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The man who relegated Arsenal

Woolwich Arsenal and George Morrell

Poor George Morrell – doomed for ever to be known as the only manager ever to relegate Arsenal.

He came in at a time when Arsenal changed managers as often as they changed their shirts – he was the fifth man in charge in ten years.

He had managed Glenure Athletic in Glasgow, before joining Rangers, and is said to have revived a club that was in as much trouble then as now – they were on the edge of going bust.

His breakthrough came in 1905 with Greenock Morton (another club on the edge of financial disaster).  He got their debts sorted, and got them into the First Division.

This was the background of the man who travelled south to take control of Woolwich Arsenal with its Scottish support and playing staff.   The financial problems that came to a fore in the 1909/1910 season (and which are the starting point of the new book MAKING THE ARSENAL) were his to deal with and were clearly apparent on the day he signed.

Within half a season, Morrell had sold half the first team (presumably under orders to cut costs) and despite this the club ended up sixth in League Division I, and it looked like the magical touch that had been with Morrell in Scotland had come south.

Some new players came in – most notably Alf Common, but the finances didn’t improve and as we know, Henry Norris took over the club in 1910.

Norris was always notorious for being cautious with money, and having bought the club and paid the debts he seems to have been in no mood to splash out on transfer fees or salaries – and indeed it was this approach that led to the loss of the young Charlie Buchan when he was playing in the reserves in 1910.

Morrell survived the move from Woolwich to Highbury, but resigned (as all such people did) at the end of the 1914/1915 season when football was suspended for the duration.

Curiously, and indeed very sadly, it is not possible to say what happened to George Morrell after the war – indeed he is one of those men who in the space of just 100 years has moved from being a leading man within football to a man whose year of birth and year of death are now unknown.  After Arsenal he just vanishes from history.

To me there is something desperately sad about this – that we cannot find out more about the last manager of Woolwich Arsenal.

The departure of George Morrell was the end of the era in more ways than one, for he ended the habit of managers lasting a very short space of time.  Coming in, as I mentioned, as the fifth manager in ten years, he completed seven seasons.  After the war Leslie Knighton came in for five years, before Arsenal appointed… Herbert Chapman.

It is quite a revelation to realize that between Morrell and Chapman there was only one manager.


This piece is the first in a series on Arsenal managers.  More shortly.

The book MAKING THE ARSENAL tells the story of 1910 – the year Henry Norris took over the club.  If you would like to support this site and all it aims to do, please consider buying a copy.  There’s more information on

2 comments to The man who relegated Arsenal

  • Andy Kelly

    Just stumbled across another piece of information. According to the 1921-22 handbook, George Morrell resigned as Arsenal manager in April 1915 and went to Third Lanark. None of the Third Lanark websites have a full list of managers so we will have to trust George Allison’s word on this one!

  • Giulia Morrell

    As far as I’m aware George Morrell did indeed manage Third Lanark. He was my great grandfather and I was told this as a child.

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