On Wednesday 18th May 1910 the board of Woolwich Arsenal FC turned up at the Imperial Hotel to see the Football League, and to explain whether they would be able to fulfil their fixtures in the 1910/1911 season.
Also there were Henry Norris, chairman of Fulham, and two of his fellow directors, plus of course a director of one of each of the clubs in the first and second division. It was a busy meeting.
It emerged through the course of the meeting that Norris had a plan which was, quite simply, that he buy Woolwich Arsenal FC and pay off all the creditors. He would take over all the registrations of the players, so that they would continue to get paid, and either continue with him, or find other clubs.
He would then form a new club: Fulham Arsenal FC which would play in the first division in place of Arsenal next season.
In this way no one would lose money he said, and he, Norris, would save the day. The League would be free to replace Fulham in the second division with a new team from the Southern League.
The directors of Chelsea and Bolton Wanderers spoke out in opposition – Chelsea to say that they did not think it reasonable that an enlarged club should appear in an area that already had two clubs (a fatuous argument given that Chelsea had bought its place in the league when it didn’t even have a team), and Bolton to say they thought this all underhand.
Since Chelsea and Bolton were the clubs being relegated, it is not surprising that they would do everything possible to cling onto their first division places.
The League confirmed (as it has ever since) that it had no control over where clubs played, and so the location argument was dead. It said it also had no control over mergers – but it did have control over which division a club played in, and it was anxious that clubs should not merge and de-merge just to get into a higher division.
It ruled that if this was the only suggestion on the table it would be accepted. Fulham Arsenal could replace Woolwich Arsenal and Fulham, and it could play at Craven Cottage. Norris could pay off all the debts. But the new club would take over Fulham’s place in the second division, and a separate vote would be had to see how the space vacated by Woolwich Arsenal would be filled.
Norris withdrew his offer.
Norris now came in with his back-up plan. That Woolwich Arsenal and Fulham ground share, with both clubs being owned by Norris and his fellow travellers, so technically Fulham did not “own” Woolwich Arsenal (although it is hard to see if there was any real distinction between the ideas).
The League agreed it had not jurisdiction over where clubs played (it had already said this) and so it would simply note that the clubs could not play on the same date at home.
This time Leavey objected – saying he did not want the club to leave Woolwich, so the meeting paused, and Leavey and his board met privately with Norris and his men – with the League muttering about not letting the meeting drag on past a deadline.
Eventually there was agreement – with minutes to spare. Norris came onto the steps of the hotel and said that Woolwich Arsenal had been saved, and would continue to play at the Manor Ground for the coming season.
Quite what deal had been hammered out remained a mystery at least for the moment. But there was a deal. Woolwich Arsenal was saved in its original form.
At least for the time being.