Sir Henry Norris leaves Arsenal and the legal disputes wend their way.

By Tony Attwood

As you will know if you have been following our story, by the time the 1927/8 had begun Sir Henry Norris had resigned from being a director at Arsenal but was still (and indeed remained for the rest of his life) a major shareholder in Arsenal.  What we are following here are the activities that arose after the findings of the FA enquiry to the effect that Sir Henry had acted against FA rules.

As Sir Henry was not now directly involved in the running of Arsenal I shall not continue to give match by match accounts, but instead give a summary of the activities of Arsenal on the pitch at the end of each episode.

The FA began to consider the report of the Commission of Inquiry into Arsenal and its directors on 29 August 1927.  The directors were all of course invited, but Sir Henry chose not to attend, I think in protest at the way the whole process was being handled.  In essence the charge was that Hall and Norris were guilty of taking expenses from the club which they were not entitled to take.  The FA in these proceedings made it clear that Sir Henry was not in any way accused of taking money for his own use from the club, but rather that the club had paid his expenses in relation to football which was not permitted.  It is an important point: even though some of the FA charges were rather odd, and indeed although some of them subsequently failed to be proven even within  the low standards required by the FA, even the FA were not claiming that Sir Henry took money personally.

He had of course put huge amounts of money into the club in 1910 when he cleared the debts of the company, and so one might say that morally he was entitled to something back, but he had not taken anything.

Nevertheless the Council rubber stamped the conclusion of the enquiry that Sir Henry, Hall, Humble and Peachey should be banned from the management of a football club henceforth and that Jack Humble (the first ever chairman of Arsenal as a league club in 1893) and Peachey should stand down as directors.  I doubt it worried Jack Humble too much – he was now 65 years old and had given his life to Arsenal.  In fact I doubt that any of them minded leaving Arsenal too much after such a long spell as directors and given the way they were now being treated.

What is interesting is that Sir Henry was found guilty of paying Clem Voysey a £200 signing-on fee which was against the rules of the Football League – interesting because Sir Henry was charged here not with taking money out of the club but of the reverse: giving it to a player.  And there was still more to come on this issue later.

Likewise the £539 paid over four years was paid to Sir Henry’s chauffeur – again was not a complaint that he had received money personally.  Hall continued to deny that this ever happened in relation to his chauffeur, but the FA chose not to believe him – and that raises an interesting point for in courts of law there are different levels of proof required.  Here the level of proof was what the FA chose to believe to be true.

Then there was the case of Jock Rutherford whose legal costs Sir Henry had paid until such time as the company Rutherford was suing were able to pay these back (the court, we may remember awarded Rutherford costs).   The FA Commission appeared to believe the payment was illegal under its rules, but laughably couldn’t quite put their fingers on a rule that actually said this.   If it ever were a rule that was ludicrous in the extreme it was this; how on earth was Rutherford supposed to have taken action to clear his name if not with financial help from somewhere?  The FA had banned him from playing for almost a year because of the case – in which he was then found completely innocent!  And yet he was still not allowed to accept financial support from his club to try and clear his name when ultimately the court had awarded him costs.  It truly beggars belief.

In fact it seems that the FA wanted the rule to be one that showed that it was in their power to stop a player working, and it would be against FA rules for him to get any financial support to help him prove his innocence.

There was also no evidence concerning the £125 Sir Henry was supposed to have taken.  And the enquiry said nothing about the cheque for the payment of the bus.   However it did rule that the directors could not claim travel expenses and so found against him for that, even though there was no specific rule that said that directors could not claim travel expenses.  In short, a pattern emerged.  The lesser charges – one might say the trivial charges like whether one could have travel expenses – were being put and upheld by the FA which was of course both judge and jury in this case.  But the significant charges – such as theft or receiving money personally – were gradually being dropped.

The FA did rule that Sir Henry had to repay to Arsenal the £539 that had gone to his chauffeur wages; and the £125 which he claimed were for one season’s use of his car, and it was because of these outrageous crimes that Norris was to be suspended permanently from taking any active part in football or football management.

George Peachey and John Humble were told they had had failed in their duty as directors of Arsenal by not noticing and questioning these breakages of the rules as the FA saw them, and so could not take any further part in the club’s affairs, but they were not banned from being directors of other clubs (not that they ever wanted so to do).

At this point I think we might pause to consider Sir Henry’s conduct.  Let us accept for a moment that he had claimed travel expenses and had the club pay for his chauffeur.  We know he was a very rich man at this stage, so we might ask why Sir Henry did this.

My guess (and I fully admit it is no more than that ) was that Sir Henry, with his house in France, with all his honours, (and let us not forget he was a Deputy Lieutenant of the County of London)   was now feeling he was ready to pull out of the day to day business of football anyway – just as he had done with house building, local politics, national politics, the army, his work at the War Office…   When he was done he simply packed up and moved on, and he was doing that again.

The Dail Mail published the full FA report on 30 August.  No other newspaper did this – the rest merely reported the punishments.   Sir Henry issued a statement after that and accused the FA of, in the words of Sally Davis, “waging a vendetta against him.”  George Peachey then announced he was taking legal advice on the groundsthat the FA had no power to remove him as a director of a limited company.

John Peters continued with his job at Arsenal, and indeed stayed for the next 20 years and was, I suspect, the eyes and ears of Sir Henry inside the club.   In 1933 Sir Henry made Peters both an executor of his will and the trustee of his daughters’ trust fund – a position of total trust in the man in face.

On 2 September Jack Humble, the man who did as much as anyone to create the professional football club in Plumstead and who had been with the club from  the very start, resigned as a director of Arsenal.   Samuel Hill-Wood, J J Edwards and the newly-appointed George Allison (another Norris man on the inside as it were) were now the only directors of the club.  All three had been introduced to their positions by Sir Henry.

On 7 September George Peachey start his legal action against Arsenal on the basis that the FA had no power to stop him being a director of a company – only Parliament and the laws it passed could do that.

On 9 September Herbert Chapman as secretary of the club wrote to Sir Henry and requested repayment of the £664 and later that day the AGM of Arsenal was finally completed as Samuel Hill-Wood took over the chair.  Sir Henry and George Peachey attended as they had every right to do as shareholders.  I suspect Jack Humble, Arsenal’s most senior man in every regard, was also there.   The shareholders passed a motion regretting the departure of the directors now leaving the club.

The Daily Mail published an account of the AGM presumably handed to it by a shareholder.  Sir Henry felt it was an invalid account of events and started legal action.

This now left Sir Henry with two sets of legal cases he was fighting: the one against Fulham’s directors and now those against the Mail.  Meanwhile on 9 September the Independent Association of Arsenal Shareholders was instituted to give a voice to the shareholders not represented on the board.

On 13 September the Football League Management Committee – which of course had promised it was not taking action against Sir Henry but had in fact left it all to the FA, formally considered the conclusions of the FA Commission and fined Arsenal for breaches of its rules, based on the finding of the FA.

On 21 September Arsenal played Corinthians, in a benefit match for George Hardy, exactly as Sir Henry had promised Hardy when Chapman, beyond any doubt exceeding his authority, dismissed him.  It was the last game for Samson Haden as Arsenal lost 0-4.

According to the press Sir Henry and Hardy sat together in the stands for the match.  On the same day a full-length portrait of  Sir Henry on the occasion of him receiving his knighthood was unveiled at Fulham Town Hall during a Council meeting.  Sir Henry’s daughter Nanette did the unveiling.  The protrait also commemorated Sir Henry as Fulham’s longest serving mayor.  As noted before he was and remains more than that: he was the longest serving London mayor of all time.

On 23 September the annual report of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company Limited was published.  One of the signatories was Jack Humble who resigned soon after.   Jack Humble now owned 26 shares.  William Hall owned 508, Henry Norris 487 and Edith Norris owned 5. 

On 5 October Samson Haden was sold to Notts County for £1350.  He went on to play 289 league games for Notts C, scoring 36 goals.  Later he became player manager and manager of Peterborough, until retiring in 1946 having managed Peterborough through the war.

Both Sir Henry and William Hall were at the Feltmakers’ Company held its main meeting of the year, at the Guildhall on 6 October.   Sir Henry was made third warden – part of his journey to the esteemed position as Master.   In fact the only work Sir Henry was now involved in was charitable work, with the Feltmakers’ Company (one of London’s ancient liveried companies) and as previously noted as a Deputy Lieutenant of the County of London.

Hall sold his shares in Arsenal (along with those of his daughter) on 11 October to Percy Boyden.  It not only removed the man who had been Sir Henry’s closest ally but was now his bitter enemy, but also left Sir Henry as the largest shareholder in the club.

Then one of the most extraordinary matters in this affair occurred.  The court case of George Peachy had continued and the court made it clear it was minded that the FA had no case – they could not order him to be removed as a director of Arsenal FC.   The response of the FA was utterly extraordinary, for they told the remaining directors of Arsenal that if they did not remove Peachey themselves from the board, the FA would expel Arsenal from membership of the FA.  This is one of the first occasions (perhaps the very first) in which the FA set itself up as formally being above the law.

There was only way that Peachey could be removed by the directors.  This was for the directors who would vote for Peachey to be removed, to own more shares than those who would not vote for the motion.  So to achieve this, the remaining directors went out on 11 November and bought 500 shares each.  This had the effect of, apart from anything else, removing Sir Henry as the largest shareholder (although such a position gave him no priviledges in itself).   Although we have no evidence and as Sally Davis confirms, Sir Henry never once used his shares (nor did he ever threaten to use his shares) in a way that might destabilise the club.

Meanwhile the work of the club went on, and as we shall see in the review of results so far in this season, Arsenal were not doing too badly, but were not seriously challenging for the title, or even second place.  So Chapman was continuing his recruitment policy and on 20 October signed Eddie Hapgood from non-league Kettering for £1000 plus performance bonuses and a friendly match in which Arsenal guaranteed to bring some of their star players.

On 28 October Sir Henry wrote to Herbert Chapman and asked for the right to consult the club’s formal minute books.  Following a meeting on 3 November the directors said that Sir Henry needed an Order of Court to do this.   Sir Henry replied that this was nonsense, he had a legal right in law to do this as a shareholder.

On 10 November Chapman wrote to Sir Henry on behalf of the board, stating that the club stood by its position, and if Sir Henry wanted to see the minute books he had to prove his legal right to look at the documents.  This proved a stalemate and the lack of access to the minute book proved a major problem for Sir Henry when his case against the Football Association reached court in 1929.

Probably in response to this on 16 November Norris’ legal representatives wrote to Arsenal stating that the FA Commission of Inquiry was not a legal body that could order Sir Henry to repay the £664 that the FA had said that he owed the club, reminding the club that Sir Henry had himself not received the money.

On the same day 16 November, the case of Peachey against Arsenal was found in Peachey’s favour, the court ruling that the FA had no power to remove him as a director of a company that was a member of the FA.  Having proved the point, Peachey did in fact resign, but it was a reminder to the FA that they were not (as they had suggested through their actions) above the law.

On 19 November Eddie Hapgood made his debut in a 1-1 draw against Birmingham.  He played 3 games that season but by 1929/30 was a permanent fixture in the side.  And staying with matters on the pitch on 28 November 1927:Alf Baker made his only international appearance. Rather unusually Arsenal did not have a game on this day as England lost 1-2 to Wales at Burnley.    England ended the home championship bottom of the table with no points, while Wales came top, winning two and drawing the third game.

And aside from all this, the Kinnaird Park Estate Company of which Sir Henry was a director continued its leisurely process of building houses and garages in Bromley, one or two at a time.  I really do suspect it was a covenant in Lord Kinnaird’s will that this work continued, although it might have been a plan to allow the estate to earn the money it needed to keep the estate running, and perhaps this was what Sir Henry had promised Lord Kinnaird he would do after his passing.

As to the football – Chapman was now in his third season.  In season one the team had come second in the League.  In season two it was runners’ up in the FA Cup final.   Expectations were high.  But this third season had not started too well and the 1-5 defeat to Bury was little short of a disaster, although in the following games up to the friendly on 29 September things certainly improved.

Date Opposition H/A Res Score Crowd Pos
27/08/1927 Bury A L 1-5 17614 18
31/08/1927 Burnley H W 4-1 19910 12
03/09/1927 Sheffield United H W 6-1 30910 5
05/09/1927 Burnley A W 2-1 14668 2
10/09/1927 Aston Villa A D 2-2 42136 3
17/09/1927 Sunderland H W 2-1 45501 2
21/09/1927 Corinthians (friendly) A L 0-4
24/09/1927 Derby County A L 0-4 16539 6
01/10/1927 West Ham United H D 2-2 34931 6
08/10/1927 Portsmouth A W 3-2 27261 6
15/10/1927 Leicester City H D 2-2 36640 6
17/10/1927 Clapton Orient (LFACC) A L 1-2
22/10/1927 Sheffield Wednesday A D 1-1 12698 6
29/10/1927 Bolton Wanderers H L 1-2 35767 6
05/11/1927 Blackburn Rovers A L 1-4 9656 8
12/11/1927 Middlesbrough H W 3-1 25921 5
19/11/1927 Birmingham City. A D 1-1 10030 6

I have included this time the position Arsenal obtained in the league as I’m not writing a commentary here.  But it can be seen that in the autumn Arsenal were through a run of just one win in eight consecutive league games.

Here is the league table

Pos Team P W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 Everton 16 9 5 2 50 22 2.273 23
2 Newcastle United 16 9 3 4 37 26 1.423 21
3 Leicester City 17 7 5 5 32 28 1.143 19
4 Blackburn Rovers 17 6 7 4 26 23 1.130 19
5 Cardiff City 16 6 7 3 32 34 0.941 19
6 Liverpool 16 6 6 4 41 28 1.464 18
7 Aston Villa 16 7 4 5 34 26 1.308 18
8 Arsenal 15 6 5 4 31 30 1.033 17
9 Burnley 16 8 1 7 34 36 0.944 17
10 Manchester United 17 7 3 7 31 33 0.939 17

The series will continue wrapping up the affairs of Sir Henry in relation to Arsenal.

Details of the whole series of articles on Henry Norris at the Arsenal can be found here including an index to a selection of articles covering the election of Arsenal in 1919 – which is a topic that is still seemingly considered contentious in some quarters, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

An index to our various series published prior to this one, and to the anniversary files can be found on the home page.


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