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Henry Norris at the Arsenal 11: 1912 and Arsenal plan to move away from Plumstead

By Tony Attwood

In the last article we reached the transfer of Dick Roose to Arsenal while Arsenal struggled to recapture the form that led to a mid table finish in 1910/11.

The arrival of Dick Roose in 1912 was a masterstroke by Norris, putting Woolwich Arsenal back on the back pages, as it were.  The club’s financial crisis had been dealt with, the club was going to stay in Plumstead (at least for another year) and the club was heading for more mid-table obscurity.  There was in fact, no real news to keep the crowds from drifting away.

Henry Norris knew all about publicity and used the papers as much as he could to gain it for his clubs – and bringing in such a high profile player as Roose was a master stroke.

However it has been suggested in some quarters that this transfer was a clear “instance of conflict of interest” for Norris and Hall as they were both directors of Fulham FC as well as Woolwich Arsenal FC.

The reason for this most serious allegation was that there were rumours of Roose signing for Fulham before he suddenly signed for Arsenal.   Thus Sally Davis argues that Hall and Norris “were therefore guilty of snatching for one of their clubs a player more or less signed by the other.  The most curious aspect of the transaction, for me, is that no one at Fulham FC cried ‘foul!’  If their fellow directors at Fulham FC were furious they didn’t say so in public; nor in private, seeing neither Hall nor Norris was asked to resign.  I can only suppose that the other directors took the snatching away of Roose from under their noses as the ruthlessness of football, and didn’t know until 1927 that he’d been bribed.”

This is a serious allegation, although one that Davis is free to make with impunity given that all the players in the affair have long since passed on.  But I think this view is quite wrong.   There was no bribery for the simple reason that Roose was an amateur and therefore outside of the legislation within football which dictates how much players could be paid.

There was a maximum wage for players who were professionals, but there was no similar legislation for amateurs who were allowed to be paid “expenses.”   As for the official enquiry into Roose’s expenses by the authorities (for which we have no record, only Roose’s own report) Roose claims he made fun of the League by putting in a claim for buying a newspaper to read in games when as a keeper he had nothing to do.  And 2d for nipping off to the toilet on a couple of occasions.  If the League had had rules with which to put the player back in his place they would most certainly have used them.

In fact the amateur regulations had never been touched by the League or the FA because amateurs were considered gentlemen, above the need of money.  And gentlemen could be relied on to behave as gentlemen.  Thus there were no regulations for Roose and Henry Norris to break.  If Norris wanted to pay a signing on fee, as “relocation expenses” he most certainly could.  It would then be up to the authorities to challenge if they were real expenses or not.  If they were, for example because Roose bought a house in London, which I believe he did, then all was fine.

As for the notion that Roose was going to Fulham but was hi-jacked to Arsenal, thus creating a conflict of interest, it seems unlikely that if this notion of Roose to Fulham ever existed it existed as little more than an idea.  Indeed given that Fulham never made any mention of it, and did not object when Roose went to Arsenal, the story was probably just a journalist getting the wrong end of the stick by assuming that the involvement of Norris meant Roose to Fulham not Roose to Arsenal.  Or else it was manipulation of the media by Norris – by no means for the first nor the last time.

Norris would have had no interest in putting up the money to get Roose to Fulham, and with Fulham being a second division club that had nothing like to aura of Arsenal in the public and newspapers’ minds, it is difficult to see that this was going to be a viable notion.

Roose played twice in December – in a 3-1 win over Middlesbrough and a 1-3 defeat away to Notts County.  The home game added 3,000 to the crowd of the previous Manor Ground game which had been against much more prestigious The Wednesday.  Wednesday, already four times champions and regular top 5 finishers were a big draw.  Middlesbrough had won the league in the 19th century, but had finished 16th and 17th in the last two years and had none of the cache of the Wednesday.  The crowd definitely came to see Roose.

Roose’s return in February saw the Arsenal crowd against Bolton rise to 14,000, and this upturn continued for the rest of the season including two crowds of over 15,000 towards the end of the campaign.  The fact that Arsenal’s home crowd average for the season was 11,630 (making them the 22nd most supported club in the Football League, with five second division teams above them in the rankings) showed how valuable Roose was to them and what a clever use of £200 this was.

With a contrary view, Sally Davis argues that Arsenal were stuck in a cycle of “poor performances driving away crowds; less money coming in; less money spent on players; poor team giving poor performances, driving away crowds…”

But as we have already shown, although Arsenal’s crowds had gone down and down until in 1909/10 they dropped by 20%, they were now on the up.   In 1910/11 they were up by almost 11% to an average of 11,525, and in 1911/12 up again to 11,630.  True only a rise of 1%, but nevertheless a rise, at a time when there was huge uncertainty about the club’s future.

What’s more Arsenal’s crowd problems were also to some degree out of Arsenal’s control.  While football attendances overall were on the up (the first division average attendance rising every season from 1899/1900 (9,521) to 1908/09 (16,357)), Arsenal’s attendances varied not only to the success of the club, but also the employment situation at the Royal Ordnance Factories.  Government lay offs could cut Arsenal’s crowd, just as compulsory Saturday afternoon overtime could in times of preparing for war – and with the government completely unable to decide if it needed fewer armaments or more, and indeed where they should be made, their decisions had a direct impact on Arsenal who uniquely could suffer from both downturns and sudden upturns in demand.

What’s more the wholly odd decision to move the torpedo factory from Woolwich to the Clyde added to Arsenal’s problems.  The torpedo factory had long been the heart of Arsenal’s noisy and dedicated support both home and away, and their departure was keenly felt.

But leaving aside such issues, what happened on the pitch also affected the supporters’ mood, not least because every defeat would be whipped up into a mega-tragedy by the anti-Norris faction in the local media – a style and approach of disruptive argument that was utilised with vigour in the latter part of the Arsene Wenger era by the media and the “fans” who turned against the management of the club.

The ten league game run up to and including a home draw with Villa on 6 January 1912 in front of a paltry crowd of 6,000 showed Arsenal having won two, drawn one (the game with Villa) and lost seven.   Worse the defeats included a 5-0 drubbing by Tottenham on Christmas Day in front of 47,000 at White Hart Lane although Arsenal won the return game on Boxing Day with 22,000 in the Manor Ground.

And this Boxing Day match raises another facet about Henry Norris that should never be forgotten.  He was an experimenter who was never afraid to take risks.  The earlier story of the magazine “Football Chat” shows this, as did the situation he engineered at Fulham with the rebuilding of a stand without full permission from the local council.   His view, it seems to me, was that one might lose some gambles, but with some careful planning, one could win more than one lost, and in the end that was what counted.  As we will see later in the story, the move to Highbury was a huge gamble on his part – as indeed was his involvement with Arsenal in the first place – but most of the time he made these gambles work.

So it is not surprising that Norris now tried something different, and here we see the reason why the crowd number for the Tottenham game was below that which might be expected.  He doubled the terrace entrance prices from 6d to 1 shilling.  (2.5p to 5p).  Thus the crowd was down from the 30,000 that might otherwise have shown up, but the income from the game rose from approximately £700 which might have been received at 6d entrance for 30,000 people to around £1000.  A valuable addition to the coffers.

The draw with Villa mentioned above was however something of a turning point and Arsenal now went on an eight match unbeaten run.  Another blip of three defeats and a draw in March was followed by four wins and two defeats in the last six games.

Arsenal finished the season 10th – as per the previous season, but the media were not impressed, despite the fact that these two mid-table finishes had come out of a club that just missed relegation and seemed to be suffering from a terminal decline in support.

What’s more Norris achieved this while the country was affected by a rail strike and a coal strike.  You will have read of the transport problems people had getting to Arsenal – well now it was worse – the trains were often not running at all.

Sally Davis comments that “those supporters who had bothered to turn up for the last home game – a 0-3 defeat by Notts County – [were heard] booing their own team.”  But she misses the point that Arsenal’s crowd had settled around the 10,000 (the actual crowd for the last game of the season) which was no mean feat considering all that was going on around the club.  Against a club that carried no national interest 5,000 was more likely to have been the crowd for the occasion.

And now changes were afoot, although it is doubtful that any Arsenal supporters were aware of just how large these changes were going to be.  As the season ended, George Leavey, the man who had been Arsenal’s benefactor for so many years before the 1910 crisis, finally got his wish and was able to resign from the board of the club.  His resignation letter was published on Tuesday 16 April 1912.

He was a man to whom Arsenal had regularly owed their very survival, and quite where he found the money from the keep the club going over the years has remained a mystery.  But keep it going he had, and he had also brought in the man who could not only continue his fine work, but also take it further.

With Leavey’s resignation the final main barrier to Arsenal moving away from Plumstead at board room level was removed.  The club was Norris’ to do with as he wished.

Around the same time (Friday 26 April 1912) George Morrell, the club’s manager who had been retained by Henry Norris upon his arrival, took the job of manager at Leeds City who had just finished one place from bottom in Division II.  They had survived re-election by the League, although Gainsborough Trinity who had finished bottom had been removed from the league, being replaced by Lincoln City.  It was all a bit of a merry-go-round: Lincoln  had been kicked out of the League in 1911, and now were elected back in.

Henry Norris and William Hall naturally met with their manager – and ultimately persuaded him to stay.  The job at Leeds instead went to Herbert Chapman – something he would undoubtedly regret for the rest of his life, for the normal operation of the club’s directors seems to have had little to do with obeying the rules of the League, and eventually Chapman and others were banned from football for life.   Obviously that ban was eventually overthrown as we shall see later in this series, but not before Chapman had been forced to find other employment.

Then in May Arsenal took part in their second overseas tour, the first having taken place in 1907.  Nine games were played in an 18 day period.  The results were

  • May 11: Hertha Berlin.  Won 5-0
  • May 12: Vicktoria 89.  Drew 2-2
  • May 16: Deutscher Prague.  Won 4-1
  • May 19: Ferencvarosi Torna.  Won 2-1
  • May 22: Grazer AK.  Won 6-0
  • May 24: Tottenham Hotspur (in Vienna).  Won 4-0
  • May 26: Rapid Vienna.  Won 8-2
  • May 27: Wiener Sport Club.  Won 5-0
  • May 29: Sp Vgg Furth.  Won 6-0

Then, upon the return of the club to England, and in a sign of what was to come on 14 June centre-forward Andy Ducat was sold to Aston Villa.   He was Arsenal’s one great player at the time, and was still only 26.  He had remained loyal to the club and had played 175 league games for Arsenal.  It was a disaster for the club – but necessary for the finances, for as a result of the transfer and the club’s overseas tour of Prussia and Austria-Hungary Arsenal actually made a profit.

This decision to sell Ducat makes it appear quite clear that Norris had now decided what was going to happen – he was going to invest every penny he could find in moving Arsenal to a new home.   He had kept the club at Plumstead for two years as he had promised, and since he had obviously not moved the club as yet would be keeping it there for another season – but now he was going to act.

At the AGM of Woolwich Football and Athletic Company Limited, on 26 July 1912, Norris acted as chair and he took the opportunity to tell the audience that crowd figures were too low for the club to be sustainable.  He would also have known that the National Insurance Act which had come into effect 11 days before would add to the club’s financial worries as the club now had to pay an extra tax on the employment of players – money that would go towards their pension should they reach the advanced age of 65 (which at the time the majority would not do).

It was also made clear that no one would replace George Leavey on the board: this was now a Norris appointed board and he was going to keep it that way.

Jack Humble also made a speech – a speech that makes it quite clear that he knew what the future held, for he said that if there was a choice between moving the club and the club dying, then he would vote to move the club.  Given that he had been with Arsenal from the start and had been the first chair of the professional club, running the first AGM of Woolwich Arsenal FC on 22 June 1893, the speech had a major impact.

Indeed that speech by Jack Humble made 19 years, 1 month and four days after he had so proudly declared the launch of Arsenal, the league club, made it utterly clear that for this gallant venture to continue, Arsenal had to move, and that Arsenal would move.

We should also note one other event that spans this period.  At the AGM of the Football League on 3 June 1912 William Hall had applied to be a director of the League.  He didn’t get elected but gained the highest number of votes of those not elected.   Thus when Tom Houghton of Preston North End died in September Hall gained a place on the Football League board, and was the first Arsenal man to do so and indeed was the first and only man from the south of England to do so for many a long year.

Now it is interesting that it was Hall and not Norris who applied for this post – and it suggests a knowledge of how power and committees work on the part of Norris that is generally not allowed for in reports of his life.  But it should not surprise us.  Norris had risen from the most humble beginnings to be a most powerful and wealthy man: mayor of Fulham, mega-property developer, chair of Arsenal and director of Fulham… one did not have such success without being either born into the right sort of family, or having an incredibly astute understanding of how power systems work.

Thus as we shall see, it was not Norris who fought Arsenal’s position in the powerhouse of the League in the two monumental conflicts to come (the right to move to Highbury, and the election of the club to the first division) but Norris’ friend and nominee, Hall.

The Henry Norris Files

Section 1 – 1910.

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

Part 8: July to December 1910. Bad news all round.

Section 2 – 1911

Henry Norris at the Arsenal part 9: 1911 – Arsenal escape relegation.

Henry Norris at the Arsenal part 10: the summer and autumn of 1911

 

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