I’ve mentioned how there was turmoil in Arsenal’s early life as the club went into liquidation and sold off its best players. Everyone blamed everyone else, in the early years of the 20th century, and Henry Norris got most of the flack, despite being the man who rescued the club.
He did more for the club probably than anyone else ever has except Jack Humble, especially with his personal financing of the move to Highbury, but this brought more hatred and bile from an unholy alliance of Tottenham Hotspur, Clapton Orient, the Highbury Defence Committee and Islington Council.
Norris saw them all off, and we moved into our new stadium.
But the resentment against Norris simmered, and as Arsenal established themselves as the leading London club so the press joined Tottenham in attacking him at every turn. Eventually they got him for taking club money to pay for his chauffeur on an away game. It was by any standard the most trivial of offences. An offence yes, but worthy of a lifetime ban for the man who has put up his entire fortune to save Woolwich Arsenal from extinction and then create a new club at Highbury? It is hard to find any rationale.
But Norris had enemies in football and in the press and they went after him big time, and the hatred of Arsenal grew.
Norris had brought in the new era however – the Chapman era – and with Chapman and Norris’ old programme editor Allison, things looked a little brighter – both on the pitch and off it.
At least that is how it seemed, but in the final season of Chapman’s reign at Arsenal things suddenly went wrong again in terms of the way Arsenal’s own fans saw the club, for when Arsenal, top of the league and looking to dominate football for a while, went and lost at Walsall, the mood changed.
Press coverage focussed on the reserves that Chapman put out for that match (it is a game I covered in a little detail in the first of my series of articles in the club programme this season), and from that point on, if Arsenal ever made a single mistake on the pitch then they were booed. Any game not won at a canter resulted in their own fans turning on them. As I have noted before, the players recognised it too, and it got to them.
Arsenal kept winning, and then some, but the undercurrent was always there. Arsenal were called “the Bank of England club” but it was not a title of their own making, nor a title those at the club liked. Arsenal became at once the most admired and the most hated club in the league.
And that was just while they were winning. After the war, things were ready to get worse again.