for Tottenham who on 23 April won the FA Cup for the second time (having previously won it in 1901).  They had also won the Southern League in 1900 and the 2nd Division in 1920, making a total of four trophies.  Arsenal had won none, and would in fact have to wait for the rest of the decade before not only winning their first trophy but quickly overtaking Tottenham.  Tottenham at the time were the dominant force (which is what makes the protests they made against Arsenal coming to north London seem so strange).

In these days the FA Cup Final was played while the League season was still running and while Tottenham were beating Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Final at Chelsea, Arsenal were drawing 1-1 with Newcastle at Highbury with 20,000 in the crowd.   According to Sally Davis, the Tottenham team then took the train to Finsbury Park, rather than White Hart Lane, leading to an interesting meeting of fans in the area.

We obviously don’t have any film of league matches from the era, but we do have something from the Cup Final.  It’s not Arsenal, of course, but still, it is of historical interest.

Either way Arsenal had now completed seven games without defeat, to make up for the earlier two wins in 12.

The following day policemen on motorcycles began to appear on London’s streets, and the day after that (25 April) Arsenal beat Preston 2-1 at home, Hopkins and McKinnon getting the goals.  Finally Arsenal had moved up from 9th to 8th just one point below Tottenham, although the crowd of 12,000 was disappointing even allowing for the that the match was played on a Monday.  Kick off was not until late afternoon, and the figure for this game makes me wonder just how the attendance for matches was verified at this time.  While fans might feel that higher crowds reflected favourably on their team, from the directors’ point of view it meant higher contributions to the loathed Entertainment Tax.

There was one more match left for both the first team and the reserves in the month, and I mention the reserves because prior to their game at Highbury on 30 April a charity match was played between Unity House and Carlisle Railwaymen with half the gate receipts for the two matches going to the National Union of Railwaymen Orphan Fund.

Meanwhile at the other end of the country Arsenal’s fine run of form came to an end with a 0-1 away defeat the Newcastle.  Arsenal stayed in 8th.

Pos Team P W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 Burnley 40 23 12 5 77 33 2.333 58
2 Bolton Wanderers 41 19 14 8 77 51 1.510 52
3 Manchester City 40 23 5 12 66 48 1.375 51
4 Newcastle United 40 20 9 11 64 41 1.561 49
5 Liverpool 40 17 14 9 60 35 1.714 48
6 Everton 42 17 13 12 66 55 1.200 47
7 Tottenham Hotspur 40 19 8 13 68 45 1.511 46
8 Arsenal 40 15 13 12 59 60 0.983 43
9 Middlesbrough 40 16 11 13 50 51 0.980 43
10 Aston Villa 41 17 7 17 61 70 0.871 41

Here is a summary of the games for the month…

April Opposition H/A Res Score Crowd Pos
2 Sheffield United A D 1-1 35,000  9
9 Bradford H W 2-1 30,000  9
16 Bradford A W 1-0 14,000  9
23 Newcastle United H D 1-1 20,000  9
25 Preston North End H W 2-1 12,000  8
30 Newcastle United A L 0-1 35,000  8

About this series

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

The Third Allegation

We shall shortly be reporting on the contradictions that emerge between Knighton’s autobiography and an interview he gave in the summer of 1921.  But meanwhile…

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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