4 December 1926: Henry Norris takes on the FA over its total lack of morals

In the match day programme for this day Sir Henry Norris threw down the gauntlet to the FA in public over the way it had treated our player Tom Whittaker, who had suffered a career-ending injury while playing for England in Australia.  The game resulted in a 1-0 win over Bury, but the big interest was in what the FA would do against such a public challenge.

The FA had made Tom Whittaker what it called its “final offer” of £350 in compensation for his career-ending injury suffered in June 1925 on the FA tour of Australia.

Both Sir Henry Norris and Herbert Chapman expressed themselves outraged by this – not just arguing that this was too little, but arguing that £350 was an insult to a player who had gone on tour on behalf of the FA, to promote football in another continent.  Sir Henry decided, and the Arsenal board agreed, that the club should no longer stay silent on this issue (as it had done up to now) and that they would make a public complaint concerning the affair.  The club gave £100 to Whittaker (which may not seem much, but the club had continued to employ him while he was developing his skills as a physio, and would indeed continue employing him until his death) and minuted their profound disapproval in the records of the board’s proceedings.

But then they went further for in the matchday programme of 4 December the club ripped into the FA with no holds barred.  This was intended to bring the matter to the attention of both the FA and football journalists, as of course it did.  And it had a profound impact beyond this matter because this was Sir Henry throwing down the gauntlet to the FA in public – something that although not contrary to any rule, was against the understanding that disputes within football were settled by football’s authorities behind closed doors, and not aired in public.

This incident over Whittaker’s future was of course not the first battle between Sir Henry and the authorities – we may particularly think back to the allegations of match-fixing in 1913 when Henry Norris wrote a newspaper article in the West London and Fulham Times concerning the match on 24 March 1913 which he had attended, between Liverpool and Chelsea, in which he accused both teams of match-fixing.

There was a formal enquiry, Liverpool were exonerated and Norris was warned as to his future behaviour.  However, it was only two years and at least three more accusations of match-fixing later that another match involving Liverpool was thought to be so obviously fixed, that this time there was no chance of the matter being hushed up.

So Sir Henry had a history of breaking the silence of the authorities in matters wherein he believed they should be called out.   Now having been called out for severely embarrassing the League with the opening report of match-fixing and being strongly reprimanded by the League, he was not letting go.

We may also recall just how strongly Sir Henry had disagreed with the footballing authorities on other matters such as his long-running campaign to get the maximum wage of players removed and instead have a limit on transfer fees.  Such a move would have benefited the players but restricted the ability of wealthy club owners of buying success through offering ever higher transfer fees.  In fact the free-for-all that was the transfer market meant that it was impossible for the League to keep track of exactly how much had been paid, and where the money had gone.

Indeed if we go back to an earlier incident, there had been the payment to amateur player Dick Roose who, with Arsenal, exploited the very ill-defined rules on the level of expenses amateur players could legitimately claim.  It was yet another long-running dispute between Henry Norris and the authorities as was the case of the contract of Clem Voysey which in fact resulted in two inconclusive FA inquiries of the management of Arsenal. Arsenal vs the FA was in short a long-running and ongoing battle.

Sir Henry had also invented the notion of the payment per goal for Charlie Buchan, a brilliant piece of publicity which the League for some reason did not like (other chairmen seemed to object largely on the grounds that they hadn’t thought of it), and which was subsequently outlawed at the AGM of 1926 – another rap on the knuckles for Sir Henry and another example that the authorities really didn’t like the free-thinking attitude of a man who had not come up through the ranks of the aristocracy and established football families.

And above all, we must remember that Arsenal, for all that the club did for the League by joining the Football League, not the Southern League, were considered outsiders from the very start.  With their thoroughly working-class origins, their ground being closed because of crowd behaviour, their radical ideas such as merging Fulham and Arsenal, the notion of ground sharing at Craven Cottage, their move across London, and their rise from outsiders to become the best-supported clubs in the country, the club was simply “not one of us”.

Thus Sir Henry was a dichotomy for the FA and League.  He had cast football in a most positive light with his creation of the football battalion in the first world war and was clearly recognised by the state through the award of his knighthood and his promotion from having no rank to the rank of Lt Colonel in the army as part of his work in the War Office.  But Sir Henry had an attitude towards women (particularly in regard to arguing for equal pay for women at a time soon after the pre-war arson and attacks by the Suffragettes, while the authorities were doing everything they could to stop women playing football) and other progressive views (like not limiting the pay of players) which did not sit easy with the powers that be.

Thus throughout his time in football, Sir Henry had been a thorn in the side of the League and FA.  He had supported the Football League by rescuing one of its few southern members from bankruptcy in 1910, but he had what the officialdom of football must have considered being seriously dangerous views on social matters.  Yet he had been recognised for his extraordinary work in recruiting volunteers, organising conscription, while being proven absolutely right in warning against conscription in Ireland, and finally playing a major role in organising the demobilisation of troops.   And now here he was again engaged in an all-out assault on the Football Association.

The programme in which the attack on the FA was published was for the match which resulted in a 1-0 win against Bury.  It was Arsenal’s second successive win, which brought some relief after four games without a victory in the league,

The Daily Express ran the story of the programme notes on 6 December, asking the FA to comment on the article in the Arsenal programme.  No one would speak to the paper on the record, but there were enough people in the FA who did not like Sir Henry for it to have been easy for the paper to find someone who would give them some good anonymous copy.  Arsenal historian Sally Davis speculates that the person interviewed by the Express was Charles Crump, who was on the FA Council and was noted as an opponent of Sir Henry’s forward-thinking views, and that might very well be right.

So on 6 December, the Express ran a piece stating the FA’s position, saying that Whittaker had been treated “handsomely” and claimed that it was the FA and not Arsenal who had been paying Whittaker’s wages from the date of the injury until the date of the settlement and that Arsenal had not even re-signed Whittaker for this season.

This latter point might well have been technically true.  Whittaker would not be re-signed as a player since he could not play and was unlikely ever to play again, but Arsenal had taken him on as trainer of the reserve team, and he was by now giving the club advice and guidance on the use of the new technology of electrical treatment for players’ injuries, to speed up the recovery process.  (This notion of electrical treatment might seem a little worrying to anyone who has not experienced it but the use of very mild electric shocks to help speed up the recovery from muscle injuries is still very much one of the options today – I write as one who has had it himself after a sporting injury).

As might be expected, Sir Henry was not going to accept this sort of statement from the FA and so he wrote a letter to the Express, which it published on 7 December, noting that all the FA had offered Whittaker was one year’s salary, and only after a lot of haggling, and this for an injury which ended his career.  What’s more, they had started out with an offer far less than even this very minor offer.

Worse, he claimed, the FA had behaved intolerably by not insuring its players for the tour, and that if they had not scrimped on this matter, there would be no problem. Sir Henry also called the FA “impudent” for responding to the commentary in the programme anonymously.

The FA chose not to respond to Sir Henry’s commentary, and there the matter stopped, at least for the moment, but the battle lines were well and truly drawn.



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The Arsenal History Society is part of the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association – a body which gives positive support to the club, and has regular meetings with directors and senior officials of the club to represent the views of its members to the club.  You can read more about AISA on its website.


100 Years in the First Division: the absolute complete story of Arsenal’s promotion in 1919.

Henry Norris at the Arsenal:  There is a full index to the series here.

Arsenal in the 1930s: The most comprehensive series on the decade ever

Arsenal in the 1970s: Every match and every intrigue reviewed in detail.3 December 1949

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