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April 1915: New revelations concerning perhaps the most important month in Arsenal’s history

By Tony Attwood

As we have seen in previous chapters, Arsenal’s challenge for promotion to the first division in 1914/15 had more or less faded away through February and March 1915, and with April 1915 being, it was now agreed, the last month of professional football, until the end of the war, one might have expected for things to be winding down.

Except as we have also seen, crowd numbers were on the up, possibly as a reaction to the fact that it might be a while before there was any more professional football to see.  And except also for an event which occurred on 2 April which had a profound impact on Arsenal – even though they were not involved in the game in question.

Now, if you already know what I am going to talk about, in relation to Liverpool and Chelsea, I would urge you still to read on, because I’m going to add in another ingredient which I believe is both fundamentally important to what happen subsequently, but also has either not be picked up by other historians who have looked at this topic – or where it has been mentioned its importance has not been fully grasped.

Prior to 2 April 1915 the first division table (which obviously did not concern Arsenal too much as they were in the second division) looked like this

Pos Team Pld W D L GF GA GAvg Pts
1 Oldham Athletic 31 15 9 7 64 48 1.333 39
2 Manchester City 31 14 10 7 43 31 1.387 38
3 Sheffield Wednesday 33 13 12 8 56 48 1.167 38
4 Everton 31 15 7 9 66 40 1.650 37
5 Blackburn Rovers 31 15 7 9 69 49 1.408 37
6 Sunderland 31 16 3 12 69 61 1.131 35
7 Sheffield United 29 12 10 7 38 28 1.357 34
8 Bradford City 30 11 12 7 49 37 1.324 34
9 West Bromwich Albion 32 12 10 10 39 31 1.258 34
10 Bradford Park Avenue 30 14 6 10 50 52 0.962 34
11 Middlesbrough 32 11 10 11 52 62 0.839 32
12 Burnley 30 12 5 13 48 42 1.143 29
13 Liverpool 31 10 8 13 52 63 0.825 28
14 Aston Villa 30 10 8 12 47 61 0.770 28
15 Bolton Wanderers 32 9 6 17 60 76 0.789 24
16 Tottenham Hotspur 32 7 10 15 49 75 0.653 24
17 Newcastle United 29 8 7 14 36 40 0.900 23
18 Manchester United 30 6 11 13 37 48 0.771 23
19 Notts County 32 6 11 15 33 52 0.635 23
20 Chelsea 29 5 12 12 36 49 0.735 22

On 2nd April, 1915, (Good Friday) Manchester Utd, played Liverpool and beat them 2-0.  If you consult the table above this might be a bit of a surprise – and at the time those who really followed football saw it as a bigger surprise, because it was only their third win in the last ten.  In fact in retrospect it was an even bigger turn up because Man U then failed to win any of their next five games (drawing one, losing the rest) conceding 11 and scoring five.  It was in fact one hell of an oddity.

But what really raised an interest in the matter was that the bookmakers immediately announced that they had taken a great deal of money on the 7-1 odds offered on a 2-0 United victory.

As we all know bookies of course never like to pay out and so they started to spread the word that the match had been fixed.  Apart from the range of bets their other evidence was that Liverpool missed a penalty and Man U were of course fighting relegation.  That one game didn’t mean they were certain to stay up, but it certainly gave them hope.

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 help get Manchester out of relegation.

So great was the furore and because there were mutterings that at this time of war, stories of corruption were deemed to undermine morale, the FA felt obliged to enquire into the matter and in December 1915 concluded that “a considerable amount of money changed hands by betting on the match and… some of the players profited thereby.”

Three Man U players – including two who were not playing – and a number of Liverpool players were banned them all for life – but with the caveat that if the men joined the army they would not be punished.  All the men signed up (although they would have been called up when conscription started anyway) but Enoch West continued to contest the sentence.  He did not have his ban lifted until he was 59 years old.

The case was left with a number of anomalies however.  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.

Second neither club received any punishment at all – which was bizarre given that Manchester United benefited greatly by not being relegated at the end of the season – Chelsea and Tottenham going down.

There the matter rested until the summer of 1919 when the authorities prepared to start up football game.   They were of course aware of the continuing rumbles of discontent – the player Enoch West was still fighting them and running a libel case against them, while Chelsea and Tottenham were claiming that at the very least Manchester United should be thrown out of the League, and that Liverpool should be demoted.

Now this story has been quite widely told over the years, although not always in the fullest detail, but we can now add something else by returning to a matter that was mentioned in the article in this series relating to April 1913 – just two years before.  That article is titled Arsenal relegated amidst allegations of match fixing and in it we reported that…

On Easter Monday 1913 Henry Norris, having a holiday break in Lancashire, went to Anfield and saw the match which ended Liverpool 1 Chelsea 2, a result which meant that the brief flame of hope of Arsenal’s survival in the first division was extinguished.  Arsenal were, as a result of this match almost certain to go down although Norris himself would never let anything he was involved in go down without a fight.

To see the implication of this event, which happened just on two years before the notorious and infamous Manchester Utd v Liverpool game, we now need to have a look at the 1913 league table at the time of that match

Pos Team Pld W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 Sunderland 32 20 3 9 70 37 1.892 43
2 Aston Villa 32 16 10 6 73 41 1.780 42
3 Sheffield Wednesday 32 18 6 8 57 44 1.295 42
4 Bolton Wanderers 32 15 9 8 55 48 1.146 39
5 Manchester United 31 16 6 9 60 38 1.579 38
6 Manchester City 33 17 4 12 46 31 1.484 38
7 Blackburn Rovers 32 13 10 9 64 37 1.730 36
8 Oldham Athletic 31 12 12 7 41 45 0.911 36
9 West Bromwich Albion 32 12 10 10 51 41 1.244 34
10 Derby County 33 14 6 13 57 61 0.934 34
11 Everton 32 14 5 13 41 43 0.953 33
12 Liverpool 34 14 5 15 51 63 0.810 33
13 Bradford City 31 9 11 11 42 45 0.933 29
14 Newcastle United 31 11 6 14 40 39 1.026 28
15 Middlesbrough 31 11 6 14 52 61 0.852 28
16 Sheffield United 33 11 6 16 49 62 0.790 28
17 Tottenham Hotspur 32 11 4 17 41 63 0.651 26
18 Chelsea 33 8 6 19 40 62 0.645 22
19 Notts County 32 6 6 20 23 48 0.479 18
20 Woolwich Arsenal 33 3 9 21 20 64 0.313 15

Chelsea were four points ahead of Notts County, so not in desperate danger, but there were still five or six matches to go and Chelsea had just lost three in a row.  So they had every reason to try and get a win one way or another.  What’s more, after this unexpected victory Chelsea went on to lose the next two games – 1-6 at home to Blackburn and 1-3  away to Derby.  That victory over the solidly mid-table Liverpool was clearly odd.

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.  They then seriously warned Norris about making any further allegations of this type, and suggested that directors of clubs most certainly did not go around denouncing other clubs.  One more outburst and he could be banned from football.

In essence they were calling Norris out – suggesting that in his desire to get Woolwich Arsenal off the bottom of the league he was maliciously libelling Chelsea and Liverpool.

But now here, two years later, in very similar circumstances there was another match fixing scandal brewing, once more involving mid-table Liverpool who were accused of having players who would fix a match if the money was right.

Henry Norris had let the issue of the 1913 match go – he was ordered to drop the matter and, without any evidence to support his accusations, he did.  But now in 1915, with the bookies reporting on lots of money being bet on a result which once again did not affect mid-table Liverpool, the accusations against Liverpool as a club that fixed games could not be swept under the carpet by the League, and they had to look into the matter.

Now what did Henry Norris do?   I want to be quite clear that from this point on I am drawing implications.  We know there was alleged match fixing in 1913 and proven match fixing in 1915 and that after lobbying Arsenal were elected to the first division in 1919.  We also know that the whole process of that election was perfectly straightforward and above board – Andy Kelly’s exhaustive analysis of the events in 1919 show this. Indeed if you have not read this piece I would recommend it, complete as it is with newspaper commentaries at the time.

But I believe we can now add one other likely element to the situation in 1915.  For the second time in three seasons Liverpool were accused of match fixing in almost identical circumstances and on this second occasion they were proven guilty.   Norris had been seriously attacked and warned over his 1913 commentary, but it was surely this article which had in part at least alerted the bookies to be wary of anything odd happening with Liverpool.

Norris would surely have reminded the League how he had been reprimanded in 1913, and how “curious” to say the least it was that it was Liverpool implicated in match fixing for a second time in three years. I think he would have at least “reminded” the League that he had let that issue go in 1913, but that if the League had properly investigated the matter then, the match fixing of 1915 could have avoided.

Most certainly, if absolutely nothing else, Norris enhanced his case for Arsenal to be in First Division in 1919, because he had shown himself to be a vigilant viewer of the game, unafraid to speak out when he saw corruption.  And of course if matters were not going to be investigated he would not be bullied into keeping quiet about 1913.   One can only imagine what he was thinking as the story about Liverpool and Manchester Utd match fixing started to spread through all the papers around Easter 1915.

Of course none of this would now be played out until 1919, as the League began to get itself back together in the aftermath of war.   And in 1915 while Liverpool and Manchester United were busy fixing a first division match, on 2 April 1915 the result elsewhere on this Good Friday was Hull 1 Arsenal 0.  Arsenal’s poor run thus continued, this was the third defeat in a row without Arsenal scoring, and one win and five defeats in the last six games with just two goals scored.

This was also the last game for George Grant with Arsenal – a truly local player who was born in Plumstead.

Next on 3 April 1915 Thomas Winship also played his last game for the club – the result was Bristol C 1 Arsenal 1.  Winship gained a certain amount of fame after the war when he played for Darlington and put over the cross for the first ever goal scored in the third division north.

The last of the three Easter games was on April 5, when finally, after three defeats and a draw Arsenal gained a victory – 1-0 over Barnsley in front of a 15,000 crowd.  Clearly the effect of the announcement of the end of football for the duration was continuing to have an impact on those wishing to catch the last few games before the cessation.

Away from football, at this time the War Office was once more writing to all the mayors of London boroughs, suggesting that they redouble their efforts to raise a troop of volunteers from the young men in their borough.  In this regard Norris hardly needed reminding.  Not only had he been the made to come up with the idea of the Footballers Battalion, but between 1878 and 1896 he had served in just such a volunteer militia: the 3rd Middlesex Artillery Volunteers Corps.  

So when the War Office suggested Norris raise just such an artillery brigade he not only did this, but, according to Sally Davis, “paid all the expenses of the recruiting drive out of his own pocket, at least for the first brigade that he formed.”  It was this work in particular that led to Henry Norris becoming Sir Henry Norris.

On 10 April, Arsenal won again, a 3-1 home victory over Bury with 12,000 in the ground.  It was the first time that Arsenal had won two games in a row since February 6.  In the following two weeks there was then a further London-wide recruitment campaign, supported by the mayors to convince yet more young men to sign up.

Around this time (the date we have in previous articles is 19 April) George Morrell resigned as manager of the club, knowing undoubtedly that all staff were going to be laid off after the final match of the season on 24 April.  This was not a move unique to Arsenal – all clubs did the same thing, as they now had no league or cup to play in and more and more of their players were signing up to the armed forces.

I say “at some point” because it is possible that Morrell left before the Preston game on 17 April, but I have no way of being absolutely certain.  What we do know is that he went back to Scotland (he had previously been secretary of the reserves of Rangers FC, and Manager of Morton, from August 1904 to January 1908.

I’m not sure exactly why he left before the end of the season, nor what he did immediately after his departure, but with football continuing in Scotland we can say for sure that he was manager of Third Lanark from 18 August 1917 to April 30 1921.

And so, on or around 19 April 1915 the Arsenal players and staff were told they were being relieved of their duties after the final game the following saturday.  On the same day Athletic News said that The Arsenal Football and Athletic Company Limited were £5000 in debt.

And so we come to the final day of the 1914/15 season on 24 April which ended 7-0 to The Arsenal with Punch McEwen as manager, in a victory over Nottingham Forest.  The crowd was recorded as 10,000,  and Sally Davis reports this included a group of wounded soldiers undergoing treatment at the Great Northern Hospital on Holloway Road.

It was also the last game for Joseph Lievesley, and Percy Sands.  Harry King scored four goals to make it four hattricks in the season – a record.  He got 26 goals in 37 league games in the season – another record.

The final league table was famously printed wrongly for some reason at the time with Arsenal shown as sixth not fifth, but a later analysis with goal average corrected (which was never printed in the newspapers at the time) shows that Arsenal clearly had a better goal average than Birmingham or Hull.  I wonder how many other occasions we had the League table printed wrongly.

Pos Team Pld W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 Derby County 38 23 7 8 71 33 2.152 53
2 Preston North End 38 20 10 8 61 42 1.452 50
3 Barnsley 38 22 3 13 51 51 1.000 47
4 Wolverhampton Wanderers 38 19 7 12 77 52 1.481 45
5 Arsenal 38 19 5 14 69 41 1.683 43
6 Birmingham City 38 17 9 12 62 39 1.590 43
7 Hull City 38 19 5 14 65 54 1.204 43
8 Huddersfield Town 38 17 8 13 61 42 1.452 42
9 Leyton Orient 38 16 9 13 50 48 1.042 41
10 Blackpool 38 17 5 16 58 57 1.018 39
11 Bury 38 15 8 15 61 56 1.089 38
12 Fulham 38 15 7 16 53 47 1.128 37
13 Bristol City 38 15 7 16 62 56 1.107 37
14 Stockport County 38 15 7 16 54 60 0.900 37
15 Leeds City 38 14 4 20 65 64 1.016 32
16 Lincoln City 38 11 9 18 46 65 0.708 31
17 Grimsby Town 38 11 9 18 48 76 0.632 31
18 Nottingham Forest 38 10 9 19 43 77 0.558 29
19 Leicester Fosse 38 10 4 24 47 88 0.534 24
20 Glossop North End 38 6 6 26 31 87 0.356 18

Immediately the season finished Charlie Buchan did finally manage to volunteer, and went into the Grenadier Guards serving at the Somme, Cambrai and Passchendaele amazingly without being injured.

Two days after the final round of matches in the League on 26 April 1915 a Footballers Battalion XI played the Sportsmen’s Battalion was played at Craven Cottage.

Here are the matches for the month – all in the Second Division.

Date Game Res Score Crowd
02 Apr 1915 Hull City v Arsenal L 1-0 8000
03 Apr 1915 Bristol City v Arsenal D 1-1 7000
05 Apr 1915 Arsenal v Barnsley W 1-0 15000
10 Apr 1915 Arsenal v Bury W 3-1 12000
17 Apr 1915 Preston North End v Arsenal L 3-0 14000
24 Apr 1915 Arsenal v Nottingham Forest W 7-0 10000

As far as I can tell, nothing had been worked out in terms of any sort of wartime football competition at this point, but organisation did occur quickly, with the first wartime league starting up on 4 September with a match between Arsenal and Tottenham.

Thus even with the League now closed, there is still a story to tell and we’ll continue with this next time.

The Henry Norris FilesSection 1 – 1910.

Section 2 – 1911

Section 3 – 1912/13

Section 4 – 1913: taking on Highbury and the start of the new season

Section 5 – 1914

Section 6 – 1915

 

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