Arsenal’s Election To The First Division In 1919

by Andy Kelly

On 10 March 1919 the English Football League held a special meeting to decide whether to expand the League from two divisions each with 20 teams to two divisions each with 22 teams. They would also decide which teams would constitute each division. One of those decisions has been a cause of great debate between two teams since that day. That decision was to elect Arsenal into the First Division and the manner in which it happened.


On 4 August 1914 the UK declared war on Germany and entered what was to become known as the First World War. At the time it was believed that the war would be over by Christmas. The English Football Association met on 1 September 1914 and agreed that football should continue within England for the 1914-15 season.

As the war continued unabated, footballers were criticised for staying at home to play rather than join up and serve their country on the battlefields of France. Throughout the season attendances dropped and a number of footballers eventually signed up to fight for their country.

At the end of the 1914-15 season, Chelsea and Tottenham finished in the bottom two places of the First Division of the Football League whilst Derby and Preston finished in the top two places in the Second Division. At any other time these teams would have simply swapped places (note that back then it was two up and two down). Arsenal had finished 6th in Division Two. However, two things happened.

Firstly, it became apparent that the game between Manchester United and Liverpool on 2 April 1915 had been fixed in Manchester United’s favour. The upshot was that Manchester United avoided relegation by one point thus denying Chelsea a place in the First Division the following season. Tottenham would have been relegated irrespective of the outcome of the Manchester United and Liverpool game,

Secondly, the English Football Association suspended first class football for the duration of the war. Local leagues were organised with Arsenal and Tottenham playing in the London Combination. Thoughts of match fixing, and promotion and relegation were forgotten about for almost four years.

The First World War came to an end on 11 November 1918. By this time the 1918-19 season had started and the regional leagues would be played to a conclusion.

There was much talk of how football would be organised for the 1919-20 season. The London clubs considered continuing with the London Combination, there was talk of the Southern League amalgamating with the Football League to create a truly national League, and Blackpool proposed an extension of the First Division to 22 teams along with an extension to the season to include more Saturday games (mid-week games suffered from poor attendances due to early kick-off times as there were no floodlights).

This proposal by Blackpool was reported in the Athletic News (a Manchester based weekly sports paper) who introduced a new twist. They mentioned an “election” and that Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal would have an interest in it. They also set their stall out by supporting Arsenal’s claim to a place in the top flight. Why? Some may say that the editor, Jimmy Catton, was a friend of Norris. However, Catton was a friend to most of the top people in football and other sports. The Athletic News under his stewardship was renowned for its influence and everybody wanted to be Catton’s friend.

Shortly after this date Chelsea chairman Claude Kirby wrote to the Football League Management Committee requesting that Chelsea be re-instated to the First Division for the 1919-20 season due to the exceptional circumstances of the Manchester United v Liverpool game.

The Special Meeting of The Football League

By the end of January 1919 it was clear that the Football League would be holding a meeting to decide on the structure of the League. The meeting was to be held on 10 March 1919. The exact format of the meeting was not known as a number of proposals were eventually tabled during the meeting.

However, the talk of an election dominated the press. The feeling was that any re-structuring had to take into account the events of April 1915 where Chelsea were relegated due to unfair means. So much so, that clubs with an interest had started to lobby their peers.

On 31 January 1919, The Sportsman (a London based sports paper) said that Tottenham had sent a letter to all the other League clubs putting forward their arguments as to why they should be elected to the First Division. This means that Tottenham must have realised that there was a chance of a vote at the forthcoming meeting.

On 3 February 1919 the Athletic News responded to Tottenham’s claim in a very negative fashion and put forward Arsenal’s case. They also intimated that Chelsea, Preston and Derby starting the 1919-20 season in the First Division was a foregone conclusion. (NB click the image to enlarge it).

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 below:

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”. When asked to provide any positive evidence they simply repeat the same tired old mantra.

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.

And now I will put my money where my mouth is. If anyone can show me any evidence that Henry Norris bribed any official from any other club I will donate £100 to that person’s chosen charity.

56 Replies to “Arsenal’s Election To The First Division In 1919”

  1. An excellent read first thing this Sunday morning.

    I will point out we are still the only team to have never been relegated from the top division since joining it.

    Did Tottenhams parrot mascot really die in 1919 and become the origin of the expression, “Sick as a parrot”.

  2. Dear Andy:
    Cheers for putting all this together. Very nicely written and your inclusions of primary sources of the time really give some insight on the matter. However, the fact remains that there is no CONCLUSIVE evidence that The Arsenal (or Sir Norris) did or did not bribe the other league members in order to gain election in 1919. Now, you may be right in saying that the burden of proof lies with the “conspirators” that claim some underhanded tactics were involved. That said, it is highly unlikely that any such collaborators would have had a motive for coming clean. With no said evidence we are only left with the faculty of our devices and must use inference to determine what most likely happened. Unfortunately, it seem to me that based on the balance of probability it is more likely than not that Sir Norris did in fact have some undue persuasion over the other members as there seems to be no rational reason as to why Arsenal should’ve been elected to the remaining spot in lieu of the other contenders. My reasoning is as follows:
    #1 – Like it or not, the arguments outlined by Spurs in the “Sportsman” article above seem quite sound. There was, in fact precedence for their inclusion in the expanded league.
    #2 – The excerpt from Mr Finn above is correct in pointing out that Spurs were in fact, a more successful, more financially stable, and better supported club at the time. As such, we couldn;t simply assume that The Arsenal were favoured over Spurs for reasons of attracting better crowds and adding more to the Football Leagues allure.
    #3 – Lastly, and most importantly, it just seems like common sense that the club who finished 6th place in Div. 2 should have no claim to promotion (expansion or not). In fact, it would’ve been entirely logical (indeed, justified) for Spurs NOT to get the remaining position BUT that it were given to the club who placed 3rd (i.e. Barnsley).

    In conclusion, I think it is more than reasonable for other fans to question the validity and possibly the morality behind our promotion into the first division. As Gooners, we may not be inclined to want to believe that (especially as their is no hard evidence) but if we were to take a step back and position ourselves as neutrals, I think we would find it reasonable to think something was “amiss”.

  3. @Arsenal1Again,
    The second paragraph of your comment really annoyed me.
    I wanted to say it first!
    (One of my favourite boasts)

  4. @MrFootaholic

    I don’t disagree that it looks as if something untoward may have happened.

    However, there were plenty of opportunities for many people over a long period of time to come out and say something.

    Look at the recent Jimmy Saville and Lamce Armstrong affairs. It may have taken time, but eventually someone came out and said that they had done wrong. No one who was involved in any capacity with what happened in 1919 has said that Norris, or anyone associated with Arsenal, conspired against Tottenham.

    Conversely, look at the case of the murder of Joanna Yeates where the press inferred that her landlord had killed her and he was villified by all and sundry only to be found totally innocent. This is what has happened in the case of Norris. Someone has said he must have done something underhand and everyone else has jumped on the bandwagon.

    Have you seen Sally Davis’ website which charts Norris life?
    Look at the detail that she has gone into, especially the affairs of 1927 and 1929. She dug up a lot of dirt about Norris paying players, his and Hall’s chauffuers, and selling the team bus. But she could find nothing about 1919 that was untoward.

    It comes down to the argument that it doesn’t seem right so Norris MUST have greased palms. But there is no primary evidence that shows that he did, only conjecture from those desperate to find a reason that isn’t there.

  5. Mr Footaholic,

    It reads to me that in many ways the press, and in particular Jimmy Catton’s Athletic News, were pushing for Arsenal to be elected, and that if Norris and Hall did anything it was to use their influence to get votes. Nothing underhand and exactly the same as the other clubs, who were all vying for promotion in a vote. He and Hall (who was just as influential with the footballing authorities as Norris) were just better than the other clubs at lobbying and had more contacts to put his and Arsenal’s case forward.

    You will also notice from his original twitter message that Andy has put his #ballsontheline as regards evidence over this matter.


  6. Can I add a little on the issue of whether it was logical that a club that finished 5th or 6th in the league should go up on a vote, and not the clubs above.

    This sort of thing has happened throughout football history, but it is not normally considered odd. For example club chairman always considered a lot of things in deciding who would go up or down by election, and the position of the club in the league the previous season was not a priority. Such a process continued for years – for example in 1972 Barrow were not re-elected to the fourth division, although Stockport and Crewe who finished below them were re-elected at the end of the previous season. Likewise Gateshead did not get re-elected in 1960 although Oldham and Hartlepools who finished below them in the league did get re-elected.

    We must also remember that Tottenham themselves were elected to the Football League after finishing 7th in the Southern League – and I have never heard a word suggesting there was something amiss with that.

  7. It is odd that the 6th place team in the 2nd Division would get promoted to the 1st, ahead of the 3rd, 4th or 5th place teams.

    However — these are tenets of American law, and I’m presuming they have their basis in British law — a conviction cannot be obtained without establishing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and, thus, the burden of proof is on the prosecution, in this case Tottenham fans (and Arsenal-haters in general, from Stamford Bridge to Old Trafford to the English media).

    Where is the evidence to suggest, let alone prove, dirty dealings by Norris? Is it simply sitting in a trunk in someone’s attic or basement, waiting to be discovered after nearly a century? Should we hold a seance and get the spirit of Indiana Jones to find it? Should we ring up today’s edition of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and ask their assistance?

    The most interesting part of it, to me, is the 3 clubs that had much more of a case than Tottenham to be promoted instead of Arsenal: The 3rd, 4th and 5th place finishers, Barnsley, Wolves and Birmingham City. I realize, being an Arsenal fan, I come into contact with far more Spurs fans than the other 3 (although I have been able to trace some ancestry to the Barnsley area).

    But Wolves have usually been in the Premiership (though not this season), giving them at least 2 occasions per season to say, “Arsenal cheated us out of promotion in 1919,” but they haven’t said that. And 2 years ago, when Arsenal were preparing to play the Brummies in the League Cup Final, did we hear any talk from THEIR fans that THEY had been cheated out of promotion in 1919? I didn’t, did you, Tony, Walter, or anyone else at this site?

    Tottenham finished last in the 1st division. By that definition, they had the least right to complain about who was promoted into that division. I wonder, if it had been 5th place Birmingham that got in, by whatever means, would they have made the fuss over a club from 118 miles away leapfrogging them, instead of the one 4 miles away?

    And how often do we hear about that fixed Man U game from 1915? Proof that they were dirty long before Alex Ferguson first saw one of his players dive or make a dirty tackle and say, “Right, we got away with it, let’s keep doing it.”

  8. @UncleMike: You are correct in saying the burden of proof is on those who espouse the notion that Arsenal cheated/bribed their way into the 1st division. All I was saying was that it is understandable why one might jump to such a conclusion given the peculiarity of the situation. Obviously, Spurs’ fans are the only ones that make any noise about this because they are our rivals and they took the extra effort to comb through history and try and dig up some dirt.
    From a personal point of view, I find it unlikely that Norris/Hall/Arsenal did anything ILLEGAL (i.e. bribe the other members, etc.) to achieve their aim. As @TonyAttwood had pointed out, these kind of things have happened several times in league history. THAT doesn’t mean that it was the most reasonable or justifiable outcome.
    I agree with @MarkAndrews that in all likelihood it probably just comes down to the fact that Sir Norris was better at lobbying and was perhaps more popular with the other members than Spurs. THAT isn’t the point however. I still think the outcome wasn’t a rational one and that the 3 clubs that finished above us (NOT Spurs) had the greater claim. But like I said, it seems that this was kind of an ol’ boys club and it came down to a popularity contest.
    In summary, there is no evidence that Arsenal or its representatives did anything illegal to achieve promotion. We cannot prevent speculation that something like this had taken place however because the lack of evidence doesn’t rule out the possibility that something happened. That is why it is almost impossible to disprove conspiracies. That said, Arsenal were lucky (like many other teams over the years) to have achieved promotion at the time. Spurs had a better claim to the 22nd spot than us but they most certainly didn’t have the greatest claim to it. In short, Spurs fans’ perceived sense of unjustice has little basis and is only highlighted to this day as a means of trying to portray us in a bad light.

  9. It looks like no one really questioned the events of 1919 for 33 years. Bernard Joy suggested that soemthing underhand may have occured in his book “Forward, Arsenal!” in 1952. Since then, every Arsenal history seems to have built on this and Tottenham fans have latched on to it.

    Why was nothing questioned at the time or in 1927, 1929, 1934 (when he died) or at any other time before someone decided to write a book?

    Brian Glanville wrote an Arsenal history around the same time as Joy but didn’t feel the need to question the decision. However, following Joy’s book Glanville has increasingly villified Norris even though no new evidence has come to light since.

    And with Joy’s and Glanville’s histories full of holes and second-hand accounts it’s difficult to give them any credibility.

  10. That is a great article Andy. Thanks. One thing that has amazed me for years is that there was a whitewash for the directors of ManU especially and the Scallies. I wonder how much of an inquiry there was into their (ManU board/manager) having nothing whatsoever to do with it. And for the League to say that no points should be deducted is really weird. They were more than happy to deduct 2 from us and only 1 from United back in the 90s when it was blatantly obvious that the real offenders were ManU. McClair didn’t even get booked for putting the boot in from memory.

  11. What we are all forgetting is the context. Other clubs voted Arsenal in ahead of Tottenham. What was THEIR outlook of Tottenham and Arsenal at the time? Quite simply Arsenal were more favoured in 1919. Why? Arsenal had been League members about twenty years before Tottenham applied to join. Arsenal stuck with the League for a variety of reasons even though it may have suited them to accept invitations from other leagues to join them. They stuck with the League as they thought it was the place they SHOULD be, whether it suited them (Arsenal) or not – through thick and thin. Compare and contrast with Tottenham, who even though they were a bigger club at the time with a bigger fanbase, did not apply to join the League until just a few years before. They flirted with other secondary more regional leagues because that is what suited them. When it suited them no more, they applied to join the league. They did not get automatically promoted. They got voted in. They did not get voted in from the league’s second tier from sixth place – as Arsenal did. They got voted in from the Southern League (an unrelated league) from seventh place!
    So – in conclusion – Arsenal were voted in ahead of Tottenham to reward their loyalty to the league. Arsenal commanded more respect than Tottenham. Other clubs were simply more sympathetic to Arsenal than Tottenham, who were considered to be mere opportunists and hangers-on. There did not need to be any heavy lobbying, or indeed, even less need for any bribery or underhandedness.

  12. A very interesting complilation from Andy, but I have to agree with the conclusions reached by Patrick. Once the League determined that the additional First Division slot was going to be decided by a vote and not by straighforward precedent or relative league table positions, other less-tangible considerations would prevail.

    As Uncle Mike says, Tottenham had the least reason to feel aggrieved, yet it is their fans who bear the grudge. I’ve never heard anything from Barnsley, Wolves or Birmingham sources about corruption or conspiracy. However, I think that the Spurs gripe is more about us usurping their North London territory, with the way it happened just rubbing salt into the wound. Would they have gone on about it for all these years had one of the other 5 clubs been voted in? Of course not.

  13. I makes no difference whether anybody bribed anybody else. Arsenal Finished FIFTH in Division Two, you had to finish FIRST or SECOND to win promotion to The First Division. This is just the same as having to finish above the bottom two to remain in The First Division, which Tottenham Hotspur DID do too. Arsenal did not even finish in the top three or Four of Division Two. It stinks, and what is more it stinks even more too because it was Arsenal!

  14. Perhaps Godly you would like to give us your take on how Tottenham made it into the Football League? And of course that £100 is still on offer if you can provide any serious evidence for your allegations.

  15. A very interesting complilation from Stroller too. But then I don’t remember Wolves, Barnsley or Bimingham F.C – let alone ANYBODY else – being relegated because they had finished only third from bottom of The First Division in those days when it was only TWO that went down. (Maybe somebody was however, but I cannot think who though.) But please feel free to educate me Stroller, it would after all make a good quiz question.

  16. Mister Atwood,
    Good evening (my Name’s Tony too) So for a start why not show some courtesy and use it as I have referred to you as ”Mister” after all?
    To continue, I have not a clue how Tottenham Hotspur F.C got into The Football League, how would I have? I do not follow Spurs, nor do I care how why, or whether they had done so in the first place. I was merely stating what had happened and was suggesting that was the reason why Spurs out of all League Clubs at the time had reason to feel aggrieved. I had certainly not made any allegations as you claim I had either, why would I? I had only said it didn’t matter who had bribed who and what was wrong about the way things worked out. I am puzzled by your reaction to my article to say the least. Also,I have certainly not said anything against Arsenal F.C either in case you happen to be a Supporter of theirs too. A am basically a Football fan, that’s all. I assure you of my best intentions at all times too. Is THAT honest enough for you, perhaps. If not, well, perhaps you could suggest what I should say then. Yours in sport, Tony. OVER.

  17. Tony, thank you for your comments but it might be worth reading the article thoroughly as there are a few things that you have missed.

    – Tottenham finished bottom of Division 1, not third from bottom.
    – Arsenal finished sixth in Division 2
    – All clubs were well aware of the situation well in advance of the vote but none raised any concerns

    Arsenal took full advantage of the events, for which they can’t be blamed.

  18. Hello, again. hello? Tony? Mister Atwood? Sir even, anybody there?
    Never mind then. Okay, I had forgotten to ask, what was the Hundred Pounds for that you mentioned, was that a wager you had made about something? Was it about Arsenal perhaps. If it was I would be very interested to take part in a quiz about Football too. I probably would not win a quiz or even a bet come to that. But if I did I would give it to charity anyway, I don’t need a Hundred Pounds and I would rather bet that much and lose it to you too only if you could assure me that YOU would give it to charity. I bet that much too that you would not! too.

  19. To Andy Kelly
    Thanks for your article and for correcting me too. Hey I’m so embarrased, for absolutely years I have been telling people all about that Spurs/Arsenal situation. I could swear I read it in an article that Tottenham HAD in fact finished 3rd From Bottom of The Second Division that last year before The Football League was suspended. What puzzles me now is why in fact Spurs had felt so aggrieved about being relegated at all. I was also that certain that Arsenal had finished Fifth in the Second Division that year too. I can only thank you, Pal. I hadn’t bet money on it but I still hope I don’t run into anybody that I convinced that what I said was true though. Wow, I stand corrected! Did you see that other reply to my article? A bit pompous, I feel, but I think I un-nerved Him with my reply though. That is, He still hasn’t replied again yet anyway. Well thanks very much again, Andy. I will check my facts in future. Glad to know you too. Yours in sport, Tony

  20. To Tony Atwood Hello, again. hello? Tony? Mister Atwood? Sir even, anybody there?
    I thought I would attempt to contact you again as you have still not troubled your backdside to reply to my reply to you. A bit rude I feel. I have already tried once since I replied to your letter to me. It was I that was in-correct because I had been mis-informed about how and why Tottenham had been relegated in 1919. That was not what I had been told though, it was in a book during about 1975/76, around that time. I had been under that impression for all this time too obviously, which is why I had said what I did in my article. I would have apologised normally, but I will not because of the pompous manner in which you first Addressed me. I did no lower myself by addressing you by your surname however I am somewhat above that too, but then that’s not difficult either. Anyway I had forgotten to ask, what was the Hundred Pounds for that you mentioned, was that a wager you had made about something? Was it about Arsenal perhaps. If it was I would be very interested to take part in a quiz about Football too. I probably would not win a quiz or even a bet come to that. But if I did I would give it to charity anyway, I don’t need a Hundred Pounds and I would rather bet that much and lose it to you too, only if you could assure me that YOU would give it to charity. I bet that much too that you would not!

  21. Anthony Godley.
    You said the following: “It stinks, and what is more it stinks even more too because it was Arsenal!”
    By saying that, (‘…stinks even more too because it was Arsenal!’ is rather bitter) you are alleging there was corruption involved and for saying that, Tony Attwood made the offer of £100 to you if you can come up with any evidence to back your words.
    There is no time limit on that: you have your whole life-span to do so.
    The jump from that, through feigned ignorance, to a bet on a football quiz is a fantastic instance of goalpost-shifting. A quiz isn’t really on a par with allegation proof is it.
    As for pomposity, the only instance of that comes in the pompous claim that you don’t need £100 pounds.
    Concluding posts with “OVER” is additionally rather mirthsome as well as discourteous.

  22. Alf
    You seem confused. Having followed this from the start I believe that the original £100 was offered by Andrew Kelly, not Tony Attwood.

  23. Thanks Andrew.
    You’re quite right.
    It was originally offered by Andrew Kelly and subsequently mentioned by Tony Attwood.

  24. Just fuck off back to woolwich ,we have enough ….

    The rest of this post was obscene and highly abusive. Of course it doesn’t represent the views of the overwhelming majority of Tottenham fans with whom we can, and often do, have reasoned debate, particularly on Untold Arsenal. But it does show there is a dangerous minority (and I am sure there is such a minority of fans in all clubs) of whom one does need to be careful.

  25. Unfortunately as this is a website about Arsenal, written by an Arsenal fan, it holds as much weight as the book that you have quoted in your article.

    Something I will add.. You state that Arsenal accounts do not reflect one thing or another. Besides the fact that accounts can and regularly were doctored in the early 1900’s, you are looking at the wrong accounts. You would need access to Norriss’s accounts, all of his subsidiary accounts and those of any relatives and buisness partners to prove anything. When you have those you would have to troll through them for 2 years previous and 5 years after 1919 to present a reasonable “defence”.
    These records are no doubt unavailable.

    And you are wrong also on the fact that you lay responsibility at the Tottenham Hotspur fans to prove that their was any wrong doing. This is not a court of law.
    It is their prerogative to continue the rumours and they are very compelling.

    As far as I am aware, the reason most THFC fans are filled with rage at the thought of AFC is perfectly justified, as far as they are concerned AFC cheated them out of their rightful position in league one. AFC encroached on their territory just to gain some supporters.
    However The biggest problem seems to be that no THFC supporter can find a logical reason as to why AFC dislikes THFC beyond the fact that “they dislike us” which is rather infantile. Pathetic even.

    I’m also told that Tottenham Hotspur own a share in AFC. Can AFC say the same thing about THFC?

  26. Hi Andy,

    I wish to claim your offer of £100 as contrary to your claim there is evidence that Norris was responsible for the breaking of a league rule, the violation of long held and important principles and guilty of corruption.

    Firstly there should not have been an election. The league rule on relegation and promotion is clear, clubs are promoted and relegated between divisions based on the performance of their teams on the field of play that completed season. At the time the two bottom clubs in Div 1 went down and the top two clubs in Div 2 went up. As the league was expanding that year, the only option was to suspend relegation or relegate the bottom two clubs and promote the top four.
    Arsenal finishing in sixth place had no valid claim for promotion whatsoever.

    Tottenham made their claim (31st Jan 1919 The Sportsman) to remain in Div 1 by relying on precedent which they argued was the next best thing to a rule. They stated that on two previous occasions of expansion no Div 1 clubs had been relegated and submitted that the principle first established in 1898 and confirmed in 1905 should be followed and the two bottom clubs retained in Div 1.

    Precedent is an important principle, English common law is based on precedent as it ensures consistency and fairness in similar cases and should of course been applied.

    Arsenal claimed (3rd Feb 1919 the Athletic News) that they deserved promotion based on long service but both Wolves and Birmingham who finished above Arsenal had longer service so this claim is nonsense. Their real argument was money.
    Arsenal argued that since 1914 they had been losing large amounts of money and were asking the League to help ensure that their investors (Norris) should not lose out. They argued that Tottenham who owned their own ground, had made money and been successful should be relegated and that Arsenal who were weaker and unsuccessful should be promoted in their place.

    This appalling argument is diametrically opposed to the principles and spirit in which sport is played. League rules, principles, integrity and justice were all sacrificed in order that Norris could make money. This was blatant corruption.

    It is worth noting the conduct of the two clubs after the vote was taken. Tottenham accepted the decision without complaint like true sportsman. They took their place in Div 2, won the league the first season and gained promotion based on performance on the field of play. Back in Div 1 they won the FA cup in their first season. Meanwhile down the road at Arsenal Norris was busy stealing from club funds and being banned from football.

    I request that the £100 pounds is donated to The Tower of London Poppies in memory of the men of Woolwich. One poppy for the men of Woolwich Arsenal FC, one for the men of the Royal Arsenal, one for the cadets of the Royal Military Academy and one for the Gunners of the Royal Artillery.

  27. Simon, I will leave Andy to consider your points and reply for himself, but the fact is that precedent was set in 1906 when the two divisions were previously expanded. The same process of voting was followed at that time as a result of which Bury and Notts C retained their places and Liverpool and Bolton were promoted. Additionally Doncaster Rovers were voted out of the league and three new teams were voted including Clapton Orient.

  28. Hi Tony,

    For the record precedent was established in 1897-8 when after the test matches between the two bottom Div 1 clubs and the top two Div 2 clubs Blackburn were relegated but were reprieved due to league expansion. Precedent was confirmed in 1905-6.

  29. Simon

    I’m not sure if you understood the challenge. It was to provide proof that Henry Norris bribed anyone during 1919 so that Arsenal would gain election to the First Division. I don’t see any proof as yet.

    The election was not even Norris’ idea. If anyone was responsible for putting forward the idea of an election it was Jimmy Catton. The reason for the election was due to the situation in which Chelsea had finished in the bottom two in 1914-15 for which no precedent had been set previously.

    I will be more than happy to make a donation of you can find a primary source dated before the Second World War that even suggests that Norris bribed anyone in 1919.

  30. Hi Andy,

    I did understand the challenge which was to persuade you and Tony to accept an objective analysis of the facts and the original sources which provide incontrovertible evidence that Norris was guilty of corrupting the league expansion process in order to make himself some money.

    Whether I have been successful or not is dependent on your ability to accept reason over blind faith, however judging by both replies I have failed miserably. You both continue to get the facts wrong.

    The reason for the election was not due to the situation which resulted in Chelsea finishing in the bottom two, an election was unnecessary to right that particular wrong, the football league just needed to follow precedent established on two previous occasions when league expansion occurred.

    The reason for the election was to enable sixth placed Arsenal to gain promotion.
    It matters not what form of corruption took place be it blackmail, bribery or collaboration,
    the important point is that Norris was guilty of corruption and Arsenal’s promotion was a gross miscarriage of justice.

    Don’t worry about the donation, I have already done so in honor of the men of Woolwich and their football club that Norris destroyed.

  31. EVIDENCE. That´s all who counts for Andy Kelly. What about sportmansship, fair play? When my brother and I joined our football club in Stavanger, Norway early in the 50-ties, fair play was the first thing we learnt. My father and his brothers told us about Arsenal – the best club in the world, a gentlemans club. Dear Andy: – give i up your embarressing talk about evidence. Excuse my Tasta-english.

  32. Egil. Fair play is indeed important, and there is no suggestion in any of the contemporary records that Arsenal were in any way anything other than fair.

    The facts are very simple. Liverpool and Man U were found guilty of match fixing in the 1914/15 season and their punishment held over until the next AGM, which because of the war was 1919. Prior to that AGM the league agreed to expand the divisions by two, and used the system they had used for over 30 years – allowing clubs to apply for a place in the divisions.

    In these elections for new places clubs always put forward the reasons why they should be given a place, and Arsenal did this. They argued that they had a national appeal and got huge crowds.

    Nothing we wrong with that election. What went wrong was that Liverpool and Man U somehow fixed it so that they had no punishment for match fixing. They should have been thrown out of the league completely, and Tottenham indeed should have kept their place in the 1st division – along with Chelsea who had suffered as a result.

    The top 2 clubs from the second division would go up – as they did, and two more places would be available to replace Man U and Liverpool – and the clubs would have elected from the list of applicants.

    There is no evidence of any wrong doing by Arsenal, only by the league committee and by Liverpool and Man U

  33. Why dont tottenham fans look how they became a league club In 1907 or 1908. And also 1 of the clubs that got you in there by voting and lobbying for you. Also at that time shittenham was not even a london club. Like arsenal are originally from kent. but moved to london to become a london club before you became a london club. Another funny thing with shittenham fans think they 1st team to do the double. Also your proud of the fact of being a non professional team to win F.A cup. That goes to prove your a joke club being amateur pathetic joke you are you shouldnt of got in league 2. Also when arsenal was promoted we never had our correct position we definitely had better goal difference than birmingham. Also no one mentioned the fact of notts forrest being near bottom of 2nd div and receiving votes. Vile shittenham filth your main support is females and they always fat ugly inbred looking pigs and you also think having a fight with the opposite fans is a group of spud fans starting on an a 55 year old lone male. Face it your shit. Liverpool man utd chelsea and city dont see you as rivals they just hate you cause your pure filth. Your always in our shadows. your the only people that call yourself a big club. Even if it turns out there was underhand tactics that got us up we still earned it since. You should of been relageted then no matter what but going on your theory with us you should still be a pathetic non league club from being voted in in1907/08 and you could still be proud of being a joke non professional team to win cup and stay there. Also them other teams i mentioned dont like us for same reason we dont like them also us and chelsea are more recent Cause we are all successful or starting to be successful. Then we look at the major london clubs the only london club we dislike and dislikes us untill recent is shittenham then now chelsea. All the london clubs despise you your vile nasty filth. Its funny the only place your the best team in is shitty harringay. Obviously arsenal then chelsea are best london clubs then west ham aint any worse than you they also produce better youtb players than you. Your club is a complete joke

  34. Also forgot to put to you scummy shittenham cunts when you check how you got your entry into the 2nd division have a check on the corruption of your vote when you was 7th or 8th. You got 1 team not to apply for it and defiantly something dodgy with another club you scumbag mouthy cunts. Bet yoyr sick as parrots now lol

  35. I came across this today on another sight, I never knew Arsenal had not earnt promotion on the pitch. Whatever the reason Arsenal were chosen to be promoted I think most reasonable people can agree it was not morally right, promotion should be earnt on the pitch. On balance of probability Norris bribed Arsenal into the league but for me this is a moot point, promotion shouldn’t be negotiated, canvassed for or bribes paid, it should be earnt by sportsmen. I will say Arsenal have been a credit since but as a Spurs fan I can wind up Arsenal fans with this one!

  36. Jon, I think there are other points. The notion of voting for clubs to be in and out of the leagues was a fundamental of the Football League from the moment it was founded right through to the 1987. So you may well say it is a system open to corruption and that is a possible argument, but the fact is the clubs voted to continue this from over 100 years. Indeed Tottenham themselves used this sort of approach when they were a Southern League club to stop Chelsea entering the Southern League in 1905. They voted against them, and went around getting other teams to support them.

    You might be right about immorality, as I say, but if you are, you need to include Tottenham, and all the clubs that voted to continue the system from 1888 to 1987. And that’s a lot of clubs.

  37. Interesting read, I found this page looking for more facts after discussing on Twitter with an Arsenal fan, so difficult with the character limit though.
    I think his first assumption was that I was a Spurs fan, I’ll say straight away I’m not, and I don’t suppoert any of the teams mentioned hereafter.

    I first heard about the “scandal” from my Grandfather, who was not football mad, but was from and supported Barnsley. He had a low opinion of Henry Norris due to his “well know corrupt ways”, I’m sure this opinion was formed when Barnsley weren’t promoted and just reaffirmed when Mr Norris was subsequently found out for corruption, though never for the promotion of Arsenal over clubs who finished higher, and had longer membership to the Football League. (not Barnsley who joined a year later, but Wolves and Birmingham)

    Anyway, the reason for my comment, my Father remembered being told the story about the John McKenna bribery/speech at the AGM by my Grandad as a boy, I can’t give an exact year, but it would have been in the 1930’s. Whilst this doesn’t prove anything, it’s just anecdotal that the notion was around long before the 60’s, hardly surprising though really, for someone who felt robbed by Norris/The Football League.

    My own opinion is that Norris was indeed corrupt at the time of the vote; he was censured by the Football League in 1923 for his actions in 1919 (relating to the signing of Henry White), so we know this as a fact. However, there is no proof that he bribed anyone for the vote, we just know it wouldn’t have been out of character at the time, but that’s not proof. (His other discrepancies are well documented, so wont bother going into them, they don’t prove anything relating to this topic either. He also did a lot of good, honest, things too just to be fair.)

    We also don’t know if McKenna made that speech or not, no journalists were present in the meeting, they only reported on some small pieces of information given to them after the meeting.
    However we do know the Football League were corrupt (still are?!), no sanctions against Liverpool or Man Utd? Very strange, but it was, and still is an “Old Boys Club” (Why have QPR seemingly been let off their £50million+ fine for breaking financial fair play rules? They were supposed to pay this before being allowed entry back into the Championship!)

    I think it’s also strange that Spurs received more votes than Barnsley, Wolves and Birmingham (who it turned out finished below Arsenal, but no-one spotted the error until the ’70s!), which leads me to think that it was pre-determined that a London club would get the final place. A 1st Division with only one London club would have alienated the Southern teams, and would probably have led to the rise of the Southern League as a competitor to the Football League, and they knew this.

    I think it was likely discussed by many of them in private, off the record, prior to the AGM. It makes business sense, it’s not illegal, it’s not a “fix”, it’s people discussing pros and cons and outcomes, it happens all the time in business/politics/associations.

    It wasn’t sporting, and it wasn’t the right thing to do by Barnsley, Wolves or Birmingham, or for any other team losing out by vote until voting was abolished, but in the end it probably was the best thing for the game in the long run as it avoided a North/South football divide. It also turned out fairly well for Arsenal!

    Was Norris corrupt at the time? Yes, proven.
    Were the Football League corrupt at the time? Yes, proven.
    Was corruption involved in Arsenal’s promotion? Insufficient evidence, case dismissed until such time evidence can prove it.

  38. John Rodgers You end by saying, Was Norris corrupt at the time? Yes, proven. I disagree. there are many bits of the story missing – not least a definition of corruption. Corruption is not normally breaking the law, but is generally defined as “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery”.

    So Liverpool and Man U definitely corrupt. But Norris was not found guilty of corruption – he was expelled from football after taking the Daily Mail to court for libel, and losing. And before we find too strongly against him for that, remember that Herbert Chapman was banned from football for life too.

  39. Were the football league corrupt in 1919? That’s a question that none of us can answer now nearly 100 years later.

    There was a separate case also in 1919 where Leeds City were expelled from the league for illegal payments to players during the war years when they were unusually and unexpectedly successful in the regional leagues. There was no evidence against Leeds City other than the testimony of a ‘rejected’ player as the clubs books had disappeared (rumoured to have been destroyed by one HERBERT CHAPMAN who was Leeds City manager at the time). Even though it was widely suspected at the time that many clubs were guilty of paying players while professional football was suspended for the duration of the war nobody objected to the decision at the time and perhaps this had some bearing on the election to the league in 1920 of the newly formed Leeds United. What point my input is trying to make is if it was quite legal to expel a team without proof, yet allow another team to remain in the first division when match fixing and bribery had been proven in a decisive game, then it’s quite understandable that the same men would vote a club from 6th place to promotion.

  40. Agree with your definition of corruption, it’s not always breaking the law, and bribery isn’t necessarily breaking the law either.

    However, I’m not referencing him being expelled from the football league. He was censured in 1923 for his actions in 1919 regarding the signing of Henry White, the payment of a “loan” to him when signing and then later withholding payment when he sold him on:

    “Probably on Mon 22 October 1923 though I don’t have confirmation of the date and I don’t know where it was held: the Football League held an enquiry into Arsenal FC’s signing of H A White in 1919. Essentially this was an investigation into the loan deal agreed between Henry Norris and H A White; and Norris would thus have to have been at the enquiry to give evidence. There were two results to the enquiry. Firstly, Norris was censured by the Football League for breaking the rules on inducements to players; he was ordered to pay back to White the money he’d confiscated from White’s part of the transfer fee when he was sold to Blackpool FC…..William Hall had learned about Norris’ loan to White in September 1923 at the latest; the other directors of Arsenal FC might only have learned about it now. In an affidavit of 1929, Charles Crisp said that he had left Arsenal’s board of directors after a disagreement with Henry Norris; he didn’t say what the disagreement was about. The last AGM of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company Limited at which Crisp was listed as a director was 1923; he had resigned, or decided not to seek re-election, before the AGM of 1924. I suggest that Norris’ loan to White was what the disagreement was about.” (from:

    Between Mon 21 July and Mon 28 July 1919 Henry Norris, for Arsenal FC, beat several other clubs to the signature of Brentford FC’s forward Henry Albert White. For further on H A White and Henry Norris see my file Henry Norris: Players Who Came Back to Haunt Him. Here, I’ll just say that in order to get White’s signature against a lot of competition, Norris agreed to a weird deal with the player: if White stayed with Arsenal for three or more seasons (and thus became entitled to a benefit match) Norris promised to pay him £1000 at the end of five years. In the meantime Norris would lend White£200 per year, for housing expenses, to be paid back out of the £1000. This transaction and its sequel (Mar 1923) were investigated by FA Commission in July-Aug 1927 (see my file 1927: the Downfall of Henry Norris); and also came up in the Norris v FA Ltd libel trial of February 1929 (see my file 1929: Norris v Football Association: the last libel case). Quite whether the deal was against the FA or FL rules I don’t know: looking at both sets of rules I couldn’t actually find any words forbidding it; but it was definitely against the spirit of the rules. The deal was strictly between the two men, and was a loan by Norris personally to White; no one else on the board of directors needed to know of it, therefore, and it seems that no one at that level did until 1923. However, the dressing-room knew about it, because White kept boasting about it, creating a great deal of bad feeling. (From:
    There is a whole life history on him, not just about football, here:

    As he didn’t inform the Arsenal board, or anyone else regarding the “loan” to White, that falls under deceitful in the definition of dishonest: “Behaving or prone to behave in an untrustworthy, deceitful, or insincere way.” and for the same reason it also falls under deception: “Obtained, done by, or involving deception, especially criminal deception.”
    Therefore his actions in 1919 when signing Henry White fit the description of corrupt perfectly.

    It doesn’t change the fact that there is absolutely no evidence of him bribing/arranging for Arsenal to be promoted, but it does prove he was already corrupt in 1919 as I stated.

  41. In the face of a lack of evidence against Norris ,all we can consider is whether Norris was capable of engineering Arsenal’s elevation by foul means.He was found guilty of subsequent wrong doing by the Football League years later and was a famous Freemason,but there is no real proof of the 1919 “fix”,but enough ammunition for a Nick Hornby novel!

  42. Hi, I’m coming late to this post (with comments and discussions)very late, but I’d like to make a few (hopefully short!) observations, without any wish or expectation for reply.
    First, I’d like to thank Andy Kelly for his excellent original piece, which has clearly has been well-researched and thought through.
    Secondly, I’d like to commend many for their equally reasoned comments, although not all – even though some of those are very entertaining!
    On a point of fact, looking through a variety of records, it would seem that The Arsenal (as then formally termed) actually finished fifth in Division 2 in 1914-15, ahead of Birmingham on goal average (and goal difference). Not that that makes any material impact upon subsequent events (or conjecture).
    As to impact at that time, it seems to have been largely accepted then, which is probably the crucial matter in all this.
    Later conjecture and aspersions could be considered as irrelevant, and fall more into the area of “legend”, or even banter.
    I have to confess that I’m a “Gooner”, of nearly fifty years’ experience, largely good times (although recently a little less!), but I’ve never felt any tribal “hatred” towards Spurs, nor really understood why local rivals should have such opprobium towards each other. (Whisper it, but I think Spurs are very good at the moment!)
    As to the £100 offer to anyone who could find any definite evidence of financial corruption, I think that, had there been any, it would have come to light nearer to that time and, nearly a century on, there’s almost no chance of anything being uncovered; your money’s safe!
    Thanks once again, for a fascinating article about an interesting historical period in football history – cheers! 🙂

  43. Pete – yes you do get a reply, and thank you for taking the trouble to write. I don’t know if you have seen it, but since this article we have uncovered more evidence about other match fixing in the pre-war years, and in one particular case where Henry Norris was slapped down by the League in 1912 for suggesting it was happening. So when he re-entered the fray in 1919 to argue Arsenal’s case he ha a huge amount of leverage on the League for its failure to deal with Liverpool.

    Arsenal relegated amidst allegations of match fixing:

  44. Thanks, Tony.
    I’ll have a look at your suggestions which, as you say, might have given Henry Norris sufficient leverage for his case.
    Have to say, that it was a rather rum affair all round, and thank heavens that football has now cleaned up its act – vis a vis FIFA!
    I’m deliberately keeping this short, as this medium proved a little problematic for me last night in trying to self proof-read, with quite a few unnecessary repetition of words which I had missed, and regret.
    Thanks for your kind comments, and I’ll keep reading …

  45. One thing I have never seen mentioned in the above comments were the results of the London Combination League which took the place of the Football League in the years of WW1 following the 1914-15 ( contentious) season. In the 1918-19 season in fact Arsenal finished 2nd in this competition well ahead of Chelsea and Tottenham. Brentford were the winners. It was with the intention of resuming the (national) Football League that all the other factors referred to above took place. In the 1919-20 season Arsenal finished 10th and Chelsea 3rd. The following season Tottenham, were back in Div 1 finishing 6th while Arsenal was 9th and Chelsea 18th. So in fact despite all the argy bargy about who did what to whom, the playing field was effectively level by 1921. Norris’ subsequent behaviours may have tipped the scales to Arsenal but London’s position in the Football League was assured from this point which it hadn’t been prior to WW1. Today more so than ever thanks to foreign money, though Lancashire probably still has the strongest boasting rites.

  46. Well if ya can’t see that Norris bribed everyone goin ya must be blind ! How can you finish 6th and get promoted out right ? What about Barnsley, Wolves and Birmingham?

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