3 February: It is proposed that Arsenal should be elected to the First Division


By Tony Attwood

On 3 February 1919 the Athletic News put forward Arsenal’s case that the club should be elected to the First Division upon its expansion which was planned for the following season.. They also intimated that Chelsea, Preston and Derby starting the 1919-20 season in the First Division was a foregone conclusion.  You can see reprints of the original articles used in this piece here.

The meeting was held on 10 March 1919 in Manchester. A number of different proposals were put forward. Everton proposed that the League should not be expanded but that Chelsea should stay in the First Division and Manchester United be relegated. This was not considered as it was the players of Liverpool and Manchester United that had fixed the game and not the officials of either club. West Bromwich Albion proposed that the First Division be expanded to 21 teams and that Chelsea should be elected as the 21st team. This was also rejected.

It was finally agreed that both divisions would be expanded to 22 teams; Preston and Derby would be promoted and it was agreed unanimously that Chelsea should be elected to the First Division. Seven teams had applied in advance for that final position so it was obvious that a vote was going to happen. Tottenham had finished bottom of the First Division in 1914-15, Barnsley, Wolves, Birmingham, Arsenal and Hull had finished 3rd to 7th in the Second Division. The biggest surprise was Nottingham Forest who had finished 18th in the Second Division!

An open discussion then took place and vote for the final place in the First Division was held. I’m not sure of the vote was a secret ballot or if it was a show of hands. The results are shown in the minutes of the meeting (again see the article linked above for copies of original documents).

It has been suggested that the Football League’s president made a speech supporting Arsenal. Other than secondary sources I’ve not seen anything to support this. The Sportsman, Athletic News, Daily Mirror and The Times certainly did not report this. They did report that C.E. Sutcliffe made a speech stating that the expansion would give them an opportunity to do right by Chelsea. It would seem strange that this would be reported but not a speech by the president.

The Athletic News did, however, report that the Tottenham representative at the meeting stated “We shall take our defeat like sportsmen!”

Accusations of Bribery

Over the years the events of early 1919 have been told in many club histories and general football histories. As is usual, the story has been manipulated, added to and exaggerated. Tottenham fans have taken over this part of Arsenal’s history and have stated that there must have been something underhand about Arsenal’s election. There MUST have. And the usual accusation is that Norris bribed officials from other clubs to vote for Arsenal. This is generally supported by the “fact” that Norris had laid out £125,000 in moving Arsenal to Highbury and the club still owed him £60,000 after the end of the First World War. A place in the First Division was required to bring in good crowds to help pay off this debt.

So, what of the allegations of bribery by Henry Norris?

In all of my research I have never come across anyone from within the game of football who said that Henry Norris offered them money to vote for Arsenal on that day in 1919, nor anyone who said that they believed that he may have done so.

It appears that there are only two groups of people that have said that there was any impropriety.

Firstly, Tottenham fans whose argument is “well, he must have”.

Secondly, those who are trying to sell a book by sensationalising the events. Their version of events are generally discredited when they get some of the basic facts wrong, e.g. that Norris proposed the vote at the meeting on 10 March 1919 when it had already been decided that it was on the agenda. The sums of money mentioned above have been also been wildly exaggerated – an inspection of the club’s accounts proves this.

Take a look at this passage from Ralph L. Finn’s “Arsenal – Chapman To Mee” published in 1969:

Finn states that Norris was aided by the Arsenal manager, Leslie Knighton. The special meeting was held on 10 March 1919, Knighton wasn’t appointed manager until the middle of April 1919. He also says that Norris managed to secure a vote at the meeting which wasn’t true. How much more of his account can be trusted? Incidentally, Finn’s other books included “Spurs Supreme”, “Spurs Go Marching On”, “London’s Cup Final”, “Spurs Again” and “The Official History of Tottenham Hotspur F C 1882-1972”. I wonder which side of the fence he was on?

What proof is there that nothing underhand took place? Well, the total lack of any proof that it did is my only defence. There were numerous opportunities for people to come forward and discredit Norris, especially in 1927 and 1929.

There have been no death bed confessions from those that were allegedly bribed; no accusations from those that were approached by Norris and then voted for one of the other teams; nothing from Norris himself when he felt that he had been libelled by the authorities in 1929. He could have taken down some big names with himself when he was banned from English football.

Norris had spoken out before the war about another game that he believed had been fixed. Surely any attempt of bribery would have had his peers shouting “hypocrite!” But no one did.

A total and utter lack of any solid evidence.

Why did so many clubs vote for Arsenal rather than Tottenham? We have already seen why in this article. The argument that Norris talked the meeting into holding a vote on the day is nonsense as seven clubs had put themselves forward in advance of the meeting, and Tottenham had started lobbying their peers at the end of January. Whatever happened on the day gave no reason to support anything underhand as the Tottenham representative would surely have mentioned it.

This is an event in Arsenal’s history that has been hi-jacked by Tottenham fans who are unable to accept that Henry Norris and Arsenal did nothing wrong in the early part of 1919, and that nothing more than shrewd lobbying by a popular club saw Arsenal elected into the First Division.

Here are all the anniversaries for this momentus day…

3 February 1894: Last game for Charlie Booth.  He played in the first ever league match for Woolwich Arsenal, and was a member of the team that played City Ramblers in the FA Cup in which he was one of the three who each scored three.  It was also the first league game for Arthur Worrell.

3 February 1899 Bob John born.  He was Knighton’s most successful signing, and played for Arsenal 470 times – more than any other player up to the outbreak of the second world war.

3 February 1901: After 4 November 1900 the London League had stopped for a winter break, and resumed on this day when Woolwich Arsenal played Queen’s Park Rangers away drawing 2-2 with a crowd of 600.

3 February 1902:  QPR 2 Woolwich Arsenal 2 in Arsenal’s second season in the London League. The crowd of 600 showed that they were not impressed by the league – but matters were not helped with the game kicking off at 2.15pm on a Monday.

3 February 1906: Arsenal beat Watford in 2nd round of FA Cup en route to the club’s first ever semi-final.

3 February 1909: Albert Beney signed for Arsenal from Hastings & St Leonards.  He went on to play 16 times for Arsenal in the league and scored six goals before moving on to Carlisle United in 1910.

3 February 1917.  In the wartime Football Combination Arsenal drew away with local rivals Clapton Orient.  The temperature dropped to -5ºC and as a result the crowd was recorded as just 800.

3 February 1918: David Nelson born.  He won the reserve league three times, but had only modest first team experience before being part of the transfer to Fulham which brought Ronnie Rooke to Arsenal.

3 February 1919: Having honorably admitted that there were no precedents for the issue of extending the League, Tottenham staked their claim to be reinstated in the First Division after relegation. Athletic News responded by suggesting that in the expanded 1st Division the places should go to Chelsea (because they were the victims of the Liverpool and Man U match fixing scandal), Preston and Derby (as they were the top two in the 2nd division) and Arsenal (because of their crowds and support for the Football League against the Southern League).

3 February 1926: Sammy Haden broke his leg in the home match with Burnley which Arsenal lost 1-2.   The match was in a sequence of just one win and one draw in six.   His last game was a friendly against Corinthians on 21 September 1927 which Arsenal (or more likely Arsenal reserves) lost 0-4.

3 February 1937 Derby 5 Arsenal 4.  This was a repeat of the score on December 28 1935 in the match against Sunderland and it heralded the second season in succession without a trophy.

3 February 1934: A surviving Arsenal/Everton programme confirms that the match represented a rare appearance of Alex James as captain.  It ended Arsenal 1 Everton 2.  After three losses and a defeat following Chapman’s death, it looked like the chase for the championship was over.   It was also the last game for Ernest Coleman.  He had been a brilliant player in the previous season with 24 goals in 27 games but this season scored just the once.

3 February 1937: Suffering from a range of injuries, Ted Drake scored his last league goal of the season, in a 5-4 away defeat to Derby although he did come good with goals in the cup.

3 February 1942 John Sneddon born.  He played 83 games for Arsenal under Swindin and Wright.

3 February 1954 George Swindin signed for the then non-league club Peterborough United as their player-manager and later returned to Arsenal as manager, but after a very promising first season failed to build on that and the club slipped into a long trophyless period

3rd February 1956  Tommy Lawton, who as a Burnley player had rejected a move to Arsenal 20 years earlier, left Highbury and joined Southern League side Kettering Town as player-manager.

3 February 1958  Arsenal publicly withdrew from the transfer chase for Swansea Town’s Wales international winger Cliff Jones, stating that the Welsh club’s methods over the deal were unethical.

3 February 1968:  Bobby Gould’s début.  The Arsenal website described him as “a willing worker, capable of turning an average pass into a good one by chasing down defenders and forcing mistakes.”

3 February 1973: Peter Marinello’s last appearance for Arsenal as a sub against Bradford City in the FA Cup.  Arsenal ultimately lost in the semi-final and Marinello moved on to Portsmouth, before returning to Scotland.

3 February 1979: Arsenal continued their upward surge beating Man U (who were at the time in 11th place) 2-0 at Old Trafford in front of 45,460.   The result meant that Arsenal had suffered one defeat in the last fourteen league games.  Man U fans showed what they thought of it all by holding a mass walkout after Sunderland scored his brace on 62 and 63 minutes.

3 February 1993: Leeds 2 Arsenal 3 after extra time in the FA Cup 4th round replay.  Cup.  Wright got 2 and Smith the other.  Match 9 of the Cup Double season. 

3 February 1996: Arsenal 1 Coventry 1 meant four wins in 15 in the Rioch year.  In the 11 games ending with this match Arsenal had scored 12 goals.

3 February 2001 Dennis Bergkamp scored the only goal at Coventry City to give Arsenal’s first away win since November.  It was a moment the footballing world changed.  Arsenal lost seven times that season but within a year Arsène Wenger was talking about an Unbeaten Season.

3 February 2004: Middlesbrough 2 Arsenal 1 (league cup) – despite the brilliant league run Arsenal went out.  Keown was sent off on 45 minutes, Reyes scored an own goal after Edu had pulled it back to 1-1.

3 February 2009: Arsenal finally announced the signing of Arshavin for £15m from Zenit St Petersburg, paying the club’s highest ever fee to date (it was eventually beaten by the fee paid for Ozil in 2013).  It is said Arshavin had hired a private jet to take him to London on 1 February for the medical and signing.

3 February 2018: Arsenal beat Everton 5-1 in a run in which they only won two games in eight.  Ramsey (3), Koscielney, and Aubameyang got the goals.

3 February 2019: After straight wins against Cardiff and Chelsea Arsenal lost 3-1 away to Man City.  However the recovery resumed through the rest of the month with three more straight wins in the league.

3 February 2023: To the relief of everyone it was announced that Martinelli had signed a new long-term contract

You might also enjoy

The 1919 Affair: How Arsenal were promoted to the first division – the only complete and detailed history of Arsenal’s election.

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

Day by Day the stories a key moment in Arsenal and footballing history for each day of the year

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