Arsenal and the League 1920/1: the crowds and Arsenal’s team

By Tony Attwood

We can now have a look at the attendance figures from 1920/1 and compare them with earlier times.  All the figures are taken from European Football Statistics.  Below that there is the usual list of players who played 10+ games in the league in the season.

A quick look back at how attendance figures had evolved over the years before the war compared to the season we have just reviewed gives an indication of football’s health.  The attendances for both the first and second divisions were all time records, with each post-war year breaking all the pre-war records.

Indeed, excluding the 1914/15 season, which was conducted for the most part in wartime, the first division average attendance across the whole season was up by over 8000.

As for Arsenal the evolution of the club was quite extraordinary.

Prior to the disastrous 1912/13 season when Arsenal were relegated Arsenal were jogging along  with crowds of mostly 11,000+.  The move to Highbury took that crowd level up to 22000+, and the return to the first division in 1919 took the club up to 34,000+.  If ever a ground move was vindicated, Norris’ decision to choose Highbury as the new location for the club had been fully justified.

Arsenal were not the most supported team in the country, but they were on the way.

Season Av Div 1 Av Div 2 Highest av crowd Av crowd Arsenal av
1920/1 29,252 16,380 Newcastle United 41,265 35,540
1919/20 24,036 12,883 Chelsea 42,615 34,495
1914/5 13,596 6,364 Manchester City 20,205 13,820 (3)
1913/4 21,979 10,738 Chelsea 37,105 22,745 (2)
1912/3 18,885 8,692 Chelsea 33,555 9,395 (1)
1911/2 16,635 9,515 Chelsea 26,295 11,630
1910/1 16,154 9,270 Newcastle United 25,055 11,525
1909/10 15,818 8,307 Chelsea 28,545 10,395
1908/9 16,357 9,341 Newcastle United 29,300 13,025


(1) Arsenal relegated

(2) First season at Highbury, challenging for promotion

(3) Second season at Highbury, but affected by outbreak of war in November 1914.

The outbreak of war in November 1914 savagely cut the crowds, particularly in the south of England, as the league continued.  Many prominent figures (for example Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, famous for his Sherlock Holmes stories) argued vociferously against the continuation of football that season, and indeed wanted to abolition of the war leagues thereafter.  However the war leagues continued with small crowds for the most part, and few millionaire newspaper owners thought to compare the closing down of the Leagues with the fact that horse racing, “the sport of kings” continued without let or hindrance all the way through the war.

But the public, at least the male proportion of the public, wanted their football back, and as we have seen, crowd numbers for the final wartime league, which continued after the end of the war, became much, much higher.  With the return of professional leagues, numbers immediately shot up to record levels.

The figures for the top 10 clubs in 1920/1 (all of which were in the first division) show a positive growth for all except Chelsea who having come third in 1919/20 now slipped down to 18th (although they were still the second best supported club in the country).   This was both because of their huge ground, and the lack of proximity of any other first division clubs within the capital or to the west or south.

In essence a large local population and success on the pitch brought in the crowds.  Here are the crowd figures for 1920/1.

No. Club Average  Change Lge Pos
1 Newcastle United 41,265 +7.5% 5
2 Chelsea 38,520 -9.6% 18
3 Everton 37,215 +28.1% 7
4 Tottenham Hotspur 36,010 +5.3% 6
5 Arsenal 35,540 +3.1% 9
6 Manchester United 35,525 +33.9% 13
7 Liverpool 35,440 +19.2% 4
8 Aston Villa 35,145 +4.9% 10
9 Bolton Wanderers 34,400 +47.6% 3
10 Burnley 31,535 +61.5% Champions

The top Division 2 team in terms of crowds was Birmingham with 31,525, who also won the league.  Cardiff City who came second in the league were also the second most supported club in the 2nd Division.  Wales had within two years gained its first ever league club, and now had gained its first ever First Division club.

The average attendance for each league was

League Average crowd Increase
Division One 29,252 21.7%
Division Two 16,380 27.1%
Division Three 10,929 (New league)

Clearly all league attendances were up, not least because of the continual return of troops who had been fighting in the first world war throughout the Empire.  Although the war ended in November 1918, it took a very long time to bring everyone who survived back home.

If we look back a year to 1919/20 we see the immediate impact on the end of war and return to professionalism in club football…

Pos. Club Division Average Percentage increase
1 Chelsea 1 42.615 129,9%
2 Newcastle United 1 38.390 163,9%
3 Arsenal 1 34.485 149,5%
4 Tottenham Hotspur 2 34.185 157,6%
5 Aston Villa 1 33.500 144,9%
6 Liverpool 1 29.730 76,9%
7 Everton 1 29.050 56,8%
8 West Bromwich Albion 1 29.025 165,2%
9 Manchester United 1 26.540 122,1%
10 Sunderland 1 25.580 150,0%

And this historical perspective shows the overall growth.  As mentioned above we should always remember that 1914/15 numbers were low because of the outbreak of war in November 1914.

Season Div 1 av Div 2 av Div 3 av Top club Top club av
1920/21 29,252 16,380 10,929 Newcastle United 41.265
1919/20 24,036 12,883 Chelsea 42.615
1914/15 13,596 6,364 Manchester City 20.205
1913/14 21,979 10,738 Chelsea 37.105
1912/13 18,885 8,692 Chelsea 33.555
1911/12 16,635 9,515 Chelsea 26.295

Looking at these figures there is no doubt that the club owners would have been happy to see the progress, and they may well have expected it to continue.

For Arsenal in particular the growth in numbers meant that the club was able to start paying back some of its debt to Sir Henry Norris, something he was probably very happy to see.  In rescuing Arsenal from extinction he had taken a huge gamble, a gamble that looked as if it were doomed to failure, by the outbreak of war in 1914.   And yet despite all the setbacks, here he was, now ready to claim back some of the money he had invested, while also selling off more shares in Arsenal.

Finally below is the list of all the players who played 10 or more league games in the season.

League FA Cup LFACC Friendlies
Player Games Goals Games Goals Games Goals Games Goals
A Baker 37 2 2 2
WN Blyth 40 7 1 2 4 2
F Bradshaw 21 1 2
JA Graham 30 5 1 2
FW Groves 13 1 1 1 1
AV Hutchins 39 1 1 4
A McKinnon 37 2 1 1 4
F Pagnam 25 14 1 3 4
JA Paterson 20 1
J Rutherford 32 7 1 1 4
JE Shaw 28 1 1 3
J Smith 10 1 1 1
JS Toner 12 3 1 1 3 1
HA White 26 10 1 2 1 4 4
EC Williamson 33 1 3 2

Despite the fact that the club was not a high scoring team, we still had two players who got into double figures in league matches.

Below is a list of some of the key elements from this series.  A full index of all the articles is published here.


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

The Fourth Allegation

Did Henry Norris really beg Leslie Knighton to stay and offer him the hugest bonus ever?

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