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By Tony Attwood
The name Fred Pagnam hardly rings loud around the history of Arsenal, and yet he played a most influential part in helping us unravel the history of the club.
Fred was born on September 4, 1891, in Lancashire, and played initially for Blackpool Wednesday and Southport Central. His move into the big time came in 1914 with a transfer to Liverpool, going on to become Liverpool’s top scorer that season with 26 (including we may note in passing, and without any bias, four against Tottenham H).
Fred was thus at the club when the match fixing scandal of 1915 occurred, which resulted in Chelsea being one from bottom in the final league table, and thus due for relegation.
Wikipedia claims that Fred Pagnam “refused to take part in the conspiracy and even threatened to score a goal to ruin the prearranged result” and reports that Fred testified against his own team mates – which obviously did nothing for his long term future at Liverpool. (Wiki claims that this was a betting scam, but in fact the key point was the issue of relegation from the first division – as subsequent events show).
The Football League met in the summer of 1919 ready for the return of the league after the war, and by general agreement, Chelsea were spared and stayed up, although Liverpool and Man U (the other team involved) were given no punishment whatsoever, because of the time that had passed, and of course out of respect for the many players who had served their country with honour during the war.
Pagnam was still at Liverpool when football resumed, but transferred to Arsenal in October 1919, making his debut on October 25. The following season he went on to become the top scorer, but in the 1920/1 season he was sold to Cardiff City.
And it is these transfers that make Fred such an interesting character for our study of Arsenal in the early 20th century, and the approach to football of Lt Col Sir Henry Norris who was chairman at the time.
Fred was transferred to Arsenal for £1500, and left Arsenal for Cardiff for £3000. He played 53 times and scored 27 goals.
Now we must remember that Knighton, the manager at Arsenal at the time, was quite clear in his autobiography, which has been quoted here at such length, that Sir Henry refused to pay anything over £1000 for a player. And yet here was the club doing a Wenger (if I may put it like that) – buying a player, improving him, selling him for a profit.
There is no doubt that Arsenal were in financial difficulties, because they had suffered extensively in the first world war – and indeed had only moved to the newly built Arsenal Stadium in Highbury in 1913. Sir Henry had put his personal fortune on the line in securing that lease and in getting the stadium built, and although wealthy his wealth was not infinite.
But the issues around the £1000 max story don’t add up (you may recall our earlier coverage of the claim by Knighton that he was so desperate that he signed up a relative of the club doctor and had him playing for the team. It turns out that the player in question was a player of stature and significance who played for the Football League in a representative match).
The fact that Arsenal did good business out of Pagnam is further shown by the fact that he only stayed one season and Cardiff, and moved on to Watford of the 3rd Division South in December 1921. Clearly Cardiff had overpaid, and Arsenal made a good profit.
To complete the story of Fred, he was a regular scorer for Watford, and then became their manager for three years, before going on to coach Galatasaray, the Turkey national team, as well as in Holland. He worked for several Dutch clubs, married a Dutch lady and only returned to the UK at the outbreak of war in 1939.
So what we have here is another Knighton story that really doesn’t fit. Fred Pagnam was an interesting and good quality player, but Knighton skips over him in the book because he doesn’t quite fit the facts. Knighton presents us with himself as a manager who has nothing going for him, working for an insane chairman, whereas the whole story of Fred Pagman shows clear management, no arbitrary limit and a good sense of when to sell a player at over the price he was worth.
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