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GCR Books

Arsenal descend to the depths and miraculously rise from the abyss

By Tony Attwood

As we saw in the last episode of “Henry Norris at the Arsenal” that at the end of October 1922 Arsenal were two points away from the bottom two places in the first division, but with a worse goal average than anyone else.

Pos Team P W D L F A GAv Pts
15 Sheffield United 13 4 4 5 12 16 0.750 12
16 Tottenham Hotspur 11 5 1 5 16 18 0.889 11
17 Everton 11 5 0 6 17 22 0.773 10
18 Oldham Athletic 12 4 2 6 15 20 0.750 10
19 Arsenal 13 4 2 7 16 31 0.516 10
20 Cardiff City 12 4 1 7 22 22 1.000 9
21 Preston North End 12 2 4 6 14 24 0.583 8
22 Stoke 13 2 3 8 15 23 0.652 7

While recent results in the League in October (two defeats and a draw) had done nothing to excite the Arsenal supporter of the day, there were at least some distractions in other sphere’s of life.   Radio was expanding rapidly (and with it came the arrival of the radio license fee of ten shillings – worth around £23 today) while on 4 November, Howard Carter the archaeologist found the entrance to King Tutankhamen’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings.   For fans of the Reds reading of that might well have been more exciting than reading about Arsenal!

Meanwhile back home nominations closed for the general election, and despite constant rumours that Sir Henry Norris would stand again for Parliament once more he stayed good to his word and did not seek nomination for a second term.  As expected Vaughan Morgan was selected for the Conservatives for Fulham, and the opposition came from the Liberal and Labour Parties.

In the world of football the month of November opened for Arsenal as October had ended, with a defeat 0-1 away to Everton who before the match were equal on points with Arsenal in the bottom segment of the League.  Toner came in for his first start of the season at outside left, and it was hoped he would have more of an impact having been such a major part of the previous campaign.

This was also Harry White’s last game.  Harry (who had played 11 times at inside right this season) had come to us from Brentford after the war having served in the Royal Fusiliers.  In the first post-war season (our first back in the first division) he was our top scorer with 15, and again in the 1921/2 season when he got 19.  He even had a trial for England.

After leaving Arsenal he had two seasons at Blackpool (70 games, 18 goals), one at Fulham, then it was Walsall, Nelson, Walsall again, Stafford Rangers, and finally back in London playing the short lived Thames Association in the Third Division South.

For the next game, on 11 November Everton came to Highbury and won 2-1, making it four defeats and one draw in five games, and not surprisingly these two most recent defeats had had a catastrophic effect on Arsenal’s league position as they were now bottom, still with by far the worst defence in the League.

Pos Team P W D L F A G.Av Pts
17 Tottenham Hotspur 13 5 2 6 18 22 0.818 12
18 Preston North End 14 4 4 6 17 24 0.708 12
19 Cardiff City 14 4 3 7 23 23 1.000 11
20 Stoke 15 3 4 8 18 24 0.750 10
21 Oldham Athletic 14 4 2 8 15 25 0.600 10
22 Arsenal 15 4 2 9 17 34 0.500 10

Meanwhile analogue technology pushed forward and on 14 November the BBC began radio broadcasts from Radio Station 2LO in London – the station that eventually became the Home Service and then later still Radio 4.

Following the collapse of the coalition government, the anticipated general election was held on 15 November, and the Conservatives won an easy victory, with the Liberals slipping from being the second party and the junior party of the coalition government to the third party.  The Conservatives got 344 seats, Labour 142, Liberal 62, National Liberals 53.

The result in Sir Henry Norris’ old constituency was

Party Candidate Votes %
Conservative & Unionist Kenyon Vaughan-Morgan 13,282 61.5
Labour John Palmer 5,393 35.0
Liberal Maurice Gordon Liverman 2,907 13.5
Majority 7,889 36.5
Turnout 21,582 58.0
Registered electors 37,180
Conservative and Unionist hold Swing −5.2

Meanwhile the BBC  opened up two more stations, one in Birmingham (5IT) and one in Manchester (2ZY)

On 18 November Arsenal played Sunderland away and got a 3-3 draw, having been 0-1 up at half time, but the score, surprising as it was, hides what was a most extraordinary event.  Voysey returned after a gap of four games and played not at centre half – his normal position – but as inside right.  The other goal for Arsenal came from the left back Turnbull playing at… centre forward!

It was the first point after three consecutive defeats, with Arsenal scoring three goals in one game, whereas it had previously taken them five games to get this many.

Despite this upturn five of the eleven who started away to Sunderland were dropped, but the return match saw another couple of goals for Turnbull.  Unfortunately Sunderland got three and thus it was another defeat.  Arsenal remained bottom of the league on 11 points, although above them there were three clubs on the same number of points.

This was also the last game for Arthur Hutchins.  He moved on to Charlton of Division 3 (South) on a free transfer in July 1923, having played 108 games in total and scoring one goal.  He stayed with Charlton for three seasons and then retired for football, but we have no details of his later life.

On 2 December Arsenal had to face Birmingham City away and yet again it was a defeat, once more 2-3 and once more with Voysey and Turnbull playing and scoring.  This meant Voysey had got 3 goals and Turnbull 4 in the last three games.  Unfortunately none of those games had been won, and in fact the last eight games in the League had given Arsenal two draws and six defeats.

This game was Frank Bradshaw’s first game.  He became a pro with Wednesday and won the FA cup with the team before moving to Northampton in 1910, and then Everton, where he played 66 league games and scored 19 goals before coming to Arsenal.

It was also  Andrew Kennedy’s first game.  He must be counted as one of Knighton’s better signings coming from 3rd Division South team Crystal Palace, and at the end of his first season for Arsenal winning two caps for Ireland.

And we should note also that this was Bob John’s second league game as once again he replaced Tom Whittaker at left half.   And this time John kept his place, missing only two games in the rest of the season.

Naturally the press were not impressed and the Times noted in particular that it had been some weeks since any London club in the First Division (Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea) had actually won a game.   Arthur Bourke writing in the local paper and perhaps noting the quality of Bob John (or perhaps he was being sarcastic) suggested that even more reserves should be promoted to the first team, even though the side now had only three members of the original XI in the line up, with one of these (Voysey) now playing completely out of position.

Here is the foot of the First Division table after the 2 December games and Arsenal’s eight without a win.

Pos Club P W D L F A GAv Pts
16 Preston North End 17 5 5 7 24 28 0.857 15
17 Tottenham Hotspur 16 6 3 7 21 25 0.840 15
18 Everton 16 7 1 8 21 27 0.778 15
19 Cardiff City 17 5 3 9 25 26 0.962 13
20 Stoke 17 3 5 9 20 27 0.741 11
21 Arsenal 18 4 3 11 24 43 0.558 11
22 Oldham Athletic 17 4 3 10 18 34 0.529 11

Next up on 9 December Arsenal had the return game against Birmingham City who although having only won one of their away games had thus far drawn five and lost just two.   Arsenal at home had won three, drawn one and lost four.  There was just a chance Arsenal might pull something off.

Continuing his policy of giving a game to every player he could find Knighton now gave a first league game for John “Alex” Mackie – the man who (despite endless stories to the contrary) it seems did not get a pet monkey as a signing on fee (although he may later have bought a pet monkey with his signing on fee money).  And maybe the monkey (if it existed) brought Arsenal luck for the Reds beat Birmingham 1-0 to end a run of 8 without a win.

It was also the first game for Andy Kennedy, having transferred from Crystal Palace for whom he had played just one game.

This match was also notable because it was the start of the pairing of Mackie and Kennedy played at right and left back, and it seemed evident at from the start that Knighton now had a full back partnership that worked.  The two men continued as a apir through every match save one, until the end of the season and with Bob John also establishing himself the club at long last started to stabilise the defence.

Then on 16 December with just three of the original XI from the first day of the season playing and Turnball still at centre forward, the new defenders worked hard to get a 1-1 draw with Huddersfield – and indeed Arsenal could have won the match but for having a goal disallowed for the whole ball not crossing the line.  Rutherford got the goal that was allowed.  Arsenal were now 20th out of 22, although once more we must add that both teams below them still had a game in hand.

But Huddersfield were fifth, which made the draw against them at Highbury all the more memorable, but it meant that for Arsenal there was still some considerable concern ahead of the return match on December 23 – and quite rightly so because even with the new defence Arsenal lost 4-0.   And this meant that despite the upturn of late, the defeat to Huddersfield meant that Arsenal sank back to the foot of the table prior to Christmas…

Pos Club P W D L F A G.Av Pts
17 Preston North End 20 5 6 9 29 35 0.829 16
18 Chelsea 20 5 6 9 20 26 0.769 16
19 Cardiff City 20 6 3 11 30 35 0.857 15
20 Oldham Athletic 20 5 5 10 22 37 0.595 15
21 Stoke 20 4 6 10 24 31 0.774 14
22 Arsenal 21 5 4 12 26 48 0.542 14

On Christmas Day Arsenal played Bolton away – a Bolton team that was not only 9th but also had the best home record in the league thus far, having won 7 drawn 3 and lost nil on their own ground.  So it was not too much of a surprise that the result was Bolton Wanderers 4 Arsenal 1.   The match included an early appearance and a goal for David Jack, who of course later played so wonderfully for Chapman’s Arsenal.

Arsenal had won just one of the last 12 games, and conceded eight goals in the last two so it is perhaps not too surprising that goalkeeper Stephen Dunn lost his place as a result of this match after 44 games.  Indeed as far as we can tell he now left football totally, moving instead into a career in business.  He remains one of Arsenal’s mystery players of whom little is known beyond his period at Arsenal.

This was also the 18th and last game of the season for Clem Voysey – his best run in an Arsenal shirt.  But he was now injured and played no more in the season.  Arsenal were back bottom of the league and all five of the clubs above them had one or two games in hand.

Concerning  the goalkeeper situation Arsenal might have thought of bringing Williamson back – the keeper who had started the season in goal for them this season, and had played 41 of the 42 league games in 1921/2, but instead they turned to their third keeper of the season: Jock Robson.

Jock has gone into the annals of Arsenal as being the shortest ever keeper in the history of the club being just 5 feet 8 inches tall – although of course we have no way of knowing how accurate that statement was.  He had served with the Seaforth Highlanders and post war played for Vale of Leithen, joining Arsenal in November 1921.

At the time it looked like a desperate move – and maybe it was – but Robson had an impact on the team as from here on their fortunes improved, and he went on to play in every remaining league game this season and every game in the following season, plus all but the last two league games of 1924/5.  If he really was just 5 feet 8 inches, it must have had quite a jump.

He came in at a really difficult time with Arsenal having won one game in the last 12 and being bottom of the League, with a desperately awful goal average and having played two games more than the team immediately above them.  And for his first match he had to face the Bolton Wanderers attack who one day before had beaten Arsenal 4-1.

It must seem strange that with this awful record one might say that the defence had however now stabilised itself – but that is the case for after the endless chopping and changing the two full backs and wing halves were regulars.  Graham was injured however and Butler came in at centre half.  Blyth moved from centre half to inside right and Dr Paterson came back at outside left which certainly must have helped.

Thus in all there were three changes from the side that had been beaten one day before 4-1, and the result was… Arsenal beat Bolton 5-0!  Turnbull got four and Blyth the other.    In one match Arsenal had lept up to 20th, one point above Bolton and two above Stoke.

There was one more game before the year’s end – against Stoke City, the bottom club in the league.  It was at home on 30 December.  And for the first time in the season the team remained the same through two consecutive matches.  The result was a 3-0 win to Arsenal with Blyth, Boreham and Turnbull getting the goals.    The correspondent of the Times noted that Arsenal could only play on heavy pitches (Highbury once again being a quagmire).  He might have been right.  It was only the second time in the season Arsenal had won two in a row.

But where in all these ups and downs was Sir Henry Norris?  He wasn’t mentioned in the newspaper reports as being at the club, and Sally Davis has tracked down the fact that he was having a villa built at Villefranche in the south of France, undoubtedly as a response to the illness that took him away from London last winter.

I suspect he was there.  If he was, and was receiving telegrams he probably concluded the telegram operator had indulged a little in the Christmas spirit and got the scores in the last two matches the wrong way around.

Here are the results for November and December 1922.

Date Opposition H/A Res Score Crowd
04/11/1922 Everton A L 0-1 30,000
11/11/1922 Everton H L 1-2 30,000
18/11/1922 Sunderland A D 3-3 15,000
25/11/1922 Sunderland H L 2-3 30,000
02/12/1922 Birmingham A L 2-3 30,000
09/12/1922 Birmingham H W 1-0 30,000
16/12/1922 Huddersfield Town H D 1-1 25,000
23/12/1922 Huddersfield Town A L 0-4 10,000
25/12/1922 Bolton Wanderers A L 1-4 32,000
26/12/1922 Bolton Wanderers H W 5-0 35,000
30/12/1922 Stoke H W 3-0 25,000

To what can we put down these last two scores?   Bolton certainly had a very poor away form in the season having only won one and drawn two of their 11 previous away games, while Stoke’s record was even worse having won one and drawn one.  So yes, the opposition was poor – but that hadn’t always helped Arsenal in the past.

But Arsenal’s defence were clearly getting themselves sorted out through having the same players in the team regularly.  Up front Turnbull on his day knew how to score – that was six goals in the last three games.  Not bad for a player who had started the season as a reserve right, or left, back.

As a result of these final games Arsenal had once more jumped away from the foot of the table, although it was far to early to believe that their troubles were over.

Pos Team P W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 Liverpool 23 16 2 5 48 22 2.182 34
2 Sunderland 22 12 7 3 46 32 1.438 31
3 Huddersfield Town 23 11 7 5 34 18 1.889 29
4 Middlesbrough 23 10 9 4 39 29 1.345 29
5 Manchester City 23 11 6 6 33 29 1.138 28
6 Sheffield United 24 10 7 7 34 30 1.133 27
7 Newcastle United 23 9 8 6 25 19 1.316 26
8 Burnley 23 10 5 8 39 27 1.444 25
9 Bolton Wanderers 24 9 6 9 32 33 0.970 24
10 Aston Villa 23 9 6 8 29 30 0.967 24
11 Blackburn Rovers 22 7 8 7 30 27 1.111 22
12 West Bromwich Albion 23 8 6 9 35 33 1.061 22
13 Tottenham Hotspur 22 9 4 9 27 31 0.871 22
14 Birmingham City 24 6 9 9 23 29 0.793 21
15 Chelsea 23 6 8 9 26 28 0.929 20
16 Everton 22 8 4 10 26 35 0.743 20
17 Preston North End 23 6 7 10 31 37 0.838 19
18 Cardiff City 23 7 4 12 33 38 0.868 18
19 Arsenal 24 7 4 13 35 52 0.673 18
20 Nottingham Forest 24 6 6 12 23 39 0.590 18
21 Oldham Athletic 23 5 5 13 25 44 0.568 15
22 Stoke 22 4 6 12 25 36 0.694 14

The point now was, having got the team sorted out enough to take it up to 19th, could Arsenal take these results further?

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 in this series, 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.

The key articles are outlined below and 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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