By Andrew Beatie
This is primarily the story of George Morrell before he came to be Arsenal manager. He was the only manager who relegated Arsenal, was the manager who was in charge when Arsenal moved to Highbury, and there was only one Arsenal manager after him, before Herbert Chapman. He was, indeed, just one of three long term managers in the history of Woolwich Arsenal.
So, let’s start with a summary…
George Morrell, 1871-1931
- Secretary of the reserves, Rangers FC
- Manager of Morton, 20 August 1904 to January 1908
- Then manager of Arsenal approx 25 January 1908 to 19 April 1915
- Manager of Third Lanark 18 August 1917 to April 30 1921
Apart from their first season in 1900-01, Morton had struggled more or less constantly since joining Division One. In Morrell’s first season they were second bottom of the fourteen-club league.
Fortunately there was no promotion or relegation and with the division expanded to sixteen clubs, they were easily re-elected and Morrell’s Morton moved up to tenth. They were thirteenth the next season in a division that now contained eighteen clubs and were eleventh 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 Arsenal’s finances were in a mess, and the manager’s salary was actually less than that paid to previous managers. They wanted a man experienced in cost cutting.
Here are some of the press notices of the time…
The Manchester Courier. Friday, January 3, 1908. (page 7):
“Mr. Morrell of the Greenock Morton Football Club, was last night appointed manager of the Woolwich Arsenal Club. Previous to going to Greenock Morton, Mr. Morrell was manager (sic) of the Glasgow Rangers Football Club (sic).”
This note (above) is not correct. William Wilton was secretary-manager at Rangers and when the team was no longer picked by committee Wilton would have had full power. Morrell’s capacity was under Wilton. Morrell was (according to Rangers historians and the newspaper snippet below) secretary of the Rangers reserve team and no more than that.
Another newspaper says Morrell was expected to take up duties at Woolwich “a fortnight hence” – that is after the 3rd. Jan., announcement – so mid to late January, 1908.
Evening Telegraph and Post. Friday, January, 3, 1908. (page 3):
“SUCCESSOR TO MR. KELSO”
Greenock Morton Official Appointed.
“Out of a big list of applicants, including quite a number of Scotsmen, the Woolwich Arsenal officials have appointed Mr. George Morrell as manager of the club. Mr. Morrell has for a time acted as secretary and manager of Greenock Morton. Mr. Phil Kelso has resigned at Woolwich Arsenal on account of his taking up business in Scotland. Mr. Waugh, Edinburgh, was on the short leet. It is understood that the final vote lay between Mr. Morrell and Mr. Jack Robson, who was for a time manager at Middlesbrough, and latterly of the Crystal Palace team.”
One newspaper says there were 60 or so applicants to succeed Phil Kelso.
In April, 1908 Morrell travelled to Glasgow with Arsenal’s James Sharp (defender) for the Easter home international matches. ‘Critic’ in the Dundee Courier (April 4 – page 6) was anticipating Sharp to be a fixture at Ibrox next season and that the transfer was expected to take place in time for the Old Firm derby on 25th. April – so there’s another Rangers/Arsenal connection.
The Courier. Monday, April 6, 1908 (page 6):
KEEPING HIS EYE ON SHARP
Mr. George Morrell, manager of Woolwich Arsenal, who accompanied Sharp to Glasgow, kept a careful watch on the player, ready to warn off any suspicious character who had designs on upsetting the Arsenal’s plans for next season. Mr. Morrell was at one time secretary of Rangers reserve team, and still takes a great interest in the affairs of the Ibrox club.”
The Nottingham Evening Post. Thursday, August 27, 1908 (page 8):
“Woolwich Arsenal v Everton.
Mr. Morrell, the Woolwich Arsenal manager, is so satisfied with the form of his men that he has already selected the team to play against Everton next Wednesday. The team will be:- McDonald (goal), Gray, Shaw (backs), Ducat, Sands, McEachrane (half-back), Maxwell, Lewis, Raybould, Satterthwaite, Neave (forwards).”
Moving on just from managerial issues here’s an interesting one on players…
The Courier. Thursday, December 10, 1908 (page 6):
“Greenaway, the young Coatbridge forward, has nearly set the grass on fire at Woolwich Arsenal, where he would seem in peril of being spoiled by praise. He was one of Manager Morrell’s discoveries, and cost the Arsenal next to nothing. Greenaway, being a modest lad, wears the same-sized hat as when he went to Plumstead.”
And moving on to pictures, here we have George Morrell’s Woolwich Arsenal outfit of 1908/09.
George Morrell looks older than the snap of him on the Arsenal Official site. (Perhaps the snap there was from an earlier group shot (Morton?) or it’s been enhanced.)
And a second, rather blurred example
George Morrell at Arsenal is covered in a separate article.