Press reports on 10 June 1910, confirmed that Henry Norris was willing to sell his Woolwich Arsenal shares to supporters. It was also confirmed that the previous share issue itself had failed because local people were not taking up the offer in sufficient numbers to make it viable.
On this day the Kentish Independent printed a letter from Norris (who was a director of Fulham FC) explaining why he was helping Woolwich Arsenal, and expressing his willingness to hand the club over to anyone else who thought they could do a better job. The appeal fell on deaf ears.
Thus it was that the club found itself in a state of flux with only a small percentage of the shares in the new company that would run Arsenal, being sold – and with the biggest single percentage of those going to Norris and William Hall not because they wanted a majority, but because few others were willing to buy.
That then was the backdrop to the meeting on Monday 13 June 1910: the Football League’s Annual General Meeting.
Hall and Norris had already made it clear to anyone who was interested that they were acting simply to save the club – and they continued to do this even when a few days later Archibald Leitch, the architect who was one of the old company’s biggest creditors reneged on an agreement with George Leavey (the chairman of the old company) and now submitted a bill for £1317 for his work on the Woolwich Arsenal ground. (That would be around £140,000 in today’s money). Which was a bit cheeky since it appears he hadn’t actually done the work he was commissioned to do by the club.
That meant that Norris and Hall now had to pay that bill, as well as all the others.
So this muddled and seemingly hopeless situation was the background to the AGM of the Football League on Monday 13 June 1910. And it was at that meeting Henry Norris gave a guarantee to the League that he would see to the survival of Woolwich Arsenal FC and pay off all the creditors so the club could continue in the league for the 1910/11 season.
It was an incredibly expensive and extraordinarily honourable move, and one that earned considerable favour with the League. It should have earned the heartfelt thanks of every Arsenal supporter then and since, but sadly life isn’t like that.
Henry Norris at the Arsenal: There is a full index to the series here.