October 1925: the month that turned English football inside out, and back again.

By Tony Attwood

Even if you don’t know much about Arsenal’s history you might well have come across mention of the first match in October 1925, for which the result was Newcastle 7 Arsenal 0.  The tale is that Chapman and Buchan sat down after the match and analysed what went wrong, and came up with the WM system.

But before I tackle that, I must start from the 1st of the month at which the Feltmakers’ Company held its annual meeting to elect most its officers for the coming year.  Sally Davis tells us that “Henry Norris and William Hall both attended this meeting, at the Guildhall, and both got promoted.  Henry Norris was elected fourth warden – the first step on the four-year progression towards serving as the Master of the Company for one year; and Hall was appointed to the small committee that had to be present while the Company’s annual audit was carried out by its accountants.”

It’s important, because such events are the only guide we have to Sir Henry’s health, state of mind and interests.  He was clearly seeing a long term involvement in the Worshipful Company.  They are of course still with us and you can find their website here.

Now let us look at Arsenal and Newcastle’s five games before the match on 3 October 1925. First Arsenal… undefeated:

Date Game Res Score
07 Sep 1925 Leicester City v Arsenal W 0-1
12 Sep 1925 Arsenal v Liverpool D 1-1
19 Sep 1925 Burnley v Arsenal D 2-2
21 Sep 1925 Arsenal v West Ham United W 3-2
26 Sep 1925 Arsenal v Leeds United W 4-1

And now Newcastle; three defeats, one draw, one win.

Date Game Res Score
09 Sep 1925 Newcastle United v Blackburn Rovers L 1-7
12 Sep 1925 Aston Villa v Newcastle United D 2-2
16 Sep 1925 Leeds United v Newcastle United L 2-0
19 Sep 1925 Newcastle United v Leicester City W 3-2
26 Sep 1925 West Ham United v Newcastle United L 1-0

And if we look at the detail, Newcastle had indeed lost one of their five previous games to Blackburn 7-1.

That’s the first point: if you had been alive at the time and a betting man, you’d have gone for an Arsenal win.  The second is to ask where Arsenal, Newcastle and indeed Blackburn were before the Newcastle v Arsenal match in terms of the league table…

Pos Club P W D L F A G.Av Pts
3 Arsenal 8 4 3 1 14 9 1.556 11
4 West Ham United 8 5 1 2 12 9 1.333 11
5 Huddersfield Town 7 3 4 0 17 13 1.308 10
6 Aston Villa 7 3 3 1 21 11 1.909 9
7 Leeds United 8 4 1 3 15 12 1.250 9
8 Birmingham City 9 4 1 4 14 12 1.167 9
9 Liverpool 6 3 2 1 14 5 2.800 8
10 Manchester United 8 3 2 3 15 13 1.154 8
11 Bolton Wanderers 9 3 2 4 17 18 0.944 8
12 Blackburn Rovers 8 3 1 4 21 17 1.235 7
13 Everton 9 1 5 3 17 20 0.850 7
14 Notts County 8 3 1 4 9 11 0.818 7
15 Burnley 9 2 3 4 11 25 0.440 7
16 Bury 5 3 0 2 12 13 0.923 6
17 Newcastle United 7 2 2 3 14 19 0.737 6

So Newcastle had lost to Blackburn by a massive score, and were 17th in the table, and then as you may well know, as it is a fairly famous moment in Arsenal’s history, they knocked seven past Arsenal who had not lost since the opening day of the season!

It’s a complicated story to unravel, so we must start with the important point that this truly was a game of two halves, to use the old journalist cliche.  The first half Arsenal lost 6-0.   The second half 1-0.  Chapman obviously did some reorganising at half time – although I suppose you could argue that Newcastle were tired out, or maybe they felt sorry for the Londoners.  I suspect however neither of these latter ideas is correct in the slightest!

So the working on the problem Arsenal faced in this match didn’t start afterward the game, it started at half time.   And I wish I could find a newspaper report that tells me what happened tactically at half time, but sadly newspaper reports of the day simply don’t cover such matters in the detail I want.

But we can try another approach.  We can look at Newcastle’s results so far by going back a little further…

Date Match Result Score
29 Aug 1925 Bolton Wanderers v Newcastle United D 2-2
05 Sep 1925 Newcastle United v Notts County W 6-3
09 Sep 1925 Newcastle United v Blackburn Rovers L 1-7
12 Sep 1925 Aston Villa v Newcastle United D 2-2
16 Sep 1925 Leeds United v Newcastle United L 2-0
19 Sep 1925 Newcastle United v Leicester City W 3-2
26 Sep 1925 West Ham United v Newcastle United L 1-0
03 Oct 1925 Newcastle United v Arsenal W 7-0

We can see that they had won 6-3 against Notts County immediately before losing 1-7 to Blackburn Rovers in two games, both at home and four days apart.  Otherwise up to the Arsenal first half wherein they knocked in six, the results were run of the mill.

We also know from the last chapter of these chronicles that the previous Saturday, 26 September,  Arsenal had racked up their highest score of the season, a 4-1 win over Leeds while Newcastle were losing to West Ham.

Now the WM explanation to this result at Newcastle is that there was one system which exploited the new offside law brilliantly – WM – which Newcastle were employing and which allowed them to tear Arsenal apart.   But that doesn’t explain the second half of the 3 October game.  Nor does it explain how, using this system, in the next eight games Newcastle only once scored two goals and once scored three.  All the other games involved them getting one or none!  How did they get it so right against Arsenal?

In short that first half against Newcastle can only be explained either as an absolute fluke, or as a result that emerges when team A plays one way and team B plays another way.  As soon as Arsenal changed their system (for Newcastle having scored six were hardly likely to change their approach) the Newcastle style was largely nullified.

This I think is the only rational explanation to the various results we see in the early part of 1925/6.  Clubs were looking for ways to exploit the new offside law, and they were coming up with both defensive and attacking systems, and many of these systems only worked when the opposition did certain things.

Now since Arsenal had just gone seven matches undefeated, the manager could be excused from thinking that he had pretty much got the new offside rule sussed, but now he found he had to think again.  And this is where we find Chapman’s genius for football.  He was never a man with fixed ideas.  He constantly re-evaluated while others tended to stick by their preferred view.

As for Arsenal supporters matters got worse when the evening papers came out and showed  Tottenham Hotspur were top of Division One once again.

The Islinton Gazette Norseman reported that Newcastle United reorganised their team for the occasion and marked Buchan out of the match.  The Times said that Arsenal were  “overwhelmed”.  Neither specifically mentioned Arsenal’s formation nor the implications of the new offside law.

But I think we can get a bit closer to what really happened with a bit more digging.  Here is the league table after the Saturday games on 3 October with one extra column added showing the position the club would be in if position were based on goals scored. (GP – Goal position).

Pos GP Team Pld W D L GF GA GAvg Pts
1 5 Tottenham Hotspur 10 6 2 2 20 17 1.176 14
2 1 Sunderland 8 6 0 2 25 13 1.923 12
3 6 Huddersfield Town 8 4 4 0 20 15 1.333 12
4 10 Leeds United 9 5 1 3 17 12 1.417 11
5 20 West Ham United 9 5 1 3 12 10 1.200 11
6 16 Arsenal 9 4 3 2 14 16 0.875 11
7 11 Liverpool 8 4 2 2 17 8 2.125 10
8 3 Aston Villa 8 3 4 1 22 12 1.833 10
9 8 Bolton Wanderers 10 4 2 4 18 18 1.000 10
10 13 Birmingham City 10 4 1 5 15 16 0.938 9
11 19 Burnley 10 3 3 4 13 26 0.500 9
12 4 Newcastle United 8 3 2 3 21 19 1.105 8
13 14 Manchester United 9 3 2 4 15 15 1.000 8
14 21 Notts County 10 3 2 5 12 15 0.800 8
15 2 Blackburn Rovers 9 3 1 5 23 21 1.095 7
16 15 Manchester City 8 2 3 3 15 16 0.938 7
17 7 Everton 10 1 5 4 19 23 0.826 7
18 17 Cardiff City 10 3 1 6 14 20 0.700 7
19 22 West Bromwich Albion 8 2 3 3 11 17 0.647 7
20 18 Bury 6 3 0 3 14 16 0.875 6
21 12 Leicester City 9 2 2 5 17 21 0.810 6
22 9 Sheffield United 8 1 2 5 18 26 0.692 4

Sunderland were the team getting it right but when they lost, they could let in a few goals: 3-0 to 15th placed Blackburn, 4-1 to 16th placed Manchester City, 4-2 to 8th placed Aston Villa.  Everton had only won one game but had scored 19 goals in 10 matches.  WHU were 5th in the league but 20th in terms of goals scored.

So between Saturday 3 October and Monday 5 October the Arsenal squad and the manager sat down.

Charlie Buchan in his autobiography claimed that he was a key adviser to Chapman in this, but it seems from other sources that others were involved in the discussion – which was about far more than pulling the centre half deeper down the pitch to play between the two full backs.  Certainly it seems that there is good reason to believe that Joe Shaw, ex-Arsenal player captain and now Reserve team coach, and Tom Whittaker, ex-player and now recovering from the career-ending injury sustained playing for an FA XI in Australia, were both involved in consultations.

Buchan says (page 95 of his autobiography) that as a result of this match, “New methods were required and Arsenal were the first to exploit them.”

It is probably this phrase that has led to commentators believing that Buchan was talking about the WM tactical formation – but it turns out he wasn’t, for he subsequently says,  “It has many times been said that the change in law brought into operation the ‘stopper’ centre half, but there were many such ‘stoppers’ long before that eventful day.”  He then proceeds to mention four of the most famous centre halves who played in the final line of defence between the two full backs before the 1925 law change.

So even Buchan admits that WM was being used before the Newcastle defeat.

On page 97 of “A lifetime in football” Buchan moves on to the post-match meeting after the 7-0 defeat on 3 October 1925, held in the Newcastle hotel.  Buchan reports that he had been pressing for a change to the way Arsenal lined up since he was transferred to the club in the summer of 1925 and says that finally, after this game, Chapman asked him to explain his views more fully.

Buchan’s first point was not to have a centre half playing between the full backs, and marking the opposition’s number 9, but rather to have him guarding the edge of the penalty area.   Buchan was, in fact, suggesting a form of zonal marking for this player, leaving the others free to cover the flow of the play.

Now that notion of the centre half patrolling zonally does give us a “W” defence.  Moving across the W from left to right we have the left top of the W as the left half, the left bottom as the left back, the midpoint neither as high as the left half nor as low as the left back – that is the new “centre half position”, and then the right side of the the W – the right back and the right half.

So here is the creation of a modified WM, and it was (according to Buchan, who was – we must remember – the master self-publicist, who even called the football magazine he edited, “Charlie Buchan’s Football Monthly”) the invention of Buchan not Chapman.

I am not 100% convinced this conversation happened in the Newcastle hotel, and that it was all there was to sorting out the bizarre scores that were being seen through the season, but we must note, Buchan says WM does not mean pulling the centre half back to play between the two full backs, because other clubs were doing that already.  Instead it means playing the centre half further away from the goal line he is defending than the full backs.  (This would – although Buchan doesn’t say it – also allow one of  the two full backs to push up, and have a chance at catching the advancing forwards offside).

However that was not all.  What Buchan also wanted was that the centre half should be a “dominating personality around his own goal.  And he should not be content just to get the ball away anywhere, but to send it, with head or feet, to the roving inside-forward”.

So, an end to the big man hoofing it up the field.

Thus now comes the next part of the equation: the “roving inside forward” – part of the “M” in the equation.  Buchan nominated Andy Neil – a man who could receive the ball with either foot and pass it on quickly to get the counter attack going, resulting in a goal from three or four touches out of defence.

This is much more than WM – this is zonal marking with a centre half who would always find one particular player who had the skill to move the ball on at once for the counter attack.  It was a system ultimately perfected with Herbie Roberts at centre half, passing to Alex James who moved the ball instantly on to Joe Hulme or Cliff Bastin.

Irrespective of who said what, and how many of these ideas were new, the new tactics were tried just two days later in an away game at West Ham on 1 October 1925, and the new Arsenal system was born.  Arsenal won 4-0 and as Buchan says, “the novelty of Arsenal’s new methods took the other League clubs by surprise,” and by Christmas Arsenal were top of the league.  Indeed but for illness and injury Arsenal would probably have won the league in Chapman’s first season.  As it was they had to settle for second.

However, if you have been following my account of this era regularly, you will know of my many criticisms of Leslie Knighton, Arsenal’s manager from 1919 to 1925, and I have spent much time deconstructing that man’s autobiography which was published in 1946, 21 years after the events.

And here again occurs the same problem: Buchan’s autobiography was not published until 1955 – 30 years after these events.  Buchan almost certainly had access to more historical notes than Knighton, since between retiring from football as a player in 1927 and writing his book in 1955 he was a football journalist.  He would have known that Arsenal beat West Ham and then lost at home to Bolton.  So was he just skimming over the facts to fit his thesis, or was there an explanation for that defeat which he just puts down to Arsenal using the wrong system and getting caught out.  To me (if no one else!) it is an important point in terms of the reliability of Buchan’s testimony.

One of the factors however that we must recall at this point is that Arsenal were not the first team suddenly to fall apart under an onslaught this season.   There was, as we have seen, suffering all over the place.

In August, Burnley had been hammered (which I define for the purposes of this section of the narrative as letting in five or more goals in a match).

In September Blackburn, Notts County, West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle, Sheffield Utd (twice), Manchester Utd., Tottenham, Huddersfield, West Ham Utd., Cardiff City, Everton, Burnley and Bolton were all hammered (by my 5+ goals definition).

In October the teams to suffer were Arsenal, Everton, Cardiff, Burnley, West Ham Utd., Manchester City and Tottenham.

What we notice immediately is that the number of “hammerings” (as I have called them) are greatly diminished in October.  It would appear the clubs were learning.  Except that Everton, Cardiff, Burnley, West Ham Utd and Tottenham let in five or more in a match in both September and October which to me suggests once again this was an issue of adjusting to the way the opposition was playing.

And here is another oddity – as we have just noticed, while Arsenal were being knocked for seven, Tottenham were receiving one of two knock-out punches in terms of goals against in  consecutive months.  And yet they were reaching for the top of the league.

My thesis is that dealing with the new offside law was initially thought to be easy – a simple rearrangement of the defence.  But teams were using a variety of methods to counter the new defensive approach of the withdrawn centre half.  With managers only seeing their own team’s game each week the message about different approaches being used was taking its time to filter through.

But we must now add something else that is often ignored at this point.    I think Chapman had already adopted a new approach to defending when the Newcastle disaster struck.  Consider these results that occurred between September 26 and October 5:

  • Arsenal 4 Leeds United 1
  • Newcastle United 7 Arsenal 0
  • Arsenal 4 West Ham United 0

The Arsenal team was identical in all three games.  Across these three games Arsenal scored 8 and conceded 8, winning two and losing one.  The goals came from Buchan (3), Brain (4), Neil (1).

The only explanation that works for me was that Newcastle used a variant attacking system in the first half of their game against Arsenal, which effectively countered Arsenal’s approach to the new offside rule. Chapman made a change at half time, and then after the game considered with the players what it was in the Newcastle system that had caused them so much more difficulty in that first half – while clearly recognising that they were not facing the Newcastle system in every game.

Of course that is a simplification and there is some guesswork on my part in that.   Certainly something happened and it happened quickly.   When Arsenal played West Ham the following Monday, both sides were equal on points but because of Arsenal’s hammering at the weekend West Ham were ahead on goal average.  West Ham had in fact just lost to Bolton 1-0 at the weekend, which looks like a return to normality.

So Arsenal sent out the same team as before to play West Ham on 5 October, as had been hammered in the first half against Newcastle.  And the result was West Ham 0 Arsenal 4 with Arsenal getting two goals in each half.  Reports suggest Buchan dominated the match and the Times commented that he scored “two glorious goals”.  After half time WHU stepped up the pressure, which it appears left them open at the back, allowing Arsenal to counter attack and get two more goals.  Thus was born the famous Arsenal counter attacking approach.

Of course just because Arsenal were sorting out how to deal with the new offside law, and the changes in tactics that were resulting from it, that didn’t mean that they were getting everything right from here on, nor that everyone else was getting it wrong.  The following weekend saw these results…

 The point here is that the new layout of Arsenal’s defence took time to bed in.  When it clicked they got very good wins.  But it didn’t always click, particularly in away games.

To understand the whole situation further I would like to turn to other another discussion relating to events on 3 October 1925 for on that evening the Southampton Football Echo published an article commenting on the Southampton match against Bradford City at the Dell (Southampton’s long term ground before the modern era) the previous weekend.  It says…

“There is a lot of talk in the dressing rooms at the moment over what is known as the W formation in attack to deal with the changed conditions of play. In this formation the centre-forward and the two extreme wingers go well up the field – staying only a yard or so onside – and the two inside wing-forwards remain behind, acting as five-eighths, or in others words operating in a sphere of play near the half-backs and behind the three advanced forwards.

“The goalscoring figures up to date go to suggest that this is the method mostly adopted, for there have been scarcely any cases of the inside wing-forwards running riot in the goalscoring sense, while on the other hand, five, four and three goals in a match have been credited the centre-forwards with startling frequency, and the extreme wing men have also figured largely in the goal-scoring department.”

This of course is not the case with Arsenal as although Brain, playing at centre forward had scored five so far, Buchan at number 8 had scored four.  But the writer is suggesting this is the exception – which in terms of the innovation of Chapman and/or Buchan, this seems a helpful point.

The article continues, “With this disposition of the attack, the inside wing-forwards help, when their side is on the defensive, as additional half-backs, and practically throughout the game the centre-half-back becomes a third back.”

I return to my theme that experiments were happening everywhere, and that clubs were working out their own solutions dependent upon the talent they had available.   Chapman’s final ideal solution was to have one of the inside forwards drop back to receive the ball out of defence as a counter attacking move.  The defender passes to the deep lying inside forward who passes quickly to the advanced inside forward and the forwards take over.  But that requires players with very specific skills.  That deep lying inside forward needs to be able to receive, turn and pick out the forward moving attacker in a trice.  The recipient also has to move the ball on again to the attacker bearing down on goal.  If you have ever played football for a team that really uses tactics, you’ll know that is so much harder than it sounds!

So let us now consider what Arsenal did having lost to Newcastle and won at West Ham.

10 October: Bolton Wanderers.

For the Bolton home game on 10 October 41,076, the second highest crowd at Highbury thus far this season turned up.  Buchan (inside right) and Baker (right half) scored but Bolton got three – it was only their second away win of the season and in their five previous away games they had scored just nine goals.   This is the game that Buchan totally ignores in his memoirs, and that is such a shame, because an explanation of what went wrong against Bolton would really help.  I suspect Arsenal were still trying to get their system just right for all types of opposition and Bolton had a plan of their own.

12 October: Fulham

Arsenal were now drawn at home to Fulham in the London FA Challenge Cup and in front of 3897 at Highbury won the game 4-0.  I suspect Sir Henry might have gone along to greet his fellow Fulham shareholders.

Fulham were having a dreadful season having won just one of their first nine league matches before finally getting a second victory the previous Saturday.  They were bottom of the league at this time with Clapton Orient just two places above them.

In fact both Fulham and Clapton improved considerably after this point and ended up 11th and 12th at the end of the season.  It was in fact another London side – Crystal Palace – who were relegated at the end of the campaign along with Coventry.

This match has a significance in a very different way as well as giving Arsenal a chance to test out their tactics – for it was the game when Bob John first played at left back.

Arsenal signed John in January 1922 for £750, and as such is recorded as the most successful of Leslie Knighton’s transfers.   He made his first team début on October 28 that year in a 2-1 defeat at home to Newcastle and and went on to make 24 league appearances that year, taking over the number 6 shirt from Tom Whittaker.

Chapman did not go in for moving players around as his predecessor had done, almost on a whim (or so it seems looking back) but instead looked carefully at players to see if they could change from the position they were now playing.  While Male is the example most commonly quoted in this regard, John was the first player to be moved out of position, moving from a career thus far entirely from left half to around 18 months at left back – before returning to his old position.

So, Arsenal would have expected to win this game – and they did.  And it appears to have been a handy try out for  the new system.

14 October: Lincoln City

Having played on the Saturday and the Monday, Arsenal now played again on the Wednesday away to Lincoln of the 3rd Division North; and lost 3-0 in front of 4,000 people.  Lincoln (who had been formed two years before Dial Square FC) were having a modest season and ended up 15th in their League.  In their last match they just lost 3-1 away to Crewe.

It was pretty much a reserve Arsenal team that played, although Lewis was in goal, John was at left back, (Voysey the eternal almost player was at right back), and Ramsey and Toner who had been dropped after the opening matches also played.

I have no idea why this game was played – it might have been an invitation event for the opening of a new stand, a hospital fund raiser, or a quickly arranged game to allow Chapman to try another formation.  Maybe the entire game was set to help John get match fit and used to left back – having played there in the Monday game.  Maybe it was a further experiment in changing the approach to the offside rule or maybe it was a chance for Chapman to ensure that the reserves were getting the message about the new system that he wanted all the way through the club.  Sadly we don’t know.

17 October: Cardiff City

On the following Saturday, 17 October, Arsenal were at home, this time to Cardiff who were 20th in the league and had a defence pretty much to match.  Brain was back on song with his second hattrick in three games, Neil and Blyth getting the other two as Arsenal won 5-0.  The same XI as had played the previous four League games were played again.  It was a solidity that was allowing Arsenal to embed the new system.

24 October: Sheffield United

Arsenal were now fourth, two points behind the leaders, and their next opponents (Sheffield United) were bottom of the league.  But there was a problem.  Baker who had settled in at right half was injured in the Cardiff game and so Blyth moved from left half to right half to make way for the fit-again Bob John to play not at left back – which he had practiced in the games against Fulham and Lincoln, but his old position of left half.

That apparently all worked, but during the match the Arsenal keeper, Baker was injured, which reduced Arsenal to ten men and left them with an inexperienced keeper.  The defensive system went out of the window, Arsenal reshuffled and lost 4-0 to the bottom team in the league.

26 October: Millwall

This game was the semi-final of the LFACC competition and in keeping with all semi-finals at the time was played on neutral ground – this time at White Hart Lane.

Arsenal put out a strong team for the game, with Robson back in goal, and Bob John at left back in what was the first in a long series of games in that position.  The rest of the team was in effect the first choice league team, except that Buchan was given the afternoon off, Woods (who had played at number eight in the Fulham and Lincoln games, Brain, Neil and Haden completing the line up.  Arsenal won 3-1 with Woods, Brain and Neil getting the goals.

Arsenal were through to the final in which they would play West Ham on 9 November.

31 October Everton

Everton’s form before this game suggests to me that they too were trying to work their way through the issue of the change in the offside law, for their results were quite extraordinary.  Starting in mid-September they had had a 4-0 win, followed by a 4-4 draw, then four consecutive defeats including a 5-1 to Liverpool and a 7-3 to Sunderland, and then before the Arsenal game, two wins (by 1-3 and 4-2).  In fact in eight games they had scored 22 goals, and yet only won three, for they had conceded 25.

For this game Robson returned to goal-keeping duties for Arsenal, and Baker returned at right half.   Bob John now played his first league match at left back.  Brain got his second hat-trick of the season, and Hoar the other goal as Arsenal won 4-1.

My conclusion thus is simple: the offside rule had led clubs to try all sorts of ways of benefiting from the change which meant there was no single solution.  Clubs needed a flexible approach which would deal with whatever the opposition were doing.  Arsenal were working on that, and heading further and further towards a counter attacking game that should cope with whatever formation the opposition put out.

Jock Rutherford

Now throughout all this time there has been no mention of Jock Rutherford, who had played 20 times for Arsenal the previous season.  And the reason for this was that the League had refused to register him as a player.  At the heart of the matter was the argument between the player and a bet maker, Turf Publishers Ltd, who had been using Jock Rutherford’s name in its advertising which would have been contrary to FA rules.   Rutherford claimed he had never given permission for this to happen but nonetheless the FA banned him from playing.

The matter went to court on 29 October and the court agreed that obviously Turf Publishers had used Rutherford’s name and there was no evidence that they had got permission.   “Judgement was entered for plaintiff with costs and £50 damages,” according to The Western Times, Friday, 30 October 1925However contrary to this Sally Davis reports that Sir Henry Norris paid Jock’s expenses.  I suspect that in fact Sir Henry had underwritten them and brought in his own lawyer to run the case.  When Jock won, Sir Henry got his money back from defence.

What is clear however is that it took the FA much longer to clear Jock Rutherford’s name – and this really does show the FA in an appalling light.  A court of the land had given a ruling, but the FA not only refused to recognise it, but then took an inordinate amount of time in reaching its own conclusion. Someone, and I don’t know who, had put forward the motion to the FA that Rutherford “should be permanently suspended from football and football management”.  That was finally defeated in January 1926 – nearly three months after the court ruling – and the FA Council adopted the recommendation of the Emergency Committee that, in view of his long association with the game and the loss he had already sustained, he should be reinstated.   How generous of them!

I really wish I could find out what on earth the FA were doing, deliberately keeping Rutherford out of the game, after a court had cleared him completely – to the extent of even awarding him costs.  It meant Rutherford could not earn a living, but I wonder… if this was not an attempt to get at Sir Henry Norris.  I will deal with the reasons why I think this is a valid thought at this point later on in this series.

What Jock had been doing in the meantime was writing (or having ghost written) a series of articles about his career at  Newcastle United which appeared in the weekly magazine “Ideas”.  It is also possible that although he was not allowed to play, Arsenal could pay him, and I suspect that is what would have happened.  It would have been typical of Sir Henry to propose this.

Here are the results for this extraordinary month.

Date Opposition H/A Res Score Crowd
03/10/1925 Newcastle United A L 0-7 40,683
05/10/1925 West Ham United A W 4-0 18,769
10/10/1925 Bolton Wanderers H L 2-3 41,076
12/10/1925 Fulham (LFACC) H W 4-0 3,897
14/10/1925 Lincoln City A L 0-3 4,000
17/10/1925 Cardiff City H W 5-0 38,130
24/10/1925 Sheffield United A L 0-4 27,555
26/10/1925 Millwall (LFACC) N W 3-1
31/10/1925 Everton H W 4-1 24,926

From the point of view of a club that for the last two seasons had been desperately fighting relegation, this was looking rather promising…

Pos Team P W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 Sunderland 15 9 3 3 41 25 1.640 21
2 Aston Villa 13 6 5 2 34 22 1.545 17
3 Huddersfield Town 12 6 5 1 27 18 1.500 17
4 Arsenal 14 7 3 4 29 24 1.208 17
5 Tottenham Hotspur 14 7 3 4 26 26 1.000 17

The series continues…


We are currently evolving a series on Henry Norris at the Arsenal.  The full index to the whole series is 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, 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 Eighth Level – wild fantasies and desperate stories.

The final round of misinformation and unsupported statements

Knighton’s notoriously inaccurate autobiography reports his departure from Arsenal with a whole raft of statements which a review of the historical facts shows to be untrue, ranging from his “building a new team” in 1919, to the notion that he would have got Buchan at a much lower cost.  He complains also about not getting a benefit match and claims Sir Henry Norris left him £100 in his will, stating that sacking Knighton was his biggest mistake.  There is no evidence for any of this and with so many other statements in this section of his autobiography being plainly wrong, we may wonder about these.


One Reply to “October 1925: the month that turned English football inside out, and back again.”

  1. Yet another gripping account of the history of Arsenal in the early 20th Century. Tony Attwood’s research and his interpretation of that from Sally Davis is such a marvellous read. How interesting and suggestive that nothing seems to have changed with respect to the possible biased workings of the FA in nearly 100 years.
    Furthermore, I personally feel that the current anti-Wenger feeling still in operation even now, when he has left the club, let alone when he was the manager/coach will be shown to reflect the many inaccuracies about how poor his latter years are and were, in a similar way to how the work of Leslie Knighton was seen by many to be auspicious, when in fact Tony et al have indicated from research that it was anything but.
    With all of the negativity in the media reporting, together with much from from so-called blogettas, concerning the current squad and the work of Mr Wenger, this historical analysis is a welcome alternative to view. Perhaps might hope that if at all possible, a book could be produced eventually by the said author on the Henry Norris/Leslie Knighton/Herbert Chapman debacle.

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