Henry Norris fixes Fulham’s promotion and gets ready to bid for Arsenal

By the end of January 1910 Henry Norris – owner of Fulham FC – was firmly established as a man who was talking an awful lot about Woolwich Arsenal FC and its impending demise.

And as always happens in such circumstances journalists went a-digging.

For those that were interested there were plenty of strange things to find out about Henry Norris.  Most notably was the event seven years earlier when Fulham (of which Norris had just become chairman) got elected to the top division of the Southern League.

The way the system worked was through Test Matches (or “play offs” as we call them).

Fulham played Brentford for the right to rise to Southern League Division I, and Brentford won 7-2.   But they didn’t.  Norris turned up exactly at that moment, argued his point to the good and the great of Southern League football, and Fulham went up instead.

What was particularly extraordinary was that during what was reported a very angry meeting of the Southern League the vote on who should go up (which should have been a formality) had to be re-taken as there were protests from around the room.  One report speaks of a fight breaking out.

So Fulham win the vote, and Norris gives the vote of thanks.  And makes a lot of enemies.

Now does that remind you of anything later in history?

In fact a similar situation arose in 1919 when the Football League clubs met together to decide who should be in the First Division for the start of football after the war.   Arsenal who had come 6th in the Second Division’s final season before the war, were voted up, while some clubs above them were not.

Indeed some records subsequent to this were changed to show Arsenal had ended up 5th, rather than 6th (it was a question of whether you divided goals against into goals for, or vice versa).   Norris got them to change the approach and Arsenal were one spot higher, although still not enough to get into the First Division.

So what did Norris do on these occasions when he wanted to twist the rules? There are no official records available for either meeting, so we have to guess.   But there is some hard evidence on the issue of 1919 – because the previously played season (1914/1915) had been overshadowed by a huge max fixing scandal involving Manchester United and Liverpool, and it seems clear that Norris and others were demanding the relegation of those two clubs as a result.

This horrified the league since those clubs were, as now, specially protected and had many friends in very high places.   Norris eventually allowed himself to be “bought off” in return for Arsenal going up.  It seems likely a similar edge was brought to the 1903 negotiations involving Fulham.

An interesting link between Norris and Woolwich Arsenal also emerged. Norris had used the architect Archi Leitch to build his stand at Fulham.  Leitch had also designed the stand at the Manor Ground, and the ground at Chelsea.  In fact he worked on both Fulham and Chelsea at the same time!

This is curious because it was only a few years since Leitch had been implicated in (but not found guilty of any offence in relation to) the terrible collapse of the Ibrox stadium.  What is also curious is that Leitch was not paid for his work at Woolwich Arsenal.

Around this time Norris also threatened to leave Fulham – a threat which he didn’t carry out until years later.  But he was simultaneously telling the Ecclesiastical Commissioners who owned Craven Cottage that he could no longer afford their rent, and was also trying to get Fulham into Stamford Bridge, before Chelsea took occupancy in 1905.   He was in fact playing all sides at once.

The link with Norris and the church is particularly interesting, when you recall what Highbury was before it was a football stadium.  And in fact there was more Norris/Commissioner activity before he moved over to take full charge of Arsenal.  As Mayor of Fulham, and the leading property developer of the era he had a lot of chances to get to know the high and mighty in the Church of England – and he did just that.

In short Norris was a wheeler dealer and a self-publicist, who had used the media in the past for each of his campaigns – such as getting Fulham promoted, or trying (unsuccessfully) to stop the launch of Chelsea in 1905).

There was no doubt that he would try the same methods again if he really wanted to get his hands on the failing Woolwich Arsenal.

You can read the whole story of Norris purchase of Arsenal through the eyes of a journalist in 1910, in Making the Arsenal.

(c) Tony Attwood 2010

One Reply to “Henry Norris fixes Fulham’s promotion and gets ready to bid for Arsenal”

  1. Almunia is the weakest goalkeeper in the premiership!!!!
    Aesene Wenger,, please buy a world-class goalkeeper!!!

    Saves Minutes Played Saves per Minutes Played
    1 Cudicini 36 615 0.058536585
    2 Myhill 79 1530 0.051633987
    3 Hahnemman 44 900 0.048888889
    4 Jensen 92 1994 0.046138415
    5 Jasskelainen 87 1980 0.043939394
    6 Hart 87 1980 0.043939394
    7 Sorensen 72 1660 0.043373494
    8 Hennessey 50 1170 0.042735043
    9 Green 86 2052 0.041910331
    10 Mannone 18 450 0.04
    11 Friedel 82 2070 0.039613527
    12 Begovic 29 736 0.039402174
    13 Gordon 32 876 0.03652968
    14 Van der Sar 26 720 0.036111111
    15 Robinson 76 2160 0.035185185
    16 Kuszczak 25 720 0.034722222
    17 Gomes 53 1545 0.034304207
    18 Howard 70 2070 0.033816425
    19 Schwarzer 65 1980 0.032828283
    20 Kirkland 51 1598 0.031914894
    21 James 34 1154 0.029462738
    22 Given 57 1980 0.028787879
    23 Reina 60 2160 0.027777778
    24 Duke 15 540 0.027777778
    25 Fulop 29 1104 0.026268116
    26 Foster 18 720 0.025
    27 Almunia 38 1710 0.022222222
    28 Cech 41 1940 0.021134021

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