13 November: Arsenal fighting relegation



by Tony Attwood

The month of November 1920 saw Arsenal 16th in the league just three points above the relegation zone.

Away from the pitch on 8 November many of the senior members of the club attended a dinner given at the House of Commons hosted by Baldwin Raper, Arsenal’s local MP who was a regular at Highbury and an avid fan.  Sir Henry Norris, Arsenal’s chairman, and other directors were all in attendance representing the board along with manager Leslie Knighton, secretary Harry John Peters and the majority of the regular first XI.   

Sir Henry’s speech reflected his view that Arsenal had to be seen as a business if it was to survive financially.  He wanted the club to win trophies, but to do that it had to survive, which meant it had to make money to pay off the debts of the building of Highbury.

The following Saturday (13 November 1920) saw a step in this direction with Blackburn visiting, and the result was an improvement: an Arsenal victory by 2-0 with 40,000 in the crowd.

It is a match that is of interest for two reasons.  First, due to a very high number of injuries, Arsenal’s regular goalkeeper played at full-back with the backup keeper playing in goal!  The programme for the game spoke of no club ever having such an injury list as Arsenal. 

Plus the famous Dr Paterson made his home debut.  He had played for Rangers before the war, winning the League with them and playing for the Scottish League against England.  After the war, he had moved in with his brother in North London and looked for a club to play for, as an amateur.  With his brother being Arsenal’s medical officer, we were the obvious choice, and so he joined.

What made Dr Paterson even more memorable in Arsenal’s history was that in his memoirs, written 20 years after he left the club, Arsenal’s manager of this era, Leslie Knighton, sought to explain the club’s failure on the pitch at this time by the restrictions placed on him by Sir Henry Norris, saying basically no budget was available.

Knighton then states in his autobiography that he was “reduced to playing the brother-in-law of the club’s doctor” in the squad, because no one else was available.  Forgetting that the said brother-in-law was one of the most highly regarded footballers in the land – and indeed a notable war hero, whose work for his country at the very least, did not deserve such disrespect.

Also of interest is that the Arsenal programme for this day, is perhaps the oldest Arsenal programme in public circulation is numbered Volume IX Number 16 and costs two pence (that is 2d, which is under 1p in modern currency).

It’s a four page affair and it contains the normal editorial by Gunners Mate (George Allison who went on to become our manager, and who had started writing the column in 1910).  There’s also a piece by Dr “Pat” of Highbury, and “Random Jottings” by the chairman of the Middlesex FA.  The back page has the teams laid out in the classic formation of 2-3-5.  There’s also an advert for the Finsbury Park Empire, which emphasizes the link between Henry Norris and the world of entertainment.

The programme also includes a whole column about the game against Blackburn which was the previous weekend, pointing out that Arsenal were unlucky not to have a penalty, and criticising the press reviews of the match for being inaccurate.  At least the club in those days had the ability to speak out against the national media.

There are three headlines on the main news page, “Well done” which congratulates everyone on the Blackburn away result the previous Saturday, “A great night” which talks about the event mentioned above at the House of Commons which is called a “merry party”.  And finally, “The Injured”. Here’s what that one says:

“Illness and injuries are still playing havoc with our fighting force as you know.  Hutchings and Graham were not able to play against Blackburn Rovers.  I am not certain if Rutherford will be fit to turn out today but we hope so. Voysey, Cownley, Butler, North, Jewett, Hopkins, Dunn and Walden have also been out of action and Dunn, whose sprained wrist prevents him keeping goal, has been keeping fit by playing at full-back.  He had a trial run in this position in a friendly match with Reading a fortnight ago and acquitted himself so well that he was in the team at full-back against Clapton Orient [in the London Combination] at Highbury last Saturday.  This game was considerably marred by the fog but it was possible to finish it and our juniors came out of their shell to the extent of winning by 6 goals to 2.”

The result on 13 November of Arsenal 2 Blackburn Rovers 0 was seen by many football writers as indicative of their improvement since August: a good win on a pitch made treacherous by morning rain.  Arsenal were now 14th.

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