10 March 1919, Arsenal elected. Find the bribery and get the reward

By Tony Attwood

On 10 March 1919 The Arsenal were elected to the First Division of the Football League.   Arsenal has been in the top division ever since.

We have dealt with this issue of Arsenal’s election at great length many times – the most comprehensive article being Andy Kelly’s piece which you can find here   Andy even offered a reward for the supply of any evidence that shows that Henry Norris did anything amiss.

The key points about the bribery and corruption story surrounding the election in 1919 are these:

1.  The story of who would get the extra place in the top division in 1919 was big, and the newspapers covered it before the event in a big way.  Indeed the debate began in Athletics News months before the vote.  Not one newspaper we have seen mentioned the possibility of corruption before the vote.

2.  The story after the vote was huge, because this was the resumption of the national sport after four terrible years of war. Not one newspaper or magazine that we have found reported the notion of corruption.  Most particularly neither Tottenham, nor any of the other clubs who lost in the vote, complained in any way.

3.  It is difficult to tell when the story about corruption actually began, but it seems to have been in the 1930s – at least 11 years after the event – and quite possibly later than that.  It would be great if anyone can come up with the first report of corruption in 1919.

4.  The two clubs who clearly were corrupt in this issue were Liverpool and Manchester United who were found guilty of match fixing.


But now I want to move on to something else.   The Arsenal at the end of this season will occupy fourth spot in terms of the number of years in the top division.  The rankings at that point will be

  • Everton 110 seasons
  • Aston Villa 102 seasons
  • Liverpool 98 seasons
  • Arsenal 96 seasons
  • Manchester United 88 seasons
  • Manchester City 84 seasons

These numbers are out of a maximum possible of 116 seasons running from 1888/9 to 2012/3.

However they do give something of a false picture because many clubs didn’t enter the league at the start, and those that did automatically are counted as first division, since there was only one division.  Arsenal for example, were the first team south of Birmingham to enter the league; they entered in 1893 in the Second Division.

But there is a second, and perhaps more interesting chart.  One that records the consecutive number of years that a club has spent in the top division.

At the end of this season the top of that table will be

  • Arsenal 94 years since 1919
  • Everton 59 years since 1954
  • Liverpool 51 years since 1962
  • Manchester United 38 years since 1975
  • Tottenham H 35 years since 1978
  • Aston Villa 25 years since 1988
  • Chelsea 24 years since 1989
  • Fulham 12 years since 2001
  • Manchester City 11 years since 2002
  • Wigan 8 years since 2005
  • Sunderland 6 years since 2007

Here we can see just how far ahead of the rest of England Arsenal are, and through this chart we are reminded that clubs like Manchester United were in division two as recently as 1975, Tottenham H in 1978, Chelsea in 1989, Manchester C in 2002.

It is perhaps because of this table, as much as the rivalry between Tottenham H and Arsenal that the story that there “must have been” corruption in Arsenal’s election in 1919 has circulated so successfully.

As always we welcome comments, but please do us the courtesy of reading the whole article first.  Last time we touched on this subject there were a number of “you only got in cos your chairman was bent” comments, which take no notice of what is published above.



4 Replies to “10 March 1919, Arsenal elected. Find the bribery and get the reward”

  1. Evening Tony,

    A happy New Year to you all.

    It’s interesting that we, whilst not dismissive of corruption, are sceptical at the very least. Simply because there is nothing evident from 1919 does not mean it didn’t happen. However, proof has to take precedence over supposition.

    We also need to consider the state of the nation at the time. If corruption had surfaced, what effect would it have had on the morale of ta populace coming out of a war which wrought its devastation across every family?

    The political ramifications need to be considered and the knock-on effect; if the national sport was corrupt, why not other bastions of the Establishment? With Revolution in the air elsewhere in Europe, the ruling classes would want to keep a firm lid on any wrongdoing.

    There was, I’m sure you’ll agree, little motivation for anyone complicit to admit to their wrongdoings or commit them to paper.

    Even so, the burden of proof as with any theory, remains at the door of those making the claims. Good luck to them but I doubt many would be surprised if evidence emerges.

    At that point, we might want to consider appointing Sepp Blatter as Chairman.

  2. Stuart – certainly the reason given for not punishing Liverpool and Man U for the match fixing in 1914/15 was that it would involve diminishing the reputation of those who fought for their country in the war. So on that basis your point is most valid.

    But the fact remains, the widespread assumption is that there was something crooked about Arsenal’s application in 1919, because they were promoted having come fifth. But the fact remains that the process was the same as that used right through until automatic relegation to the Conference was introduced – the clubs voted on the basis of the sort of crowd the applicant got, how easy the ground was to get to, political matters such as “Do we want another club here?” and so on.

    It is up to those who claim there was falsehood going on, to replicate Andy’s research and find something that points to a problem.

  3. henry norris never tried to clear his name either,you moved accross london to get an advantage you poached the huddersfield manager to get an advantage,you changed your club to arsenal to get an alphabetical advantage

    at least utd or tottenham only had 1 season in the second div unlike liverpool 8 seasons everton 3 seasons arsenal 2 seasonsuntil you cheated,you dont have a go at liverpool or everton

  4. Paul I think you are mistaken in some of your allegations and assumptions. To suggest that Tottenham only had one season in the second division is not quite accurate – I think you have forgotten to look at the whole of Tottenham’s history. And if you want to suggest Arsenal cheated some evidence would be helpful. But before that you might like to read the article which offers a £100 reward if you can find evidence of cheating. http://www.blog.woolwicharsenal.co.uk/archives/5592

    Incidentally since that was written we have now uncovered more evidence on where the actual cheating took place – which we’ve already mentioned here in relation to the 1912/13 season, but will be doing a major piece on in due course.

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