By Tony Attwood
On 10 March 1919 The Arsenal were elected to the First Division of the Football League. Arsenal has been in the top division ever since.
We have dealt with this issue of Arsenal’s election at great length many times – the most comprehensive article being Andy Kelly’s piece which you can find here Andy even offered a reward for the supply of any evidence that shows that Henry Norris did anything amiss.
The key points about the bribery and corruption story surrounding the election in 1919 are these:
1. The story of who would get the extra place in the top division in 1919 was big, and the newspapers covered it before the event in a big way. Indeed the debate began in Athletics News months before the vote. Not one newspaper we have seen mentioned the possibility of corruption before the vote.
2. The story after the vote was huge, because this was the resumption of the national sport after four terrible years of war. Not one newspaper or magazine that we have found reported the notion of corruption. Most particularly neither Tottenham, nor any of the other clubs who lost in the vote, complained in any way.
3. It is difficult to tell when the story about corruption actually began, but it seems to have been in the 1930s – at least 11 years after the event – and quite possibly later than that. It would be great if anyone can come up with the first report of corruption in 1919.
4. The two clubs who clearly were corrupt in this issue were Liverpool and Manchester United who were found guilty of match fixing.
But now I want to move on to something else. The Arsenal at the end of this season will occupy fourth spot in terms of the number of years in the top division. The rankings at that point will be
- Everton 110 seasons
- Aston Villa 102 seasons
- Liverpool 98 seasons
- Arsenal 96 seasons
- Manchester United 88 seasons
- Manchester City 84 seasons
These numbers are out of a maximum possible of 116 seasons running from 1888/9 to 2012/3.
However they do give something of a false picture because many clubs didn’t enter the league at the start, and those that did automatically are counted as first division, since there was only one division. Arsenal for example, were the first team south of Birmingham to enter the league; they entered in 1893 in the Second Division.
But there is a second, and perhaps more interesting chart. One that records the consecutive number of years that a club has spent in the top division.
At the end of this season the top of that table will be
- Arsenal 94 years since 1919
- Everton 59 years since 1954
- Liverpool 51 years since 1962
- Manchester United 38 years since 1975
- Tottenham H 35 years since 1978
- Aston Villa 25 years since 1988
- Chelsea 24 years since 1989
- Fulham 12 years since 2001
- Manchester City 11 years since 2002
- Wigan 8 years since 2005
- Sunderland 6 years since 2007
Here we can see just how far ahead of the rest of England Arsenal are, and through this chart we are reminded that clubs like Manchester United were in division two as recently as 1975, Tottenham H in 1978, Chelsea in 1989, Manchester C in 2002.
It is perhaps because of this table, as much as the rivalry between Tottenham H and Arsenal that the story that there “must have been” corruption in Arsenal’s election in 1919 has circulated so successfully.
As always we welcome comments, but please do us the courtesy of reading the whole article first. Last time we touched on this subject there were a number of “you only got in cos your chairman was bent” comments, which take no notice of what is published above.