100 years ago we were 10th in the 1st division, exactly as now!

by Tony Attwood

As you may have heard the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association recently held an event at Islington Town Hall to celebrate Arsenal’s 100 years in the top division of English football.  We had ex-players, club directors and fans all mingling – it was a very jolly affair.

As our part of the celebrations, we’ve published a whole series of reports, including the most detailed analysis ever of the events surrounding Arsenal’s election to the top division in 1919.

And occasionally through this season we’re looking back to see just what happened in that momentous first season of 1919/20.

1919/20 was the first season of professional English football after the suspension of the league for four years for the duration of the first world war.   Arsenal had a new manager – Leslie Knighton – and had been established in north London for just two seasons when football was abandoned because of the war.

Given that Arsenal had spent those first two years at Highbury in the second division, no one was quite sure how the first post-war season would pan out, but through the autumn things looked ok.

The names of the clubs 100 years ago are familiar to us today – in fact the only clubs that were in the first division 100 years ago who are no longer in the league were Bradford PA (at that time 11th) and Notts County (then 17th, and who lost their place in the League last season).

So a satisfactory start for Arsenal, but in the coming weeks (as 100 years later) things went off the boil somewhat with a set of results that look rather similar to those 100 years later…

Date Game Res
Score Crowd
04 Oct 1919 Arsenal v Blackburn Rovers L 0-1 30,000
11 Oct 1919 Everton v Arsenal W 2-3 35,000
18 Oct 1919 Arsenal v Everton D 1-1 30,000
25 Oct 1919 Arsenal v Bradford City L 1-2 35,000
01 Nov 1919 Bradford City v Arsenal D 1-1 16,000
08 Nov 1919 Arsenal v Bolton Wanderers D 2-2 30,000
15 Nov 1919 Bolton Wanderers v Arsenal D 2-2 20,000
22 Nov 1919 Arsenal v Notts County W 3-1 25,000
29 Nov 1919 Notts County v Arsenal D 2-2 6,000
06 Dec 1919 Arsenal v Chelsea D 1-1 50,000
13 Dec 1919 Chelsea v Arsenal L 3-1 60,000

Two wins in 11 games!

Most clubs provided rounded numbers to record the crowd at the ground, and we can see the huge difference between the traditionally small crowds at Notts County and the great attraction of the Chelsea game.

Clubs played each other home and away in consecutive games for most matches – a habit that was started in 1919 and abolished for the 1924/5 season after several matches had been disrupted by altercations that started in one game, being carried on in the return match one week later.

All the games were of course in Division 1 – there were no League cup or European games to distract the clubs. also then as now Arsenal joined the FA Cup in January.  But there were 22 rather than 20 clubs in the league, thus giving each team four more matches during the course of the season.  The season also started later (the last Saturday in August) and ended earlier (at the start of May).

And there was another incident in this period 100 years ago which is of interest to us, for on 13 October 1919 Leeds City of the second division were expelled from the Football League.

To take in the detail of the story we have to go back a little to 9 October when the FA who had been investigating Leeds City FC (previously managed by a certain Herbert Chapman) stated that the club could not play its game against South Shields the following Saturday because of “irregularities”.

Herbert Chapman had managed Leeds prior to the war but like so many others had taken up war work in local industry during the conflict. He had returned to Leeds City and resumed his work after the war, but before the League commenced in August 1919 he resigned (for reasons unclear), moved to Selby and apparently gave up football to become a superintendent at an oil and coke works.  What is notable is that this action occurred despite the fact that he had had some success with Leeds taking them towards promotion in his first two seasons, although slipping back in the highly disrupted 1914/15 season.

However Leeds had been reported by some former players of paying “guest” players who had appeared for them in war time friendlies – something that was clearly not allowed under the war time rules although appears to have been commonplace.

But the evidence that Leeds had been breaking the rules was largely hearsay, coming particularly from Charlie Copeland who had been with Leeds City since 1912 but had fallen out with the club over the issue of a pay rise.

Leeds City were summoned to a meeting on 26 September 1919, and ordered to hand over their books, but they refused to do so on the grounds that the Commission had no legal right to demand them.

And so in the arbitrary way that it often deals with these things, the Football League removed Leeds City from its membership, and banned five officials, for life, including Herbert Chapman, (although there was no evidence that he had colluded in the payment of players and he was not called to any of the meetings or hearings).

The fixtures of Leeds for the season were taken over by Port Vale, who bizarrely were able to count the eight games Leeds City had played (four wins two draws and two defeats) as their own! Leeds City was wound up, the players sold, but then a new club with the same directors owning the same ground and called Leeds United, was set up. They were admitted to the league for the 1920/21 season. Grimsby were ejected from the league to make room.  How wonderful the ways of the League.

This seems to have been on no concern for Herbert Chapman and he continued with his job, but in the economic turmoil that existed post-war, his fortune took a downturn when in late December 1920 he was laid off from his job at the coke works.

Things looked rather bleak, but Chapman was then approached by Huddersfield Town to be assistant to Ambrose Langley, who had played with Herbert Chapman’s brother Harry at The Wednesday (where Harry had made over 200 appearances).

Working with the support of Huddersfield, Chapman then appealed against his life ban, using the most obvious of evidence that since he had been helping the nation’s war effort during much of the war, and had not been involved with the club, and since the League had no idea when any illicit activity had taken place (since it hadn’t seen the records) they couldn’t possibly know that there was a case against him. He strongly denied that he had been involved in, or knew about, any payment to guest players.

He was allowed to return to football.

So we come to 10 December and the table 100 years ago…  Teams in bold are those who are above us in the 1st division at the moment.

Team P W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 West Bromwich Albion 17 12 0 5 48 25 1.920 24
2 Burnley 18 10 3 5 28 25 1.120 23
3 Newcastle United 18 9 4 5 24 16 1.500 22
4 Sunderland 17 10 2 5 32 22 1.455 22
5 Chelsea 17 8 3 6 25 18 1.389 19
6 Middlesbrough 18 7 5 6 24 28 0.857 19
7 Manchester United 16 6 6 4 27 19 1.421 18
8 Manchester City 17 7 4 6 42 36 1.167 18
9 Bolton Wanderers 18 7 4 7 32 29 1.103 18
10 Arsenal 17 5 8 4 27 26 1.038 18
11 Sheffield United 18 7 4 7 31 31 1.000 18
12 Everton 17 7 3 7 37 33 1.121 17
13 Bradford Park Avenue 17 7 2 8 28 26 1.077 16
14 Bradford City 17 6 4 7 29 30 0.967 16
15 Derby County 18 5 6 7 20 26 0.769 16
16 Aston Villa 17 7 1 9 29 34 0.853 15
17 Notts County 17 5 5 7 26 37 0.703 15
18 Liverpool 17 6 2 9 22 26 0.846 14
19 Blackburn Rovers 17 5 4 8 22 34 0.647 14
20 Preston North End 17 6 2 9 25 40 0.625 14
21 Oldham Athletic 16 5 2 9 22 25 0.880 12
22 Sheffield Wednesday 17 3 4 10 13 27 0.481 10

So there we are.  We are 10th now, and 100 years ago to the day, in the first of our century in the top division, we were 10th then.

We’ll have more from 100 years ago in a later post but you can follow the full story of the whole of the Henry Norris era from 1910 to 1927 in the series Henry Norris at the Arsenal on the Arsenal History Society site.


We are developing our own video channel.   It’s still at the experimental stage but you can get a feel here…

Untold Gooner News

Meanwhile the anniversaries of Arsenal for today appear, as ever, on the blog of the Arsenal History Society.


4 Replies to “100 years ago we were 10th in the 1st division, exactly as now!”

  1. I think I saw something that resembles Arsenal are 9th in the PL table after week no 16 game are played in the Premier League. I took a look at the table yesterday night immediately after Arsenal had beaten the West Hammers in the Premier League match encounter that was played last night at London Stadium. The beating of West Ham by Arsenal that kept me happy all night through in my sleep and making me feel good up till this moment in time as i am typing this my comment posting can’t be imagined.

    But notwithstanding whether I am typing my comment for posting or not, I think the Gunners need to upgrade themselves individually and collectively as a team in game playing to a higher quality which I saw is lacking in the quality and attributes they displayed in the game yesterday night. Thus, requiring the need to do some upgrading to the quality of the Gunners game tactically to outwithd the opponent team (Man City), physically to avoid serious injury picking (Tierney), mentally to out thought the opponent team ( Man City, Chelsea & Man Utd) and technically to out play the opponent team in the game and dominate positively imposing their authority in the game on the opponent team. The upgrading to these 4 qualities should become the cardinal principles to them the Gunners should be upgraded to by Freddie Ljungberg without any delays to do the upgrade before Arsenal host Man City next at Ems in the PL.

    therefore, the Gunners should take heed to do these 4 needful cardinal upgrades upgrading them to their game playing performance that is still looking to be short but has become very necessary they should upgrade to them considerably before Arsenal host Man City at the Ems in the PL next Sunday.

  2. Would Arsenal suddenly now turnaround to loose faith in Freddie Ljungberg to continue in his role as the club’s interim head coach to employ the sacked Napoli FC head coach – Carlos Ancelotti as the new head coach for the club to start coaching the Gunners? Well, I don’t know what Arsenal moves in this regard are? But if I were them, I’ll wait to see the kind of results Ljungberg will coach the Gunners to obtain in 4 next important Arsenal games in the ELC at away tomorrow and in their next 3 Premier League big games that they will play consecutively before I take a final decision if to employ Ancelotti or not to leave Ljungberg to continue in his role as the club’s interim head coach. But promote him to the rank of substantive head coach for the club from next January if he convinced me by coaching the Gunners to be getting game winning results in the Premier League from Arsenal next home match against Man City and onwards.

  3. 100 years ago Socrates was probably philosophising under a tree while the PGMOL ancestors had their snouts in waste. In 2019 the PGMOL are manipulating results while their snouts are dirtied by money and robbing Sokratis of a legitimate goal (Arsenal of 2 points) and probably 2 positions higher up in the league.

    How history can be manipulated by the selected, unelected in power.

  4. You missed em-bolding Man City as one of the clubs above us now … perhaps subconsciously dismissing them from your thoughts until we meet them next?


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