Sir Henry Norris – the early years in football

This is an extract from the novel, MAKING THE ARSENAL which records the history of the takeover of Woolwich Arsenal by Henry (later Sir Henry) Norris of Fulham.


At this point in the story, Jacko Jones, the journalist, is trying to piece together Norris’ past activities in football.  And he hits on a rather odd fact…  Teams in the Southern League played “Test Matches” (play-offs) to find out who went up.  But in one particular season it seems that the loser was promoted…


If you would like to read more about MAKING THE ARSENAL please pop along to – you’ll see the book as the top one in the central section.  Just choose your part of the world, and you can read a full summary of the book.  Now, here’s the extract…



In May 1903 Fulham got elected to the Southern League Division 1 from Division 2 – despite having lost 7-2 to Brentford in the Test Match. Which is odd, because as Brentford won and won so handsomely, they should have gone up. This was exactly the moment that Norris appeared on the scene – and it looked like a total fix. Did Norris bribe the Southern League, or Brentford, or both? No evidence at all, of course.


In fact our notes in the office said the vote for election to the Southern League Division I was held twice, and even after the second ballot there was a row and a half – and, according to Bob Kendrick who was seemingly our man on the spot at the time, a fight broke out in the offices of the FA.


Then Fulham get the nod, and guess who got up to make a vote of thanks: Norris. Now why did he do that?


By June he was club chairman – which is probably not surprising given what he had delivered in just a couple of months.


There was one other detail I found on Norris. In January 1903 he had left the Fulham Lodge of the Masons Society. Did they kick him out? I don’t mix with the Masons (obviously!), but from what I know they never expel you unless you have hurt another Mason. It is some kind of band of brothers.


I also found a note that Norris used Archie Leitch later on to work on the new stands at Fulham – which is interesting because, as I now know, Leitch also built the stand at Woolwich and never got paid. I can’t quite see how this fits but it is another link to somewhere. I just wish I knew where.


Back in football, in July 1903 having become chairman of Fulham Norris then seems to have got into negotiation with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners who apparently own the Fulham ground at Craven Cottage – in order to get a longer lease on better terms.

I got stuck at that point, until I asked one of the runners if there was anything else on Fulham – and he said, “Only the programmes and yearbook.” Of course. We are all required to bring back and file the official club programme, and Athletic News publish their helpful yearbook once a year. Obviously.


Norris had indulged himself in writing in the programme from the start. And here’s the thing – Norris made all sorts of comments about Fulham leaving their ground and looking for better accommodation if the church won’t play ball and cut the rent.


And how I love archivists – right there with the AN yearbook were the minutes of the first Fulham Ltd Annual General Meeting in which he made the top dog speech and said he was about to leave the club – he’d done as much as he could, the ground wasn’t right – time for another to take over.


But he didn’t carry out the threat because there is another note – undated – which has him saying that he was trying to fix up a deal to move Fulham to Stamford Bridge before Chelsea moved in. The crafty bugger.


Edward turned up with his pictures – which I have to say were very good – especially the crowd scenes. He’d already given copies to Mr Holloway who didn’t shout at him. I told Edward that was top praise. Then Edward joined in the research, and he proved to be good at that bit too. (If he can write, I’m going to be seriously worried.)


In September 1904 the LCC started legal proceedings against Fulham FC over a grandstand. The argument was odd: if it was a building the LCC had control and wanted it down, if it was a “structure” then Fulham’s local council (which Norris controlled) would decide. Norris, with Leitch in tow like a little puppy dog, argued it was a structure, and won.

Moving on to December 1904 we found the first reference in the Chronicle to a “new professional club” to play at Stamford Bridge. The point here was that Fulham were still trying to get promotion to the Football League, and the new club were just going to jump over them, without ever having played a game.


From the moment he found out Norris went crazy. Every week there were articles by him in the West London, the Fulham Evening, his programme notes, and even the letters page of the other papers (although not the Chronicle which he clearly thought was beneath him). Not to mention articles by a whole range of people writing under different nom de plumes who were all probably Norris.


I invited Edward to come to the pub tonight to listen to me play with the band, and on the way he offered a thought. “Getting henchmen to plant stories in newspapers supporting your point of view,” he said. “If I was running a spy ring, I’d do just that – most likely in order to deflect interest away from what I was really doing.”


Norris the spymaster. I do so love that.


Edward took photographs of the band. Everyone was very impressed with my new friend and his strange fancy dress.


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