By Tony Attwood
If 1893 was traumatic, with Arsenal fighting corruption and intrigue in the form of Royal Ordnance Factories (whose sole purpose was to close down Arsenal and set up a rival Plumstead club), 1910 was, in a very real sense, the end.
Arsenal had risen, and risen fast. True they had not won anything, but the club was by 1910 a Division I team with two FA Cup semi-finals behind them, and an established reputation as the club that brought league football and professionalism south.
Other copy-cat clubs had followed. Fulham, which was actually formed before Royal Arsenal, had followed the route into professionalism and ultimately the football league. Chelsea had been given a place in the Football League without ever playing a game and without having even got a single player registered on their books. Tottenham were one of a number of clubs that from outside the league had actually reached the FA Cup final, and had also later followed Arsenal into the league, as had near neighbours Clapton Orient.
But, unknown to many of those who paid their 6d to stand on the Manor Fields terraces, by 1910 Arsenal, the trailblazers and forerunners of professional football in the south, was in real trouble.
Jack Humble had retired from the board in 1906 after 20 years of dedicated service to the club, and Mr Leavey, the stalwart benefactor of the club who had done so much to keep it afloat in the past had indicated that he could no longer manage to do so.
After the two FA Cup semi-finals the policy of the club began to change with top players being sold, and raw recruits coming in. If the idea was to make cash out of the expanding transfer market, Arsenal chose the wrong moment, for after years of hugely increasing transfer fees the rise in the cost of players started to decline.
With competition from across London, with a failure to capitalise on the excitement from the FA Cup semi-finals, and with an adoption of a policy that could not work in the long wrong, Arsenal started to sink, and in 1910 the awful truth emerged. The club was close to the end.
The man who came in to rescue the club was the Mayor of Fulham, Henry Norris. He had several plans – the first being to form Fulham Arsenal playing as a united team at Craven Cottage.
When the League allowed this, but only with the club playing in Division II, Norris moved on to plan B – which was to have Arsenal playing every alternate saturday at Craven Cottage as a separate club from Fulham.
There was merit in this plan since Craven Cottage was more accessible than the Manor Ground and with only one ground’s expenses to provide for, the plan could have seen both clubs in profit.
But this plan was turned down by the existing board. So Plan C was adopted. Norris would take over the club, pay off all the debts, and guarantee that the club would stay in Plumstead for at least a year.
In fact he did more than shell out a lot of money from his own pocket. He brought back Jack Humble, who rejoined the board in 1910, and he actually kept the club in south east London for three years rather than one.
Arsenal thus survived their second major crisis, and Norris stayed with the club for 17 years, being involved at the heart of three further iconic moments in the club’s history, as we shall see in subsequent episodes of this series.
The 10 iconic moments that defined Arsenal’s history