By Tony Attwood
The view of Lt Col Sir Henry Norris that many people have had over the years has been thoroughly negative, influenced by the fact that he was guilty of a technical breaking of the financial rules of football at the time.
From that story a whole imaginary life story emerged, including one fascinating view – that having spent a fortune on moving Arsenal from Plumstead to Highbury, and building a complete new ground for the club, (when he was plain Henry Norris), Sir Henry then refused the manager the chance to make serious transfers. Indeed the story goes that Sir Henry wound up the club’s network of scouts, and placed the firm order that there were to be no transfer fees paid of over £1000.
Now a major rejection of this traditional telling of the tale came with the examination of the story of Dr Jimmy Paterson, which revealed a re-working of the truth of Arsenal’s transfer policy of the early years in the first division that was so outrageous it beggars belief.
The man behind the re-writing of the truth was the manager of Arsenal from 1919 to 1925 was Leslie Knighton, and indeed that was not the first time some of his old tales (all dutifully passed on by commentators on Arsenal’s past who did not dig around for the truth). As a starting point you might like to try The Man Who Wrote Arsenal’s History to Suit Himself.
Now we come to another example of how Knighton really did re-write Arsenal’s history from 1919 to 1925 in the most shocking way. It is the story of Syd Hoar
Sydney Walter Hoar was born on 28 November 1895 near Luton, and started out with Luton, with whom he played until the start of the first world war in 1914.
He then joined the army and served in France before being invalided out after a gas attack. However he did fully recover and returned to play for Luton after the war.
On 22 November 1924: Sidney Hoar was purchased from Luton by Arsenal for £3000 which at the time was a fee that was over half of the then British transfer record.
This was historically an important moment for Arsenal, as it occurred during the in the era which the manager Leslie Knighton categorised in his autobiography as being one in which he was forbidden by Sir Henry Norris from bidding over £1000 for any player. The Jimmy Paterson tale revealed just how at economical with the truth Knighton was in his autobiography – now we find him at it again.
This event, along with a number of others, set the tone for all subsequent commentaries on Sir Henry Norris, very much to his disadvantage. And this despite the fact that even the simplest comparison between the wild claims made by Knighton (in a book written over 20 years after he was sacked as Arsenal manager, having taken the club to within a point of relegation, without any access to Arsenal’s archives) would show that his claims were totally false.
In short, if the allegation that Sir Henry Norris ordered that no player costing over £1000 should be transferred to Arsenal, were true, then Syd Hoar would never have come to the club.
But Syd Hoar did, and made his debut against Cardiff City on 29 November 1924, and went on to make nineteen appearances that season. He also had trials with England but never made it into the first team.
Although he had played on both wings for Luton Syd played more often on the right than the left for Arsenal under Knighton. Even the arrival of Chapman as manager in 1925, and the transfer in of Joe Hulme in 1926 did not stop Syd playing an important part in the team. It is said in some reports that Joe Hulme, who cost much the same as Syd Hoar, and was a tremendous success forced Syd out of the team, but this was not the case.
Indeed it was Hoar’s ability to play on the left and right wings that helped him force himself back in the side towards the end of the season, taking over Sam Haden’s spot on the left wing. Despite an injury in Arsenal’s last game of that season, against Aston Villa, Hoar regained fitness in time to play in the FA Cup Final against Cardiff City; although he had a poor match as Arsenal lost 1-0.
Thus Syd bridged the Knighton and Chapman era, playing 19 league games for Knighton in latter part of his final season of 1924/5, 21 for Chapman in 1925/6 and 16 in the following season.
Syd continued to be a regular on the Arsenal left wing for another season, missing only four games in 1927-28 and scoring nine times. But in the close season, Arsenal signed Welsh international Charlie Jones, and Hoar played only six matches in 1928-29.
Syd played his last game for the club on 2 March 1929: and then left Arsenal in September 1929 for Clapton Orient for a fee of £1,000.
In all, he played 117 matches for Arsenal and scored 18 goals. Syd then played at Orient for one season before retiring in the summer of 1930 at the age of 35.
I don’t have details of what happened to him after that but we do know he died in 1967, at the age of 71.
Thus we can see the truth which is nothing like the story that has been paraded all these years. Sir Henry did allow Knighton to buy players – but the fact was that Knighton’s purchases failed to produce results, and the club was in real danger of sinking back into the second division by the time he left. The page after page of reference in the ceaselessly quoted Knight auto-biography about how he brought the club out of debt carefully ignores the Syd Hoar transfer and utterly misrepresents the Jimmy Patterson story, and we are left with the impression that Sir Henry was the villain of the piece. If Sir Henry did have a fault it was that he appointed Knighton in the first place, and having appointed him, put up with him for far too long.
Syd Hoar was an expensive buy, but he was also a great player and a great servant to the club, and was clearly valued by Chapman as he took over the club. Indeed he was one of the last Knighton players to be replaced by Chapman.
But his purchase shows us once again, just how guilty Knighton was in his autobiography of being so highly economical with the truth.