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Norris breaks free, transfer fees spiral, terrorism returns, fixtures look awful. Arsenal – Summer of 1922.

By Tony Attwood


This article covers the summer of 1922.  There is an index to the main articles in the series covering the most controversial elements of Sir Henry Norris’ time at Arsenal at the foot of the page.  The full index to the articles in this series appears on the page Henry Norris at the Arsenal.


 

On 5 June 1922 an interview with Sir Henry Norris appeared in the prestigious football journal, Athletic News – the first interview with him, I believe, since the mass coverage he had gained during the making of arrangements to resume football and expand the football league in 1919 – the meetings that resulted in Arsenal’s election to the first division.

A key theme in the interview was the question of transfer fees which were once more on the rise.  It was an appropriate time to hold such a debate since the summer of 1922 was a summer dominated by questions of money, both inside and outside of football.  It was also, incidentally, the time when Sir Henry finally made his position vis a vis his political life and his work in Fulham absolutely clear: he was pulling it to a close and cutting his ties with the London Borough.

But let us start with football finances.   In the pre-war era transfer fees had been rising inexorably until the record for the era was achieved in February 1914.

Obviously the war put a stop to this rise but any thoughts there might have been that the post-war era would see a slow down in this escalation proved short lived.   This chart showing the transfers that broke previous records in the pre- and post-war eras reveals exactly what was going on.

Date Player From To Fee Increase
Feb 1914 Percy Dawson Hearts Blackburn R £2,500
Dec1920 David Mercer   Hull City Sheffield Utd £4,500 80%
Feb1922 Syd Puddefoot West Ham Utd Falkirk £5,000 11%
Mar 1922 Warney Cresswell South Shields Sunderland £5,500 10%

Now as we have noted before the treasury had already seen football as a source of revenue, particularly with the tax introduced on 15 May 1916 with what was popularly known as the Entertainment Tax (technically  Finance (New Duties) Act ss1-2 and the Finance Act s12).  This was we have noted before was an early precursor of Purchase Tax (introduced in the second world war) and VAT (1973).

Although the tax was supposed to be a temporary wartime tax, post-war it was only amended, but not abolished.  The taxation rate was not smooth across all costs but roughly speaking (as noted in a more detailed account of this matter in the chapter on March to May 1916 ) it was either 25% or 50% added on to the cost of entering a match.

Having been introducing taxation at ever higher levels in an ad hoc manner throughout the war Parliament attempted over a long period of time to consolidate the vast number of pieces of income tax legislation into a single Act, but this approach failed and was abandoned in the era leading up to the second world war.

So we have two issues.  Not only had the post-war to pre-war record transfer increased by 80% and since then in 18 months it had gone up by another 22%, but we had a government on the look out for any new form of taxation it could lay its hands, short of levying taxation upon the wealthy, which it felt would wholly undermine the morale of the country.

As a result it is clear that Sir Henry Norris had begun to wonder about two things – not just the ceaseless increase in transfer fees (which he had tried to rally support for restricting in the past, but without success) but also the tax implications for football clubs.   As things stood transfer fees paid were not taxed as such – indeed they were considered to be allowable expenditure.  In other words, in a very simple model, a club might have an income of £10,000, and spend £9000 on salaries and transfer fees.  It had thus clearly made £1000 profit, and would pay tax on that £1000.

This was an encouragement to pay higher transfer fees to reduce the profit of successful clubs and reduce the losses of the less successful clubs.  But Sir Henry did not put it past the government to change this rule and instead say that transfer fees could not be counted as expenditure.  They were expenditure of course, but not “allowable” expenditure which could be used to reduce the tax the club had to pay.

This interest was not just one that arose from the brain of the sort of astute businessman that Sir Henry was, but also because he had a long history of trying to limit transfer fees.  His view were that transfer fees should be limited to allow the free movement of players, while at the same time removing the maximum wage that players were subjected to.  He expressed in the interview his determination to try and push his point of view once more at the League’s AGM next time around.  He also voted in the House of Commons on 20 June to keep Entertainment Tax, but only in certain circumstances – circumstances which effectively would remove it from being payable on entrance to a football match!  A clever touch.

Next in the summer of 1922, we come to the matter that had been building up for some time; Sir Henry’s future as an MP, as a Conservative, and indeed as a senior figure in Fulham’s politics.  We have seen how he had gradually removed himself from Fulham, by stepping down as Mayor and as a councillor.  Now on 7 June he wrote to the Fulham Conservative Party clarifying his position and stating, once and for all, that not only was he not standing in the next general election, he and his wife were also completely withdrawing from all aspects of public life associated with Fulham.

It is difficult to over-estimate how big a decision this was.  He had first been elected as a councillor to Fulham in 1906 – at the age of 41 – and had been elected by his fellow councillors as Mayor of Fulham just three years later.  I have no records of the meetings that resulted in this, but given what we have discovered of him during the war years, I would suspect it was the same genius for administration that the War Office found and which gave him his rapid rise from a man of no rank to a Lt Colonel.

Sir Henry was now 57 – his life expectancy at birth had been just 38 years, and for those born at this time it was life expectancy was 55 years.  That is not to say he would be expecting to die any time soon, but he would have seen men of his age passing away, and he had just had an illness serious enough to keep him away from Parliament and the Arsenal for much of the early part of the year.  I suspect he was feeling the after effects of that illness, and was possibly aware of his mortality for the first time, and quite possibly had expected to have been treated with more respect in political circles than he was.

He had been lauded both by the great and the good, by the senior military, and by London at large for his work in the war, he had impressed the army’s high command, he had worked tirelessly without pay for Fulham Council both before and during the war years, and yet in political terms he had been rewarded by nothing more than demands from his local party that he pay them increasingly large sums of money out of his own pocket in order to run the local party office.

In football however he still was taken very seriously indeed by the League – as witness the election of Arsenal in 1919.  And yet here was the local political party that he had done so much to support, with meetings night after night until the War Office came calling, telling him what for.

One can’t know of course but it is quite possible that he remembered that phrase from his first days back in the army: “do we salute him or does he salute us?”  By the end of the war when he was in charge of decommissioning conscripts and volunteers no one had any doubt who saluted whom.  All but the most senior of men saluted Sir Henry. But local politics was still local politics – the endless backbiting, sniping and jostling for position.  I really think he’d had enough.

And I suspect as a result of this final break with Fulham he also felt liberated from the ties that bound him to the Conservative Party since his first election as a local councillor, for on occasion he could be found voting against the government.

One such occasion arose in the aftermath of 22 June when it was announced that Irish Republican Army activists had killed Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson MP (a leading opponent of the separation of Ireland into two states) at the front door of his house in Belgravia.

The assassins were later sentenced to death on 18 July but it was in the immediate aftermath of the horror, when Parliament debated a statement by Winston Churchill on British policy in Ireland four days later, the government was defeated in a motion over the handling of the situation in Ireland.  Sir Henry was one of many Conservatives who voted against his own party on this occasion.  Interestingly he repeated the act a few days later when voting on the subject of funding for the civil service.  He knew the value of administrators!

However although Sir Henry was now totally pulling out of politics, and out of Fulham’s affairs, he was not cutting himself off from life beyond the family home, for he was still very active in his role with the Feltmakers company and regularly attending meetings.  And, having taken, with his wife, their decision to cut ties with Fulham he was, I believe, also starting to look both at new places to live, and other things to do with his time.

And if all these changes were not enough to alienate Sir Henry from any more involvement in politics there then exploded the cash for honours scandal.  Rumours that people who were getting public honours such as knighhoods or even peerages not for service to the state and the community, but in return for money had been circulating for years.  But now they arose at a level higher than ever before with the Prime Minister himself implicated, and on 17 July a committee of both houses was set up to investigate the awarding of honours.  Sir Henry had earned his knighthood for his service to the country in raising the Footballers’ Battalion.  He would not have taken kindly to cash for honours, I am certain.

Meawhile, during this political toing and froing there was only one event of consequence at Arsenal – on 11 July Angus McKinnon was transferred to Charlton after 217 appearances for Arsenal across 14 years.  After a short spell at Charlton he joined Wigan Borough who were then under the managership of former Woolwich Arsenal player Charlie Bell before moving on for a final time to New Brighton.  

He had thus played for Woolwich Arsenal, The Arsenal and Arsenal, at both Plumstead and Highbury.  During the war he had served his country as a driver in the Royal Field Artillery, and returned to Arsenal aged 32 in 1919, and was only finally replaced in his favoured position during the 1921/22 just passed by Tom Whittaker.

Otherwise in football matters all seems to have been quiet.  As for the country at large we might note the launch, in July, of the Austin 7 car, one of the most popular cars of all time, and the opening on 17 July of County Hall on the banks of the Thames – the new home of the London County Council (and later the Greater London Council).

As July ended the fixtures for the new season were announced, with Arsenal opening on 26 August with an away game at last season’s champions Liverpool, followed by a home match on the following Monday against Burnley who had finished last season third.   Indeed I suspect the management of the club looked at the fixture list with a certain amount of dread since six of the first eight league games of the new campaign were against the top three clubs from last season, with home and away fixtures against not only Liverpool and Burnley, but also Tottenham Hotspur who had been runners’ up.

Last season, it may be remembered, Arsenal had won but two of their first eight games, something that sent them to near the foot of the table, from which they only escaped at the very last.  It looked as if they were going to be in for another rough ride.

Henry Norris at the Arsenal – the series

Perhaps the most popular element in the Norris story is that of Arsenal’s promotion to the first division in 1919.  The most complete review of this, which puts right the numerous misunderstandings of the events of that year appears, and most importantly cites contemporary articles and reports, such as the minutes of the FA meeting where the promotion was confirmed, and the reports in local papers thereafter, here in these two sets of articles…

There is a full index to the series here.

The preliminaries

The voting and the comments before and after the election

The Second Libel

The Third Allegation

The Fourth Allegation

Did Henry Norris really beg Leslie Knighton to stay and offer him the hugest bonus ever?  And if so, why were there no new players?

The Fifth Story:

The Sixth Allegation

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