12 May: Arsenal discuss merging with Tottenham Hotspur

By Tony Attwood

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

It did indeed happen on 12 May 1910: Woolwich Arsenal FC discussed the notion of merging with Tottenham Hotspur FC.

For on this day Woolwich Arsenal announced that talks with Fulham to rescue the club had come to nothing, and the directors of Woolwich Arsenal FC had opened discussions with Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea, to see if their boards wanted to buy all or part of the club.

George Leavey, the major shareholder in Woolwich Arsenal, admitted he did not have enough local people to buy shares, and now had to find others from outside the area to buy, or else put the club into administration.

And so, also on this day, the directors of Woolwich Arsenal FC opened discussions with Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea, to see if their boards want to buy all or part of the club.

Tottenham were said to be interested and the deadline for a firm offer was set for May 13th.  If there were no sale of the shares by then, the club will resign from the League, and would be wound up.

It was a real threat.  On May 12th we were one day from the end.

Indeed on 20 March Dr John Clarke, the head of the local fundraising committee had been seen going round offering share documents to anyone who would listen in the pubs of Woolwich and Plumstead.

When questioned Dr Clarke refused to talk about the position of the Fulham director Henry Norris, and the deal that he was proposing, which it was suggested could involve Arsenal merging with Fulham or playing at Fulham’s ground.

Instead, it was suggested in some of the local newspapers in Tottenham and Wood Green that he had told anyone who wanted to listen that Tottenham Hotspur were looking to buy into Woolwich Arsenal.

The papers had taken up the story but nothing official was said and Henry Norris made no comment on this.

But as we have noted elsewhere, what no one really knew was how far fans were prepared to travel to watch a team.  Meanwhile, at this time Tottenham seemed to have the view that having a range of clubs diminished the crowds that they could get.  Certainly, they had worked hard to stop Chelsea from entering the Southern League, while they (Tottenham) were in that League.

However Tottenham were very much indebted to Arsenal who had come to their rescue in the summer of 1908 by voting for Tottenham when Tottenham had applied to join the Football League, having already left the Southern League (on the assumption that they would automatically get accepted for the vacant Football League place.  However for some reason a number of clubs already in the League were against Tottenham joining and as a result, Arsenal’s vote was the decider; had it not been for Arsenal, Tottenham would (through their own devices of resigning from the Southern League without having secured a new league to play in) been left without a league.

Norris’ first plan was clear – buy Arsenal and move the club to Fulham.  But what would Tottenham do if they, instead of Henry Norris, bought Arsenal?  Keep the club in Plumstead?  Move them to WHL?  Close Arsenal down?

Certainly, crowds for matches between Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea were far higher than any other during the season of 1910 – for while the clubs existed on anything from 5,000 to 15,000 the London derbies would get 30,000 to 50,000.

It has also been suggested that Tottenham wanted Woolwich Arsenal as a nursery club which could nurture young talent and bring it through – with the best players moving onto Tottenham.  This was attractive in that Woolwich Arsenal tended to pick up quite a few players from the armaments’ factories, and munitions locations across the kingdom.  Tottenham had no such countrywide links.  This – and the desire to warn off Norris from buying Woolwich Arsenal and combining it with Fulham – were the most likely reasons.

Certainly in 1910 all three London teams were looking likely for relegation to the second division – and in fact only the poverty of arrangements at Bolton were keeping two of them out of the bottom two through the season.

As we now know of course, neither the Fulham nor Tottenham takeover happened, Henry Norris bought Woolwich Arsenal and moved the club to Highbury which displeased Tottenham very much indeed.  But Tottenham’s takeover of Arsenal was the big story, for a short while at least.

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