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Norris at the Arsenal part 8: July to December 1910. Bad news all round.

by Tony Attwood

Continuing from the last episode we have now got to the point where the new season was almost upon the club.

The directors continued to sort out the debts of the Woolwich Arsenal club which had existed until this summer.   The bank overdraft, and the second mortgage on the ground were repaid and in their place Henry Norris and William Hall personally set up a new loan which was to repaid over 15 years.   This one fact alone should make the doubters of Henry Norris re-think their position, for he took on an enormous risk in doing this.  If the club failed, it was he and his business partner who were legally bound to stump up the money.   As a result of their guarantee the club was no longer in debt.

Also at this time one of the great heroes and founders of the club, Jack Humble reappeared.  He had played for Arsenal reserves in a modest manner in the early days, becoming an adept administrator in the days of the committee, and had been the first ever chairman of Woolwich Arsenal FC upon entering the league in 1893.

He had finally resigned from the club in 1907 after 21 years of service, and was still thought of with much respect in relation to the club.   And now he bought some shares and was installed once again as a director of the club.   My suspicion is that this must have come about from a direct request from Henry Norris, Norris hoping that Humble’s long term association with the club might help persuade people of the validity of Norris’ proposals for the club.  Also at about the same time another shareholder also emerged – George Davis of Maida Vale, whom I suspect was a friend of one of the other directors and brought in for a particular expertise.

Elsewhere the country became consumed with the story of Dr Crippen who was arrested on board the SS Montrose on 31 July after the Metropolitan Police sent a telegraph message to the captain that he was on the ship.  It was said to be the first use of the telegraph in this way.

Back with football, at this time there were clear delineations in terms of how the new season began.  Training resumed on the first monday in August, but there were no pre-season games played in front of paying members of the pubic – the first match of the new season always being played on 1 September (unless it fell on a Sunday).  This curious, rigid arrangement was set down in agreement with the cricketing authorities to avoid too much overlap between the two sports.

Although there were indeed no friendly matches in the build up to the season there were practice games, generally played behind closed doors.  We know of three of these at Craven Cottage between 18 August and 27 August, but have no details of equivalent games at the Manor Ground.  However there certainly would have been such events.

As Sally Davis reveals, on 26 August Henry Norris resumed writing his column in the West London and Fulham Times.  He made no mention of Woolwich Arsenal, which was undoubtedly politically very sensible.  He was after all writing for a Fulham audience.

By this time George Allison had become attached to Woolwich Arsenal as (to use the phrase he uses in his autobiography) the “programme editor and club historian” of Arsenal.  Unfortunately in his autobiography Allison doesn’t tell us exactly when he joined Arsenal but in the third chapter of his book Allison states that he knew both Norris and Hall and calls Norris “one of the most far seeing men I have ever known.  It was he alone who saw the possibility of taking the Woolwich Arsenal club, with all the attractions it could have, away from the obscurity and inaccessibility of Plumstead and putting it somewhere in the heart of London where it would have a chance of receiving better support.”

My guess is that Allison was writing the Woolwich Arsenal matchday programme for probably a year before Norris and Hall came along.  Allison had arrived in London in 1906 to work as the chief sports writer for the Hulton group of newspapers and one night, acting as overnight editor, he saw a story come in that army officers playing in Britain’s polo team had been ordered to return to barracks at once to prepare for  the coronation of the new King, George V.

The Americans took the cancellation of the match as an insult.  With no one else on duty that night, Allison managed to get in touch with Lord Kitchener, who very famously never ever spoke to the press.  Kitchener was apparently at a banquet and copies of the telegrams that Allison had got were passed to him as Allison waited outside.  Kitchener quickly wrote a complete denial of the story while at the meal table, and Allison had his first major scoop.

As a result Allison became an overnight sensation in the world of journalism and was rapidly promoted to be the London correspondent of the New York Herald.  He still however continued to watch Arsenal’s home games in Plumstead.

The coronation of took place in June 1911, which means that places this story probably in the spring of that year, which then suggests Allison was probably involved with Arsenal in a way of being more than a supporter from about 1908.

Given that Norris always used the press as a way of putting his story across, there can be no doubt that the men would have met in the summer of 1910, if not before, and Norris would have immediately understood Allison’s usefulness to him.

Certainly at some stage that summer discussions took place which meant that come the first home match of the new season (1 September 1910 against Manchester United) Allison was writing the programme – whether or not he had been doing it the season before – under the title “Gunners’ Mate”.  He continued his association with Arsenal through his life until his retirement in 1947.

The first match of the new season, sadly, ended in defeat.  15,000 turned up to see Man U win 2-1.  There were three new names in the team Willis Rippon, Alf Common and Edwin Bateup – although Bateup, the goalkeeper, had previously played for Arsenal.

Willis Rippon came from Bristol City in the summer and made only a modest impact on the club, but did manage to score in this match against Man U – his very first game.  Teddy Bateup was obviously a satisfactory goalkeeper as he played every match up to March 10 in this season.

But the sensation – in which we can see the hand of Henry Norris at work – was the signing of Alf Common, for Alf Common was as famous as they get in the world of football – and he was coming to play for Arsenal.

In the season 1904/5 Alf Common had moved from Sunderland to Middlesbrough for £1000 – it was the first ever £1000 transfer and that  was an absolute sensation at the time.  It was such a leap in price, and so unexpected (given that £350 was the going rate for a top player at the time) that there was even an FA investigation into the dealings, although there was nothing wrong with the transaction.

However Middlesbrough FC was then convicted by the FA of paying illegal win-bonuses in the FA Cup to players during 1904 and 1905. None of the players was found guilty but eleven out of the twelve directors were thrown out of football.

At this time there was a maximum wage restriction but it was in disarray as far as the top players were concerned, and the FA felt they needed to regain the power that they had felt was slipping from them ever since Woolwich Arsenal had become a professional club in 1893.  Until that time the FA based in London had seen professionalism as a northern fad which would soon burn itself out, but this clearly was not happening.

So after the £1000 transfer the FA began to argue that  ‘buying and selling players is unsportsmanlike and most objectionable’ and following Alf Common’s transfer they constructed a new rule to take place on 1 January 1908, that transfer fees were to be limited to £350.  It was a rule that Henry Norris declared himself fully in favour of, but overall the clubs had no interest in following the rule and simply ignored it, and eventually it was withdrawn.

Apart from being a footballer Alf Common was also a businessman, and although business was not overtly stated when he came to Woolwich Arsenal in 1910, it is more than likely that he wanted to set something up in London.  Whatever the reason, it was a brilliant move by Norris to bring him in, as after all the upsets and disruptions of the summer, it once more made Arsenal the focal point of football in London, and a club mentioned on the wider stage.   It was also a model which Norris was to use several times again with Arsenal: play to the gallery.

Through the season, Common played either at number 8 or 10 (the two inside forward positions) but in January 1912 he switched to centre forward (number 9) following the long term injury of Chalmers who had been occupying the position.  The move to centre forward was unusual, given that Common was 5 feet 8 inches tall – (the same as Arshavin, whom you may remember).  Worse he was also getting quite tubby.  Even 100 years ago centre forwards tended to be a little taller and a little leaner.

On the following day the West London and Fulham Times carried some negative comments from fans of Fulham while the journalists wrote of the squad being weak and not capable of putting in a bid for promotion.  Henry Norris in his column complained about the unfair way in which the press considered Fulham.

The second day of the season was September 3, with Arsenal drawing away to Bury.  Bury had lost their first match 5-1 away to Manchester City and there had been hope for an Arsenal win, but at least it was a point.  The following Saturday Arsenal played Sheffield United at home, and this time got another draw, this 0-0.   Henry Norris however was at West Bromwich Albion 2 Fulham 1.

For Arsenal although the result was not the win they wanted at least having already lost three key players in the first two games (Gray, Lewis, McDonald) there were no more injuries.  Arsenal were 12th out of 20, and just one point above the bottom placed club.

On 17 September Fulham lost at home 0-1 to Hull City, while Arsenal lost 3-0 away to Aston Villa.  Whichever game Norris went to, he probably wasn’t happy.  On the following Saturday (24 September) the score was 0-0 in a home draw with Sunderland, meaning Arsenal had played five, won none and scored two goals.  It was not going well.

This was the last match for Frank Heppinstall.   In total he made 23 league appearance becoming a regular fixture in the latter half of his first season and the start of his second and final season.  He moved to Stalybridge Celtic and finally Hamilton Academical.

The following Monday (26 September) Arsenal played QPR in the London FA Challenge Cup and did finally manage to score three goals winning 3-0, but the crowd was just 1800.

Now at this point Sally Davis has a mention of a charity match between Fulham and Woolwich  Arsenal on “Mon 25 September”, the result of which was Fulham 2 Woolwich Arsenal 3.  This is clearly an error, not least as 25 September was a Sunday, and football was never played on a Sunday at this time.

There was however a match on Monday 26 away to Fulham which was not a friendly but was for the London PFA Charity Fund which ended with the score noted above 2-3.  The crowd was 2,500.

1 October saw a 0-0 draw with Oldham, and the fourth league game in a row in which the club failed to score.   And indeed even in the next game the goals would not come for the next match on 8 October was a 0-3 away defeat to Bradford City.

On 10 October Arsenal played away to Millwall in the London FA County Cup.  I believe this was the last ever game played at Millwall’s ground on the Isle of Dogs and if so there was no send off for the team – only 3000 being in attendance for a game which had on other occasions secured crowds of 20,000 plus.   Arsenal were however to see the same situation in 1913 when they left Woolwich.  People did not turn up to say goodbye.

Finally however on 15 October there was relief – a 4-1 home win against Blackburn Rovers.  Neave got two, Lewis and Chalmers the other goals.  After eight games Arsenal had a win, four draws and three defeats.  What took the shine off the result however was that Blackburn themselves had no wins up to this point having achieved four defeats and three draws.  Fulham on the other hand had had four defeats and three wins; slightly better than Arsenal but not sensational.

As the nation’s attention was consumed by the trial of Dr Crippen which opened at the Old Bailey on 18 October, Arsenal saw out the month with an away win at Nottingham Forest (2-3) and a home defeat by Manchester City 0-1.  Fulham beat Leeds City 2-1 and drew with Stockport County 1-1.

Also of note was the opening of Millwall’s new ground at New Cross.  It was said that the ground was the most up to date in London, for although Chelsea’s sprawling terraces could cater for massive crowds, Millwall had focused on having bigger stands and more seats.  The ground was opened on 22 October by Lord Kinnaird, President of the FA.

All the evidence that we have was that Henry Norris was now willing to let Arsenal play, and see what happened.  Millwall had moved grounds across the river with much success, but both of Norris’ clubs were having seasons that could hardly be described as successful.   Meanwhile the country was in turmoil with violent clashes between striking miners and the police in south Wales and between suffragettes and the police outside Parliament – an event which led to condemnation of the police for their use of extreme levels of force against the women protesters, and their apparent encouragement (or at least allowance) of the mob to join in.

The only diversion came with the hanging of Dr Crippen on 23 November, but the suffragettes kept up their momentum when suffragist Hugh Franklin attempted to whip Winston Churchill (the home secretary, and thus the person directly responsible for the government’s response to the suffragettes) on a train.

During the month all the London mayors ended their year in office, and could if they wished, stand again for election by their local council.  Henry Norris did just this and on 9 November was elected as major of Fulham, for a second year.

For the first two matches in November Arsenal suffered an away defeat to Everton (2-0) and then gained a home win over Sheffield Wednesday 1-0.  Their form was improving a little.  Meanwhile Fulham beat Derby and lost to Barnsley.

Arsenal were thus not in as much trouble as they had been, but they were not doing particularly well, and rumours had once more circulated that just as Millwall had moved, so Arsenal would move out at the end of the season.   As a result of this on Friday 18 November 1910 George Leavey had an article published in the Kentish Independent to say that Arsenal would not be leaving the area at the end of the season, this of course in accordance with the agreement he had with Norris.

Unfortunately results would just not go the way of Henry Norris and William Hall and on 26 November Arsenal lost 1-2 to Newcastle at home.  It was not a particularity helpful result as Fulham lost 5-1 away to Wolverhampton.   William Hall and Henry Norris were both at the Manor Ground where a prospectus for a new share issue in Woolwich Football and Athletic Company Limited was given to everyone in the crowd.

Enclosed with the prospectus was a letter from Henry Norris, on behalf of the directors.  It stated that the share issue was a chance for local people to buy back their club; and that Hall and Norris wanted to lessen their financial involvement in it.  It ended by saying that if the shares on offer weren’t bought, it would be inevitable that the club would leave Woolwich.

In one sense it was a very fair and clear statement by the owners.  The problem was however that outside of churches people by and large don’t like to be told what to do.

The month ended with a most curious transfer recorded as taking place on 30 November 1910.  For on this date the records show that Thomas Winship of Woolwich Arsenal was sold to Wallsend Park Villa.  And yet shortly after he returned to Arsenal and carried on playing for them.  Arsenal appear to have retained his registration, and the matter was not fully settled until 1925.

However Norris never seems to have been that good at PR, and clearly he didn’t learn a lesson as on the following friday the share prospectus was published in the Kentish Independent.

The following day Arsenal were away to Tottenham and lost 1-3. It was the fourth game in a row that the club had scored one goal, and the fourth game in a row in which the goal was scored by Chalmers.  He went on to score 15 in the season and was Arsenal’s top scorer.

The crowd was a disappointing 16,000, probably because neither team was doing very well.  Tottenham had won four drawn four and lost eight thus far in the league.  At least there was a moment of good news for Hall and Norris; at Craven Cottage it ended Fulham 1 Chelsea 0.

On the following Monday it was the final of the FA Challenge Cup which we have seen Arsenal get knocked out of, by Millwall.  There was more disappointment for Norris and Hall as Tottenham beat Fulham 2-1 at Stamford Bridge.

At this time, the second general election of the year was started.  The first election of the year had been in January and had led to the new Liberal Government passing a budget in the Commons which laid out higher taxes on the rich.   The budget was thrown out by the Lords so the government proposed the Parliament Act 1911 which would prevent the House of Lords from permanently blocking legislation.

The election was held over 16 days – and was the last election to be held over more than one day.   The result was Liberals 272; Labour 42; Irish Nationalists 84; Unionists 272.  The Unionists (Conservatives) and the Liberals were exactly equal in the number of seats, but both Labour and the Nationalists would vote for the restriction of the powers of the Lords and for Irish Home Rule. A Home Rule for Ireland bill had also been vetoed by the Lords, and the Liberals determination to stop the Lords from doing this, brought in the Irish vote.  This was also the last general election in which women could not vote.  Women already had the franchise for local elections subject to their social status.

On 10 December Arsenal lost again, this time 0-2 at home to Middlesbrough and it is at this point Sally Davis provides some interesting context, as Allen and Norris attended an auction on 14 December for a farm and bought one of the two plots of land for £21,000.   Clearly the two were still very solvent despite their propping up Arsenal FC.

Further, on the evening of that same day Henry Norris’ friend who ran Football Chat magazine and who was himself a referee – Charles Crisp – was inducted into the freemasons’ lodge in which Norris was most active.  An interesting connection considering what happened with regards to Football Chat.

The next game was scheduled for 17 December but on the day before that there was what became the notorious Houndsditch jewellers robbery in the course of which a group of anarchists shot three policemen.  The majority of the gang escaped but were cornered a couple of weeks later in the Siege of Sidney Street – an event which reverberated through British history and which I shall come to in a moment.

The following day Arsenal lost their fourth match in succession – 4-1 away to Preston, Alf Common scoring his first goal.  It meant Arsenal had won two and lost six of the last eight.

The news around the country was extremely negative for on 21 December the nation learned of the Pretoria Pit disaster in which an underground explosion in Lancashire, killed 344, making it the second worst mining accident in England of all time.

On 22 December Henry Norris probably attended the funeral procession from Liverpool St Station to a service in St Paul’s Cathedral for the policemen shot dead in the Houndsditch jewel robbert noted above.  All the mayors of London were specifically invited.

But of course football continued and on Christmas Eve Arsenal finally managed another win, beating Notts County 2-1.

Christmas Day being a Sunday there were no games, but on Boxing Day Arsenal were away to Manchester United, where the normal form of the season was renewed with a 5-0 defeat.  This was the first game for Thomas Winship – a player who went on to play in the first match at Highbury, and who (much later) was credited with the pass that resulted in the first ever goal scored in the Third Division (North).

Woolwich Arsenal were fifth from bottom of the First Division and the word spread that only 50 of the shares in the recent sale had been sold.

There was one more match to go in the old year: Woolwich Arsenal beat Bury at home 3-2 in front of a crowd of just 7000.  At least the score gave the club a slight uplift.

Norris at the Arsenal

Part 1. How Arsenal fell from grace.

Part 2: heading for liquidation and the first thought of moving elsewhere

Part 3: March and April 1910 – the crisis deepens

Part 4: the proposed mergers with Tottenham and Chelsea.

Part 5: The collapse of Woolwich Arsenal: how the rescue took shape.

Part 6: It’s agreed, Arsenal stay in Plumstead for one (no two) years

Part 7: Completing the takeover and preparing for the new season

 

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