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How one man falsified Arsenal’s history, and has had most journalists fooled for over 70 years

On this day in 1919 Leslie Knighton joined Arsenal as their first post-war manager following the club’s election to the first division.   He was a fairly decent if unspectacular manager, and kept Arsenal in the first division – although only just in his last two seasons as Arsenal came close to relegation, leading up to his dismissal in 1925.

And if that was all he had done Knighton would remain a footnote in the club’s history.   But finding himself out of work after the second world war, Knighton wrote his autobiography, extracts of which were published in a sunday newspaper, in which he made a series of very serious allegations against Lt Col Sir Henry Norris (by then deceased) who had rescued Arsenal from collapse in 1910 and run the club until 1927.

These allegations, which excuse the club’s poor performances in the last two years of Knighton’s reign, are outrageous in the extreme, and contain no corraborative evidence to support them, but they have been repeated with glee by those who oppose Arsenal, so much so that even many Arsenal supporters now believe the tales.

Yet it takes only a few moments of review to see how false the Knighton reportage is.  His claim that he could not sign players for over £1000 is found to be utterly false.  His suggestion that he was reduced to playing the brother in law of the club’s physio in truth refers to the fact that the said brother in law had won a league championship with Rangers in Scotland, played for the Scottish League and was being chased by every club in London.

The list of his falsehoods is extreme indeed, and anyone seriously interested in the period may find it interesting to read our series “Henry Norris at the Arsenal” which exposes the lies that Knighton told and which others have endlessly repeated every since.


Publications

We are currently working on a paperback version of the Henry Norris story, but meanwhile I’ve just discovered another box of copies of the book “Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football” our store room, having previously said it was out of print.  So both this book and “Making the Arsenal” are now available as printed books, and on Kindle.    Please see here for more details.


 

10 April 1897: Arsenal 1 Arsenal Reserves 2.  Such games (often called Reds v Blues) were common for many years at the start of the season, and occasionally near the end of the season, and the reserves were not supposed to win!

10 April 1903. For some reason Arsenal liked being in Chesterfield.  On this day they beat Chesterfield Town 3-0 and then on 25 April the result was Chesterfield Municipal 0 Arsenal 1 (Shanks).  

10 April 1915: Arsenal beat Bury 3-1 with 12,000 at Highbury: the first time that Arsenal had won two games in a row since February 6.  The day saw the start of a new London-wide recruitment campaign in football grounds to convince yet more young men to sign up.

10 April 1919: The Committee of the London Combination ordered the game between Fulham and Arsenal to be replayed on this day.  However a set of appeals and counter appeals resulted in a final Fulham appeal being heard without Henry Norris being told about it – which resulted in him leaving Fulham for good.

10 April 1919: Leslie Knighton joined Arsenal as the club’s first post-war manager.  Towards the end of his tenure Arsenal struggled against relegation and he was relieved of his duties in 1925 to be replaced by Chapman.  His autobiography and Sunday newspaper “revelations” written 20 years later made numerous serious allegations against Henry Norris, which have since been shown to be unfounded.

10 April 1920: Arsenal beat title chasing Burnley 2-0 meaning that WBA had won the league for the first, and as it turned out only, time.   20,000 turned up to Highbury to see Bradshaw and Pagnam get the goals. Arsenal went up to 12th and had seven points and nine teams separating them from Blackburn in 21st.

10 April 1925  Sunderland 2 Arsenal 1.  First game for Bill Seddon.  He was signed 18 months before from Gillingham and made 69 league appearances.  He got his first run in the side in November.

10 April 1936: Arsenal beat West Brom 4-0 after seven games without a win.   It was the first home win since 1 February and only the second since beating Middlesbrough on 9 December.

10 April 1937: Man City v Arsenal – the biggest game of the season.  City were one point behind with one game in hand. Herbie Roberts was forced to drop out to be replaced by the inexperienced Bernard Joy at centre half and City won 2-0, to go top of the league in front of  75,000.

10 April 1939: George Curtis played his first match for Arsenal having served his apprenticeship with Margate, and left after 11 league games in 1946/7.  He went on to become manager of numerous clubs and the Norwegian team. He died in 2004.

10 April 1948:  Arsenal won the First Division Championship by drawing with Huddersfield 1-1 with four games to go.  Arsenal lost one and drew two of the remaining games before winning the final match 8-0.

10 April 1954: Final appearance for Joe Mercer, aged 39.  He won the league twice with Arsenal, and was also Footballer of the Year in 1950.  And yet Everton refused to pay for an operation he need, Villa sacked him after he had a minor stroke, Manchester City sacked him appallingly after he brought them major triumphs… Only Arsenal it seems, offered him any sense of class and stability.

10 April 1954: League debut for Derek Tapscott Arsenal 3 Liverpool 0 – with Tapscott scoring two of the goals.  He had come from Barry Town on 1 October 1953 and went on to play 119 times for Arsenal.

10 April 1971: Southampton 1 Arsenal 2.  League match 35 of the first Double.  Arsenal were now three points behind Leeds with two games in hand.  Radford and McLintock scored.

10 April 1976: Everton 0 Arsenal 0, 20,774 in the crowd.  The Daily Mirror said that Everton were so uninspired and ordinary that they managed to make Arsenal look average, and summarised the game as “90 of the dreariest minutes imaginable.”  

10 April 1979: Arsenal 1 Tottenham 0.  53,896 saw Stapleton score. But in the remaining seven matches Arsenal had only one more win… 5-2 against Chelsea.

10 April 2011: Jens Lehmann played against Blackpool after Almunia was injured in the warm up.  It was his 200th Arsenal game, and he had been brought in as an emergency sub while doing his coaching badges.

10 April 2017: Arsenal lost 3-0 away to Crystal Palace making the record  just two wins and one draw in the last seven league games.

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