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Arsenal at war; Tottenham move out of WHL, Arsenal hit rock bottom. June to Sept 1916.

By Tony Attwood

In the last episodes of this series we saw how the initial war-time leagues in 1915/16 panned out, and how Henry Norris rose to the rank of Captain, taking on full time work with the War Office; a job that had him posted outside of London, and thus away from engagement with Arsenal and Fulham.

But his building company was still active for Sally Davis reports that on 7 June the London Borough of Fulham passed a drainage application from Allen and Norris giving the partnership permission to build 275 Fulham Palace Road.  According to Davis this was the last ever development undertaken by the partnership.  She reports that, “After the war the office … concentrated on collecting rents and doing maintenance work on the properties where Allen and Norris still owned the freehold; and on more conventional estate agent activities, buying and selling properties the partnership had not built.”

In the war June 2016 saw one of the great wartime disasters for the Royal Navy as HMS Hampshire, with Lord Kitchener on board, hit a mine off Orkney and sank.  737 lives were lost.

Back with Henry Norris, according to the original details of his posting Captain Norris was due to be relieved of his duties in Worthing (working with the recruitment teams), but it is not clear from the records (many of which were destroyed subsequently) when he was allowed to return to London at once, although as we shall see he was certainly back in London by mid-September.

Also at some time in the summer (again the date is not recorded – at least not in any records I can find) the clubs involved in the London Combination of 1915/16 got together to consider what to do about 1916/17.  It was clear to everyone that the war was not going to finish any time soon, and even when it did finish, it would take time to demobilise the survivors.  It would thus leave the clubs struggling to get what remained of their squads back together and find new players to replace those who tragically did not return, or returned injured.  All things told, there was obviously a need for another season of the London Combination – and this time one that lasted the whole season through.

14 clubs had played in the second edition of the London Combination which ran from February to March 1916.   And so at some time during the summer of 1916 a new league was constructed, once more of 14 teams.  Croydon Common (who as noted earlier had been in severe financial difficulties even before the war) dropped out and I believe at this point, vanished for good – they certainly did not reappear when the Southern League relaunched in 1919.  For 1916/17 Portsmouth took their place.

The new London league starting in September thus would include

  1. Arsenal
  2. Brentford
  3. Clapton Orient
  4. Crystal Palace
  5. Chelsea
  6. Fulham
  7. Luton
  8. Millwall Athletic
  9. Portsmouth
  10. QPR
  11. Southampton
  12. Tottenham Hotspur
  13. Watford
  14. West Ham United

We have also seen how in 1915/16 the first wartime league was arranged on a classic home/away basis, and this approach was again used.  However this would not give enough games to take the League through to the end of April.

I have no access to any records of plans or discussions by the Combination – if any have survived – but at some point the idea arose of each team playing every other team three times with each then having a final fourth match against one of their opponents, to make the complete 40 week season.

The results show that Arsenal played 12 of the 13 other teams in the League (all except QPR) once in the opening run of games.  The QPR games were organised on 25th and 26th December and a home and away basis – exactly had been the process in the pre-war leagues.

This league system did indeed last all the way through until April, but three games in the final round of matches (the “fourth games”) were not played: Crystal Palace v Luton Town, Queen’s Park Rangers v Watford and Southampton v Crystal Palace.

However even though virtually every game was a London derby crowds were to be down, as we shall see in subsequent articles.  Only four Arsenal games got attendances over 10,000 during the whole 40 week season (two at Highbury, the others at Chelsea and Millwall) and even Chelsea, whose attendances had been much higher than other clubs in the previous season now appeared to be brought back to the level that other clubs had seen the season before.

One other change of note was to occur at sometime in the summer: it was decided Tottenham played its home games away from White Hart Lane.

Now it is often written in histories of wartime football that Tottenham played at Highbury throughout the first world war, but this is far from accurate.  As far as I can see Tottenham played at WHL in the 1915/16 season but for 1916/17 moved out as the ground was requisitioned for wartime requirements.

Certainly Tottenham played Arsenal on 2 December at Highbury, even though the game was designated a home match for Tottenham.  A second match again designated as a home game for Tottenham against Arsenal was scheduled for 6 April 1917, and this was played at Clapton Orient’s ground.

One report on a Tottenham supporters’ site says that WHL was taken over by the War Office as a munitions factory.  Wikipedia says “During the war years, White Hart Lane was taken over by the government and turned into a factory for making gas masks, gunnery and protection equipment.”

Now this Wiki report is inaccurate in so much as it suggests that the closure happened across all the war years, but this was certainly not the case in 1914/15 nor in 1915/16.  Likewise Arsenal.com says in one article, “Tottenham had used Highbury for some of their ‘home’ games during World War One,” which is accurate but it doesn’t make clear that this was not so until 1916/17 and ignores matches played at Clapton’s ground.   A history site “Pastscape”, writing of WHL, says, “During the first World War, the ground was used as a rifle range”.  I’ve looked at some Tottenham supporters’ sites that cover the club’s history, but none has anything that looks like definitive information.

It seems to be a case of take your choice as for the use of the ground, but all the evidence suggests it was open and used for football until the end of the 1915/16 season and after that Tottenham used two grounds for home games: Arsenal and Clapton.

Sally Davis as usual has dug deeper than most and her view is that “In early September 1916 … the War Office requisitioned White Hart Lane… Quite why the Lane was wanted I don’t really know – no other football grounds were taken up by the armed forces in this way – unless it’s because it’s the nearest large, enclosed but open inside space to the Enfield Rifle Factory.  For the next three seasons Spurs played their home games at Highbury (for preference) or Homerton [the Orient’s ground] (if Arsenal were at home as well).”

That of course is not quite right, because the 6 April 1917 match was played at Clapton’s ground, and Arsenal were obviously not at home on that day.  Indeed, at this time, as now, there was the habit to schedule close neighbours not to play at home on the same day.  Leaving aside cup games, if Arsenal are at home then Tottenham is away, and vice versa.  Same with Everton and Liverpool, Birmingham and Aston Villa and so on.

So I don’t think this “if Arsenal were not at home” argument works.  Tottenham chose to play some games at Arsenal and some at Clapton’s ground for reasons that I can’t find.  Maybe Clapton were desperate for some extra money. Maybe Arsenal’s pitch deteriorated (although it would always have had a game every week in the pre-war time since the reserves played at home when the first team were away).

If we could get hold of the Arsenal board minutes for the period, that might help, but thus far, there’s been no success on that front.

As noted before, it is not clear when the arrangements for matches for the second season of the London Combination were agreed, but most likely it was in July or August, and so now we need to return to the progress of the war (in, of course, just the most general outline) and search for the news of Captain Henry Norris, during that period.

1 July was the start of the Battle of the Somme which lasted until November.  There is nothing I can add to what so many others have expressed before me on this most appalling period in human history and I mean no disrespect to the memory of the fallen if I simply pass it by and move on to other matters.  I feel incapable of adding anything to the description of the horrors of that time.

Arsenal’s annual report was published on 1 July showing Henry Norris as being owed £7196 by the club, while Humphreys Ltd (the builders of the main stand) were owed £18087.  It also showed that the club had bought some further properties around the ground, which would later be used to improve the entrances to the ground and as accommodation for staff.

As for Norris himself it appears that he was given some information as to what the footballers’ battalions were doing at the start of July by Lieutenant W H Grant of the Royal Field Artillery, who spoke to the Fulham Chronicle and then (it would seem) to Captain Norris, possibly out of respect for his superior officer involvement in the battalions recruitment.

On 6 July Norris made a speech at the Fulham Tradesmen’s Association (a forerunner of the Chamber of Commerce) fete.  This event suggests that he was now no longer required in Worthing by the War Office, and was free to return to his home.  (This doesn’t mean he was no longer with the War Office – just that he wasn’t on the south coast).

Henry Norris next appears in public on 10 July when Princess Louise, the Princess Royal, colonel-in-chief of the 7th Dragoon Guards (the Princess Royal’s Own), came to Fulham for an opening of a new building in the grounds of Fulham’s board of guardians’ infirmary.  The building was to be used by the military for the duration of the war, and Captain Norris was part of the welcoming party.

On 10 August the official documentary propaganda film The Battle of the Somme was premièred in London. In the first six weeks of general release (from 20 August) 20 million people view it.  However it was withdrawn thereafter as the story began to circulate that the dead bodies in the film were not soldiers acting dead for verisimilitude but rather actual dead soldiers.  Protests were heard from relatives who had already had to suffer the news that the War Office no longer had the capability to return bodies home to their families, thus not allowing them to hold funerals.

2 September however saw one piece of uplifting news as William Leefe-Robinson  became the first pilot to shoot down a German airship over Britain.  It was indeed the first sign that British forces could retaliate in the skies.

On the same day, the new league season began, with Arsenal way to West Ham.  A crowd of 3000 saw West Ham win 2-1.

The 2 September   game was a debut for Arthur Hutchins.  He had played with Croydon Common, who as we have noted failed to make it into this season, and Arsenal picked up his registration.

The second match was held on 9 September, this one at home to Tottenham, with a crowd of 10,000 at Highbury seeing a 1-1 draw.   The third match was a 0-1 away defeat to Crystal Palace on 16 September.

The fact that Henry Norris was now fully back in London and not tied up with War Office work is shown by the fact that on 20 September as Mayor of Fulham he took the chair at the meeting of the Borough Council.

Back on the pitch, Arsenal’s poor form continued as Arsenal now played out a 0-0 home draw against Brenford on 23rd September.  Things were clearly not going well.

Meanwhile in Fulham Captain Norris had to deal with difficulties between the locals and Belgian refugees.  It was the usual story of some ill-informed English people classing all foreigners as being very much suspicious, and in this case the suggestion was that a Belgian refugees club was harbouring Germans.  Since Belgium had been invaded by Germany and the refugees were in London to escape the occupation and persecution, the whole thing was ludicrous, but that never stopped people causing problems.

On Saturday 23rd September Arsenal drew with Brentford 0-0 at Highbury.  The crowd was 6,000.   The next day the German Zepplin LZ76 made a forced landing at Little Wigborough in Essex.  The crew tumbled out of the airship and thus became the first and indeed the only armed enemy personnel to set foot in England during the whole of the 1st world war.

As the final week of the month passed, criticism of the way Fulham council, with its absolute Conservative majority, was being run appears to have been on the increase.  The main complaint was that important issues were not being debated but were going through on the nod.   There was nothing wrong with this in terms of the democracy, and protocol, since the Conservatives had won every seat in Fulham at the final local elections before the war, and thus there was no opposition, but the fact there were protests was a sign of the times.

Finally on 30 September Arsenal were away to Chelsea, and lost 3-0 in front of a crowd of 12,000.   That meant the club had won nil, drawn two and lost three of the opening games of the new season, scoring two goals and conceding seven.

Game Date Opposition Venue Result Score Crowd
1 02/09/1916 West Ham United A L 1-2 3,000
2 09/09/1916 Tottenham Hotspur H D 1-1 10,000
3 16/09/1916 Crystal Palace A L 0-1 3,000
4 23/09/1916 Brentford H D 0-0 6,000
5 30/09/1916 Chelsea A L 0-3 12,000

Arsenal needed a goalscorer – and soon!

The Henry Norris Files Section 1 – 1910.

Section 2 – 1911

Section 3 – 1912

Section 4 – 1913

Section 5 – 1914

Section 6 – 1915

Section 7: – 1916

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