By Tony Attwood
Since the Arsenal History site was formed we have had a particular focus on Tottenham – not just because they are our local rivals, but also because they have, since 1919, been involved in one of the most extraordinary attempts in the history of football to re-write history and besmirch the name of another club.
Not only that, but Tottenham’s approach has been stunningly successful, with most media regularly re-running the Tottenham storyline, even though it has very little to do with what actually happened in 1919 when Tottenham were relegated, Chelsea given back their place in the first division, and Arsenal promoted.
Black propaganda is always nasty, but one must admit, when done so relentlessly (and we are talking about an event that happened nearly 100 years ago) and with such aplomb one can only admire the tenacity of those involved, while frowning at the gullibility of the journalists and others who have been sucked into this nasty set of made up stories.
We have covered this, and other Tottenham stories on this site, in the past. But just in case you have not read the full and proper 1919 story here it is – including with some new information that was not known last time I write up the story. As we know, the media will be running it as they always do around the time of a Tottenham/Arsenal game, so this is a good time for a reminder of what really happened.
In the final pre-war season, the First and Second Divisions of the Football League were made up of 20 clubs each, as they had been since the last upgrade at the end of the 1904/5 season.
Everyone wanted more games so it was agreed to increase each division by two clubs, thus creating four more games per club. (There was no third division at this time – that came quite a bit later).
At this moment Tottenham was a first division side, who had worked their way into the League via the Southern League, and this is really where our story begins.
In the chart below you can see the relative history of Tottenham and Arsenal. After the year (which marks the second year in each season so 1894 is 1893/4) the next three columns are Woolwich Arsenal, recording the league they were in, the number of games played and the position. After that the same for Tottenham.
|Year||WAFC league||Games||Position||TH League||Games||Position||Best club|
|1909||Div I||38||6||Div II||38||2||WAFC|
|1910||Div I||38||18||Div I||38||15||THFC|
|1911||Div I||38||10||Div I||38||15||WAFC|
|1912||Div I||38||10||Div I||38||12||WAFC|
|1913||Div I||38||20||Div I||38||17||THFC|
|1914||Div II||38||3||Div I||38||17||THFC|
|1915||Div II||38||5||Div I||38||20||THFC|
The final column shows which of the two clubs was in the higher position – a bit nerdy I know, but well…
You will see that Tottenham were for many of the early years a Southern League club. They never played in Southern League Division 2, but for some reason managed to by-pass that and go straight into Southern League 1. So let us consider Tottenham’s position in getting out of the Southern League. Tottenham won the Southern League once, in 1900, but in 1908 when they were promoted, they came 7th.
How did that happen? By a vote of the chairmen of the Football League clubs. That’s important, because that is how Arsenal got into the First Division in 1919, and how Tottenham by-passed Southern League Division 2 when they joined the league.
Quite why the chairmen voted for Tottenham we don’t know and since there is no Tottenham History Society that investigates such matters, I haven’t found out.
Was it bribery and corruption? That might seem a little extreme to allege but then it is exactly what Tottenham have been alleging since 1919, but I don’t want to follow their nasty approaches to football history, but instead stick to the facts.
Anyway, we now get to 1919. The League had been on hold for four years during the first world war, as was going to start again, with, as noted above, more clubs in each division. The question for the chairmen was, which clubs and how would it be arranged.
The first thing the League did was look back to the summer of 1905 – the last upgrade. At the AGM in that year the bottom two teams of the first division (Bury and Notts County) did not go down, and the top two of the second division (Liverpool and Bolton) went up.
That left Division II with 16 clubs so four more were needed to make up the numbers. However Doncaster Rovers who came bottom of Division II were not re-elected by the other clubs, and so five new clubs were elected – including Chelsea who were given a place even though they had no club, no team, no supporters and had never even played a match in the Southern League – the normal feeder league.
This approach of manipulating promotions was well established and went on most years with teams being de-selected, and others being brought in, not because of outstanding playing merit (there was no Chelsea and they had never played a game) but because of football politics.
The five new clubs in this re-arrangement were Chelsea, Hull, Leeds, the Orient, and Stockport. Two London and three from the north.
This regional argument was always there, because the League had been formed exclusively as a Lancashire and midlands activity. Arsenal were the first southern team into the League in 1893.
Because new admissions to the League were voted on by the clubs, and because the clubs from the north and midlands had a continual majority, they originally tried to keep the southern clubs out.
They had voted Woolwich Arsenal in because of the earlier notion of making the league a National League, and because they were worried about the development of other leagues. The Football Alliance had been gaining strength, and Arsenal had applied to join that in 1892, but the Alliance had then transmuted into the second division. Arsenal then set up their own Southern League, before the Football League suggested Arsenal might apply again the following season – when in fact they were elected.
In fact the only other southern teams to get into the League in the early days were Luton Town in 1897 and Bristol City in 1901. Despite the fact that London was the biggest city in the world at the time the League was very reluctant to bring in southern teams.
By the time of the 1905 expansion there was a growing feeling however that there should be more London teams in the league, although the northern teams continued to run the League as if it was designed exclusively for them.
In the last pre-war season (1914/15), Tottenham and Chelsea were in the bottom two relegation spots in Division I. Derby and Preston were first and second (the promotion spots) in Division II.
But this time there was another factor: a major issue – and this is where Tottenham’s manipulation of history really gets going. Ignoring their odd promotion to the Football League, they now ignore the biggest story that there was in football at this time: match fixing.
The issue in question was a game between Manchester United and Liverpool in 1915. There had been previous allegations of match fixing by these clubs, and the matter was investigated quickly, with the Football League concluding that there clearly had been a fixed match. Man U won the match and so ended up with one more point that Chelsea and so avoided relegation. Chelsea went down as a result of the fixed game.
The Football League investigation clearly said this, but because there was no 1915/16 season, the matter was left unresolved until the summer of 1919.
Everyone knew something must be done, and the League said, before any voting or anything like that, that Chelsea must stay up. Which left the question of Man U and Liverpool. They had fixed a game – and fairly obviously should have been relegated to division 2 or thrown out of the League totally.
The dominance of the north meant that the chairmen of the clubs in the north were never going to allow a majority vote to have two of their own thrown out.
Meanwhile and quite separately, there had been a campaign running, headed by Athletics News (the dominant weekly sports paper which was considered authoritative on such matters) that Arsenal should be promoted. The reasons given were that Arsenal had on their own taken professional football south, had pushed the Kent and London FAs into a position where they backed away from a proposal to isolate professional clubs and not allow amateur teams to play them, and had taken the League into the capital.
Further, they had a high capacity ground with excellent transport links, and a huge fan base.
Such arguments for promotion might seem odd to us today, but this was how things were run in football until the 1960s when clubs at the foot of Division 4 had to “re-apply” for membership. Even then the situation often arose where the bottom two clubs of the league might be re-elected but the third from bottom would be thrown out, because of poor facilities, distance from other clubs etc.
So the campaign for Arsenal to get a place in Division 1 was up and running long before the AGM of the League, and it was run through the leading journal of the day, a journal known for its independence.
There was a secondary feeling – that if something were not done about Manchester United and Liverpool, the southern clubs, and those in the rest of the league who had suffered at the hands of the match fixing cartel, might decide to leave the league and start their own league await from the scandal of match fixing.
This then was the background. The League needed two more clubs for Division I, and one of those would be Chelsea, who would not be relegated, because of the match fixing. They also needed three more for Division II (two for the expansion and a third because Glossop North End had chosen not to continue in the League).
There was a vote, and in it Tottenham did not get enough votes to get into the First Division. So they were relegated.
Derby, Preston and Arsenal made up the other three positions for the first division. Man U and Liverpool went unpunished.
Why did people not vote for Tottenham? Probably for several reasons. First, they had failed miserably in the first division and come bottom in 1915.
Second they had repeatedly made a nuisance of themselves in 1913 by trying to call an EGM of the Football League in order to stop Arsenal’s move to Highbury. The move failed, and not enough clubs signed the motion to call the EGM. Tottenham made a lot of noise.
Tottenham had incidentally made a lot of fuss on other occasions – notably in 1905 when they had lobbied against the creation of Chelsea. The clubs were getting fed up with their activities.
Third, the history of Tottenham going from 8th in the Southern League to the 2nd division was still recent, and it all just smacked of special pleading.
Finally, Tottenham had for some years been in a most awful financial crisis, and had been the centre of a huge range of in-fighting in the years up to the first world war. There was serious thought that the club might fall apart, and if that were to happen, everyone preferred it to happen in the second division, not the first.
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