The story so far
- Promotion in 1919: celebrating 100 years in the top division
- 100 years in the First Division: how the match fixing scandal opened the door for Arsenal
- Arsenal’s 100 years in the first division: the debate begins
By Tony Attwood
As we have seen in previous articles, there is no suggestion anywhere that Henry Norris bribed or bullied anyone into taking Arsenal from the second division into the first division upon the expansion of that league.
Rather, long before the matter had reached the Football League’s AGM, articles were being written in Athletic News – the leading magazine reviewing football in 1919 – suggesting that Arsenal were contenders for one of the extra places in the enlarged first division.
And those in power undoubtedly also remembered that Henry Norris was the man who had first highlighted match fixing in the pre-war years and had been told to shut up by the League. That didn’t mean they felt they owed him, but it did mean that there was a view that he should now be taken more seriously.
Thus although today, many people see the reputation of Sir Henry Norris as a negative factor, because of the way his rivals spoke about him when they took over the club, and because of the publication of wild and whacky Knighton memoirs after the second world war, at the time Sir Henry was highly regarded, not just because he had single handed saved the club and turned it into a thriving entity while keeping with him some of the stalwarts of the club such as Jack Humble and Joe Shaw, but also because he had been the first man to speak out about the match fixing antics of Liverpool, back in 1913.
Also we must acknowledge that personally, Sir Henry’s stock could not have been higher. He had risen from nowhere to the rank of Lt Colonel and was now Chair of the government committee overseeing the resettlement of soldiers returning from the war. He had set up and paid for the incredibly popular and famous Footballers Battalion, and had been knighted for his efforts. In January 1919 he was one of the most famous men in football, highly respected for his achievements, and one whose name would have resonated with every reader.
We should also not forget just how much of a feeling there was for Arsenal across the country. This was the soldiers’ team, the team of the men who made the munitions with which the British army had fought the recently concluded war. Soldiers across the country would have their own team, from their home town, but many also supported the Arsenal – as soldiers had done from the Boer War onwards.
All this could well have been on Catton’s mind as he put forward the suggestion that Arsenal should be in the first division. But might Catton have been bowing to pressure from Sir Henry?
I can’t see this at all. In terms of football commentators Catton was as famous and successful as they came and there was no reason why he would be influenced by Sir Henry. Indeed the opposite is more likely given that Sir Henry had tried to set up a rival publication to take on Athletic News (it was one of the small number of Norris business ventures that didn’t come off). What’s more Sir Henry certainly didn’t have anything he could offer Catton for Catton already had all the fame and fortune he could want for as a writer.
On 13 January 1919 there was a meeting of the Football League with representatives of all the 40 League clubs except Glossop North End, which the Hill-Wood family had now pulled the plug on and abandoned. The meeting’s agenda included the issues of getting to away fixtures by train (not all lines were working post-war, and prices had risen by 50%), the demands of the Players’ Union on wages (both for 1918/19 and thereafter when the League itself resumed), and the state of the pitches, which had been neglected during the war and an extension to the season, to reduce the number of midweek games. There was also a debate on joining with the Southern League; this latter was turned down.
As might be expected Sir Henry Norris not only attended; he took his full part in these debates, once more putting forward the view that there should be no maximum wage for players. Although a Conservative he held many views that we might think of as more left wing than right wing, including not just no wage caps, but also equal pay for women and government pensions for all injured servicemen.
But the other chairmen would have none of his left wing ideologies of paying working men their worth and the maximum wage was retained; it was set at £2 per week.
The FA followed the League meeting with their own meeting the following day, formally allowing players to be paid (which had been made illegal during the war), allowing matches on days other than saturdays, and allowing games during the holiday periods of Easter and Christmas. As had been the case each year, 1 May was once more designated as the day on which clubs could start registering players for the new season.
A third meeting then took place in the evening of the same day (14 January) which voted to extend the football season in 1919/20. This was curious because with no extension to the number of clubs, and with a decision being taken at the previous meeting not to extend the season, there was no reason to go for an extension. But then, when has football management been reasonable? William Hall represented Arsenal at the meeting.
It also became clear at this meeting that following the previous days’ meeting Claude Kirby, chairman of Chelsea FC, had written to the Football League Management Committee demanding Chelsea be reinstated in the First Division, in view of the fact that the match fixing activities of Liverpool and Manchester United had been part of the reason for their relegation at the end of the 1914/15 season.
Matters were now starting to move ahead.
- Partey setback, AFC man hauled off, new C Ronaldo signing, Arteta desperate
- How the media always knocks Arsenal, but ignores England’s failures.
- Left has never been stronger at Arsenal FC!
- The seven main things that are wrong with football in England
- 2022-23 WSL Arsenal v Spurs – Match Preview – part 2 comments from the manager and team news