April 1926: Arsenal come 2nd – the best performance yet – and the National Strike is called

by Tony Attwood

Arsenal opened the final full month of Chapman’s first season at Arsenal in second place in the league while recognising that following their recent stumbles in terms of results they now had no realistic chance of stopping Huddersfield getting their third title in a row.

However Arsenal were still in a good position to go for runners’ up spot for the first time in their history, being one point ahead of third placed Sunderland, with two games in hand and a better goal average.  Which meant  there would be a lot of attention on the match on 10 April between the two sides as there would be the following week against Huddersfield at home.

Here is the top of the league table ahead of this final month of games…

Pos Club P W D L F A G.Av Pts
1 Huddersfield Town 35 20 10 5 81 49 1.653 50
2 Arsenal 34 18 7 9 72 52 1.385 43
3 Sunderland 36 18 6 12 84 67 1.254 42
4 Bury 35 17 4 14 75 73 1.027 38
5 Sheffield United 35 15 7 13 86 72 1.194 37

Arsenal began the month playing mid-table Aston Villa away, and the result – a 0-3 defeat – confirmed what everyone knew; Arsenal were not going to win the league.  I am not clear if Harper was injured during this game or whether Chapman simply blamed him for the defeat – Arsenal’s first loss in seven during which time the team only conceded four goals.  Either way it was Harper’s last game of the season for he not only played none of the remaining league games but also played no part in the overseas tour after the season’s end.  But he was back in goal at the start of the following season, which suggests an injury rather than a loss in faith by the manager.

2 April also saw the last Arsenal game for Clem Voysey – although this was in the reserves.  He had played 35 league games for the club, and appears to have left football at this point for he signed for no other club and we have no further record of his life.

The defeat on Good Friday meant that Chapman now made a number of changes to the team for the game the following day against Blackburn Rovers at home.  Lewis returned in goal, Parker made his first appearance at right back following his transfer, Bob John (who I think was also injured in the Villa defeat) dropped out and Mackie moved from right back to left back.  And now Hulme and Lawson, who had established themselves on the wings, swapped sides.  For the rest of the season Lawson played on the right and Hulme on the left – an interesting tactical experiment by Chapman.

And the result was successful against another mid-table side: Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal winning 4-2 with Baker, Blyth, Lawson and Buchan all scoring.   We should also note that for Tom Parker it was the start of a continuous 172 game sequence. 

The players now, of course, had Sunday off, but returned once more on Easter Monday, 5 April, with exactly the same team for a 2-0 win against Aston Villa.  Brain got both the goals.

But having seen Arsenal fail against Villa on Good Friday, we should also note Arsenal were not the only team to stumble around this time.  After six straight wins including two in which the team scored five goals, Huddersfield had suffered a defeat to Leicester and a goalless draw with Bury.  It rekindled Arsenal’s slight hopes of catching Huddersfield, at least among the super-optimistic.  The table now looked like this.

Pos Team P W D L F A GAv GD Pts
1 Huddersfield Town 37 20 11 6 81 51 1.588 30 51
2 Arsenal 37 20 7 10 78 57 1.368 21 47
3 Sunderland 37 18 6 13 86 70 1.229 16 42
4 Bury 38 18 6 14 77 74 1.041 3 42

Everything was now set for the game against third placed Sunderland away on 10 April and for this match Chapman gave a game to Seddon at right half. He had been signed from Gillingham in December 1924 by Knighton and this was his debut match.  He turned out to be one of Knighton’s best buys, for he went on to win a Cup Winners’ medal and a League winners’ medal with Arsenal.

But on this day he was on the losing side as Sunderland beat Arsenal 2-1 on 10 April.  Meanwhile Huddersfield, having got back to winning ways in midweek now cemented their position at the top.  As for the Sunderland game Arsenal did not help themselves by having goalkeeper Lewis sent off.  Halliday of Sunderland was sent off at the same time – although one must remember that the notion of a dismissed player then missing subsequent matches is a comparatively recent invention, and so both players were free to return for their next match.

As a result of this defeat Arsenal were now just one point ahead of Sunderland, just holding onto second place, but still with two games in hand.  Arsenal’s defeat however meant that Huddersfield (who won on this day) had now won the league for the third year running.

Also on this day, after a comparatively quiet month in terms of large scoring games Birmingham City who were 17th contrived to lose at home to bottom of the league Burnley 1-7, while Blackburn beat Manchester United 7-0.  There had been a declining number of high scoring matches of late in the 1st division, as more and more teams got their off-side tactics right, but as this day’s results show, the days of freak scores were not quite yet over.

Meanwhile, we know that Sir Henry Norris was in London for he attended the Feltmakers’ Company’s quarterly meeting on 12 April along with William Hall and J J Edwards.

So we come to the Huddersfield match on 17 April.  Huddersfield (as noted just now, having just won the league) were now ten points ahead of Arsenal.  Sunderland were one point behind Arsenal but Arsenal still had their two games in hand.  And on this day Arsenal won 3-1 with Lawson, Hulme and Parker (a penalty) getting the goals.  Sunderland had no game on this day.

The Times in its report said that the game had to be stopped because a dog was running loose on the pitch; it was rounded up by Parker and restored to its owner.  One story is that the dog belonged to Sir Henry’s granddaughter, but this is the second time this story has appeared, and although I might believe Sir Henry’s granddaughter might bring a dog to a match once and lose it, twice seems a little hard to accept.

Above all else the match marked the sudden awareness (at least among newspaper journalists) of Arsenal’s rise in terms of power and tactical ability.  And to confirm that the days of high scores were not completely over, on the same day Sheffield United beat Burnley (noted above winning 1-7) 6-1.

Then on 21 April while Arsenal had no game, Manchester United beat Sunderland 5-1 which meant that Arsenal were now certain to finish second, being three points ahead of Sunderland, who had only one game left to play.  Arsenal, the team that had ended 20th in the league the previous season, missing relegation by one place, had secured their best ever league position, in Chapman’s first season as manager.

This of course, in turn meant that the remaining matches had no consequence for Arsenal but they still had to be played and on 24 April, Arsenal lost 1-2 away to West Bromwich Albion.

Next Arsenal now had a friendly to play against Hibernian, and won it 5-0.  It is suggested this may have been part of the deal that brought Harper to Arsenal, although if so it would have contributed little – the crowd was only 4,000.

But we must note the match particularly since this was the last Arsenal game for John Mackie.  He had played 108 league games for the club, 119 games including FA Cup matches, and subsequently moved on to Portsmouth, and later Northampton, ending his career at the outbreak of war in 1939.

Arsenal now played the first of their two remaining league games on 28 April, this ending Bolton 1 Arsenal 1.  On this day we also have a record of Sir Henry being at the Freemasons’ Hall in Covent Garden for the United Grand Lodge of England’s annual festival.  At this he was promoted to Past Grand Deacon (Junior) – a title that I am assured means he had further risen up the hierarchy of the Lodge, although this was to be his final promotion.

However, and this I think is interesting, after this he did not go to another Grand Lodge meeting for a year.  Either he was ill, or just as he was approaching the time when as he pulled out of Arsenal, so he effectively he did the same in regards to the Grand Lodge which had been part of his life all the way through our story of his life.

1 May was the date of the final game of the season, this against Birmingham City at home which Arsenal won 3-0.  Jimmy Brain scored two to make it 34 goals in 41 games, beating the previous Arsenal record of Harry King (26 in 37 games in 1914/5 – although King’s record was created with the club in Division 2).  

And this is a day of particular significance because in a new enquiry into Sir Henry’s affairs by the FA, it is alleged that on this day a cheque for £125 from Arsenal FC was made to Queenborough Motor Company.  In subsequent evidence Sir Henry told the FA that this was a company that he used in order to get goods at wholesale prices for Arsenal.  There was nothing illegal in this – but it struck the FA as suspicious, although I believe it was common practice.

To clarify this, then as now, anyone can set up a “company” in any name and trade under that name.  There are no formalities although there have always been restrictions on the use of the certain names and the owner of the company is supposed to put his/her name on the printed paper of the company – (although not all do).  But if I want to publish this account of Henry Norris at the Arsenal of my own accord, and call the publishing “company” Arsenal History Society Books, I can do that.  I can if I want, open a bank account in that name.  There is no registration for non-limited companies.

The prime difference today is that I would have to make various declarations to my bank if I did want to have a bank account in the company name – in the 1920s one didn’t, (indeed one still didn’t in the 1970s) and so Henry Norris having a company called Queenborough Motor Company, and using it to buy goods on behalf of Arsenal at trade discounts was certainly not illegal, and I suspect quite common in football and in other businesses.

However the FA had further accusations to make later, in 1927 claiming that the cheque from Arsenal to the company to buy on the goods purchased was issued before it was authorised by the club’s board of directors, but Sir Henry denied this saying everything was done in good order.   There were also disputes as to what the cheque was for.  The FA claimed it was for the hire of a car to be used by directors which would have been against FA rules.  Sir Henry denied this.

Another allegation was that it was part of the money due to Charlie Buchan in relation to the £100 a goal arrangement, and that Sir Henry was paying the money to Buchan in cash – which would have been normal, since all players were paid their weekly salary in cash.  However the FA had no evidence to back up this claim either.

So with a total and absolute lack of evidence the FA then demanded that Sir Henry hand over details of his personal transactions.

And at this point we must pause and consider the issue.  The FA were alleging that Sir Henry was breaking their rules.  And clearly they did not have any evidence.  So what they were now doing was asking Sir Henry to provide evidence with which they could accuse him of breaking the rules.  In short they wanted him to incriminate himself – something which today no accused person can be asked to do.   Normally of course what happens is that the complainant gathers information, finds evidence and presents it.  But seemingly not the FA – they wanted Sir Henry to provide the information so they could charge him!

We might also note that this was exactly the same tactic which the FA used when attacking Leeds City FC over the issue of paying players during the war seasons.   In that case the FA had no evidence save the accusation made by a couple of players who did not get paid.  Their only evidence was that they had heard talk of the issue.  So in that case the FA demanded that Leeds City hand over the relevant documents.  Leeds refused and were ejected from the League – along with their manager Herbert Chapman.

And we might note that Chapman ignored the issue; he was not working in football at the time, and didn’t want the expense of fighting the FA, so he let the matter pass.

We might also recall the case of Jock Rutherford who was suspended for allegedly working with a betting company.  The FA suspended Rutherford even though as it turned out at the end, they had no evidence against him, just suspicions.  But even after Rutherford was found to be the innocent party in a legal case, the FA still carried on its case, eventually letting the player come out of his suspension.

Thus we can see that in the case against Sir Henry it very quickly became apparent that the FA had no evidence to back up their case, and were on what today we would call a fishing expedition.  Instead of them having to prove the defendant guilty, they were requiring the defendant to prove himself innocent, which might have been the FA’s view of justice, but has not been the norm in Britain for many a long year.

We shall of course return to this later, but there is one other point to make.  Sir Henry Norris was a man who throughout his life had shown himself to be a man of principle.  Even though his political party was not in favour of it, during his political career he stood by his convictions of equal pay for women, pensions for injured war veterans, a limit on transfer fees but no limit on player salaries and subsidized rail fares.  He was a man who was recognised as a man who made a major contribution to the war effort – not as a soldier on the front, but as an administrator, arranging recruitment, conscription and demobilisation.  He had been knighted by the king for his voluntary services, and raised from no rank to that of Colonel for his work in the War Office (let us not forget he was actually in charge of demobilisation).   And he had taken the bankrupt Arsenal and turned them into the club getting the biggest crowds in the country.

It is, quite simply, hard to imagine such a man taking kindly to a fishing exercise by the FA, who were accusing him of fraud, with no evidence.  I certainly do not think it is a reasonable conclusion to say that he should have dug out all his paperwork and proved his innocence.  It is, I believe, fully in keeping with the man and his undoubted reputation, that he, like Chapman before him, would choose not to lower himself to the level of the FA.

On 1 May 1926 Arsenal ended their first season under Chapman with a 3-0 win over Birmingham, but by this day football was not the issue on everyone’s mind, for not only were league matters settled, but by then a General Strike had been called to start at 2pm the following Monday 3 May.  The government invoked a state of national emergency which we will follow in the next section.

Although of course there was some local interest as Fulham avoided relegation on the last day of the season, to stay in the 2nd division.

Here is the final league table for Division 1.

Pos Team P W D L F A GAv Pts
1 Huddersfield Town 42 23 11 8 92 60 1.533 57
2 Arsenal 42 22 8 12 87 63 1.381 52
3 Sunderland 42 21 6 15 96 80 1.200 48
4 Bury 42 20 7 15 85 77 1.104 47
5 Sheffield United 42 19 8 15 102 82 1.244 46
6 Aston Villa 42 16 12 14 86 76 1.132 44
7 Liverpool 42 14 16 12 70 63 1.111 44
8 Bolton Wanderers 42 17 10 15 75 76 0.987 44
9 Manchester United 42 19 6 17 66 73 0.904 44
10 Newcastle United 42 16 10 16 84 75 1.120 42
11 Everton 42 12 18 12 72 70 1.029 42
12 Blackburn Rovers 42 15 11 16 91 80 1.138 41
13 West Bromwich Albion 42 16 8 18 79 78 1.013 40
14 Birmingham City 42 16 8 18 66 81 0.815 40
15 Tottenham Hotspur 42 15 9 18 66 79 0.835 39
16 Cardiff City 42 16 7 19 61 76 0.803 39
17 Leicester City 42 14 10 18 70 80 0.875 38
18 West Ham United 42 15 7 20 63 76 0.829 37
19 Leeds United 42 14 8 20 64 76 0.842 36
20 Burnley 42 13 10 19 85 108 0.787 36
21 Manchester City 42 12 11 19 89 100 0.890 35
22 Notts County 42 13 7 22 54 74 0.730 33

We may note also that Arsenal had the second best defence in the league (equal with Liverpool) despite that much publicised defeat by Newcastle.   Aside from the seven conceded against Newcastle, Arsenal conceded four on three occasions and three goals twice.  Huddersfield the champions conceded six once and four three times, plus three twice.

Thus heavy defeats did not stop clubs ending up near the top of the table.  Indeed Sunderland who were third conceded five twice, and four four times, and three goals three times.  Newcastle, the team that knocked seven past Arsenal conceded six once and four twice.

What this suggests to me is that all these clubs were capable to getting caught by a new approach to playing the off-side law,  even Newcastle who so caught out Arsenal in one half of one match.  But all of them were adjusting through the season to find a format that worked for their players, while all the time trying to counter the various novel approaches that were evolving.

Some clubs however never fully resolved their experiments – at least during this season.  We might consider as perhaps one of the most extreme examples of this, these two games played by Manchester City, three weeks apart.

Date Match Score
4 Oct 1925 Manchester City v Burnley 8-3
26 Oct 1925 Sheffield United v Manchester City 8-3

The same result twice, except on one occasion Manchester City won, and on the other just over three weeks later they lost.

What this describes to me is a club that is trying to adjust its new tactic to meet the new rules, but either not having the right tactician at the helm or not having the right players to carry the instructions out.

Thus as I note, by and large every club spent part of the year trying to resolve how to get the best out of  the new off-side law, and the approach of Arsenal was just one of many.  Arsenal did make their change more successfully and more rapidly than most, but it is certainly not true to say that Arsenal invented a new WM approach with a centre half playing between the full backs.  It was much more complex than that, and indeed Chapman continued to refine the approach as the years went by.

Here are the results for the final month of the season.

Date Opposition H/A Res Score Crowd
02/04/1926 Aston Villa A L 0-3 26,177
03/04/1926 Blackburn Rovers H W 4-2 31,031
05/04/1926 Aston Villa H W 2-0 25,990
10/04/1926 Sunderland A L 1-2 20,990
17/04/1926 Huddersfield Town H W 3-1 34,110
24/04/1926 West Bromwich Albion A L 1-2 14,226
26/04/1926 Hibernian (friendly) H W 5-0 4,000
28/04/1926 Bolton Wanderers A D 1-1 22,198
01/05/1926 Birmingham City H W 3-0 22,240

Full details of the series Henry Norris at the Arsenal are given on our Henry Norris page, along with an introductory section concerning Arsenal’s promotion of 1919, which has been the subject to a large number of unfounded rumours.

Henry Norris at the Arsenal

The Arsenal History Society home page

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