The man who relegated Arsenal

Woolwich Arsenal and George Morrell

Poor George Morrell – doomed for ever to be known as the only manager ever to relegate Arsenal.

He came in at a time when Arsenal changed managers as often as they changed their shirts – he was the fifth man in charge in ten years.

He had managed Glenure Athletic in Glasgow, before joining Rangers, and is said to have revived a club that was in as much trouble then as now – they were on the edge of going bust.

His breakthrough came in 1905 with Greenock Morton (another club on the edge of financial disaster).  He got their debts sorted, and got them into the First Division.

This was the background of the man who travelled south to take control of Woolwich Arsenal with its Scottish support and playing staff.   The financial problems that came to a fore in the 1909/1910 season (and which are the starting point of the new book MAKING THE ARSENAL) were his to deal with and were clearly apparent on the day he signed.

Within half a season, Morrell had sold half the first team (presumably under orders to cut costs) and despite this the club ended up sixth in League Division I, and it looked like the magical touch that had been with Morrell in Scotland had come south.

Some new players came in – most notably Alf Common, but the finances didn’t improve and as we know, Henry Norris took over the club in 1910.

Norris was always notorious for being cautious with money, and having bought the club and paid the debts he seems to have been in no mood to splash out on transfer fees or salaries – and indeed it was this approach that led to the loss of the young Charlie Buchan when he was playing in the reserves in 1910.

Morrell survived the move from Woolwich to Highbury, but resigned (as all such people did) at the end of the 1914/1915 season when football was suspended for the duration.

Curiously, and indeed very sadly, it is not possible to say what happened to George Morrell after the war – indeed he is one of those men who in the space of just 100 years has moved from being a leading man within football to a man whose year of birth and year of death are now unknown.  After Arsenal he just vanishes from history.

To me there is something desperately sad about this – that we cannot find out more about the last manager of Woolwich Arsenal.

The departure of George Morrell was the end of the era in more ways than one, for he ended the habit of managers lasting a very short space of time.  Coming in, as I mentioned, as the fifth manager in ten years, he completed seven seasons.  After the war Leslie Knighton came in for five years, before Arsenal appointed… Herbert Chapman.

It is quite a revelation to realize that between Morrell and Chapman there was only one manager.


This piece is the first in a series on Arsenal managers.  More shortly.

The book MAKING THE ARSENAL tells the story of 1910 – the year Henry Norris took over the club.  If you would like to support this site and all it aims to do, please consider buying a copy.  There’s more information on

7 Replies to “The man who relegated Arsenal”

  1. Just stumbled across another piece of information. According to the 1921-22 handbook, George Morrell resigned as Arsenal manager in April 1915 and went to Third Lanark. None of the Third Lanark websites have a full list of managers so we will have to trust George Allison’s word on this one!

  2. As far as I’m aware George Morrell did indeed manage Third Lanark. He was my great grandfather and I was told this as a child.

  3. George Morrell (the spelling in the following link is Morell) became manager of Third Lanark during the close season 1917 to cs 1921.

    Prior to the above he was manager of Greenock Morton 1904 to February, 1908. The details are found on page 2 of the above website link.

    In April, 1912 newspaper leaks about the appointment of a new manager for Leeds City concern the circumstances which involved George Morrell and, further, the ensuing press speculation helps confirm not only the length of time Morrell had been manager of Greenock Morton but that before that he was assistant to William Wilton, first manager of The Rangers F.C. (1899-1920):

    “There had been claims that George Morrell of Woolwich Arsenal had been appointed to replace Frank Scott-Walford as secretary and two local worthies, Ed Wood and Samuel Samuel, had agreed to invest the £7,000 required to put the club on its feet again. Further, according to the Yorkshire Evening Post, “most of the players of the club were up in arms because of an announcement which appeared in the morning papers that only eight of their number were to be signed on for another season.”
    There had been “intelligent anticipation” about the appointment of Morrell. Hepworth confirmed that he had held discussions with him in London and that “It is a thousand to one that Mr Morrell will get the appointment. But I have practically only settled with him this morning, so that no one in Leeds had any authority for stating last night that Mr Morrell had been appointed.”

    It was also reported that the Receiver, Tom Coombs, had only just asked the City directors to meet him to discuss players. He wrote to them as follows, “As you are aware it is imperative and necessary that the list of players to be retained and those who are to be put on the transfer list should be made up and completed this week. I shall therefore esteem it a favour if you will be good enough to meet me at Elland Road on Friday, the 26th inst, at two o’clock, for the purpose of giving me your advice and counsel as to the players who ought to be signed on and those who ought to be placed on the transfer list. This invitation has been sent to the directors, Messrs Henry, Masser, Whiteman and Bromley and to Mr Clifford Hepworth, as Mr N R Hepworth’s representative.”

    Coombs was angry about the release of misleading statements and claimed that they did nothing but harm at a difficult time for the club. He told the Evening Post, “Association football in Leeds ought to be successful, can be successful and will be successful. If only the public of Leeds will stand by the club and have a little patience and confidence we shall yet have a club at Elland Road capable of taking its place in the front rank of Association football.”

    It was confirmed that the required £7,000 had not yet been raised and that while Alf Masser had held positive discussions with Wood and Samuel, nothing had been agreed. Speculation could only lead to delays and should be avoided at all costs.

    The Evening Post profiled the supposed new City manager. “Morrell has been looked upon as almost a fixture at Woolwich, and during the four and a half years in which he has been associated with the club he has seen many exciting periods … He had to take charge of the club when it was in a bad financial position … Messrs Norris and Hall of Fulham came along with money and assistance, and once this was done the way was paved for Mr Morrell to build up a team. He went in mainly for young players, and was never keen on paying large transfer fees. A native of Glasgow, he was, prior to taking up the reins at Woolwich, manager for Greenock Morton, a famous Scottish club, for three and a half years. His first experience in football management, however, was as assistant to William Wilton, secretary of the Glasgow Rangers.”
    Within the week, it was announced that Morrell had turned down the City post after originally indicating that he would accept. A number of friends and acquaintances had persuaded him to remain at Arsenal.
    It was a sad disappointment for City, but there was soon better news. On Monday, 6 May, the Leeds Mercury reported that an appointment had finally been made. “The Leeds City club appear to have made a distinct capture in their new football manager, Mr Herbert Chapman.”

    Maybe Giulia Morrell (above) could kindly oblige with her great grandfather’s date/place of birth and date/place of death, place of burial?

  4. Just seen this, some years after the entry and indeed after the last contribution so I hope someone sees it and passes on to Tony Attwood. This is the extract on George Morell from my book ‘GAFFERS.’ It confirms his time at Third Lanark & what he did after that as well as giving year of his death. Hope this helps.

    “MORELL, George 1871-1931
    Morton Aug 20th 1904- Feb 1908
    Third Lanark Aug 18th 1917-Apr 30th 1921
    Apart from their first season in 1900-01, Morton had struggled more or less constantly since joining Division One. In Morell’s first season they were second bottom of the 14-club league. Fortunately there was no promotion or relegation and with the Division expanded to 16 clubs, they were easily re-elected. Morell’s Morton moved up to tenth. They were 13th the next season in a Division that now contained 18 clubs and were 11th in the table when he moved south to Arsenal.
    On the face of it Arsenal wanting a manager from a middling Scottish outfit seems strange but the Arsenal of the Edwardian era were not the global powerhouse of today. They played south of the Thames in Woolwich, were in a bad way financially and wanted a manager used to operating on a restricted budget. In Morell they found the ideal candidate. Players were sold on to ‘bigger’ clubs in the north of England while he brought in replacements from the likes of Petershill and Queen’s Park who cost nothing or next to nothing. Morell was manager when Arsenal moved to Highbury in 1913. However he notched up an unwanted record a few months earlier as the only Arsenal manager to see the club relegated. He remained until the wartime shutdown in 1915 by which time it was clear Arsenal intended to replace him after the war. Morell returned north to Third Lanark. They were mid-table in his first two seasons but he took them into the top half in his last two years in charge. He later worked as a clerk in Glasgow Corporation’s Public Assistance Department.”

  5. David many thanks. I will re-write the entry in a short while so all your information is incorporated – with acknowledgement to you of course. Tony

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