Arsenal reach the top of the 1st division for the first time ever.

By Tony Attwood

We are currently evolving a series on Henry Norris at the Arsenal.  The full index to the whole series is here, and there are more details at the foot of the article.


As Arsenal entered November 1925, things under Chapman were better than they had been under Knighton, for Arsenal had won three and lost three of the last six – the sort of balance of results that Knighton had rarely achieved in his last two years.

But this was not the club had expected from the two times League winner Herbert Chapman.  They had lost 7-0 and 4-0, and won 5-0, 4-0 and 4-1.  There had been only one narrow result, a 2-3 defeat at home by Bolton.  It all seemed rather chaotic, even if the multitude of goals was good fun.

At the start of the month the top of the table looked like this…

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

For the first match of the month on 7 November, away to Manchester City, Chapman picked the same team as had beaten Everton 4-1 at Highbury on 31 October.   And that proved to be very much the right decision as Arsenal won 5-2 after leading just 1-0 at half time, which suggests half time might have brought about another tactical change – although I can find nothing in the reports to suggest this.

In the Everton game the goals had come from Brain (3) and Hoar.  This time it was Brain (2) and Hoar, with Haden and Buchan (one more £100 payout) getting the others.   As a result Arsenal were second in the table, three points behind Sunderland but with a game in hand.  Huddersfield were in fourth, two points behind Arsenal.  We must record that it was also the final first team game for John (Jock) Robson – the shortest ever Arsenal keeper at 5 feet 8 inches.  He played 101 times for Arsenal, including 9 games in 1925/6,

Now, if you have been following my earlier pieces on this season, and the effect of the change in the offside law, you’ll know I have been charting a slowdown in the number of games with what we might call outlandish scores.  I’m doing this because my reading of history is that most if not all clubs were trying to come to terms with the new rule, and were trying out all sorts of systems – both attacking and defending – to deal with it.  High scores in games suggest that teams had no really got themselves sorted out.

So I shall continue to note games with six or more goals in them.  On this first saturday in November they wee

  • Cardiff City 5 Leicester City 2 (Cardiff were in 21st position and looking likely relegation material!)
  • Manchester City 2 Arsenal 5 (Man City were 20th before the game and 21st after, equal bottom on points with Bunrley)
  • Tottenham Hotspur 4 West Ham 2
  • West Bromwich Albion 4 Notts County 4

On 9 November the London FA Challenge Cup Final was played and Arsenal lost 1-2 to West Ham United in a game played at Clapton Orient.   Arsenal used the same team as had played the weekend before.

On the same day Arsenal completed another transfer of a goalkeeper.  You may recall that last season the duties had been shared between Robson and Lewis, and Chapman had utilised both players this season, but now as Arsenal played West Ham he signed Bill Harper from Hibernian where he had been since 1921.  The price of £4000 was a world record for a goal keeper.

Harper played in goal for the next game at Highbury against Bury, and the match saw the return of the now legally clear Jock Rutherford.   The result was Arsenal 6 Bury 1; Brain got another hat-trick, Buchan got two.  Baker the centre half got the other goal, which suggests that at least on occasion he was not fully committed to his withdrawn role just ahead of the two full backs.

But there is more to this game than meets the eye, because at half time the score was Arsenal 0 Bury 1.  Which can only mean, surely, that once again Arsenal changed tactics at half time to overcome a different defensive tactic being adopted by Bury.  And quite clearly it worked.

On this day there was just one other high scoring game: Bolton Wanderers 5 Manchester City 1.

For the next game on 21 November away Arsenal were at Blackburn Rovers who were 16th in the table.   Arsenal before the match were still second, but now only one point behind Sunderland and still with a game in hand.  Tottenham were two points behind in fourth.

For this game in came another Knighton man Harry Woods at outright right – it appears Chapman had not thought much of Rutherford.  Woods had played 32 league games and scored 12 in the difficult 1924/5 season, but Chapman obviously did not rate him.  He only got two games all season.

Arsenal won again, with the result Blackburn Rovers 2 Arsenal 3, Buchan and Brain getting the goals with an own goal from Rollo completing the victory.

There was once again only one high scoring match: West Bromwich Albion 5 Burnley 3.

And so to the final game of the month: the game between the top two.  Before the match the table read…

Pos Team P W D L G A GAvg Pts
1 Sunderland 18 10 4 4 48 32 1.500 24
2 Arsenal 17 10 3 4 43 29 1.483 23
3 Manchester United 16 8 4 4 29 20 1.450 20
4 Aston Villa 16 7 6 3 39 27 1.444 20
5 Huddersfield Town 15 7 6 2 30 21 1.429 20

and in looking at the table we might note the disparity in the number of goals scored – Manchester Utd having scored only 29, more than one a game fewer than Sunderland.

At the game the players and crowd paid their respects to Queen Alexandra of Denmark, Queen consort of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions and Empress of India,  the wife of King Edward VII, who had died at Sandringham on 20 November.   If you have been following this whole history you will know that the death of Edward VII occurred near the start of our story in 1910, and (if I may put it so disrespectfully) caused Henry Norris some problems as he sought to restructure Arsenal’s ownership and finances.  Her son was George V and her grandsons George VI and Edward VIII.

The crowd of 44,870 and the teams stood in respect as the band played Chopin’s Funeral March before the match.  As for the game – Buchan’s first against his old team – Arsenal won 2-0 with Buchan and Brain scoring.  Hoar was back on the right wing, otherwise it was the same team as before.

Elsewhere there was only one six goal game: Notts County 4 Tottenham Hotspur 2.

In the Islington Daily Gazette Norseman was full of how dramatic was the change in Arsenal, and all done with the addition of just two new players.  He did not mention the tactics of WM however.

Athletic News on 30 November however did take up this theme and noted particularly John’s work as left back, and the tactics of the team.

And of course both publications noted the league table.

Pos Team P W D L F A GAv Pts
1 Arsenal 18 11 3 4 45 29 1.552 25
2 Sunderland 19 10 4 5 48 34 1.412 24
3 Manchester United 17 9 4 4 31 20 1.550 22
4 Aston Villa 17 8 6 3 42 28 1.500 22
5 Huddersfield Town 16 8 6 2 33 23 1.435 22
6 Bolton Wanderers 18 8 4 6 35 30 1.167 20
7 West Bromwich Albion 17 7 5 5 36 32 1.125 19
8 Tottenham Hotspur 18 8 3 7 35 38 0.921 19
9 Liverpool 16 6 5 5 25 18 1.389 17
10 Sheffield United 17 7 3 7 44 38 1.158 17
11 Newcastle United 16 6 5 5 30 27 1.111 17
12 Birmingham City 17 7 3 7 28 27 1.037 17
13 West Ham United 18 8 1 9 25 37 0.676 17
14 Notts County 18 6 4 8 28 31 0.903 16
15 Leeds United 17 6 3 8 25 29 0.862 15
16 Everton 18 4 7 7 36 42 0.857 15
17 Blackburn Rovers 18 5 4 9 41 39 1.051 14
18 Leicester City 17 5 4 8 34 37 0.919 14
19 Cardiff City 18 6 2 10 24 33 0.727 14
20 Bury 17 6 2 9 29 42 0.690 14
21 Manchester City 18 3 5 10 38 53 0.717 11
22 Burnley 17 3 5 9 25 50 0.500 11

It is the first time since this series began that we have been able to show Arsenal at the top of the first division, and in fact it was the first time ever that this had happened since Arsenal had joined the Football League in 1893.  What’s more Arsenal were now only three goals behind the top scorers in the league, and had the best goal average – a good sign for the future.

Helping matters along of course was the fact that Arsenal had just won five games in a row, scoring 20 conceding six.  Brain had scored 10 and Buchan five.  The previous season Brain had played 28 and scored 12, but not to be churlish let us not forget that it was Knighton who had brought it to the club.

Also of interest is the fact that while Arsenal had been winning their last five, Tottenham had been losing four of the last five, a remarkable turnaround given that they had won their opening four games and shot to the top of the league.

It is perhaps a rather comforting moment to pause. Here are the month’s results.

Date Opposition H/A Res Score Crowd
07/11/1925 Manchester City A W 5-2 11,384
09/11/1925 West Ham United (LFACC) N L 1-2 6,000
14/11/1925 Bury H W 6-1 22,566
21/11/1925 Blackburn Rovers A W 3-2 11,386
28/11/1925 Sunderland H W 2-0 44,870


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.

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