Henry Norris, Croydon, Woolwich Arsenal, the Southern League

This article continues from the one published yesterday – it explores the fact that by the summer of 1910 Henry Norris owned three clubs – Croydon Common in the Southern League, Fulham in Division 2 and Woolwich Arsenal in Division One.   The first part of the article can be read here.


Today we think of the non-league pyramid as being very much low key – a long way behind the Football League.  But in the early part of the century this was far from the case.

First we need to remember that anything resembling automatic promotion from outside the League to inside was still well over half a century away.  Second, the Football League, despite its name and its inclusion of Bristol City, Woolwich Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham was still basically a northern league with no pretensions of being national.

The only reason Woolwich Arsenal did not enter the Southern League is that as they were the first team outside the north and midlands to go professional there was no Southern League for them to enter and the reactionary London FA banned Arsenal from playing teams outside the Football League.

So when it came along the Southern League collected up a number of teams who could have held their own in the Football League.   Thus when club historians celebrate the fact that for three years there was a Southern League team in the FA cup final Southampton (1900) Tottenham (1901) and Southampton again (1902) it sounds a real David and Golliath thing, it wasn’t.

So the claim that Tottenham are the only club from outside the Football League to have won FA Cup should be considered in the light of events – it is perhaps like having a Championship club get into the Final today – nothing more special than that.

One of the reasons why the Southern League became strong so quickly was that it had different rules from the Football League.

From the 1893-94 season the League introduced a system known as “retain and transfer” which effectively put footballers into a form slavery.  A player registered with a club could never play for another club without the permission of the club with whom he was registered.

That might not seem too bad until you note that this applied for all time and in all circumstances.  The club did not have to play to player, and they did not have to pay the player.  They could effectively sign a player and then end his career by just leaving him to rot. They didn’t have to renew a contract even – they really could just leave him.

The only incentive the club had to release a player was if they could get a transfer fee.   However the Southern League did not introduce this system until 1910, so many players liked the Southern League for its more liberal approach. The Scottish League also did not have this system, so again that was attractive to players – and after 1900 both of these leagues started to pay higher salaries.

Not content with treating players like dirt the football league then introduced the £4 a week maximum wage.  The league was helped in this regard by the abolition of the footballers trade union at the same time.

So this is the league Croydon Common were in, playing at the Nest – later to be the home of Crystal Palace.   They then suffered some set backs with stands blowing down and catching fire (an issue recounted in “Making the Arsenal”) but by 1908 they were in the first division for one season before going back down.  But they won the second division again in 1913-14, but in 1914-15 (the final year before the war) they again ended up bottom.

All the clubs were suspended during the war, and then returned in 1919 to start again.  As we know Arsenal managed to get their promotion at this time, but Croydon Common did not return – in fact they were the only club from the Southern League not to return after the war.  There are reports that they actually were wound up in 1917 which is curious, since there were only unofficial matches, and there was no real reason to wind them up.

Unless… Henry Norris had had enough. If he was paying to maintain the ground, he might have felt that with Highbury taking up all his finances, and Fulham.  Sad to say, it seems that Arsenal were indirectly responsible for the demise of this team who today we would call a solid middle of the table second division side.

Among the players who had connections with Croydon Common and Arsenal were Arthur Box and Earnie Williamson.  Several Croydon Common players also played for England including Willam Balmer, Harry Hadley, Earnie Williamson and Sam Wolstenhome.

So, to summarise Croydon’s existence, they were Champions of Southern League Division 2 in 1909 and again 1914.

Here’s the details of their Southern League history, followed by their FA Cup history.

SEASON    LEAGUE     P    W    D    L    F    A    P      POS

1907-08   SOUTH-2   18   10    3    5   35   25   23      3/10
1908-09   SOUTH-2   12   10    0    2   67   14   20      1/7
          WEST-1A   12    5    2    5   16   24   12      5/7
1909-10   SOUTH-1   42   13    5   24   52   96   31     21/22
1910-11   SOUTH-2   22   11    3    8   61   26   25      5/12
1911-12   SOUTH-2   25    8    2   15   43   45   18     11/14
1912-13   SOUTH-2   24   13    4    7   51   29   30      4/13
1913-14   SOUTH-2   30   23    5    2   76   14   51      1/16
1914-15   SOUTH-1   38    9    9   20   47   63   27     19/20


1908-09   4Q    NORTHFLEET UNITED                   A    1-1
          4Qr   NORTHFLEET UNITED                   H    4-3
          5Q    BRADFORD PARK AVENUE                A    2-1
          1     WOOLWICH ARSENAL                    H    1-1    @ Crystal Palace
          1r    WOOLWICH ARSENAL                    A    0-2
1909-10   5Q    LEYTON                              H    0-1
1910-11   5Q    WORKINGTON{1}                       H    3-1
          1     GRIMSBY TOWN                        A    0-3    Ordered to be replayed
          1     GRIMSBY TOWN                        A    1-8
1911-12   5Q    RIPLEY TOWN & ATHLETIC              H    4-1
          1     LEICESTER FOSSE                     H    2-2
          1r    LEICESTER FOSSE                     A    1-6
1912-13   5Q    LUTON TOWN                          H    2-0
          1     WOOLWICH ARSENAL                    H    0-0
          1r    WOOLWICH ARSENAL                    A    1-2
1914-15   6Q    BARNET ALSTON                       H    4-0
          1     OLDHAM ATHLETIC                     H    0-3

http://www.fchd.btinternet.co.uk/indexc.htm F.C.H.D.

Woolwich Arsenal index

Making the Arsenal – the story of 1910

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