January 1926: Arsenal top of the league and winning in the Cup; Norris walking away

By Tony Attwood

1925 had ended with an unprecedented event: Arsenal were top of the league

Pos Team P W D L F A GAv Pts
1 Arsenal 23 13 4 6 52 36 1.444 30
2 Sunderland 23 12 5 6 54 40 1.350 29
3 Huddersfield Town 21 10 8 3 43 33 1.303 28
4 Manchester United 22 11 4 7 39 31 1.258 26
5 Tottenham Hotspur 23 11 4 8 45 47 0.957 26

Meanwhile away from football 1926 began with a most important piece of legislation which sounds horribly dry now, but was vital: the Widows’, Orphans’, and Old-Age Contributory Pensions Act of 1925.  Neville Chamberlain added to this insurance base with the widow pensions paid from age 65 and widow’s benefit introduced; a significant step forward in social welfare.

Arsenal started the new year as they had started the season, by playing Tottenham Hotspur – this time at White Hart Lane.  Coming straight after the awful defeat to Notts County 1-4 on Boxing Day, Chapman wasted no time in removing Kennedy, Woods and Young and reverting to the team that had played the last five in a row up to that point.  The result was a 1-1 draw with Baker (having learned how to be a scoring centre half against Notts County) repeating the trick.

In keeping with the slow down in goalscoring there was only one large score to start the new year: Newcastle Utd 5 Bolton 1.

Next on 9 January came Chapman’s first FA Cup match with Arsenal, an away tie with Wolverhampton Wanderers. It was a 1-1 draw in front of 42,083.

The following Monday, 11 January, the FA, with almighty slowness, finally roused itself to consider Jock Rutherford’s case having had a chance to look at the legal ruling.  They concluded he had broken Rule 43 concerning being connected with betting.

Arthur Bourke in the Islington Gazette was outraged with the FA’s stance, but relieved that the FA now felt Rutherford had suffered enough and registered him again.

Back on the pitch, the FA Cup third round replay was arranged the following Wednesday, 13 January, as was the common practice at the time.  This time Arsenal won 1-0, with a near identical crowd (42,823), as in the first game.  Baker got the goal and Harper was given a game on the right wing.   This was the final game for Harry Woods, who had been top goalscorer in 1923-24 with ten, and the scorer of 12 in 1924/5.  Brain was clearly the man Arsenal needed at number 9 – and let us be fair and remember that Brain was a Knighton signing. He did not get too many players right but this one he did.

The next match was 16 January 1926, by which time the weather had turned and the pitches were covered in snow for the home match against Manchester United.

Despite their good league position Man U had a goalscoring record that was more akin to a club near the foot of the table.  However they did get two against Arsenal.  But fortunately Arsenal got three and kept their place at the top of the league.

On the same day, a rarely remembered event took place which was incredibly significant at the time  – a BBC radio play was aired in which the theme was a workers’ revolution in London, and it caused panic in the country as listeners mistook it for a real live event.   This was exactly what happened 14 years later when Orson Welles production of HG Wells “War of the Worlds” was broadcast in America.

Back with the football, there was one high scoring match – Blackburn Rovers 4, Birmingham City 4.  Meanwhile the league table showed Arsenal were still top but only on goal average.

Next up on 23 January Arsenal were away to Liverpool who were 14th in the league before the game, but with a decent home form of seven wins, three draws and three defeats.  Rutherford played again, and the now standard Chapman team continued their run, but the game did not go Arsenal’s way, the home team winning 3-0.

Arsenal it seemed were still prone to the occasional lapses despite being top of the league.  We’ve noted the 0-7 defeat to Newcastle, the 0-4 defeat to Sheffield Utd., and the 1-4 defeat to Notts County on Boxing Day.  I would suggest that just as the erratic large goal scoring feats that we are noting from time to time elsewhere suggest, so we have here continuing problems by Arsenal to adjust to the tactics of different teams.  My point being that these were not just defeats, but defeats by some margin, suggesting that Arsenal could not get to grips with the game at all.

However, on this occasion although the top of the table team being beaten obviously gained attention, the result was overshadowed by Manchester United 1 Manchester City 6.  This was particularly bizarre because Manchester United were 4th in the league and Manchester City bottom!  Again I would suggest, such a result looks very much like one club experimenting with the offside law and things going very wrong.

Once more turning briefly aside from football we might note that on  26 January John Logie Baird demonstrated a mechanical television system in London – the first faltering steps towards TV.

The FA Cup 4th round ended the month on the 30th with Arsenal beating Blackburn Rovers 3-1 (Haden, Brain and an own goal giving Arsenal the victory), Chapman keeping his team the same as in the League games.

And finally in our chronological account on the last day of the month British and Belgian troops left Cologne – a reminder of the occupation that had continued since the end of the war.

But you may notice that, as in a number of recent episodes there is no mention of Sir Henry Norris.  And that is because I have no record of him doing anything in the UK.

Since his serious illness and his operation, he and his family had been in the habit of taking the winter in his villa in the south of France and I have no doubt that is where he was now.  Sir Henry’s great projects were all done and dusted.  He had made his fortune building houses across Fulham; he had had a political career but ultimately found he didn’t want it any more and had walked away; and he had rescued the most famous club in the country from financial ruin and undoubtedly a winding up, and created the most watched team in the country owning its own new ground, and challenging at the top of the league with the most successful manager in the land at the helm.

Thus Sir Henry had shown with his business career and with his political career he was perfectly capable of stopping when he’d had enough  Indeed his military career, which had incorporated rising from no rank to Lt Colonel and from organising conscription to demobilisation, while picking up a knighthood on the way, had also come, and then gone.  After he had demobilised himself as his final act in the war office that was that.  He simply walked away.

Indeed his ability to walk away from politics in Fulham, where he had risen from a local builder to being a councillor, the Mayor and then the MP for the area, was quite extraordinary.  Few men with such achievements whose lives I have studied have ever seemingly done this.

Whether it was now his illness that moved him to retreat from work, or pressure from his devoted wife and family (and let us not forget the huge level of work Lady Edith undertook during the war), or indeed the fact that he had worked solidly all these years and now wanted to relax, I can’t say, but retreat from work is what he had done.  Wherever Sir Henry was, and I feel sure it was the south of France, he was not running the Arsenal.  And that I think is something we have to remember from here on.

He did return to London of course, and he was involved with Arsenal – but once the deals of the summer of 1925 had been done (sacking Knighton, bringing in Chapman, buying Highbury for the club) I think he felt that was that.

Here is how the table looked at the end of January 1926.

Pos Team P W D L F A GAv Pts
1 Arsenal 26 14 5 7 56 42 1.333 33
2 Sunderland 28 14 5 9 65 50 1.300 33
3 Huddersfield Town 25 12 9 4 52 41 1.268 33
4 Bury 26 14 2 10 60 55 1.091 30
5 Sheffield United 27 12 5 10 73 57 1.281 29
6 Tottenham Hotspur 26 11 7 8 47 49 0.959 29

And the games for the month…

Date Opposition H/A Res Score Crowd
02/01/1926 Tottenham Hotspur A D 1-1 43,221
09/01/1926 Wolverhampton Wanderers (FAC) A D 1-1 42,083
13/01/1926 Wolverhampton Wanderers (FAC) H W 1-0 42,823
16/01/1926 Manchester United H W 3-2 25,252
23/01/1926 Liverpool A L 0-3 38,232
30/01/1926 Blackburn Rovers (FAC) H W 3-1 44,836

Henry Norris at the Arsenal – the series.

This series of articles takes us from 1910 to Henry Norris’ departure from Arsenal.  There is an index to all the articles thus far on the Henry Norris at the Arsenal page on this site.

However because the most popular element in the Norris story is that of Arsenal’s promotion to the first division in 1919, and because it is the one that many people seek information upon,  I set out below the articles that cover that aspect of the club’s history.

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.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *