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Norris at the Arsenal 14: Arsenal relegated amidst allegations of match fixing

By Tony Attwood, with thanks to Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews.

In the previous article in this series we have seen how Henry Norris specifically chose a location for Arsenal in north London that was roughly equidistant from both Tottenham’s and Clapton Orient’s grounds in the belief (based on his experience at Fulham, and his study of crowd sizes) that this would encourage the local press to start writing about local football every day – not just after a match.

And of course he wanted a location that was close to established transport links.

We’ve also seen how Tottenham and Clapton Orient protested – just as Tottenham had protested and voted against Chelsea’s application to join the Southern League in 1905.

The Football League however refused to budge from its position – not because of any pressure brought by Arsenal but because there was nothing in the rules to state that club’s could not move grounds – as the League had already publicly stated.

As a result of Arsenal finally admitting that they would be moving to Gillespie Road the chairmen of Tottenham and the Os tried to raise enough signatures to have an extraordinary meeting of the Football League to discuss the matter, but the clubs would not join with the protest.

This was for one simple reason: by and large the clubs from the midlands and the north of England (the vast majority of the Football League clubs) actually preferred Arsenal near the railway and underground stations in north London.   They could get the train to Kings Cross or Euston, get on the underground and be at the ground in good time.   At the Manor Ground it was oft said that the journey from the north London terminus to the Manor Ground took longer than the journey from Newcastle or Manchester to London.

What’s more, with Arsenal in the north of London, after the game the players could return to their hotel and have a night out in the West End – something that appeared to be very popular among the players from the north – for reasons which we should perhaps pass over at this point.

No one in Plumstead could complain about Norris’ decision to move the club (although of course a few did).  He had promised to keep the club in Plumstead for one year, then extended it to two years, and finally given the club half of a third season south of the Thames before starting the search for a new ground.  Also the paucity of the crowd size could not be fully blamed on the team’s poor performances – as a mid-table first division club Arsenal had gained crowds that were far smaller than those of Chelsea as they alternated between the second division and the first.

Yet there were protests of course, particularly from local traders and some of the pubs that benefited from Woolwich Arsenal in Plumstead.  But since they had done nothing to support the club, other than make a profit from the supporters, they really had no case to make.  As for other football clubs making tentative enquiries about the ground that was to be vacated, Arsenal made it clear that it would not go to a rival Southern League club.  Ultimately the ground was leased to the newly founded amateur club Woolwich FC, which played in the local amateur leagues.

As for the last season south of the river, it wound its way to a sorry end – and even the news from elsewhere was tragic as on 12 March 1913 it was announced that former Arsenal player Jimmy Blair was recorded as having committed suicide aged 27. 

But in mid-March Woolwich Arsenal finally broke their non-winning run and – seeing Chelsea were doing as badly as they always seemed to in the First Division – it looked as if Arsenal might even now stay up at Chelsea’s expense.  This was thus the situation going into the Easter weekend at the end of March 1913,

On Easter Monday Henry Norris, having a holiday break in Lancashire, went to Anfield and saw Liverpool 1 Chelsea 2; and so the brief flame of hope of Arsenal’s survival was extinguished.  Arsenal were now almost certain to go down although Norris himself would never let anything he was involved in go down without a fight.

Thus it was that in his subsequent weekly column in the West London and Fulham Times Norris virtually accused Liverpool and Chelsea fixing the match.  As a result the Football League instituted an enquiry and, of course, exonerated Liverpool.

We obviously don’t have details of the Liverpool-Chelsea game upon which any conclusion can be reached, but… Easter two years on saw another match which Liverpool were involved in, and in which match fixing was most certainly proven to have taken place.

This match was on 2nd April, 1915, (Good Friday) as Manchester Utd played Liverpool and beat them 2-0.

This result was as much a surprise as the Chelsea result two years earlier because Liverpool were solidly mid-table at the time and now it was Manchester United who were heading for division 2.

What caused a furore was that the bookies (who in those days more or less ran football, such was the interest in gambling) said that they had taken a great deal of money on the 7-1 odds offered on a 2-0 United victory.  Worse, they said, Liverpool missed a penalty and as a result of this victory Manchester Utd did not go down.

So the bookies refused to pay up and offered a reward for anyone who could unmask the conspirators.  The Chronicle took up the challenge and eventually blamed corrupt players on both sides of fixing the match both to get some money and to get Manchester out of relegation.

The League held an enquiry and came up with the result in December of that year that “a considerable amount of money changed hands by betting on the match and… some of the players profited thereby.”   They then went after three Man U players – which was odd because only one of the three – Enoch West – played in the game,  along with five Liverpool players, and banned them all for life.

But then they added a caveat.  By the time of the enquiry the War was over a year old and so the League said that if the men joined the army they would not be punished.

All the men signed up (conscription started in January 1916 and at that point those of military age were forced to go anyway, so there was no merit in the escape clause) but Enoch West continued to contest the sentence.  He did not have his ban lifted until he was 59 years old.

However even then the case did not end there (although most histories leave it at that).

There were a number of anomalies.  First, how was it possible to fix a match with an exact score with only one person on the Manchester team being involved?  To be sure of the score, surely you needed more than one person playing for Manchester to be playing in the team and in on the fixing of the game.

Second, the punishment was commuted just as the men would have been called up anyway, was bizarre – it was akin to letting everyone off.

Ultimately neither club received any punishment at all – which was also bizarre given that Manchester United benefited greatly by not being relegated – Chelsea and Tottenham going down instead.

There the matter rested until the summer of 1919 when the authorities prepared to start up football once more – and we shall pick up the story again at that point.  But that episode suggests that there are at least grounds for thinking that Norris’ allegation about the 1913 Liverpool match being fixed certainly had some merit in it.

Meanwhile back in 1913, on 15 March Woolwich Arsenal recorded their last win at Plumstead a 1-0 victory over WBA.  Here’s a report of the game – keep clicking on the cutting to enlarge it to a readable size.


In the remaining eight matches Arsenal gained three draws and suffered five defeats.  And indeed on 21 March the result of Manchester United 2 Arsenal 0 was the start of an eight match run without a win which relegated the club for the first and only time.  After 31 games Arsenal still only had 15 points – as did the other relegation candidate, Notts County.

Back with the move to Highbury, on 4 April 1913 spurred on by Tottenham Hotspur’s objections, the Highbury Defence Committee persuaded Islington Council to push through a vote protesting against Arsenal moving to the Gillespie Road ground.  

Residents were fretting considerably about the thought of football hooligans and thugs coming to their area, and accused football supporters of the most outrageous crimes and behaviour as part of their natural everyday demeanour.   Indeed so strong, and indeed appalling, were the claims that football fans from across the country began to respond to the accusations, and for some time Athletic News was full of denouncements of the residents of Islington.  Whether Islington residents noticed this backlash or not is not recorded, but it certainly did nothing to raise the positive profile of the area.

Islington Council at its April meeting voted to do all it could to stop Arsenal coming to Islington.   Meanwhile, countering the Defence Committee’s petition to the College over the leasing of its land to Woolwich Arsenal FC, local shop keepers retaliated with their own petition welcoming the move as a way of boosting trade.

Back in Plumstead matters meandered on and the fateful day when Arsenal were relegated was 12 April 1913.  That morning the bottom of the First Division table looked like this:

Pld W D L F A Pts GA
17
Tottenham H 35 12 5 18 43 67 29 0.64
18 Chelsea 35 8 6 21 42 71 22 0.59
19 Notts County 35 6 8 21 24 50 20 0.48
20 Arsenal 35 3 10 22 23 70 16 0.33

Back then only the bottom two teams were relegated at the end of the season. Mathematically Arsenal could still stay up but they would have to hope that Chelsea would lose all of their games, as well as having to make up a 20 goal difference.  Not very likely.

Derby County journeyed down to Plumstead hoping to join the long list of teams that had taken points from Woolwich Arsenal that season. The locals were obviously expecting the worst as a meagre 5,591 of them paid to watch the game.

Arsenal’s team was:

H.McDonald

Shaw Fidler

Grant Randall McKinnon

Lewis Flanagan McLaughlan Devine Burrell

Derby led 1-0 at half-time and nailed Arsenal’s coffin well and truly shut a minute into the second-half when they scored a second goal. Charlie Lewis scored a consolation goal after 67 minutes but that was it. The local paper reports of the game agreed that the game had gone the same way as so many Arsenal games at the start of the season – Arsenal having the best chances but not being able to convert them into goals. The final score was 2-1 to Derby.

The First Division table that evening looked this:

Pld W D L F A Pts GA
17
Tottenham H 36 12 5 19 43 68 29 0.63
18 Chelsea 36 9 6 21 43 71 24 0.61
19 Notts County 36 6 9 21 24 50 21 0.48
20 Arsenal 36 3 10 23 24 72 16 0.33

And so it passed that Woolwich Arsenal were relegated. If there was a positive to be gained from the defeat against Derby it was that we weren’t sent down due to the result of the following game – a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane.

That game on 19 April must have been a feisty affair for the directors of the two clubs, with confirmed as being the new neighbours and Tottenham at the head of the list of objectors.  It was also the last game for Hugh Macdonald in his second spell at Arsenal – he moved on to Fulham in November. The goal was scored by George Grant – one of just two goals he scored that season.

Finally 26 April 1913 came along – the last game.  It had been earmarked as Joe Shaw’s benefit game, similar to what we now call a testimonial game. The takings at the gate would be handed over to Joe, with a minimum guaranteed payment of £250. The apathy showed by the locals was typical: only 3,000 paid to get in, generating just £130 in receipts. The directors made up the rest.

At least Arsenal didn’t lose. They managed a 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough. The result left them bottom of the table, where they had been since the beginning of December.

Below is how the Kentish Independent reported the last game as well as a concert in honour of Joe Shaw and news about the move to Highbury. (Click several times on the image to enlarge it)

Kentish Independent 2 May 1913

 

Here is the League Division One table at close of 1912-13 season

Pos Team Pld W D L F A GAvg GD Pts
1 Sunderland 38 25 4 9 86 43 2.000 43 54
2 Aston Villa 38 19 12 7 86 52 1.654 34 50
3 Sheffield Wednesday 38 21 7 10 75 55 1.364 20 49
4 Manchester United 38 19 8 11 69 43 1.605 26 46
5 Blackburn Rovers 38 16 13 9 79 43 1.837 36 45
6 Manchester City 38 18 8 12 53 37 1.432 16 44
7 Derby County 38 17 8 13 69 66 1.045 3 42
8 Bolton Wanderers 38 16 10 12 62 63 0.984 -1 42
9 Oldham Athletic 38 14 14 10 50 55 0.909 -5 42
10 West Bromwich Albion 38 13 12 13 57 50 1.140 7 38
11 Everton 38 15 7 16 48 54 0.889 -6 37
12 Liverpool 38 16 5 17 61 71 0.859 -10 37
13 Bradford City 38 12 11 15 50 60 0.833 -10 35
14 Newcastle United 38 13 8 17 47 47 1.000 0 34
15 Sheffield United 38 14 6 18 56 70 0.800 -14 34
16 Middlesbrough 38 11 10 17 55 69 0.797 -14 32
17 Tottenham Hotspur 38 12 6 20 45 72 0.625 -27 30
18 Chelsea 38 11 6 21 51 73 0.699 -22 28
19 Notts County 38 7 9 22 28 56 0.500 -28 23
20 Woolwich Arsenal 38 3 12 23 26 74 0.351 -48 18

In the next article we’ll look in detail at the choice of Highbury, and the building of the ground.

The Henry Norris Files

Section 1 – 1910.

Section 2 – 1911

Section 3 – 1912/13

2 comments to Norris at the Arsenal 14: Arsenal relegated amidst allegations of match fixing

  • jw1

    These articles are great Tony.
    Really enjoy them– thanks!

    jw1

  • Many thanks JW. I’ve gathered the information, with the help of many others, over a number of years. It is good fun finally to pull everything together. More revelations to come.

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