The day the Arsenal almost died

By Tony Attwood

OK, unless you are in Australia or somewhere like that, I am delivering 18 May anniversary news a day early (unless you are reading this on 18 May in which case I am spot on time).

But I’m on holiday on the 18th for a few days, and I didn’t really want to miss this one.

In fact it is the anniversary that I have been leading up to in some recent posts, and it is a big one, a key one, a major one, a real live whopper.

On 18 May 1910 the board of Woolwich Arsenal FC met the Football League to discuss the issue of whether Woolwich Arsenal FC would be able to complete its fixture list in the First Division in 1910/11.

The answer was, under the current ownership, no.  Crowds were in decline, and the cost cutting measure of selling top players and bringing in youngsters was failing to achieve anything on the pitch (Arsenal only escaped relegation at the end of the season) and was not impressing the crowd (already depleted because of factory lay offs.)  The club’s benefactor was pulling out, their long-term iconic director Jack Humble was no longer on the board, and really, that was about it.

So it was fortunate beyond measure that there was a man who was willing to rescue the club.

Now I write this at a moment when it is commonplace for clubs to go bust and have several likely lads offering to buy the club.  Indeed even Rangers FC have had a number of suitors even though they still haven’t sorted their tax bill, are losing most of their playing staff, and can’t sign any new players next season.

But Arsenal did not have that luxury of multiple buyers.  They had one offer on the table – that from the Mayor of Fulham and director of Fulham FC – Henry Norris.

Henry Norris offered to buy Woolwich Arsenal and pay off all the creditors – an incredibly valiant gesture – and one on which he totally kept his word.

In return he asked for one of two schemes to be implemented.  One was the creation of Fulham Arsenal FC – a combined club playing the first division at Craven Cottage.   The League rejected this on the grounds that only they could decide who played in which division.

Second he suggested Woolwich Arsenal move to Craven Cottage and ground share with Fulham.

After that idea was rejected to the Arsenal shareholders, Norris agreed to fund Woolwich Arsenal at Plumstead for one year and during that time try to sell shares to the local populace.  His view was that the locals could support their team either by coming to games or by buying shares.

In fact they did neither, but Norris not only kept his word – he kept Arsenal afloat at the Manor Ground for three seasons – ending the period by building the stadium that eventually became known as Highbury.

There can be no doubt that without Henry Norris on 18 May 1910, Woolwich Arsenal would have died, and we would have had no club to support.

Talk about an anniversary to remember.


The Updated Database of Arsenal Anniversaries

Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football.  Final call for sponsors of this definitive history.  Updated information here

When Arsenal and Fulham were within moments of merging into one club… full details in “Making the Arsenal”


4 Replies to “The day the Arsenal almost died”

  1. In which case there would have been no Arsenal to keep the league going during the Great Depression of the 1930s. In which case there might not have been a league started up again after World War II. In which case the only game on Earth that anyone would call “football” is the steroid-addled, ear-splitting, gambling-fueled American version of the game that William Webb Ellis may or may not have invented at the Rugby School.

    And even if football had survived, I can’t imagine what club I’d be supporting from over here. Because I’ve seen how Tottenham and Chelsea, and their fans, act, and I could never accept that. Fulham, maybe?

  2. Great story.

    ‘the cost cutting measure of selling top players and bringing in youngsters was failing to achieve anything on the pitch’

    Deja vu anyone?

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