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18 March 1910: Arsenal call the liquidators in

Day by Day: the videos – An Arsenal video for (almost) every day of the year in order. 

by Tony Attwood

1910 was a tough time for Arsenal.  The club was heading towards its lowest position ever in the league, and crowds were down.  Of course, those two factors often go together – some fans only go when their team is winning – but for Woolwich Arsenal, there was a bigger problem.

For the torpedo factory at the Royal Arsenal was moving to Glasgow, and unfortunately for the club, this particular factory was the employer of many of Arsenal’s most enthusiastic and vociferous supporters.  Without them, the crowd was down, and so was the level of excitement from the terraces.

Financially, Arsenal had been supported for some time by George Leavey, who owned a chain of gentlemen’s outfitters shops, in and around south London.

He had been helping the club out with loans, and in return his Plumstead shop became recognised by local supporters as the go-to establishment for their Sunday suit and the like.

However, Arsenal’s need for money grew, and Mr Leavey reached the point where he felt he could no longer continue offering loans, the return of which he might never see.  Given that these loans were being used to pay the weekly wages of the players, that put the whole operation into crisis.

In January 1910 a meeting was held to discuss the financial future of the club and a committee known as “The Reds Revival Fund” was set up.

But Mr Leavey felt this wasn’t really going to help him recover at least some of his money, and so he called a shareholders’ meeting for 18 March 1910 to discuss the possibility of liquidating Woolwich Arsenal FC.

Andy Kelly has argued that this was in part because, “Leavey saw that there was a problem with the articles of association of the 1893 limited company which stated that ownership of only one share was required for someone to stand for election onto the board of directors. This saw a board that changed year on year and decisions made by the board to keep their friends happy rather than for the good of the club. Leavey’s plan was to change this so that a much larger shareholding (e.g. 25 shares) would be required to be eligible as a director. This would give a more stable board and would only be affordable to people who had money, which would probably be successful businessmen.”

The meeting at Woolwich Town Hall was well attended, and it was revealed the club had liabilities of £12,500 and was continually losing money. He put it to the shareholders that they should: agree to attempt to keep a club in the area, agree that the club could not continue in its current financial state and that it should be wound up voluntarily, and appoint a liquidator.

The majority agreed and Leavey’s accountant was appointed liquidator and the liquidation of the club commenced.

That the club did not disappear at this point was because, in the end, Henry Norris and William Hall, directors of Fulham, agreed to take over the running of the club and guarantee the debts – which Norris personally paid out in full – including some relating to the redevelopment of the ground, which at this time were (it seems) not even shown on the books.

But the irony of events on 18 March 1910 was that Norris and Hall turned up at the meeting as observers, but were refused entry!  Indeed this antagonism against Henry Norris, in particular, continued until ultimately Norris did effectively take over the club by default.  No one else had the money and was willing to invest it in the club.

18 March 2022: Aston Villa v Arsenal: ranting, and the form of the two clubs.

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