11 January 1915: Launching the Footballers’ Battalion

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By Tony Attwood

Despite calls for it to be abandoned by the media, the 1914-15 Football League season was played out in full.  And by this day in 1915, the first world war was thus far not affecting most people in the country, there was no threat of invasion, and there was no conscription.  Besides, it was widely reported at first that “it would all be over by Christmas”.

But by the January 1915 several Arsenal players had resigned from the club with chairman Henry Norris’ permission to join the new Footballers’ Battalion.  However it was not something that happened everywhere, and there is no doubt that the northern clubs were far less active in encouraging either young men in general or their own employees, to join the army.  Indeed Charlie Buchan reported that he was told by Sunderland that if he volunteered, the club would sue him for breach of contract.

As for the war itself, on New Years Day 1915 the battleship Formidable was sunk off Lyme Regis by a German U-boat.  512 men out of a complement of 780 were lost.

Also on this day The Arsenal (as they were called during this season) were away to Barnsley and lost 0-1 in front of 5,000.  Barnsley were only just behind The Arsenal at the start of the match in the table, and so the result was not much of a surprise.  Indeed from here on, the southern clubs were starting to be at something of a disadvantage for, as noted, they were more and more likely to be losing players to the army.

But before too much doom and gloom could settle in, the following day, 2 January 1915, Harry King scored four as Arsenal beat Wolverhampton 5-1, just one week after beating Leicester 6-0.  It was the start of a run of four successive victories that made promotion once more look a real possibility despite all the odds.

And to add to the fun on 6 January Birmingham beat Glossop North End 11-1, the highest score of the season.  No wonder the Hill-Woods (who owned Glossop) wanted to get out of the club at any cost, and no matter what.  They did in fact abandon the club at the end of the season, and finally got their hands on football’s crown jewels, Arsenal, in 1927, after forcing Henry Norris out.

Next up on 9 January 1915 Harry King scored his third hat trick in his record-breaking run as Arsenal beat Merthyr in the FA Cup.  Merthyr at the time were in the second division of the Southern League, although they had recently spent one season in the top division.   The game was drawn as a home match for Merthyr but was switched in the hope of gaining a bigger crowd.  They may have been hoping for more than 9,000 but it still gave them a decent payday.  The Arsenal progressed to the second round (all first and second division clubs entering in the first round proper at this time, non-league clubs playing a series of preliminary rounds as now).

And so we come to Monday, 11 January, and it seems more than likely that Henry Norris was in Shepherd’s Bush when the new Footballers’ Battalion (which he was very instrumental in setting up and to which he applied to join) marched through the streets to White City where it was barracked.

But this was not all by way of recruitment as the following Thursday there was a major recruiting event held at the Royal Albert Hall.

By now Norris was recognised as one of the leading forces in the recruitment of volunteers.    On 16 January the two football teams of which he was a director played each other, with the result Fulham 0 The Arsenal 1.  Only 10,000 turned up, but The Arsenal must have been pleased with the result – and indeed it turned out not just to be the fourth win in five league games, but also part of a winning sequence of six games in seven.

But of course, the reality of the war was still present, and on 19 January German zeppelins bombed Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn, killing more than twenty people.

On 23 January Arsenal were at home to Stockport and dispatched them 3-1 in front of just 6,000, showing just how far the war was disrupting the pleasure activity of the working men – even though there was still no conscription at this time.   The following day saw the Battle of Dogger Bank in which the British Grand Fleet defeated the German High Seas Fleet.  It was a major victory for the British forces.

The season continued to its end, and Arsenal finished 6th, according to the newspapers that printed the final league table, although in fact, they were 5th – the father and son team that had the contract to work out the goal averages which separated teams on the same points, getting their maths wrong).

Professional football was then abandoned, and although the Football League set up regional competitions for its members in the north, the clubs in the south were abandoned to their own fate.  Fortunately, Henry Norris as ever stepped in and proposed the “London Combination” which gave football a chance of continuing in the southeast for the duration.

After the war, the clubs voted to continue the Combination as a reserve team league – although only for teams in the south.

The complete history of Henry Norris time at Arsenal has been written up on the AISA Arsenal History Society website – there is an index to this most detailed account of the period 1910 to 1927 ever published, here.


For details of the videos sorted by club, and videos in the order we published them, plus our 21 golden great videos please see here.


Just as the videos have been put in date order so we are now doing a day-by-day series of Arsenal events, looking to find one good story a day throughout the year.   This project started on 1 December, and we are adding to it each day.   The index is here.

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.

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