The man who single handedly destroyed Arsenal’s reputation

By Tony Attwood

It is a tradition, and a worthy one I must admit, that one does not speak ill of the dead.  But sometimes one comes across people who in one act have done so much harm to others, that there is nothing one can do except point out the awful things they did.

For example, on 29 March 2020 the Daily Mirror newspaper ran the headline “Inside England’s match-fixing scandal that involved Man Utd, Liverpool and Arsenal” above a story by Simon Mullock, Chief Football Writer of the Sunday Mirror.  So not a tale by a junior reporter, but by the chief football writer.

That story relates to events leading up to the first world war, and the main problem with the headline is that Arsenal were never in any way involved in any match-fixing scandal.  It was Man U and Liverpool who were engaged in the affair, and it was Arsenal’s owner, Henry Norris who first reported the matter.

To the League’s eternal discredit, rather than investigate Norris’ claims (which were enhanced by several subsequently fixed matches, ultimately resulting in many players being banned from football) the League warned Norris that if he were to write anything more on the subject, he (rather than the match-fixers) would be banned from football for life (the standard penalty in those days which was liberally handed out.  Even such luminaries as Herbert Chapman got a lifetime ban at one time).

Such stories emerge of course because the journalists can’t be bothered to do any checking or research, and so just prints the current gossip.  And in this case the source of the negative stories about Henry Norris (later Lt Col Sir Henry Norris, the knighthood and the rank the result of his extraordinary work in the first world war) was Leslie Knighton, Arsenal’s manager from 1919 to 1925.

Knighton was a manager of very modest ability who never came near to winning a trophy, but in 1946 he wrote his autobiography which was presented as a “what goes on behind closed doors” set of revelations about football.  Obviously, he had to justify the fact that in his last two years at Arsenal, the club almost got relegated each season, and he did this through a series of extraordinary attacks on Henry Norris.

These stories have been accepted at face value, but an examination of them shows that they were all fantasies.   Yet here they are, still being repeated to this day.  The full story of what happened is published in “Henry Norris at the Arsenal” – and there is a special section at the foot of the index page (The 1919 affair) which examines in details the allegations Knighton made about Norris.

So today we remember the passing of Leslie Knighton, not by noting one of the club’s least successful managers, but rather as a man who single-handedly did more damage to Arsenal than anyone else in the history of football.  Damage that, as the Mirror article shows, is still be repeated today.

Here are the anniversaries.

10 May 1890: Millwall Athletic 3 Arsenal 3.  A crowd of 800 turned up to see the local derby – the first since Millwall added “athletic” to their name.

10 May 1899: James Jackson signed.  He made his debut at full back alongside Duncan McNichol and the pair became a renowned full back partnership.  Jackson played until 1905, making 204 appearances and scoring 1 goal.

10 May 1908 David Greenaway signed.  He was an outside right who between 1908 and 1920 played 161 league games and scored 13 goals.

10 May 1910: The sale period of shares in Arsenal FC finally came to an end and it was clear that not nearly enough had been sold to make the offer valid.  The club remained in the financial mire as local people refused to support the club.

10 May 1915: The board of directors at Arsenal formally approved the change of the name of the club (which had already happened the month before) to “The Arsenal” at a meeting on this day.

10 May 1919.  Leslie Knighton took charge of his first Arsenal match at Highbury as Arsenal beat West Ham 3-2 with 8000 in the ground.

10 May 1922: Andrew Kennedy, signed one day before, played in his first match – a friendly against Southend.

10 May 1923: Boldklubben Frem (Copenhagen) 2 Arsenal 4.  First appearance of  Samson Haden.

10 May 1932: Northampton 2 Arsenal 3.  The last of the Northampton/Arsenal friendlies which supported a local hospital and which may have also helped Chapman’s old club repair their ground after it had been destroyed by fire.

10 May 1941: Preston 1 Arsenal 1 in the Football League War Cup Final, at Wembley (60,000 in the crowd).  The match was replayed three weeks later at Ewood Park, Blackburn, when Arsenal lost 2-1.

10 May 1959: Death of Leslie Knighton, the first manager of Arsenal in north London.  He and George Allison published their autobiographies within weeks of each other in 1948, and Knighton’s book has regularly been used as a source of information concerning Arsenal and Henry Norris.  But subsequent investigation has shown virtually all of his allegations (although still oft-repeated today) are utterly without foundation.  Allison’s volume, written immediately after his retirement, and drawing on a lifetime at Arsenal,  paints a totally different picture of Norris and the club, but is mostly ignored as it doesn’t fit the anti-Arsenal agenda of today’s media.

10 May1962: Danny Clapton’s last senior game.  He moved to Luton Town in September 1962 before playing for Corinthians of Sydney.   By 1970 he was running a pub in Hackney.

10 May 1966: Charlie George, who had been discovered by George Male, signed apprentice forms.  He played 133 league games before moving to Derby.

10 May 1969: Dennis Bergkamp born in Amsterdam, the son of an electrician.  He joined Ajax aged 12, and stayed there for 12 years before moving to Inter.  After two miserable years there where he was insulted by the media on a weekly basis, he moved to Arsenal.

10 May 1980: Arsenal lost the FA Cup final to West Ham.  It was Arsenal’s 3rd successive FA Cup final, and the last until the Cup Double season of 1993.

10 May 1995: Arsenal lost 1-2 to Real Zaragoza in injury time in the Cup Winners Cup final as Nayim spotted Seaman off his line and lobbed him from 50 yards out.

10 May 1997: Matthew Upson transferred to Arsenal from Luton for £1.2m.  (Also reported as 16 May in some quarters.)  He had played just once for Luton and went on to play 35 times for Arsenal before moving on to Birmingham City.

10 May 1998: With the league won on 3 May, Arsenal took life easy in the 38th and final match of the second Double season losing 1-0 to Aston Villa, knowing that the Cup Final was still to come. The second double: part 1, part 2, part 3.

10 May 2009: Arsenal 1 Chelsea 4; Bendtner scored in what was the worst defeat thus far at the Emirates.  In the following home game two weeks later Arsenal defeated Stoke 4-1.

10 May 2012: Steve Bould, having been youth team coach, and head of the under 18s, stepped up to become Arsene Wenger’s assistant upon the retirement of Pat Rice.

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