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The day Tottenham Hotspur tried to Buy Arsenal
By the last 10 days of March 1910, the financial position of Woolwich Arsenal had reached breaking point.
Dr John Clarke, the head of the local fund raising committee was seen on 20th March going round offering share documents to anyone who would listen in the pubs of Woolwich and Plumstead. The owner up to this point was Mr Leavey, the local gentleman’s outfitter, who had announced that he could support the club no more.
When questioned Dr Clarke refused to talk about the position of Henry Norris in the deal.
Instead he dropped a bombshell. Tottenham were looking to buy into Woolwich Arsenal.
Now I must admit that the historic evidence on this is not great. There is a mention in a couple of newspapers in Tottenham and Wood Green, which is why the story appears in my book, “Making the Arsenal”, but there is nothing official in any of the records, and Tottenham are thoroughly silent on the issue.
But as far as we can work out, Tottenham’s position appeared to be that if Fulham (in the guise of Henry Norris) could attempt to buy Woolwich Arsenal, why couldn’t they? At the time there was no clarity about ownership in football (much like now!), and nothing clearly laid down about one club owning another. Besides which if the FA were to bring something like that in, the ownership could always twist around a bit, and the wives of directors of one club could become directors of another.
Fulham’s plan – or perhaps one should say Norris’ plan – was simple. Buy Woolwich Arsenal FC, move the club to Fulham, and have them play every other saturday at Craven Cottage – thus ensuring that every time Chelsea had a home match, Woolwich would have a home match too. (Norris’ emnity about Chelsea, and the way they bought they way into the League without having played a game was widely known).
But why would Tottenham want to buy Woolwich Arsenal? Certainly not for any local rivalry – there was at the time no thought that Arsenal might move to north London. There was however a rivalry between Woolwich and Tottenham, just as there was between those two clubs and Chelsea. They were the London teams (even though Woolwich was in Kent) and Londoners liked their tribal rivalry even more in 1910, than 100 years later.
Certainly crowds for matches between these three clubs were far higher than any other during the season of 1910 – while the clubs existed on anything from 5,000 to 15,000 the “all London” games would get 30,000 to 50,000.
It has been suggested that Tottenham wanted Woolwich as a club who could nurture young talent, and bring it through – with the best players moving onto Tottenham. This was attractive in that Woolwich Arsenal tended to pick up quite a few players from the armaments factory, and indeed munitions locations across the kingdom. Tottenham had no such links. This – and the desire to warn off Norris from buying the club – were the most likely reasons.
Certainly in 1910 all three London teams were looking likely to go down to the second divsion – and in fact only the poverty of arrangements at Bolton were keeping two of them out of the bottom two through the season.
As we all obviously know, Tottenham taking over Arsenal didn’t happen, but between 21st and 23rd March 100 years ago it was clearly a story that people were talking about.
Tony Attwood is author of “Making the Arsenal” – the story of Arsenal 100 years ago as told through the diaries of a Fleet Street journalist. More details here.
For today’s Arsenal stories, see Untold Arsenal.