20 December 1913: Enter the Hill-Woods

by Tony Attwood

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For many years December was one of the busiest months in league football, and December 1913 was certainly no exception.

Now if you know your football history you will know that Arsenal were relegated in 1912/13, in the very last season in Plumstead.  So, obviously, 1913/14 was the first season at Highbury, and played in the 2nd Division.

On 6 December 1913 the result was Arsenal 1 Leeds City 0, Leeds being managed by Herbert Chapman – thus making this his first visit to Highbury and his first meeting with Henry Norris (who later signed him as manger) with a crowd of 18,000 present.

That Leeds City are no longer with us, was due to events that took place during the first world war when Herbert Chapman still nominally manager (although he had left the club to be a superintendent at an oil and coke works in Selby, with league football being suspended).

Leeds City were subsequently reported by some former players for allegedly paying “guest” players who had appeared for them in wartime friendlies – something that was outlawed.  However neither side had any real evidence – just accusations and denials.

The League had no documentary proof save the say-so of the ex-players: rumour on the part of those not paid, and denial on the part of those who were alleged to have been paid.  Anyone being paid would have been paid in cash so there was no paper trail.

But Leeds City would not give the League their financial records, and so in the arbitrary way that it often deals with these things, the Football League, after eight games in the 1919/20 season, removed Leeds City from membership, and banned five officials – including Herbert Chapman, for life.  Their fixtures were taken over by Port Vale, who bizarrely were able to count the eight games Leeds City had played (four wins two draws and two defeats) as their own! The players who had made the complaint were left unemployed.

Leeds City was wound up, and out of the mists, a new club appeared using the same ground: Leeds United.  They were admitted to the league for the 1920/21 season, replacing Grimsby in Division 2.

For Herbert Chapman however matters went from bad to worse since in late December 1920 he was laid off from his job at the coke works.  He was unemployed, and banned for life from football, but was then approached by Huddersfield Town to be assistant to Ambrose Langley, who had played with Herbert Chapman’s brother Harry at The Wednesday (where Harry had made over 200 appearances).

Working with the support of Huddersfield, Herbert then appealed against his life ban, using the most obvious of cases that since he had been helping the nation’s war effort during much of the war, and had not been involved with the club, and since the League had no idea when any illicit activity had taken place (since it hadn’t seen the records) they couldn’t possibly know that there was a case against him.

Even a five-year-old child playing football in the park in the middle of the night with his eyes closed could see that the case against Herbert Chapman obviously had no basis, and after just a month’s unemployment, he became an employee of Huddersfield Town on 1 February 1921, subsequently replacing the incumbent manager.

But that of course is all for the future and I digress – let us, therefore, return to Arsenal’s first season at Highbury.  After beating Leeds City 1-0 Arsenal played their first local derby against their new neighbours, Clapton Orient.

In 1912/13 Orient had had an average home crowd of 9835 (compared with Woolwich Arsenal in the final year in Plumstead where the average crowd was 9395.)  But in this season of 1913/14 with Arsenal on the doorstep, their average attendance shot up by around 32% to 12,970 (the average for the season in the second division was 10,738, itself a 23% increase on the previous year).

Certainly, the locals (and indeed many Arsenal fans) wanted to be at this match, and 27,000 turned up at the Millfields Road ground.   And Clapton (who like Tottenham had vigorously opposed Arsenal’s move to Highbury) may well have changed their mind not just because of their improved crowds but also because they won this game 1-0.

On 20 December the game was at home to Glossop North End, the club owned by the Hill-Wood family, and so this would have been their first trip to Highbury.  When war broke out the family withdrew its support for the club, which went into liquidation and dropped out of the league.  Eventually, they were reformed (without Hill-Wood support) and ended up in the Manchester League.  The Hill-Woods meanwhile transferred their interest to Arsenal, and they were instrumental in the coup which forced Sir Henry Norris out of the club in 1927, with the Hill-Wood family becoming the dominant force in Arsenal.



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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.

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