By Tony Attwood
Some clubs are born out of bitterness and dispute. The split between Liverpool and Everton and the launch of Liverpool as a separate club is a perfect example.
Some clubs are born just because there’s a group of people who want to play football. Dial Square / Royal Arsenal is a perfect example.
But just because the club is started out of a vision of co-operation and friendliness, it doesn’t mean it always stays that way. As I have noted elsewhere on these pages, the Royal Arsenal club split as it approached professionalism, with a rival faction leaving Woolwich Arsenal to form their own Royal Armaments Factories club. Indeed some of the guys who were involved in the very founding of Royal Arsenal were involved in the split.
But the rival group had a hard time of it and dropped out of their league after a few seasons, and as an amateur team they never rivalled the drawing power of Woolwich Arsenal.
Woolwich Arsenal’s problems in terms of good public relations came after their greatest success – the two FA Cup semi-finals. With the club unable to push onto higher things (like a Final appearance, or a first or second place in the league) the fans began to be disenchanted, there were complaints in the press, and when the club approached administration in 1910 all hell broke lose.
From 1910 onwards the local press was packed solid with bitter letters from readers blaming Henry Norris for wrecking the club (he actually rescued it, but never mind), blaming other people for not supporting the club properly, blaming the directors who let the club get into a mess, blaming the players for not being any good, blaming Norris (again) for his transfer policies) and so on.
Sound familiar? Yes of course – replace the Kentish Independent with the blogs of today, and you have the same sort of scenario.
I am not sure when the supporters turned on the players first of all, but there are reports in the 1912/13 season of the booing of Percy Sands, an action which from nearly 100 years later looks insane.
Sands was at Arsenal for seventeen years and played as an amateur from 1902 onwards before becoming a pro in 1908. He was one of these great guys who was recognised as a fine footballer, (he had trials for England) and yet stood by his club – having the misfortune to be the captain in the disastrous last season at Woolwich.
The booing of Sands really should be a lesson to everyone – the crowd mentality is not something that generally has any link with intelligence either then or now.
Of course the real hatred of Arsenal was taken to a new level by Tottenham Hotspur in 1913 when it became clear that Arsenal was moving to within a couple of miles of White Hart Lane.
Tottenham could have welcomed Arsenal and seen the benefit of a fine rivalry, but instead did everything they could to stop the move, going so far as to demand that there should be an Extraordinary General Meeting of the League to discuss the matter.
Tottenham failed to get the requisite number of votes to call the meeting, largely because many other teams welcomed Arsenal’s move to north London, and in many ways Tottenham were made to look the laughing stock (just as they had been when they applied to join the Southern League that Arsenal attempted to create, and only got one vote – presumably their own).
Meanwhile others were turning on Norris because he made public what appeared to be an example of match fixing between Liverpool and Manchester United which allowed United to avoid relegation. Norris was criticised for his comments – and the fact that Liverpool were involved in a second match fixing scandal in 1915 failed to get people to change their mind about Norris. Instead of Liverpool being blamed, he was.
Tottenham were not the only ones to oppose Arsenal’s move. Local residents formed the Highbury Defence Committee and made a huge fuss about the move, and eventually persuaded Islington Council to fight the move to north London. It is a measure of the attention to detail that Norris put into his planning that he was able to see the move through despite all this opposition.
So outraged were Tottenham by this failure that when Arsenal were awarded a place in the first division in 1919 in the normal way in which this was done upon an extension of the league (through a secret ballot of all the clubs in the Football League) Tottenham suggested that somehow the vote was fixed. So loud did they cry “foul” that the press took up the call, and many people actually believed there was something amiss – although there was no evidence for this at all.
Thus the ground was set – a club that had followed all the rules throughout its life was seen by the press, Tottenham Hotspur, the local residents, the local council and even on occasion its own supporters as being somehow wrong in all it did.
It is a tradition that has carried on to this day and is seen in numerous newspaper and blog articles every day. I’ll explore some more events within 100 years of Hating Arsenal in coming articles.