6 June: Arsenal supporters’ fundraising committee refuses to hand over money raised

By Tony Attwood

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All through the first half of 1910 the fans of Woolwich Arsenal FC ran a fund-raising committee based in Rotherhithe.  But then having raised what seems to have been a fair amount of money, at a meeting on 6 June, the committee resolved not to hand over any of the money it had raised to Henry Norris and William Hall, pending further developments.   Instead, they applied for shares in the new limited company set up to rescue Arsenal.

This was a canny move in that the money so invested would be safe, for if the new company failed to get off the ground, the money would be returned to the committee.  They were thus using their funds to help get the new company operational, without putting the money at risk – at least not unless the company successfully took over the club, but then folded.

Meanwhile, the number of employees at the Royal Arsenal factories continued to decline, in particular as the closure of the torpedo factory began, as it was moved to new premises in Greenock.  This hit Arsenal FC particularly hard since the “torpedo boys” were the most avid and noisy supporters of the club, and had been at the forefront of establishing noisy, excitable and sometimes (as in the case of a visit to Nottingham Forest where the stand was set on fire) downright dangerous away support with their regular firework displays.

But it was not just Woolwich Arsenal among the London clubs who were seeing a downturn in attendances, Fulham were also finding themselves in trouble.

Chelsea, on the other hand, who were the club with by far the biggest stadium in the country, announced by way of contrast with Arsenal and Fulham, they had made a profit of £1945 for the year.  And that in the year they were relegated.

The reason was not on the pitch, but attendance figures – Chelsea were the best-supported club with an average attendance of 28,545 despite regularly being threatened with relegation.  Arsenal were the worst in the first division with an average of 10,390. The extraordinary point that Chelsea were the top supported club in a season in which they were relegated was not lost on Henry Norris, who must have first had his thoughts about moving Fulham to a large ground at this time.

Ironically Chelsea’s ground, Stamford Bridge, was built as a football ground in 1905 and was initially offered to Fulham, who turned the opportunity down.   And what particularly helped Chelsea was not a regularly large number of supporters in the ground, but the fact that for their very big games (most particularly against Tottenham and Arsenal), there was in reality no limit to the number that could attend.  A couple of 60,000 attendances in the season worked wonders for their average and their profitability.

By mid-June Arsenal clearly needed to be getting ready for the new season, but this activity was being held up by the amount of time it was taking to resolve issues surrounding the company’s debts.  Worse, on 15 June 1910 Woolwich Arsenal factories had started to lay off men due to a long-term downturn in armaments work following the end of the Boer War.

On 27 June Athletic News carried an article saying Woolwich Arsenal did not yet have a full squad of players, and although this was not a total disaster (since pre-season training did not start until August) it meant that many of the most promising young players who might be available were being signed elsewhere.

It was looking bleak.

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

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