1924/5: Knighton’s best start and a look back to Norris’ work on Fulham’s election of 1903

By Tony Attwood

And so we move on to 1924/5 – a monumental season in the history of Arsenal – and one that can surely not be overplayed in terms of its impact not just on the club in the 1920s but in terms of the club for all time.

September 1924 was also a month that saw the passing of one of Arsenal’s former managers – a manager whose departure from Arsenal has always been something of a mystery – but upon which we can now throw some light, following our research into Henry Norris’ involvement with football.

Meanwhile in the country at large there was turmoil in the air with the Campbell case in which the newspaper of the British communist party carried an open letter telling all socialist members of the armed forces not to fight for a capitalist country.   The minority Labour Prime Minister failed to prosecute the case – which led to a vote of no confidence and thus a general election.

And now you may be thinking, hang on, haven’t we had rather a lot of general elections of late?   And in response I would have to say “yes”.  In 1911 the period of a parliament was reduced from seven to five years, but elections could be called in shorter periods if the government fell, or if the Prime Minister felt like holding another one.  It is a law that still holds today although with a minor variance of the Fixed Term Parliament rule.

In the aftermath of the war there was an election in December 1918, another in November 1922, and yet another in December 1923. Now, because of the Campbell case, another was called for October 1924.

Meanwhile life outside politics, of course, carried on as normal and a new league season began on 30 August 1924.   Arsenal in fact had a particularly heavy schedule with seven league matches starting on that date and concluding on 27 September.

However there was also a change from the earlier process as now clubs did not play each other home and away in consecutive fixtures.   The Tottenham v Arsenal affair the season before last had been enough to convince the League that such proximity of matches (except for some reason over Christmas and Easter) was not a clever idea.

Despite the poverty of the team’s display in much of the last season, Arsenal did not participate in summer transfers very much – although we must remember that transfers at this time could last all year long.   The one transfer of any note that they did make was on 26 August 1924 when Dan Lewis joined from Clapton Orient.  He played for Arsenal in goal for six seasons, despite Chapman trying out various other keepers after he took over, and despite his faux pas in the 1927 cup final.

The first game of the season for Arsenal was away to Nottingham Forest, who for the match brought in a crowd almost double their average for last season, and a third higher than the corresponding fixture in 1923/4.   However the increase in enthusiasm for Forest did not last, as by the end of the season their crowds were down by 19% on the previous campaign.

The result of this opening fixture was Nottingham Forest 0 Arsenal 2.  It was the first and only time Knighton won the opening match of the season with Arsenal having lost to Newcastle 0-1, Villa 0-5, Sheffield Utd 1-2, Liverpool 2-5 and Newcastle 1-4 in his previous post-war seasons.

In some ways this was not too unexpected – Forest had managed the difficult task of actually ending the previous season one point and one place below Arsenal, escaping relegation on goal average.

Arsenal’s team for this opening fixture was

Robson (42)

Baker (21) Kennedy (29)

Milne (36) Butler (24) John (15)

Rutherford (22), Neil (11), Woods (36), Ramsay (11), Toner (3)

As a guide to the experience this side brought to the game I have indicated in brackets the number of league games each player played in 1923/4.

I can’t find any official announcement made, but at some time in the summer (I assume it was before this first game) Dr Paterson (the man Knighton claimed he was reduced to playing because he had no other players available) appears to have retired having played 21 games in 1923/4, after 26 games in 1922/3.  He played no part in the 1924/5 season but did make a brief return in the latter part of the 1925/6 season with Arsenal under new management.

Ramsey and Woods got the goals and it raised the level of excitement in north London for the first home game the following Monday (1 September) which ended with a 1-0 victory over Manchester City.  Not only was that two victories in a row at the start of the season, but two games without conceding, and only the second time that Knighton played the same players for the first two matches in a campaign.   This time the keeping of the team together was understandable; the previous time he had played the first two matches with the same XI was in 1920 when the team lost 0-5 away to Villa but beat Manchester United in the second match 2-0.

For the Monday game Neil got the goal and expectations were high for the third game.  This was against Liverpool and Arsenal won again 2-0, on 6 September, with Woods getting both goals in front of 45,000.    This was the first time in the club’s history that they had won the opening three league games of a season in the first division and they had done it without conceding a goal!

The results put Arsenal top of the first division, although I have seen some websites put Arsenal second.

Pos Team P W D L F A GAv Pts
1 Arsenal 3 3 0 0 5 0 100.0 6
2 Huddersfield Town 3 3 0 0 8 2 4.000 6
3 Sunderland 3 2 1 0 7 1 7.000 5
4 Notts County 3 2 1 0 3 1 3.000 5
5 Tottenham Hotspur 3 2 1 0 5 0 100.0 5

One could argue, mathematically correctly, that 5 divided by 0 to give the goal average is infinity, but I don’t seem to have an infinity sign on my computer, so 100% it will have to be.

The fourth league match of the season was away to Newcastle.  Newcastle had already played two home games – winning one and losing one but they were nonetheless looking a strong team and so it turned out to be, although Arsenal still got a very creditable 2-2 draw with Rutherford and Woods scoring in what was reported as a very even game.   Again, for the fourth match running the same Arsenal XI played, and were unbeaten.  The Times rated this as Arsenal’s best performance thus far.

Other results left the table prior to Arsenal’s fifth game on 17 September away to Manchester City looking like this…

Pos Team P W D L F A GAv Pts
1 Huddersfield Town 5 4 1 0 9 2 4.500 9
2 Arsenal 4 3 1 0 7 2 3.500 7
3 Blackburn Rovers 6 3 1 2 12 12 1.000 7
4 Birmingham City 6 3 1 2 6 9 0.667 7
5 Tottenham Hotspur 5 2 2 1 5 2 2.500 6

Manchester City had, like Arsenal, only played four games, having won two and drawn two, and in front of 40,000 at Maine Road Arsenal suffered their first defeat of the season, 0-2.  It was game five and yet again Arsenal had put out the same team.

And despite the defeat Knighton kept faith with the XI and they all played again in the sixth game of the season, at home to Sheffield United.  United had drawn one and lost one of their two away games, while Arsenal had won both their home games, so result of a 2-0 Arsenal home win was hardly surprising, Butler and Rutherford getting the goals.   The result left Arsenal in second position one point behind Huddersfield and one point above the chasing pack of Man City, Newcastle and Blackburn.  Meanwhile the clubs that had struggled last season with Arsenal, (Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and Preston), were once more clustered at the foot of the table.  It was an uplifting realisation.

The final game of the month was away to West Ham on 27 September and now there were changes in the Arsenal team as the two wingers Rutherford and Toner made way for Clark and Blyth.  WHU had thus far won one and drawn two of their home games, and they won this match 1-0.   Blyth had played throughout last season, but had only played twice on the wing.  Clark had had two games in the previous campaign, both on the wing.  In short, they were not experienced wingers.

Arthur Bourke writing in the Gazette as Norseman was particularly exercised about the team selection by Knighton on this occasion suggesting that both Haden and Paterson was available.  Of course he was there and I am writing this from a distance of 93 years, but the record books suggest something different.  As I noted above Dr Paterson did not play at all this season, and of course as an amateur he could make himself available as and when he wished.

So as noted above, my guess is that the doctor had told the manager he had had enough and wanted now to focus on being a GP.  As for Haden he did come back two games later (a 4-0 away defeat), but after that one game did not play again until mid-February, at which point he came in for the remaining 14 games of the season.  That looks to me like an injured player trying to come back a bit too early, and then making matters worse for himself.  If Haden had simply been dropped then Knighton’s management of the club was even more eccentric than I have imagined.

Of course I am just speculating and one would hope that the football journalist on the spot knew what he was writing about – although on the other hand we are talking about a football journalist!  I am not sure they were much more informed 93 years ago than they are now.

Those then were the games, but I want to finish this section of our story with one final event of sadness this month, for on 28 September 1924 the death was announced of Arsenal’s first successful manager Harry Bradshaw.  And there is a good reason for noting this passing, not just because of the Arsenal connection but also because of Bradshaw’s connection with Henry Norris.

When Harry Bradshaw joined Woolwich Arsenal in August 1899 the club were getting crowds of 3,000 to 5,000, although the single FA Cup match of the season before he joined showed the possibility – a crowd of 20,000 was recorded for a match against Derby.

In Bradshaw’s first season crowds started edging up, and by his final season (1903/4) Arsenal were getting crowds mostly in the 10,000 to 15,000 range.  One home game against Barnsley in February 1904 is recorded as having 40,000 in the stadium, but that might not be a totally accurate figure since it is hard to see how the Manor Ground at that time could hold that many.

But there was a rise in crowds in Bradshaw’s time and his record with the team was the reason, as we can see from this progress…

  • 1899/1900 – 8th in Division II, 3rd qualifying round of the FA Cup
  • 1900/1901 – 7th in Division II, 2nd round of the FA Cup
  • 1901/1902 – 4th in Division II, 1st found of the FA Cup
  • 1902/1903 – 3rd in Division II, 1st round of the FA Cup
  • 1903/1904 – 2nd in Division II (promoted), 2nd round of the FA Cup.

And if anyone during the 1924/5 season thought about it, they would have realised one very profound difference between Arsenal in Bradshaw’s time and the Arsenal of the Knighton era.   Eight of the players who played in the first match of the 1903/4 season, also played in the last match – and in fact only 20 players were used all season.  Of the 20, seven played five games or fewer and were clearly covering for injuries.  Knighton’s in 1921/2 used 30 players.

However in 1904, having got Arsenal into the first division Harry Bradshaw resigned as manager and instead of taking Arsenal into its first season in the 1st division he became manager of Fulham of the Southern League.  And we have oft wondered, why would he do that?

The clue, I think, is something that relates very closely to our theme in these articles so I will conclude this chapter by using the passing of Bradshaw in 1924 as a reason for going back to 1903 and delving into why he left Arsenal for Fulham in Arsenal’s greatest hour thus far.

And I choose to do that here, because of the Henry Norris connection.  For in 1903 Henry Norris was a shareholder in Fulham and clearly ambitious to see the club progress.

On 30 May 1903 the Southern League held its AGM, at the heart of which was the issue concerning which clubs should play in which division in the next season.

At the time there were two divisions in the Southern League – a 16 team first division and a smaller second division with a number of teams that varied each season.  The first division included three clubs in Northamptonshire in the north and two in Hampshire in the south and thus this was a league that required member clubs to have the resources to travel significant distances.

The second division however covered a much smaller geographic area and clearly some of the second division teams found the reduced commitment in terms of games and travel to their liking.  There was therefore no automatic promotion and relegation.

Fulham had entered the Southern League in 1898 and had progressed to win the second division both in 1902 and again in 1903 and with that second victory achieved they now applied for a place in the top league.  Watford also applied for election even though they were not in the League at all, and there was some support for them, but in the end after two rounds of voting they were given a place in the second division, and Fulham went up to the first.

The shareholders list for Fulham at the time shows a lot of local shareholders with one or two shares plus a small number had bought more, including Henry Norris, although he was not the largest shareholder having just 59 shares.  William Allen, his close friend had 50.

But despite not being the lead shareholder nor indeed being the chair of the company Norris made the speech accepting the place in the first division at the Southern League’s AGM.

So what can we make of this?   First, when it came to the election of a new team to the first division in 1919 he already had experience of such an application – he had seemingly run the Fulham campaign 16 years earlier.   Second, in 1903, he clearly was already a person of some influence within Fulham – which was of course the base of his building company.

As a result of the election to the first division of the Southern League Fulham were required to expand their ground, which included putting up a new stand.  Henry Norris’ building company however had no involvement in this work.   But when, at the start of the 1904/5 season the London County Council started legal proceedings against Fulham FC over the issue of planning permission for this grandstand, Henry Norris ran the club’s defence in court.

The argument which Norris used in court, would now seem very arcane and odd, but it was a response made in terms of the law of the land at the time.  It all centred on a simple point: if the grandstand was a building (as defined in law) the LCC was the licensing body that could say if it should be erected or not.  Fulham should have asked for planning permission, they had not, and so the stand should come down.

However if it was considered in law to be a “structure” then Fulham’s local council would decide whether the “structure” should be allowed.   Here the rules were much less stringent and so Norris, with his architect Archibald Leitch, argued in court that the grandstand was a structure.

It is worth emphasising, should anyone allege otherwise, that there was no impropriety here: Norris was not a member of Fulham Council under 1906 – two years later.  Thus he was not trying to get a council of which he was a member to rule on a technical issue.  He was simply trying to get Fulham out of a mess that the board of directors had got the club into.

The case was reported of course in the local paper, and it appears that Norris was already clearly something of a clever public speaker and several times amused the court, including the judge, with his arguments about the finer point of the differences between structures and buildings.  The LCC lawyer who conducted matters for the council spoke much more formally (as barristers tend to do).  He made the council’s case properly and correctly, and he lost.

And to emphasis the other point here: in case it be thought that Henry Norris used this as an opportunity to get work for his building company (for the ground had to be extended and a grandstand quickly built as a result of the election to the first division of the Southern League) it was not the Norris and Allen partnership that did the work.  Another shareholder / builder Robert Iles (who owned 100 shares, and thus outranked Norris) who got the job of extending  Craven Cottage in the months before the start of the new season.  Norris got the club out of a hole that other shareholders had got the club into.  It is little wonder that soon after they asked Norris to be their chairman.

My suspicion therefore (and it is no more than that) was that it was Henry Norris who, having helped win Fulham a place in the First Division, then recruited manager Harry Bradshaw from Arsenal in 1904 after Fulham’s first season in the first division of the Southern League.

But leaving aside Norris’ powers of persuasion it is still surprising that Arsenal, having made such steady progress year on year until the goal of winning promotion to the 1st Division, should not be seen by Harry Bradshaw, as the ideal base for the furtherance of his career.  Why should he, at the very moment of his triumph, resign to go to a Southern League team (Fulham), not least because most of the players he had recruited and trained were now thought to be ready for the 1st Division (where they achieved 10th position in Phil Kelso’s first season with the club)?

My guess is that Henry Norris promised Bradshaw resources, funding and quite possibly a job to suit his interests.  Arsenal we must remember was still owned and run by its shareholders and the committee, and it may well be that the club was very reluctant to push the boat out with money for new players in the face of the first division challenge.

Thus Fulham is what Bradshaw chose with their first team in the First Division of the Southern League and their reserve side in the 2nd division of the Southern League (which they won easily).  In 1906 the first team walked away with the First Division of the Southern League – a League which now also contained Tottenham, West Ham, QPR and Brentford, as they did the following season – and as a result of that, the club was elected to the Football League in the summer of 1907.  I suspect the manager had been offered a reward for such progress, and this was duly paid.  (Tottenham we may note was still languishing in mid-table in the Southern League’s first division.)   In their first season in the Football League Fulham finished fourth and reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup.

In 1909 Bradshaw retired from management (one year before Henry Norris rescued Woolwich Arsenal) and became secretary of the Southern League, where he stayed until his retirement in 1921.

His son Joe played for Fulham (and indeed Arsenal Reserves) and was later manager of Fulham between 1926 and 1929 although without the success of his father.  During the period that Harry had managed Arsenal they had played 189 league games and had a win percentage of 50.79%.  The only manager who thus far has managed Arsenal for over 50 games and who has exceeded that win percentage was Arsène Wenger.

And so, by looking back through the life and times of a previous Arsenal manager of merit, we get a new insight into the work of Henry Norris.  Clearly, by the time he came to face the election of 1919 he knew a thing or two about preparing his ground.  As we know Sir Henry made no speech at the AGM in 1919, but clearly he didn’t need to.  He had a reputation for taking teams forward.  He had done it with Fulham in the summer of 1903, had rescued Arsenal from bankruptcy in the summer of 1910, and prepared his ground perfectly in applying for Arsenal’s election to the first division in 1919.

Here is the list of matches for Arsenal in the first month of the 1924/25 season

Date Opponents H/A Res Score Crowd
30/08/1924 Nottingham Forest A W 2-0 20,000
01/09/1924 Manchester City H W 1-0 25,000
06/09/1924 Liverpool H W 2-0 45,000
13/09/1924 Newcastle United A D 2-2 30,000
17/09/1924 Manchester City A L 0-2 34,000
20/09/1924 Sheffield United H W 2-0 40,000
27/09/1924 West Ham United A L 0-1 31,000

At the end of September 1924 there was then an attempt to strengthen the squad – but as this ran over into October I shall leave it for the next chapter.

Here is the league table as it stood at the end of the month.

Pos Team Pld W D L F A GAv Pts
1 Huddersfield Town 7 4 3 0 10 3 3.333 11
2 Sunderland 7 5 1 1 16 6 2.667 11
3 Manchester City 7 5 0 2 19 9 2.111 10
4 West Bromwich Albion 8 4 2 2 9 6 1.500 10
5 West Ham United 8 3 4 1 6 6 1.000 10
6 Arsenal 7 4 1 2 9 5 1.800 9
7 Notts County 8 3 3 2 7 5 1.400 9
8 Newcastle United 9 2 5 2 15 12 1.250 9
9 Blackburn Rovers 8 3 3 2 13 13 1.000 9
10 Birmingham City 8 4 1 3 7 10 0.700 9
11 Leeds United 8 2 4 2 9 8 1.125 8
12 Cardiff City 8 2 3 3 9 7 1.286 7
13 Aston Villa 7 1 5 1 14 13 1.077 7
14 Tottenham Hotspur 8 2 3 3 7 8 0.875 7
15 Bury 7 1 4 2 12 15 0.800 6
16 Everton 7 1 4 2 6 8 0.750 6
17 Liverpool 6 2 1 3 11 12 0.917 5
18 Burnley 7 1 3 3 7 9 0.778 5
19 Bolton Wanderers 7 1 3 3 8 12 0.667 5
20 Sheffield United 8 1 3 4 8 16 0.500 5
21 Nottingham Forest 7 1 1 5 4 13 0.308 3
22 Preston North End 7 1 1 5 3 13 0.231 3

We are currently evolving this series on Henry Norris at the Arsenal.   The full index to all the articles is here.   This index is updated as each new article is published.

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, is set out below in these articles.

After that there is a complete index of all the articles in the series in chronological order.

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 Story:

The Sixth Allegation

The Seventh Allegation

The AISA Arsenal History Society is part of the work of the Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association.  If you want to join AISA contact them at membership@aisa.org


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