Jan 1924: Arsenal slip dangerously while Cardiff, Bolton and Huddersfield march upwards

By Tony Attwood

We have noted in earlier chapters that during the 1920s Sir Henry Norris had been taken seriously ill, had recuperated in Italy and France (where he had had a house built), and had withdrawn from politics.  He had still been able to show his feisty side in successfully taking on a libel case in court, but he had been noticeably withdrawn in relation to football matters.  Eventually he had an operation, although we have no details of what it was for.   But these facts explain why, compared to his earlier years, he had become less engaged with the world around him.   As a result it is almost certain that through the first part of 1924 he was in France, avoiding the depths of the British winter and further recuperating.   We don’t know for sure but there was no sign of him at football matches nor at his masonic lodge nor elsewhere.

But of course life continued at Arsenal and in England.   On 1 January for example, there was a major step forward for the BBC with the first broadcast of what it called “Weather Shipping” later to be known as the Shipping Forecast.  It is still with us today.

Meanwhile, Arsenal had finished the old year in 16th place in the league and looked forward to a month in which they would not only open their FA Cup campaign in the traditional way but also play the league leaders, Cardiff City, twice. 

Here is the league table at the start of the year…

Pos Team P W D L F A GAv Pts
1 Cardiff City 23 13 8 2 41 21 1.952 34
2 Bolton Wanderers 25 11 10 4 45 19 2.368 32
3 Huddersfield Town 23 13 4 6 38 21 1.810 30
4 Aston Villa 25 9 11 5 29 20 1.450 29
5 Sunderland 23 12 5 6 41 31 1.323 29
6 Blackburn Rovers 23 11 5 7 37 28 1.321 27
7 Newcastle United 24 11 5 8 35 27 1.296 27
8 Sheffield United 23 9 8 6 35 28 1.250 26
9 Tottenham Hotspur 23 9 8 6 25 21 1.190 26
10 Everton 24 10 6 8 34 32 1.063 26
11 Notts County 23 7 10 6 21 25 0.840 24
12 West Ham United 23 7 8 8 19 24 0.792 22
13 Manchester City 22 8 6 8 28 39 0.718 22
14 Burnley 23 6 8 9 31 32 0.969 20
15 West Bromwich Albion 23 6 8 9 30 39 0.769 20
16 Arsenal 23 7 6 10 21 34 0.618 20
17 Liverpool 23 7 4 12 26 30 0.867 18
18 Nottingham Forest 23 6 6 11 27 36 0.750 18
19 Birmingham City 23 4 9 10 18 31 0.581 17
20 Middlesbrough 23 6 4 13 23 30 0.767 16
21 Chelsea 24 4 8 12 14 30 0.467 16
22 Preston North End 23 4 5 14 25 45 0.556 13

The opening match of the new year was away to relegation threatened Chelsea on 5 January.  Chelsea were in a sorry state at this time having lost three and drawn one of their last four games, and indeed having only won two of their last 21 league matches.

In many ways the plight of Chelsea shows an interesting comparison with Arsenal.  Like all clubs Chelsea were funded by their attendances at matches – in this season for example being the best supported club in the league with an average attendance of 30,895.   My understanding of their history is that the club was formed around the ground they took over in 1905 and although the ground had to be built, they had no rent to pay, as Arsenal did.    And yet they were unable to break away from their habit of ending up near the foot of the table.

Relegated in 1910 to the 2nd division, they were due to be relegated again at the end of the 1914/5 season but escaped that plight (quite rightly) following a decision of the League chairmen as a result of the enquiry into the match fixing antics of Liverpool and Manchester United.  They were in fact relegated again this season that we are currently reviewing, and stayed in the second division until 1930.  Yet even there, in the 2nd Division, they regularly had attendances within a few thousand of the top first division clubs, and certainly way above their rivals in that lower league.  (In fact only Tottenham, who made a return to the second division during the decade ever came close to rivalling Chelsea’s regular crowd figures).

Back with Arsenal, 10 of the 11 who had played in the first Chelsea match at the end of the previous year kept their places, with Voysey coming in for the injured Young at number six.  But for Arsenal fans there was another point to worry about apart from the injuries.  The season was now starting its second half, and Arsenal’s top scorer was Turnbull with … just four.  The scoreless draw at Stamford Bridge in front of 38,000 was easy to predict.

The following weekend, 12 January, was designated as being the date of the 1st round of the FA Cup – the equivalent to the 3rd round in modern times.  Arsenal were drawn at home to Luton Town.

Luton had been formed before Arsenal in the 19th century, and made the claim to be the first southern team to go professional, although this is based on their having three professional players in the season before Arsenal turned fully professional.  Most commentators do not count this as full professionalism and stick with the story that it was Arsenal who brought the professional game south.

Luton were founder members of the Southern League in 1894 before being elected to the Football League in 1897.  However in 1900 they resigned from the Football League and rejoined the Southern League, subsequently dropping down to the 2nd division of the League in the pre-war years.

They rejoined the Football League in the 3rd Division, upon the League’s expansion in 1920, which is where they were when they played Arsenal on 12 January 1924.   Arsenal put out their first team – or at least those who were not injured – and won by a comfortable four goals to one, Blyth, Woods, Turnball and Milne getting the goals.  His worship the Lord Mayor of London and his sheriffs turned up for the game, along with a very healthy crowd of 37,500.

As was common throughout football at this time, and indeed as is still the case for many clubs, season tickets were not valid, and as today, holders could buy their own seat for the match.  as well as a crowd of 37500.  Season ticket holders were charge for 5 shillings – which was generally written as 5/- (which was about £15 in present day cash).

There was another step forward for the BBC this month as well as the start of the shipping forecast, the broadcasting of the world’s first ever radio play: “Danger” by Richard Hughes.  It was broadcast live from the company’s studios in London.

Back with the football, the victory over Luton left just two games for Arsenal in the month of January – both against Cardiff, and Arsenal would have had some confidence in their chances at this point, for although Cardiff were challenging to win the league, they had of late been having a wobble and were generally considered not to have much chance at maintaining their current high position.

Although to be fair much the same was being said of the clubs currently second and third for indeed not one of Cardiff, Bolton or Huddersfield had ever won the league before.

Cardiff’s rise through the leagues had however been truly remarkable.  In 1907 they had joined the second division of the English Southern League, and were promoted to the first division in 1913.  The joined the 2nd Division of the Football League for 1920/1 and gained promotion to the 1st Division coming second that season.

They had thus far finished 4th and 9th in the first division, and had won the Welsh Cup four times in all, and now as they came to play Arsenal they looked they might have a chance of winning the league as long as their wobbles didn’t continue.

In fact Cardiff had suffered only their second defeat in the League away to Aston Villa in their last game of the old year, and had returned to form on New Years Day with a 1-0 away win at Middlesbrough.   However the wobble returned on 5 January when surprisingly Cardiff lost their home game to Villa 0-2.  Even more surprisingly on 12 January in the FA Cup Cardiff were held at home by Gillingham – who exactly like Luton had climbed from the Southern League into the 3rd division in the post war years.

Cardiff did win the replay 0-2 on 16 January and then three days later faced Arsenal at Highbury on 19 January.  The League table at the top of the table on the eve of the game looked thus:

Pos Team Pld W D L GF GA GAvg Pts
1 Cardiff City 25 14 8 3 42 23 1.826 36
2 Bolton Wanderers 27 11 12 4 48 22 2.182 34
3 Sunderland 25 14 5 6 46 32 1.438 33
4 Huddersfield Town 24 14 4 6 39 21 1.857 32

Bolton had played the extra games, but even if Huddersfield won their game in hand they would still be two points behind Cardiff.

For Arsenal Young was back in the team, which meant is was the same line up as Arsenal had used in the two games against Chelsea.  But although Arsenal held the league leaders 1-1 at half time (Turnbull scoring for the Reds), Cardiff got the second half goal to give Arsenal their first defeat in five.

The return game on 26 January was far worse as Arsenal lost 4-0.  It was the first of two games of the season for John  Clark, who had come from Bo’ness. He played two further games in 1924/5 before being transferred to Luton on 6 August 1926 leaving the club with a total of six appearances.

As for the result it meant that in the league Arsenal had not only just lost two in a row they had also only scored two goals in the last five games.

But as always there was life going on elsewhere, and I should mention that in between the two Cardiff games, the government fell as on 21 January a vote of no confidence in the Baldwin government was proposed.  As the government had no majority it was lost.

The following day Ramsay MacDonald became the first Labour Prime Minister, although again with a minority government.  The following day as MacDonald announced his ministers, Margaret Bondfield became the first woman to be appointed a minister in Britain.

Here are the results of the games in the month…

Date Opposition H/A Compe Res Score Crowd
05/01/1924 Chelsea A FL D 0-0 38,000
12/01/1924 Luton Town H FAC 1 W 4-1 37,500
19/01/1924 Cardiff City H FL L 1-2 30,000
26/01/1924 Cardiff City A FL L 0-4 20,000

The league table now showed that Cardiff were four points clear at the top with two games in hand over Bolton their nearest rivals, and six ahead of Huddersfield who had just one game in hand and a worse goal average.  The League title was Cardiff’s to throw away.

Pos Team P W D L F A GAv Pts
1 Cardiff City 27 16 8 3 48 24 2.000 40
2 Bolton Wanderers 29 12 12 5 49 23 2.130 36
3 Sunderland 27 14 7 6 49 35 1.400 35
4 Huddersfield Town 26 15 4 7 40 22 1.818 34
5 Aston Villa 29 11 11 7 33 25 1.320 33
6 Newcastle United 28 13 6 9 45 32 1.406 32
7 Blackburn Rovers 27 13 6 8 42 30 1.400 32
8 Sheffield United 27 10 10 7 39 33 1.182 30
9 Everton 28 11 8 9 38 38 1.000 30
10 Tottenham Hotspur 27 10 9 8 31 27 1.148 29
11 West Ham United 27 9 9 9 22 25 0.880 27
12 Notts County 27 7 11 9 24 33 0.727 25
13 Manchester City 26 9 7 10 30 42 0.714 25
14 Burnley 26 8 8 10 38 37 1.027 24
15 Liverpool 27 9 5 13 30 32 0.938 23
16 West Bromwich Albion 26 7 8 11 32 47 0.681 22
17 Nottingham Forest 26 7 7 12 30 41 0.732 21
18 Birmingham City 27 5 11 11 23 37 0.622 21
19 Arsenal 26 7 7 12 22 40 0.550 21
20 Chelsea 28 5 9 14 16 34 0.471 19
21 Preston North End 26 6 6 14 32 46 0.696 18
22 Middlesbrough 27 6 5 16 24 34 0.706 17

At the foot of the table Preston’s recovery had continued and a win in either of their games in hand would see them move out of the relegation zone for the first time in the season.   Arsenal were still three points clear and with games in hand over Chelsea and Middlesbrough, but there was still a long way to go.

The series continues.

We are currently evolving a 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

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