April 1922: Arsenal and Man U fight against relegation. Only one survives.

By Tony Attwood

You may recall that through much of the early part of 1922 we have been reporting that Sir Henry Norris was out of the country recuperating from an illness first in Italy and then in France.  In the days before antibiotics (Alexander Fleming did not discover  penicillin under 1928) heading for the sun to avoid the English winter was the prime way of attempting to recover from infections and the like for those wealthy enough to be able to afford it.

However by March 1922 he was back in the country, and if not as active with meetings as he had previously been, he certainly was attending some.

And upon his return he found Arsenal at the start of April in a parlous position.

Pos Team P W D L F A GAv Pts
1 Liverpool 34 18 12 4 48 24 2.000 48
2 Burnley 34 19 4 11 59 41 1.439 42
3 Aston Villa 34 19 3 12 66 43 1.535 41
4 Tottenham Hotspur 33 16 8 9 52 31 1.677 40
5 Cardiff City 34 16 7 11 51 42 1.214 39
6 Bolton Wanderers 34 16 6 12 55 44 1.250 38
7 Newcastle United 34 14 9 11 45 37 1.216 37
8 Middlesbrough 33 13 11 9 62 53 1.170 37
9 Manchester City 33 14 8 11 53 54 0.981 36
10 West Bromwich Albion 34 13 9 12 41 44 0.932 35
11 Sunderland 34 13 6 15 47 51 0.922 32
12 Blackburn Rovers 36 11 10 15 45 49 0.918 32
13 Chelsea 34 10 12 12 27 37 0.730 32
14 Sheffield United 35 12 7 16 47 46 1.022 31
15 Preston North End 32 12 7 13 35 50 0.700 31
16 Huddersfield Town 32 11 8 13 37 37 1.000 30
17 Birmingham City 34 12 6 16 39 48 0.813 30
18 Everton 33 9 10 14 44 44 1.000 28
19 Oldham Athletic 34 9 10 15 25 41 0.610 28
20 Bradford City 34 8 10 16 37 61 0.607 26
21 Arsenal 33 10 5 18 31 45 0.689 25
22 Manchester United 34 7 10 17 34 58 0.586 24

Arsenal were clinging on to two rays of hope.  First, they had the game in hand (something that had bolstered them slightly throughout the last couple of months) and second two of their forthcoming matches were against Manchester United while the last two games of the season were against Bradford City – “real four pointers” as they used to say.  Arsenal still had its future in its own hands.

Arsenal’s first match of the month, on All Fools Day, was against Middlesbrough at home, and despite the disappointment of a draw after being 2-1 up at half time, the result was met with some satisfaction for it meant that the club were now undefeated in three successive games for only the third time this season.

And interestingly once again the two inside forwards, White and Boreham, scored, exactly as they had done in the surprising 2-0 win over Villa in the previous game.  Indeed it was the fourth time since Christmas that these two players had both scored – something to be savoured in a season of such chopping and changing.

Unless there was a special event that was noted in the local paper we don’t have details of whether Sir Henry was at Arsenal matches, but I rather suspect he was given that on the following Monday he was fit enough to attend the quarterly meeting of the Worshipful Company of Feltmakers at the Guildhall.  This may seem odd for a man who was most certainly not a feltmaker, but as with so many of the liveried companies the original purpose of the company has been set aside and instead it was then (and still is now) engaged in charity work.  Set up in the 17th century, by the time Sir Henry was a member, the feltmakers were already being drawn from the higher ranks of many professions, businesses and trades as well as the hatting industry.

Thus cleared of any concerns about a continuing life in politics Sir Henry’s new life began with a football match on 8 April – he was a guest at Villa Park for a luncheon followed by the England v Scotland match, which ended 0-1.  (That is the match ended 0-1.  I have no details of the luncheon).

8 April also saw Arsenal next in action – away to Middlesbrough, and not surprisingly Arsenal put out the same team as had beaten Manchester United.  The result however was as 2-4 defeat.  Baker and White got the goals, and it was Baker’s fourth game in succession in which he had scored.  Arsenal, although defeated had just scored nine goals in four games.  In the previous four they had scored zero.

This was also the last senior game for Angus McKinnon.  He played 211 games for Arsenal – his only senior club.  His place at left half was taken over by Tom Whittaker, while McKinnon subsequently spent some of his post-playing years as trainer and coach for New Brighton FC.

But with that one defeat disaster had struck as Arsenal were back in the mire once more

Pos Club P W D L F A G.Av Pts
18 Bradford City 36 10 10 16 43 62 0.694 30
19 Oldham Athletic 36 10 10 16 29 43 0.674 30
20 Everton 35 9 10 16 46 48 0.958 28
21 Arsenal 36 11 6 19 38 52 0.731 28
22 Manchester United 37 7 10 20 35 63 0.556 24

Bradford City were now undefeated in six and had just done the double over Huddersfield Town, including a memorable 4-0 win at home.  Man U however looked desperate having just lost five in a row.   Everton’s decline was down to four defeats and a draw in the last five.

Meanwhile despite his agreement after all the to and fro with the local party to stand down as MP, Sir Henry Norris was continuing to do his duty by the government until the next election, and on 11 April he was in the Commons, this time supporting the plan to spend £1m building tennis courts in Hyde Park for public use.

The Commons rose for the Easter recess on 12 April, and on 15 April Arsenal started a run of four games in seven days: two against Tottenham and two against West Bromwich Albion.

Tottenham had been having a very good season, and were now sitting second in the League, although their position six points behind Liverpool with six games to go meant that they would not only have to perform well in those remaining games, but Liverpool would have seriously to slip up.  Tottenham also had an inferior goal average to Liverpool making their task even harder.

And to make Arsenal’s life harder, on 14 April Everton beat Huddersfield 6-2, after Bradford City had beaten Newcastle away 2-1.  For City that was five wins and three draws in the last eight to make it look certain (at least for the moment) that they would stay up.

On 15th however Everton lost 1-0 to Sheffield United while Bradford City lost 1-2 to Birmingham City to end their magnificent run.  Meanwhile Manchester United lost 0-3 at home to Oldham.  It was as if all the clubs around Arsenal were doing their best to help the Reds.  And yet the Reds couldn’t help themselves for on 15 April the result was Tottenham 2 Arsenal 0 in front of 40,394.  Arsenal were of course still in 21st position, three points behind Everton although now with a game in hand – but an inferior goal average.  The national papers (in the shape of the Times) and the local Islington Daily Gazette said Arsenal were sure to be relegated with Manchester United.

But what do these journalists know?   On 17 April Manchester United ended their run of six consecutive defeats to beat Sheffield United 3-2.  Bradford City lost to Newcastle United 2-3.

And then Arsenal amazingly topped all that with the result West Brom 0 Arsenal 3, Boreham, Young and Graham getting the goals.  The foot of the table now looked like this with four games to go.

Pos Club P W D L F A G.Av Pts
18 Birmingham City 38 13 6 19 42 55 0.764 32
19 Bradford City 39 11 10 18 48 68 0.706 32
20 Everton 38 10 11 17 52 51 1.020 31
21 Arsenal 38 12 6 20 41 54 0.759 30
22 Manchester United 39 8 10 21 38 68 0.559 26

Suddenly Bradford City, after their great run, were back in the mix, for if Arsenal won their game in hand over Bradford they would leapfrog them on account of their goal average.  Man Utd however looked to be in real trouble.

One day on, on 18 April, and Arsenal were home to West Brom and thanks to a last minute penalty scored by Graham, Arsenal drew 2-2. Everton meanwhile won away at Huddersfield 1-2 to lift themselves out of trouble.

This meant that the following Saturday, 22 April, was going to be an even more intense north London derby than normal.  And for the second match running Graham scored a penalty to give Arsenal the match 1-0.  The Islington Daily Gazette called it “the most valuable ever scored at Highbury”.  In the second half, after the penalty, Tottenham had played with ten men, but Arsenal could not get further ahead.  It was two wins and a draw in the last three, and five wins, two draws and two defeats in the last nine – Arsenal’s best run of the season.

On that Saturday Manchester United drew 1-1 with Oldham but that run of six successive defeats looked to have ended their chances of survival.  Everton secured a 1-1 draw with Sheffield United to keep them safe but Bradford City made it three defeat in a row losing 1-0 to Birmingham.

The table with two games to go was now like this with two matches to play…

Pos Club P W D L F A G.Av Pts
18 Preston North End 40 12 11 17 38 63 0.603 35
19 Everton 40 11 12 17 55 53 1.038 34
20 Arsenal 40 13 7 20 44 56 0.786 33
21 Bradford City 40 11 10 19 48 69 0.696 32
22 Manchester United 40 8 11 21 39 69 0.565 27

 Man U were thus relegated but Bradford City, Arsenal, Everton and Preston were all still in the mix.  But there was a twist because for their last two games of the season, Arsenal had to play Bradford City home and away.  The winner would take all.

However before the final games there was an extra match at Highbury as on 27 April the Duke of York returned to the ground to watch the final of the London Insurance Offices FA Cup.  A note in the Southern Amateur League (SAL) website says, “A number of SAL clubs with links to the finance sector (and some others, whose involvement no-one has ever been able to explain) enter the London Financial F.A. competitions. In years gone by a number of SAL clubs also entered teams into the London Financial F.A. league competition and, before that, the London Banks F.A. and London Insurance F.A. league competitions.”  Sally Davis notes that “the prime mover at Arsenal in getting the match staged at Highbury was probably director Charles Crisp, who worked for Norwich Union.”

The first of the two Bradford City games was away, on Cup Final Day.  Huddersfield Town (managed of course by Herbert Chapman) won the Cup 1-0 against Preston with a disputed penalty.  It was played for the last time at Chelsea; as of next season the FA Cup Final would move to Wembley which was at this moment still being built.

Meanwhile in Yorkshire Arsenal beat Bradford City 2-0 with goals from White and Young.  The Islington Daily Gazette described it as a victory for the Arsenal team “of triers and hard workers.”   However the columnist felt that the club could not be described as “a team of talents”.

This 8th game in April meant the month had yielded four wins, two draws, and two defeats. 

The table now looked like this:

Pos Club P W D L F A G.Av Pts
16 Huddersfield Town 40 13 9 18 49 53 0.925 35
17 Arsenal 41 14 7 20 46 56 0.821 35
18 Oldham Athletic 41 12 11 18 35 49 0.714 35
19 Preston North End 40 12 11 17 38 63 0.603 35
20 Everton 41 11 12 18 55 55 1.000 34
21 Bradford City 41 11 10 20 48 71 0.676 32
22 Manchester United 41 8 12 21 40 70 0.571 28

With one match to go, Arsenal were finally safe.

Here are the results for the month

Date Opposition H/A Res Score Crowd Pos
01/04/1922 Middlesbrough H D 2-2 30,000 21
05/04/1922 Manchester United H W 3-1 25,000 19
08/04/1922 Middlesbrough A L 2-4 20,000 21
15/04/1922 Tottenham Hotspur A L 0-2 40,394 21
17/04/1922 West Bromwich Albion A W 3-0 24,000 21
18/04/1922 West Bromwich Albion H D 2-2 22,000 21
22/04/1922 Tottenham Hotspur H W 1-0 42,000 20
29/04/1922 Bradford City A W 2-0 35,000 17

Four wins, two draws, two defeats.  Arsenal had done it.

Henry Norris at the Arsenal

A full index to the series which runs from 1910 onwards is given 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 on this site, 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.  It is to be found here in these 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?  And if so, why were there no new players?

The Fifth Tale

The Sixth Allegation

Leslie Knighton repeatedly claimed in his autobiography that he was limited to transfer fees of no more than £1000 per player.  But in March 1922 he paid twice that for Andy Young.  That wasn’t the only occasion, but it stands out as Andy Young was a useful but by no means ultra special player.

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