Freedom of contract and limits on transfer fees: a court discussion in 1918.

On this day in 1918 Sir Henry Norris, chair of Arsenal and a director of Fulham FC, began his campaign to become an MP – during the course of which one of his opponents put out a leaflet that criticised Sir Henry saying that while Sir Henry had claimed to be in favour of the rights of footballers to move clubs freely, he meanwhile enjoyed the profits of trading players through the transfer system as though they were cattle to be bought and sold at market.  He was thus, it was argued, not fit to be an MP.

Sir Henry, it was alleged, was therefore duplicitous and could not be trusted, and thus should not be elected as an MP.

The case is interesting because the testimony of Sir Henry in this court case gives us further insight into the man’s attitude towards football and its regulations – as does the fact that Sir Henry actually saw the matter as important enough to bring to court.

At the time, there was (as now) no limit on football transfer fees, but there was a limit on how much players could be paid – the maximum wage.  Sir Henry’s view, which was widely known in football was explained in the court case.  It was explained to the jury that there was a maximum wage that players may be paid but no limit on transfer fees.  Sir Henry stated he had constantly argued that there should be no maximum wage and that players should be able to earn whatever their employer wished to pay them (as in all other areas of employment) but that the FA should limit transfer fees.

The opponent of Sir Henry (in his election leaflet) had called football directors in general “the most arrogant, provocative and cynically callous employers of labour,” and accused Sir Henry of having a “vehement opposition to freedom of contract for players” which had made him notorious, and had engaged in buying and selling men as if they were mere cattle.

Sir Henry’s reposte was that he had never made money out of buying and selling players, was opposed to the system of having unlimited transfer fees, and wanted the maximum wage removed.  More he had made no money out of football, as Fulham owed his £1500 and Arsenal far more.

But perhaps most interesting was a comment Sir Henry made later in which he said that when he travelled with the club to away games he travelled with the players, used the cheap day return tickets for the train journeys, stayed at the same hotel as the players and ate the same food with them.  When asked by the defence counsel if the players shared in his wine he replied that no one had wine on a football journey or in the hotel.

With the case totally running against him, the defendant withdrew, apologised unreservedly, explained that he had used information supplied to him by others, and agreed to pay Sir Henry £100 and costs.  The judge commended the plaintiff on his immediate withdrawal of the case on hearing Sir Henry’s evidence.

Here are the anniversaries.

29 November 1890 Jimmy Charteris had his leg broken in two places in a scratch match played in frost and snow and consequently never played again, highlighting the awful consequences of playing during a singularly bleak winter

29 November 1893: James Boyle signed from Celtic having won a cup medal when he played in the Glasgow Cup Final in 1891, Celtic’s first major honour.   He seems to have been one of the many engineers who travelled south looking for work at the Woolwich factories.

29 November 1896: Joseph Powell died after breaking his arm in a match at Kettering, as a result of tetanus and blood poisoning.  After his death Arsenal played a friendly against Aston Villa on 7 December 1896. The proceeds of the match, £137 8s 6d (about £12000 in today’s money) were given to his widow who was pregnant with their second child.

29 November 1899: Alexander Main début in friendly v Eastbourne.  Having played for four Scottish clubs in the previous season he travelled south and signed for Woolwich Arsenal.  His first league game was 25 December 1899 away to Lincoln.

29 November 1902:  Arsenal organised an archery competition and raised about £1,200 by selling 80,000 competition tickets.  (The total income from the 1901-02 season was £5600). The police advised the club that they were organising an illegal lottery and charged Arsenal’s manager. Harry Bradshaw, was found guilty, and fined £5.   Woolwich Arsenal, though kept the proceeds.

29 November 1913: First appearance for Robert Benson.  He had played 19 times for Southampton before leaving to move to Sheffield United (then in the First Division) for a fee of £150 and played for them 283 times before joining Arsenal.

29 November 1918:  Lt Col Sir Henry Norris, the man who had, at the start of the war been simply Mr Norris, and who was now Chairman of the Ministry of Labour’s Advisory Committee on demobilisation, started his campaign to become an MP.

29 November 1919: Arsenal played the return match against Notts County and drew 2-2 in front of 6000.  The club stayed 10th, but the best news was that Pagnam yet against scored (Buckley getting the other goal).  That was five goals in the last four league games.

29 November 1920:  The rationing that was imposed during the war was finally ended with the removal of restrictions on the sale of sugar.

29 November 1924: First appearance by Sidney Hoar away to Cardiff – a 1-1 draw.  Arsenal were a comfortable 11th in the league after this game, but a disastrous second half of the season saw them only just avoid relegation.

29 November 1924: Bolton 5 WHU 0 making four defeats and one draw for WHU.  This is noteworthy as Arsenal manager Knighton claimed 22 years later that WHU were the most fearsome team of the era, and he had to drug the Arsenal team to get them ready to play against the club.

29 November 1926: Miners voted on whether to return to work; the majority said no, but their union rules required a two thirds majority for a strike, and this was not achieved.  The last element of the general strike was over..

29 November 1930: Chelsea 1 Arsenal 5  The third game in four in which Arsenal scored five.  Across these four games the scorers included Lambert (7), Jack (5), Bastin (4).

29 November 1934: Prince George, Duke of Kent married Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark.  This was the last occasion of a foreign-born princess marrying into the British royal family and the wedding was the first to be broadcast live on radio – a matter of even greater excitement than the Arsenal manager doing a commentary on England while his own players were hacked to pieces.

29 November 1941: Arsenal 3 Reading 1 in the wartime London League. It was the penultimate game in a run of 14 in which Arsenal won 12, drew one and lost one.

29 November 1946: First appearance for Joe Mercer.  Everton, his previous club, did all they could to stop him going back to say goodbye to friends at the club, even though the player continued to live in the north west and just travelled to Arsenal for games!

29 November 1947: After 17 games without a defeat Arsenal lost 0-1 to Derby.  Despite the result Arsenal were still five points clear at the top of the league.

29 November 1967: Colin Addison sold to Sheffield Utd.  He later became a manager, working with the most varied list of clubs including: Hereford, Durban City, Notts County, Newport County, Al-Ahli, Celta Vigo, WBA, Athletico Madrid, Cadiz, Hereford Utd, Al Arabi, Badajoz, Merthyr Tydfil, Scarborough, Yeovil Town, Swansea City, Forest Green Rovers, and Barry Town.

29 November 1975:  Arsenal lost away to WHU 0-1, with 31,012 in attendance.  The result ended Arsenal’s best run of the season although the WHU goal appeared to be offside to much of the crowd, to most of the Arsenal players, and ultimately to the TV audience on Sunday.   However Keith Coleman of West Ham distracted the ref by going down pretending that Kidd had punched him. A clever if wholly ungentlemanly ploy.

29 November 1977: 25,922 saw Arsenal beat Hull City of the second division 5-1 in the League Cup.   Brady, Stapleton and Macdonald scored in the first half, After scoring five Arsenal eased up, and at the death conceded a penalty.  Picking the ball from the net was the only time Jennings touched it all night.

29 November 1983: Arsenal lost to Walsall 1-2.  Ian Allinson made his debut after moving from Colchester United in October. Alan Sunderland made his final appearance before moving to Ipswich Town in February 1984.  The defeat was effectively the last straw in Terry Neill’s managerial reign.

29 November 1998: “Perhaps we gave our fans too much by winning the Double. Once you’ve eaten caviar, it is difficult to go back to sausages.” Arsène Wenger on this day.  Fortunately there was still more caviar in the fridge.

29 November 2006 After a fine September/October which included five consecutive wins, the 2-1 defeat to Fulham made it 1 win, 2 draws and 3 defeats in last six, after which a small group in the crowd declared Song was not fit to wear the shirt

29 November 2009: Arsenal lost 0-3 at home to Chelsea, having lost 0-1 to Sunderland the previous week.  Curiously the next two defeats were in consecutive matches in January, and then it happened for the fourth time – two consecutive defeats in April.

29 November 2011: Arsenal went out of league cup 0-1 to Man City.  Arsenal played Man C three times in the season, all ending 1-0, twice to Man C and once to Arsenal.

29 November 2017: Although suffering from huge levels of negative coverage in the press Arsenal made it 3 league wins in a row and 5 wins in 6 games by beating Huddersfield 5-0.  The match however was not reported at all by BBC Radio 5 which instead spent much of its programme discussing a goal by Rooney.

29 November 2018: Arsenal played Vorskla in the Europa League in a game moved to Kiev following the declaration of martial law.  Arsenal won 3-0 (Smith Rowe, Ramsey and Willock) with Medley, Gilmour and Saka making their debuts.

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