By Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews
26 May 1913 is a most important date in our “ISLINGTON 100” series – the series that tells of Arsenal’s move to north London – which will culminate with the 100th anniversary of the first match at Highbury in September 2013. An important date since it was on this date that Tottenham’s demand for an EGM of league clubs to stop Arsenal’s move was defeated at League’s AGM
It is only in the last few years that the notion that Henry Norris was almost certainly tempted to Islington by the proximity with Tottenham has been put forwards. But the more it has been examined the more it has seemed a perfect fit with what we know for sure.
The Arsenal/Tottenham rivalry was already established during the days in Plumstead, with large crowds attending the matches between the two sides, and even reserve games having considerable heat generated (as can be seen from reports on crowd behaviour in our book on the subject).
If Norris (as we now believe) took the view that having a local rival was a good thing (as opposed to Tottenham’s view that local competition was something to be avoided if at all possible) then he may well have been particularly drawn to a site that was just a couple of miles from Tottenham’s ground.
It is true that Norris had not been best pleased with the arrival of Chelsea so close to Fulham’s ground in 1905 – but here Chelsea had the advantage, since they had a much bigger ground with much greater ease of access than Craven Cottage. It is certainly possible that Norris’ view was that if Arsenal could build a bigger and better ground than Tottenham, then Arsenal could benefit from the local rivalry (which would make football a major talking point in the area and in the daily local newspapers), through becoming the dominant club, in the way that Chelsea had achieved.
As so often with Norris we don’t know exactly what he had in mind as he made his decisions, but it is not impossible that his view ultimately was that if both clubs were having a modest time, the local rivalry would always keep interest high, and Arsenal would always get the better crowds of the two because of the proximity of good transport links to the ground.
He may even have believed that Tottenham’s inevitable attempt to stop the move to Highbury (they had after all objected to the arrival of Chelsea in 1905) could give him the sort of publicity that he needed for the launch of Arsenal in north London. If strong antipathy to the move could be assured, the fact that Woolwich Arsenal were clearly doomed to relegation by January 1913 might be forgotten, as Arsenal sought to create a new set of supporters in and around north London.
But if that is how Norris saw the situation, how did the fans see the move of the club from its homeland of the Kent/London border, to London N5? Were there protests and talk of franchising?
The answer is simply “no”. At this time clubs came and went, and ground changes were not uncommon. Between the foundation of the League in 1888 and the year of Woolwich Arsenal’s relegation there had been 26 clubs drop out of the League (some dropping out only to return a few years later), with many others had changed their playing venues. Arsenal’s move would not have raised any more of an eyebrow than the disappearance of Gainsborough Trinity from the Football League the year before.
As a move it turned out to be highly successful for Arsenal, and strangely enough for Tottenham too – although Tottenham certainly didn’t anticipate that this would be the result of Arsenal’s move.
Tottenham’s motion for an EGM in 1913 over the issue of Arsenal’s move north was defeated at the League’s AGM on May 26th, although Tottenham used the meeting to launch another line of attack against directors being involved with two clubs at once.
Once again they had no grounds for their argument for there was nothing in the rule book to stop such activity. But the representatives of Tottenham were determined to show Norris that he and his team would not be welcome in north London, even though the clubs would not be meeting for at least one more season since Tottenham had escaped relegation to the second division as Arsenal had gone down in April 1913.
Thus Tottenham laid into Norris with a vigour that made Norris and Hall protest, and ultimately offer their resignation from the board to Fulham – a resignation that was refused by the rest of the Fulham board.
Hall eventually resigned as a director of Fulham in June 1913 and this time it was accepted. The reason for his resignation was not due to protests from other clubs but “in order to devote his energies to building up the Reds” as explained in an interview with the Islington Gazette.
Thus Norris triumphed twice: once by getting his way absolutely in the move of the club to the north of London, and once in making Tottenham’s directors look foolish in putting forward extravagant demands that not only the League, but the majority of League clubs, rejected.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal FC: crowd behaviour at the early matches
The sites from the same team…
- Referee Decisions – just what are the refs up to this season?
- The Arsenal History Blog from the AISA Arsenal History Society