By Tony Attwood
Arsenal approached December 1925 in high spirits, and not just from the traditional drinking. The club had five games to play and were top of the league. Recent results had suggested that many clubs had managed to make sense of the new offside law both in terms of attack and defence, and the number of high scoring matches was declining somewhat, although Christmas was always a time for a few unexpected results.
Also Arsenal were now free to play at home on Christmas Day, having bought their ground rather than leased it, and they could (if they found the space) sell alcohol in the ground too.
For Sir Henry Norris the month started with a positive: the planning application from his property development company which Bromley had turned down, was now passed.
In the world of politics on 3 December the question of the Irish boarder was finally settled with the British government, with the British government acquiescing on the issue of Irish contributions to pensions, and the Irish accepting the existing border as permanent.
Then on 5 December Arsenal played the champions: Huddersfield Town away. Last season Arsenal had lost 4-0 in Yorkshire and 5-0 in London, so there was much ground to be made up historically if not contemporarily. Huddersfield were fifth, four points behind Arsenal but with two games in hand. The result was a 2-2 draw. Arsenal kept the same as had beaten Sunderland and secured a 2-2 draw. Neil and Buchan scored and the result meant that Arsenal had played the current top team and last season’s champions and gained three out of four points. Norseman was full of praise.
Continuing to note high scores we find just one on this day just one: Manchester City 5 Leicester 1.
On 8 December John (“Jack”) Butler made his only appearance for England (against Belgium), despite him being born in Ceylon. After retiring from playing football he managed the Belgium national team for four years.
On 11 December Sir Henry Norris made the first of a series of payments to Charlie Buchan (of £125) as compensation for the loss of revenue from the sports shop in Sunderland that Buchan had put his name to. This sort of activity was very common; players undertook all sorts of “work” or were given shares in organisations to have their name associated with a shop or store, with the club being involved in the payment as a way of getting around the maximum pay regulations.
There were two high scoring matches on this day: Leeds United 3 Manchester City 4, and a second game of the season that caused readers to believe the score in their newspaper was simply a misprint: Bolton Wanderers 6 Huddersfield Town 1. (Bolton were 7th, Huddersfield 4th). It was Huddersfield’s equivalent of Arsenal’s Newcastle event from October 3. Such was the shock of that score that many readers hardly took in an even higher scoring batch with Bury 8 Burnley 1. Bury were 20th, Burnley 22nd with one point between them prior to the match with Bury having scored just one goal more.
These scores suggest to me that while Arsenal had now settled down into a system for playing the new offside rule, both with defence and attack, other clubs had not. They might get it right playing against one alternative system, but then find their system didn’t work against another team using a different approach.
However although Arsenal were avoiding defeats by big scores they were not always avoiding defeat, and another came along – the first in eight – away to Birmingham City 0-1, Arsenal once more playing their standard line up. Birmingham were a resolutely mid-table team who had won two of their last six. On the same day West Brom beat Manchester United 5-1.
Next Arsenal played their first Christmas Day match at home since 1912 – when coincidentally the opponents were the same side – Notts County. That match in Arsenal’s relegation season had been a goalless draw. This time Arsenal got back to winning ways with a 3-0 victory, Neil, Buchan and Hoar getting the goals.
For the Boxing Day return match away to County, Arsenal had to change their team, as the press reports spoke of “hefty challenges” in the Christmas Day game. Brain, Blyth and Mackie were mentioned but only Mackie had to drop out for the return along with Buchan who was taken ill. They and were replaced by Woods and Young, Young making his first appearance of the season at inside right. Arsenal lost 1-4 and Baker got the goal. It was something of a shock.
And we may take it that these changes that had been made were not a success as both players were immediately dropped, and indeed it was Harry Woods’ last game for the club. He was transferred to Luton Town on 6 August 1926 having played 68 league games for Knighton, but just two for Chapman.
Christmas games, coming close upon one another always produced a good number of goals and this year, with clubs still coming to terms with the new law, was certainly no exception. On Christmas Day we had Bury 6 Manchester City 5, West Ham 5 Aston Villa 2 and Liverpool 6 Newcastle United 3
But maybe sides were learning, for on Boxing Day however there was just one jamboree of this nature: Burnley 6 Leeds United 3. Here are the Arsenal results for the month.
|12/12/1925||West Bromwich Albion||H||W||1-0||34,178|
And the table for the end of the year…
|6||West Bromwich Albion||22||10||5||7||50||37||1.351||25|
|17||West Ham United||23||9||2||12||33||49||0.673||20|
Henry Norris at the Arsenal – the series.
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.
- April 1915: New revelations concerning perhaps the most important month in Arsenal’s history
- November / December 1915: the match fixing scandal comes to the fore: Norris is armed
The voting and the comments before and after the election
- The first suggestion that Arsenal could be elected to the 1st division.
- Arsenal in January 1919: rioting in the streets and the question of promotion
- What the media said about the election of Arsenal to the 1st division in 1919
- Arsenal prepare for the vote on who should be promoted to the First Division
- March 1919: The vote to extend the league and what the media said
- Why did the clubs vote for Arsenal rather than Tottenham in March 1919?
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?
- May/June 1921: Knighton the fantasist. The fourth allegation.
- Why did Arsenal manager Knighton turn down Man City but not buy players? Summer of 1921.
The Fifth Story:
The Sixth Allegation
- March 1922: Desperate times for Arsenal, Norris returns and the transfer limit allegation overturned
The Seventh Allegation
- Arsenal in the Summer 1923: another Knighton allegation but the evidence is again against him.
- Anticipation a plenty but another terrible start to the season: August 1923 – the non-signing of Moffatt.
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.