By Tony Attwood
We’re running a series on why people are so critical of Arsenal – a series that seems particularly apposite at the moment where the launch of the season previews in the press have led to remarkable attacks on the club in both the Telegraph and Independent in the last couple of days.
I first raised the question in Do other clubs get the same level of constant sniping and negative reporting or is it just Arsenal? and asked if a reader could be found who would do the research. The answer was yes, and the research findings – I suspect the first serious analysis of the comparative way in which the media handles different clubs – will be published here shortly.
The second article – Why are people so negative about Arsenal? The first answers – picked up on one particular phrase in one of the comments received on Untold in relation to the “Do other clubs” piece. It was
But other big clubs do not stand by a manager that hasn’t won the league in 12 years. In fact Arsenal have never done this before. I suppose it depends if you perceive Arsenal as a big club.
My criticism was that this comment played the regular game of taking one issue, and considering it from a single point of view and drawing some sort of conclusion from that. That seemed to me a worthwhile comment because it is what the critics of Arsenal (the central concern of these articles) do all the time. To give a counter comment I cited the range of managers Tottenham had had during the Wenger years, without winning that much, and then got a counter-comment to that saying that it was wrong just to focus on one issue.
A second point I raised was that the building of the stadium through money that came from the banks and had to repaid had hampered Arsenal, but again no allowance was made for this by the press. Indeed the only place where you will find much of an analysis on what happened to other clubs that built new stadia is in an Untold Arsenal article “New Stamford Bridge…” which points out that most clubs that build a new stadium then get relegated. Constant top four finishes might not get bits of silver but they were unprecedented for any club doing what Arsenal did.
That thought led me to consider, in “The First Answers” piece noted above, the growth of Arsenal’s crowds after the building of Highbury, and the curious coincidence that it took 12 years to win a trophy at Highbury. Arsenal at the Emirates stayed in the top four, Arsenal at Highbury stayed in the First Division (just!). Each was an achievement of great merit under difficult financial circumstances.
But now I want to consider something else. The fact that the issue of being critical of Arsenal goes way, way, way back and the fact that it is the response of the chairman to such criticism that is the key. This is a topic that has been covered on the Arsenal History Society site, but it seems relevant to look back at that debate and expand it somewhat, in the light of the rise of the current attacks on Arsenal that now litter the newspapers and their web sites on a daily basis.
In fact, you might be a little surprised to see how far back the attacks on Arsenal by both prototypes of the aaa and by the press, actually go. Indeed the first issue we know about was the instance of Harry Storer, the Arsenal goalkeeper who was suspended suddenly by Arsenal for a month in 1895 – in Arsenal’s second season in the league.
We know the last game he played was Woolwich Arsenal 0 Liverpool 2 and we know Storer was successful (five wins and one defeat in the last six), recognised as a fine keeper and not injured. What we also know is that after the Liverpool game the club suspended him for a month and then sold him to Liverpool.
What seems to have happened is that in the final game for Storer at the Manor Ground, he was involved in an altercation with fans behind the goal, and he claimed that the spectators had behaved in a “disgraceful” manner. Now this was not the only occasion in which goalkeepers of either team were given a hard time, and indeed the Arsenal History Society uncovered the tale of an Arsenal keeper who moved on to play for Tottenham, and who was so outraged as his treatment by Arsenal fans upon his return to the Manor as a Tottenham player, he left the field of play mid-match and assaulted a spectator.
But with Harry Storer this is a case of Arsenal fans booing their own keeper – and not just their own keeper, but the club’s first player to be selected for a representative XI, and a man who was achieving considerable success in goal for the club.
As Mark Andrews’ book on The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal reveals, as the crowds increased, one end of the ground (the Abbey Wood end) became the home of the barrackers. Indeed, as Mark points out, so bad was the attitude of some of the crowd that local reporters often commentated on the fact that they were forcing decent minded supporters out of the ground.
So it seems that Storer stepped out of line in response to the booing and barracking (although we don’t know exactly what he did), and was suspended and then sold.
After the events on 26 January 1895 the FA ruled that Arsenal, was the ground should be closed for the rest of the 1894/95 season. However, on appeal a “compromise” of a mere 6 weeks suspension was agreed upon by the FA. But as Mark points out an almost identical episode of ref bashing at Wolverhampton Wanderers next season in October 1895 led to their ground being closed but for only 2 weeks. At least one non-local reporter put the disparity in the harshness of the sentences from the FA, down to Arsenal’s role as the pre-eminent southern professional team.
So it seems there is a history of Arsenal being treated differently by the authorities from the earliest days of the club, perhaps because Arsenal had broken the mould by bringing professional football to the south.
But the move to Highbury did not dissipate matters, for in the late 1920s a new form of internal dissent broke out as a group of supporters again started to barrack individual Arsenal players as had happened at the Manor Ground. The player who suffered most from this was Jack Lambert whose record as a goal scorer tells its own tale:
Jack however was one of those men who was a nervous player and often took a while to get going in a game and so was an easy target for the crowd – and some continued to make life difficult for him even during the four years noted above when his goal scoring record was beyond anything ever seen before. You can read the whole Jack Lambert story here.
Jack of course played in the era of Herbert Chapman, and there is a tendency these days to think of this as a time of great success, and therefore perhaps peace within the club. But this was far from the case and Chapman regularly wrote in his newspaper column of his outrage as the behaviour of what he called the “boo-boys” who constantly sought to attack Arsenal’s own players. The “boo-boys” term became widely used in relation to some Arsenal supporters, and indeed is still occasionally used by the media today to describe fans who attack their own players.
Matters reached a pitch on 14 January 1933 when Chapman picked a number of untried reserves to play in the FA Cup match against Walsall. Arsenal famously lost, and many players complained regularly that subsequent to that match nothing they could do was ever good enough for the Arsenal fans – not even winning the League three times running. Arsenal had the biggest crowds in the league – but also the biggest level of moaning.
Thus all the way through what on paper look like the glory years of Arsenal in the 1930s there was seething dissent on the terraces. But what had brought it about?
It is of course hard to pin down the exact cause, but every time I consider this, one factor stands out: the removal of Lt Col Sir Henry Norris from the club. He was the chairman from 1910 to 1927 was an incredibly strong, public fighter for Arsenal’s position, often openly castigating the League and the FA in the club’s programme for actions that he perceived to be against the interest of the club.
Sir Henry’s vitriolic attacks on (for example) the FA for the terrible way it treated Tom Whittaker after he was injured on an FA tour in 1925, and on the London Combination (the League that ran during the first world war) for its utterly biased handling of the Victory Cup in 1919, made him the hero of all Arsenal supporters. Here was a man who stood up in public for Arsenal, and everyone who loved the club knew that it always had a staunch defender.
Even when the FA twice investigated the transfer to Arsenal of Clem Voysey in 1919 Sir Henry stood his ground, and the FA had to back off on each occasion admitting that they had no evidence that anything was wrong.
But when Norris was deposed from his position of chairman after an ill-judged court case against the Daily Mail, there was no one so voluble to take up the fight for Arsenal. And at once the media turned wholesale on Norris and Arsenal, making up endless wild stories about the 1919 election to the first division and so forth – stories that had no foundation in fact but were seized upon by Tottenham, and everyone who was jealous of Arsenal’s growing support.
Indeed the press having gained their victory in court turned on the club wholesale, and the new aristocratic regime in the boardroom did not have the wherewithal to take them on. And of course some on the terraces, seeing the toffs in the directors’ box, followed the press’ lead. Chapman did his level best to take on the boo-boys, but without serious backing from the boardroom, he was fighting on his own.
What made the job of Chapman in dealing with the boo-boys and the attacks in the press so much harder was not just the fact that Sir Henry had been banned from football after losing the libel case against the Mail, and not just that the subsequent directors would not stand up to the media as Sir Henry did, but the reminder (oft quoted in the media of the day) that Herbert Chapman had also been banned from football for life after the demise of Leeds City where he worked, before going on to Huddersfield Town.
The story was simple: Arsenal was the centre of football corruption. Sir Henry was corrupt (or at least had lost a libel case against the Mail) and Chapman was corrupt (having been banned from football for life over illegal payments to Leeds players). In short Arsenal were corrupt.
Now the media wanted their own back against Sir Henry – and the Arsenal – and they would do anything to get it. Sir Henry Norris was a typical self-made entrepreneur who left school at 14, built his own fortune through his house building company, supported causes that the media opposed (jobs for all men who returned from the war, emancipation of women, government control of the way the private railways were run etc etc) and was thoroughly outspoken. They got their revenge with the Daily Mail case, and then turned not just on Sir Henry, but on Arsenal, noting that not only was Sir Henry banned from football, but that even the Arsenal manager had been so banned, and had only been allowed back in “on a technicality”.
Given that Arsenal then became the most successful club the country had ever seen (going from being a team that had never won the league until 1930 to the team that won the league three times in a row, five years later) the assaults were ludicrous and clearly governed by spite.
This tradition has continued ever since, and in the next article, I’ll show what happened subsequently.
Untold Arsenal is a pro-Arsenal site set up to counter the regular unsubstantiated attacks on Arsenal by “fans” and journalists, using evidence rather than opinion. We do publish comments and articles which contain a counter point of view, but normally only where these also contain evidence. We don’t republish every piece of evidence uncovered by Untold in its 6000+ articles to back up each point made in each subsequent article, as that would be tedious in the extreme, but it is all on this site, and we are working on an index to make it easier to find it all.
Untold Arsenal has published five books on Arsenal – all are available as paperback and three are now available on Kindle. The books are
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal by Mark Andrews.
- The Arsenal Yankee by Danny Karbassiyoon with a foreword by Arsene Wenger.
- Arsenal: the long sleep 1953 – 1970; a view from the terrace. By John Sowman with an introduction by Bob Wilson.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football. By Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews.
- Making the Arsenal: a novel by Tony Attwood.
You can find details of all five on our new Arsenal Books page