The Christmas gift for the fan with (almost) everything
By Tony Attwood
Clement Ross Voysey (known as Clem) was born in New Cross on 27 December 1899 and died in 1989. He played for Royal Naval Air Service and made one war time appearance for Leeds City (under Herbert Chapman) and played for Manchester City under Leslie Knighton during the same period.
He played for Arsenal thereafter from 1919 to 1926, playing mostly at centre half. He played 35 games and scored 6 goals for the club plus a few of the final war time friendlies and many reserve games.
However although his number of official first team games was small his importance in Arsenal’s history was greater for his signing and subsequent contract were investigated twice by the League and were part of the journey that led to Sir Henry Norris being refused permission to be part of football.
Generally speaking, where the story of Clem Voysey is written, there is a reporting of a handful of facts. And yet, as I hope to show below, these “facts” seem hard to equate with other issues, and within themselves hardly make sense.
Football history in general, it seems to me, rarely asks “why”, and this is one such case. It is a case worthy of some investigation.
During the week of 21-26 April 1919, that is prior to the recommencement of the League after the first world war, Clem Voysey was signed officially by Arsenal; although it is suggested that he appeared in some of the final war time games listed as “Newman” in the programme – a common occurrence at the time. As such he would have been one of the first signings of Leslie Knighton who joined the club somewhere around 10 April – which makes sense given their previous involvement.
It is likely that he played his first game for Arsenal against Tottenham on Saturday 29 March 1919. Whichever was his first match on 17 May 1919, we do know he played under his own name in a charity match. Reviews in the Islington Daily Gazette and Athletic News were positive.
Now it is important to note that Clem was no uneducated kid from the streets. He was training to be a teacher when war broke out, and joined the RAF (which had been formed in 1914) probably after compulsory conscription was introduced in 1916 (the RAF being very much the smallest of the three services).
Once the league proper resumed in 1919 however it was either found that in reality he was not that good or he suffered a series of injuries or illnesses. He played the first five games of the 1919/20 season but then was dropped. He is reported to have had a spell of treatment at the Great Northern Hospital and after that never became a regular in the Arsenal team.
His next appearance was a one off in the FA Cup match against QPR (which we lost) in January 1921. He played the first game of 1921/2 as outside left, but again that was his only appearance for the season. But he did make 18 appearances as centre half and inside right in 1922/23 and ten the following season.
In October 1922 Clem went onto the transfer list after reportedly refusing to play in a match for the reserves, but he stayed at Arsenal, and suffered another injury at the end of 1922. But he is reported as signing a new contract at the start of each season – which is interesting in the light of the subsequent investigations into his original contract.
The first such investigation in 1925 was held by the FA Emergency Committee whose remit was to simply to investigate the contract. The records do not show who asked for this investigation or what was alleged – which is highly suspicious in itself. It is always possible that it is helpful to keep the name of the whistle blower secret, especially if he/she is in fear of losing a job, but for their to be no allegation made is extremely odd. Indeed why go back and look at a contract that had been running since 1919 and which was being resigned every year by a player who was not playing (for whatever reason). What’s more, players had very little by way of rights at the time – they certainly could not leave a club without the club’s permission. Contracts were eternal – the club had every right to keep the player on its books (meaning the player could not play anywhere else) until the player died. They did not have to play the player or even pay the player.
Which means we have questions: is it really right that Clem “re-signed” for the club each year? If so, why? What possible complaint could Clem have had himself – especially as he was a fairly educated guy who was playing little. Was anyone else involved?
By the time of the investigation Clem had been at the club for six years – it seems very odd that the contract should be questioned at this time. But the Committee concluded that the contract was not acceptable in its current state, that its clauses 8 and 9 “were inconsistent with each other” and anyway did not provide for Clem to be paid.
This last might sound odd, but there was no need for the contract to say that Clem needed to be paid – because of the way the League’s own “Retain and Transfer” regulations were written.
We have no record of what happened as a result of this ruling – but it is possible that with the contract being contradictory, it could be considered invalid, in which case it could be that Clem could have left Arsenal.
But he didn’t – he stayed on at Arsenal FC until the end of season 1925/26 when Herbert Chapman released him, and a lot of other players. Clem’s last game in the first team was on 6 February 1926; his last Arsenal game was for the reserves, on 2 April 1926.
In the second investigation, in 1927 Sir Henry Norris admitted that in 1919 a player was paid a signing-on fee of £200 in cash by Arsenal FC, whereas the the maximum such payment allowed by the Football League being £10. The player was not named at the time, but it is now widely accepted that it was Clem Voysey.
What happens at this point in most histories of football and of Arsenal is that the story moves on to the fall of Sir Henry, but we should pause to think about that £200. £200 in 1919 would allow you to buy a small house. If we compare this to average earnings this is something akin to £50,000 today.
Now let us pause: the suggestion is that Clem was not happy with his contract, and maybe wasn’t even being paid, but that before he started playing he was given his vast sum of money.
None of this makes sense. When the signing of Voysey took place Sir Henry Norris was not at Highbury, but in Torquay, and so clearly either he was not in this matter on his own or the money was paid at some other time or by someone else.
What we do know is that Sir Henry and William Hall were running the financial side of the club together, so there is little chance that others knew what was going on and that from May 1921 the two men were gaining some payment from the club, which was against the league rules. But this idea that Sir Henry or William Hall paid an untried player a fortune in cash to sign for Arsenal is bizarre.
That such a player as Clem Voysey might have asked for the club to pay his rent or to help with this, at a time of an acute housing shortage in London, or for the club to find him a “job” (a common occurrence and one we have referred to elsewhere) is understandable, but this sum is extraordinary.
What’s more Sir Henry Norris was explicit in his 1927 evidence that he paid the sum not the club. According to Leslie Knighton we are told that Sir Henry put a strict cap on all transfer fees of an utter maximum of £1000. Would Sir Henry himself really agree to give £200 of his own money to an unknown player as an illegal signing on fee during such a period – not least when he had suffered such huge set-backs financially during the war.
After the game against Leeds in February 1926 Clem Voysey did not play for Arsenal first team again, or indeed any other club. But the 1927 FA Commission of Inquiry interviewed Voysey as well as Sir Henry and Hall about what had gone on, and found – as they had to – that both men were guilty of paying Voysey a signing-on fee greatly in excess of what was allowed in the Football League rules.
And we are left asking the questions: what the hell was going on?
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