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Henry Norris and his eternal drive for publicity

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One of the amusing sidelines that emerged in researching 1910 in Arsenal’s history was just how far Henry Norris (who bought Woolwich Arsenal) would go to get his view in print.   He wrote the programme notes, he wrote in various papers – but that was not enough.

In July 1908 Norris was part of a consortium that bought “Football Chat” – a chronically awful magazine that tried to rival Athletic News but failed miserably, largely because it was the gossip of one writer – Charlie Crisp.

Charlie was a football ref who fancied himself as a businessman, and who changed the name of his magazine every other week to avoid having to do proper circulation or advertising figures.  He simply nicked gossip from the regular press, and made the rest up.  Rather like the Sun, Mirror, Star and Sport today.

What made this purchase particularly interesting was that Norris always saw himself as a grand businessman, and yet in this case he was conned over the magazine which never had the advertising or readership claimed.  Even as a hard nosed business man he could still be taken  for a ride.

It was because of this strange purchase that doubts were raised about his position in buying Woolwich Arsenal in 1910.  It was asked, “Is he a man who buys on emotion?”

Certainly that was possible, given his desire to get one back on Chelsea.  His thinking obviously was, if he could have a team playing at Craven Cottage on the days Fulham were away, that could hurt the Chelsea crowds – and he wanted that more than anything else.

Norris was certainly never one to let logic get in the way of emotion.  At the time he was being taken for a ride with the “Chat” weekly paper, there were arguments about building a tram line in Fulham Palace Road, about five years after every other minor suburb had got the trams.    Norris was chairman of Fulham Works and Highways committee at the time of the debate on trams, and for a reason that I can’t quite make out from the records refused to let the council have a full discussion on the issue.  So Fulham didn’t get its trams.

Coincidentally Plumstead had tram problems – it had a tram line from central London, but the trams ran infrequently and the tram company refused to put more trams on when Woolwich were at home.  But that’s another story.

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The full story of Arsenal in 1910 is told in the novel “Making the Arsenal” by Tony Attwood.  It is available on Amazon.co.uk and there are more details at www.woolwicharsenal.co.uk

Daily news about Arsenal in 2010 is on www.blog.emiratesstadium.info

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