By Tony Attwood
The book “What you think you know about football is wrong” is itself so wrong and so flawed it ought to be withdrawn and an apology issued to everyone who has bought at copy.
If you have read any of the work we have published across the last ten years on Arsenal’s promotion to the 1st division 100 years ago, either on this site with the “100 Years in the First Division” series or the 100 episode series “Henry Norris at the Arsenal” on the AISA Arsenal History Society web site, you’ll have seen that one of things that happens, particularly in the latter series, is that we quote evidence.
Evidence from the commentaries of newspapers and magazines of the time, official minutes of the meeting at which Arsenal were elected, precedent relating to previous elections upon earlier expansion of the league and contemporary reports.
Now of course these stories are only published on those two sites, but they are hardly difficult to find: a simple search on Google tends to reveal both of them – in fact on most searches “Arsenal’s Election To The First Division In 1919″ leads to the Arsenal History Society’s mega series of articles which comes out top of the search list on Google.
Of course if you were a Tottenham fan you might want to ignore that mega-piece of research, but if you have a PhD and are writing a book on the subject of footballing misconceptions, you might well want to avoid making yourself look like a total arse by at least reading some of that research. Not least because unlike many other football articles it quotes sources, cites contemporary reports and evidence, and gives the full story of the match fixing that led up to the crisis in football in 1915, and the election of Arsenal and Chelsea to the First Division 100 years ago.
In short, it is by far the biggest analysis of what happened 100 years ago, which I would have thought makes it a must read for anyone writing about the events.
But no, in the lead up to the publication of the book “What you think you know about football is wrong” all this research, and all the hundreds of references to articles, meetings, minutes of meetings, and relevant historic facts, are all utterly and totally ignored.
And that’s odd, not least because the author of the book is described as Dr Kevin Moore. We are not told what he is a doctor of or where he got is doctorship, or what sort of doctorial research work he did, but for the sake of whatever university it was (assuming he didn’t buy his degree for $2 from the Church of Pastafarians) one can only hope that the staff who supervised his work were somewhat more rigorous in examining him than he has been in examining the facts for his book.
Anyway, chapter 14 of Dr Moore’s book is called “Arsenal should not be in the Premier League”, which is actually a bit dumb, because even if Arsenal were promoted through fraud or corruption in 1919, were found out, and were then kicked back down, they could have been promoted again later. Unless of course he is suggesting that Arsenal should have been kicked out of the League for all time. Maybe he thinks that, but if so he doesn’t say it. Certainly as far as I know the only club to have been kicked out of the League in such a way was Leeds City, who in fact were allowed to reform the following year as Leeds United, using the same ground as before, and carry on as if nothing had happened.
But let’s get back to Arsenal and their election to the first division in 1919, and let’s pick out just one or two of the biggest whopping lies that Dr Moore propagates.
First off, and this really is his main point, he says that on past precedent when the League was expanded at various points prior to 1919, the extra places thus created would always go to “the clubs that would otherwise have been relegated”. In this case the bottom two clubs from the previous season, which was 1914/15 (there being no league football in the subsequent war years). We’ll try this out and see if it is right starting in 1892/3, the first year in which there were two divisions.
What we actually find is that in many seasons the clubs that finished in the bottom two of the first division were not relegated, and the top two in the second division were not promoted. It was not automatic.
But to be fair, our noted Doctor is specifically talking about times when the league was expanded. The first time Division 1 went up from 16 club to 18, was after the 1897/8 season. Burnley and Newcastle, the top two from Division 2 duly went up, but no one went down.
The next expansion was after 1904/5. Again Bury and Notts County stayed up in Division 1 rather than be relegated and the top two from Division 2 (Liverpool and Bolton) went up.
So on that front it looks like the Doctor is correct – on the two occasions that the League expanded the clubs that would have been relegated were not relegated.
But there are two problems. First, how did this arrangement happen? Well, actually the clubs debated the issue and voted the arrangement through on those two occasions. And they also voted on what to do with the club or clubs that had come bottom of the League every year – not just in the years of expansion. So voting took place every year.
This was because during this period, clubs that got into financial trouble or finished bottom of the League were subject to a vote. The bottom club/s could apply for re-election, and if they did they were subject to a vote by all the League clubs. Thus voting clubs in and out was not an oddity as this book suggests, but was the norm. Indeed a quick look at the league tables for the years up to the first world war shows the turn over of clubs entering and leaving the league was very high. And the changes were always made by voting at the AGM of the League.
So on that simple ground the whole premise of Dr Moore falls down flat. Elections of clubs happened every year. Indeed in 1908 Tottenham Hotspur got themselves in a bit of a pickle over the elections, for they resigned from the Southern League during the 1907/08 season, ready to apply for membership of the Football League for 1908/09. (The Southern League required early resignation for they were fed up with their clubs applying to join the Football League in the summer break, and suddenly leaving the Southern League short of clubs if the League accepted them.) But the Football League rejected Tottenham’s application, and the Southern League rules stated that Tottenham could then not reapply to enter the Southern League. However right at the last another team that had applied and gained a place in the League dropped out, leaving a vacancy. Tottenham reapplied to enter the League, Arsenal kindly voted for them, and they got accepted by a majority of one.
So contrary to Dr Moore’s tale, automatic promotion was not the norm for rearranging the league – it had only been used twice, and each time, the clubs were given a vote and chose to vote for the bottom two clubs to stay up. On the other hand elections were used virtually each season, for sadly it was very common for clubs to get into financial difficulty and drop out of the league.
However 1919 was unusual in one sense since it was the first time in which the League had to admit that flagrant match fixing had been going on in a previous season, and that it had affected relegation. This match fixing involved Manchester United and (not for the first time) Liverpool. In fact there had been two other very serious previous allegations of outrageous match fixing just before the 1st world war, but rather than investigate those allegations properly the League had warned those making the complaints against making such allegations. The 1914/15 case however was different, for it was so outrageous and involved Liverpool who had been cited previously in this regard, that clearly something had to be done.
But the country was at war so the matter was left until 1919 as the League got ready to re-start. Man U and Liverpool were ready to do anything to avoid being kicked out of the League for match fixing, and the League didn’t want to lose two well-established clubs. But Chelsea who had been relegated as a result of the match fixing, were demanding their place back in the 1st division and were very willing to make a fuss. Tottenham we must note were also relegated, but that was not because of match fixing – they had simply come bottom of the League.
So we see a huge difference here between Chelsea – relegated because of match fixing, and Tottenham, relegated fair and square in the normal course of events.
The body that decided what was to happen next was the League Management Committee, made up of directors of all the clubs and they had to decide the fate of four clubs. On the one hand we had Man U and Liverpool both desperately trying to avoid being relegated or ejected from the League for match fixing, Chelsea who argued that they should not be relegated since they were the innocent victims of the match fixing, and Tottenham who cited 1904/5 when the bottom two had not been relegated upon the expansion of the League which was also being planned for 1919/20.
And so in January 1919 the debate started big time, being initiated by the leading football journal of the day, “Athletic News,” Most daily newspapers also took up the issue in the coming weeks.
Now the learned author of the “What you think” book asks at this point “Why weren’t Tottenham given the other place [in the first division]? No good reason was given.”
This is the biggest load of bunkum I’ve ever read. From January 1919 onward, local papers, national papers, Athletic News and various other magazines were packed solid with discussion about how the situation could be resolved, and although some mentioned the precedent of allowing the two relegated clubs to stay up, this was very much down the agenda and hardly considered relevant.
But the “What you think” book asks at this point “Why weren’t Tottenham given the other place? No good reason was given.”
To understand just what a pile full of tripe that statement is, it can be compared perhaps to someone saying today, “Why was Unai Emery sacked? No good reason was given.” The fact is that there was a huge debate going on for eight months before the Football League resumed after the war. Indeed it continued right into the summer and was widely covered in newspapers and magazines. The story was everywhere. It was the topic of the day, week, month, and indeed eight months.
And so the real question is, “how could Dr Moore have missed all this media coverage lasting eight months? Could it be that he wrote his little piece just to get at Arsenal, thinking no one would notice? Did he never once type the question into Google and find our reports?
On 13 January 1919 Dr Catton, the most authoritative and highly regarded commentator on the finer points of football of the age, published an article in Athletic News raising the issue of match fixing and how the issue of Chelsea’s false relegation could be put right. This was, as far as I can discern, the very first post-war public reminder of the events of 1915 in which Liverpool and Man U players had by then been found to be guilty of wholesale match fixing.
Because of this, Catton argued, one of the two teams that ought to be returned to the first division (if that league was to be expanded, as had already been proposed – but not formally agreed), should clearly be Chelsea. He then went on to consider the argument that Tottenham, who had also been relegated with Chelsea should likewise be reinstated. However he then argued that there was nothing to link Tottenham’s relegation with anything amiss in the final season before the cessation of the League for the duration. They had, he said, been relegated fair and square, and therefore the fate of Tottenham and Chelsea should not be linked, for to do so would suggest that Chelsea and Tottenham were being relegated for the same reason. He wanted to make sure that everyone realised that Chelsea were the innocent party in the match fixing scandal, while Tottenham were being relegated fair and square.
And that need to differentiate the situation of the two clubs was at the heart of the resolution of the matter.
Moore misses all this debate, which of course can be read in the British Library which has copies of daily newspapers and most editions of Athletic News, but instead makes up a couple of stories and then says, “Very suspiciously no records of the meetings [which elected Arsenal to the 1st division] can be found.
Which is curious since in 2017 we scanned in and published an article from Athletic News as it covers the debate. Author Dr Moore says there were no reports of the meeting at which the voting took place. Yes there were and we have reproduced them in the article we published (just click on the article in each case and it will be displayed.) I suspect that when he says no reports can be found, what he actually meant to type was, “I couldn’t be arsed to go looking, so I am going to say they were not there.”
Indeed since we put them on the internet and the search engines pick the piece up, we can only conclude Dr Moore is being lazy or is deliberately seeking to run down Arsenal, or is a very silly person.
We then considered in much detail why clubs voted for Arsenal rather than other clubs that applied for a place in the first division, and this can be seen in the next article in the series published at that time. There were many reasons for Arsenal’s popularity, but the setting up of the Footballers Battalions by Henry Norris in the war was certainly one, and we should also remember Henry Norris was both popular for his work with the battalions and was well known for his other war work. He was in fact knighted for his work in setting up and paying for the Battalions, and promoted through the ranks to the position of Lt Colonel for his work in running the department handling recruitment, conscription and demobilisation at the War Office. (The story that Sir Henry was some kind of crook did not start circulating until 1946 with the publication of the memoirs of Leslie Knighton, who Norris sacked as manager in 1925 and replaced with Herbert Chapman – the full story and many extracts from Knighton’s appallingly inaccurate book can also be found within the “Henry Norris at the Arsenal” series parts 63 to 129.
Norris in fact was extraordinarily popular with ordinary working people, not least for his campaigns to get pensions for all soldiers who returned home after the war injured and unable to work, to get the state to put a cap on rail fares, to get the maximum wage for footballers removed, and to get equal pay and rights for women.
But of course such considerations didn’t affect the club chairmen who would vote for the team they wanted to take the spare place in the expanded first division, but it did make Sir Henry Norris a massively popular figure in the world of football at large. Liverpool fans didn’t like him for publicising their previous match fixing antics, but elsewhere he was popular.
Far from being secretive the result of the voting for the extra club to join the first division, was published in all the papers that evening and the next day and widely discussed, and you can see a scan of a report within this article – just click on the screen in the blank space if the scanned image is unclear or does not appear. We reproduced the original so that people such as Dr Moore could not say we were making the evidence up, as he obviously has been doing.
The voting for the extra club to enter the expanded first division was
Arsenal 18, Tottenham 8, Barnsley 5, Wolverhampton Wanderers 4, Nottingham Forest 3, Birmingham City 2, Hull City 1. Which suggests that if there was jiggery-pokery going on, Henry Norris had to bribe 17 clubs – almost half the clubs in the country. Which would mean that the whole league system was so corrupt that a) we ought to find some evidence for the bribes that brought about this result, and b) we would find multiple other cases of corruption in football at this time. In fact the match fixing which so bedevilled football prior to the war seems to have stopped and there were no more corruption cases after this for many a year.
It is also interesting, as you can also read in our series on Henry Norris at the Arsenal, that on the day following the election of Arsenal back into the first division there were no complaints in the media, no outrage, no protests – not even in the local Tottenham paper. Indeed in the media (which discussed the election in full from January through to June, contrary to what Dr Moore asserts) the election result was applauded. The whole notion that something was amiss was invented much later, and a few writers like Kevin Moore has bought the whole story hook line and sinker – but none has produced any evidence of wrong doing.
My guess is that since so much of his story about Arsenal is wrong at every level then most of the rest of the book by Dr Moore is a complete load of tripe as well. John Motson who wrote the intro will probably be regretting his foolhardiness and as for Bloomsbury Press who published this load of invention they too might be wondering what else is wrong with the book. I think I will let them stew in that one for a while.
Details of the AGM at which Arsenal was elected (and which Dr Moore claims don’t exist) are shown here.
The issue of why the clubs voted for Arsenal and not Tottenham to have the vacant place in the 1st Division are given here.
The issue of why Tottenham got so few votes when they applied to stay in the first division in 1919 is dealt with here.
As for the book by Dr Moore, that really is an insult to Arsenal, and indeed all the 17 clubs that voted for Arsenal for it puts a slur on their names. The book should be withdrawn and Dr Moore should make public the research that he undertook which led him to set aside all the evidence that was available to him on the AISA Arsenal History Society website when he prepared his book. An apology to Arsenal would not go amiss either.
And he might like to outline the research he did for the rest of the book too.
We are developing our own video channel. It’s still at the experimental stage but you can get a feel here…
- Arsenal v Newcastle: the team and league positons AFTER the game.
- Arsenal v Newcastle: injuries, yellow cards and recent form
- Arsenal v Newcastle: the referee who just doesn’t oversee home wins
- Newcastle United’s weakness revealed and what they could do. Arsenal v Newcastle United.
- Arsenal v Newcastle: the tackles, fouls and yellow cards compared