How lazy football journalists make it up to meet their own requirements

By Tony Attwood

Journalists in general rarely apologise for getting things wrong – and when they do it is generally only when forced to.  Football journalists go further; they simply don’t ever admit they were wrong.  In fact they make it up as they go along, and then ignore any protests about the fact that they are completely in error.

Take for example a piece in the Daily Mirror, with the headline “Inside England’s match fixing scandal that involved Man Utd, Liverpool and Arsenal” by Simon Mullock, Chief Football Writer of the Sunday Mirror.

It starts by saying, “Top-flight football never seems to be too far away from a scandal but rewind a century and the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool were involved in match-fixing.”

OK, that is true, and if you have read the relevant chapters of Henry Norris at the Arsenal you will know all about it.  (There’s a link to individual relevant chapters of the story at the end of this piece).

In essence, it comes down to this.  Norris went to watch a Liverpool v Chelsea match (12 March 1913) that he thought was clearly fixed and wrote the story up in his local newspaper.  The League censored him for writing the story, warning him that a repeat of this would lead to his expulsion from football.

Then in October 1913 there were allegations that the Man U v Burnley match on this day was fixed and ultimately one Man U player was jailed.  Norris, true to his agreement, said not a word.

Next on 2nd April 1915, (Good Friday) Manchester Utd played Liverpool and beat them 2-0 and there were again wholesale allegations about match-fixing.

Now on this the Mirror’s top writer on football says, “Manchester United and Liverpool were heavily involved. So too were Arsenal and Chelsea. Tottenham were the big losers.   (There is a link under the word Arsenal but it leads only to a general page on Arsenal with nothing about the match-fixing.)

So let’s think about this line:  “Manchester United and Liverpool were heavily involved. So too were Arsenal and Chelsea.  Tottenham were the big losers.”

Manchester United and Liverpool were indeed the teams playing the fixed game, all the evidence suggested both teams were involved in a match fixing agreement.  The enquiry subsequently confirmed this and banned the players (although not the management or owners of the club who ought to have been alert enough to have spotted the corruption and done something to stop it).

But now, “So too were Arsenal and Chelsea”.   How?

Arsenal were a second division club in 1915.  Chelsea and Tottenham, along with the match fixing Man U and Liverpool were in the first division.  Yet the Mirror’s top writer says, “Five of football’s biggest clubs, embroiled in match-fixing and fraud.”

Serious allegations, but certainly none of Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham were engaged in the match fixing of 1915.  But without any evidence or clarity the Chief Football Writer no less (not some junior clerk or filler in, but the Chief Football Writer) says “Five of football’s biggest clubs, embroiled in match-fixing and fraud.”

I know there have been no accusations made against Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham because in my series “Henry Norris at the Arsenal”, which runs to around 100 episodes and over 100,000 words, I covered this in detail.  And I can say for sure that no allegations were made against any of those clubs at the time of the events. Nor indeed for years later.

Anyway, because of the wholesale corruption of Liverpool and Manchester United (who we may note, were never punished for their match-fixing) Chelsea were relegated.  Had the Liverpool / Man U match not been fixed, Chelsea would not have gone down.

Therefore it was proposed in 1919 that as the League was about to be expanded, by adding two more clubs to each of the two divisions, one of the two “new” clubs in the 1st division should be Chelsea who were only relegated because Man U and Liverpool were match fixing.  That was very rapidly agreed with wholesale support throughout football.

That meant that if the normal two up and two down of the day were to be maintained, and Chelsea were not going down, and one more club was needed in the 1st division, and thus there should be a vote as to which that club should be at the League’s AGM.

And it is here, regarding the AGM of the League in 1919, that various allegations have been made against Arsenal – the argument being that somehow Arsenal bribed clubs to vote for them.

But what should also be said was that none of these allegations were ever heard until after the publication in 1946 (ie 27 years later) of Leslie Knighton’s autobiography “Behind the scenes in big football”.  Here Knighton suggested that Arsenal got elected in 1919 because Henry Norris pulled a few strings.

In fact the whole of the section of the book on Knighton on Arsenal is an attack on Norris, with numerous allegations against him – allegations which were subsequently repeated by a few writers and journalists who couldn’t be arsed to check any details, and just reprinted them.

The checking only started with the series Henry Norris at the Arsenal, and each and every allegation, upon fulsome investigation, turns out to be untrue.  To give just one example (because they are all covered in great depth in the “Henry Norris at the Arsenal” series), Knighton says at one stage that Norris was so mean with his money that the club ran out of players, and so the manager was reduced to playing the brother in law of the club’s physio on the wing, as no one else was available.

In fact the brother in law of the club’s doctor did play on the wing for Arsenal.  What Knighton omits to say is that the man had won the Scottish League playing for Rangers just before the war, and had played for the Scottish League against the English League.  He was in fact one of the top rated players in the country, and when he became available in 1919, having moved his home to London, every top London club was after him.

This is just one of many fantasies in Knighton’s book, all of which have been exposed in the Norris at the Arsenal series.  But to return to the election of Arsenal to the first division in 1919, there is no evidence of corruption, there was no speech made by Norris at the AGM to induce voting for Arsenal, and no evidence of back-handers or anything else.  And indeed not even the local Tottenham paper complained about the result of the election when reporting it the next day.

Clubs voted Arsenal into the first division for several reasons.  First, Arsenal had won friends throughout football by bringing professional football to London and supporting the Football League from 1893, while clubs like Tottenham had instead opted for the Southern League.   And despite this Arsenal had shown their support for the cause of the Football League in London by voting for Tottenham to join the League when Tottenham were ejected from the Southern League in 1908.  It was Arsenal’s one vote in fact which took Tottenham into the League.

Second Arsenal was liked because it got huge crowds, and was easy for away teams to get to in terms of public transport by train and underground from the rest of the country.  It became commonplace for the away players to play the saturday game, and then have a night out in the West End, before catching the last train back to the north or the Midlands.

Third, although people like the grossly inaccurate Simon Mullock, Chief Football Writer of the Sunday Mirror, like to make up or repeat fantasies, Norris was very popular at that time.  He had invented the notion of the Footballers’ Battalion in the first world war, and had arranged and paid the wages of the recruited men, before it was assimilated into the Middlesex Regiment.  He had led the successful fight against the right wing press and people like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who wanted all football shut down in 1914.  He had become highly recognised as a hero of the Empire through his work in organisation recruitment, and then conscription.

Indeed in 1917 Norris was knighted for his work with the Footballers’ Battalion.  And although he had volunteered at the start of the war and been given the lowest rank possible for an officer in the army, of 2nd Lieutenant in 1914, by 1917 he had risen to Lieutenant Colonel.  He ended the war as the man in charge of demobilisation of the entire British armed forces. An utterly astonishing rise for a man not born into the aristocracy.

Now quite how Simon Mullock, Chief Football Writer of the Sunday Mirror can turn this man from a British hero into a ne’re-do-well we can only guess, but sheer laziness, failure to undertake or read up any readily available research, or downright bias and a desire to knock Arsenal all come to mind as possibilities.

Of course I don’t know Simon Mullock, Chief Football Writer of the Sunday Mirror, so I am only guessing.  Maybe he does have evidence of Norris’ misdemeanours which in three years of solid research into the man I couldn’t find and which now he can’t be arsed to reveal.  But if so, it would be awfully nice of Simon Mullock, Chief Football Writer of the Sunday Mirror if he were to put it forward so we could share in the matter.

Anyway, Mr Mullock, who perhaps from here on we can call CFWotSM for short, having not shown that anything was wrong, then writes that this “kind of political machinations that reared their ugly head again during the week when it emerged that the same famous names have been allegedly ­colluding to have Manchester City kicked out of next season’s Champions League.”

Now this is a story that has been published in several drainpipes, sorry “outlets”, of late, but all without any evidence.  He then writes in typical CFWotSM manner, “At least at City, Sheikh Mansour can comfort himself with knowing that, as eight Premier League clubs use a global health crisis to turn against the ­champions, it is nothing personal.”

The fact is, it probably isn’t personal by CFWotSM either.  His assault on Norris, with its utter and total ignorance of the evidence is not personal.  It is just rank bad cheap-skate journalism without any form of evidence.  A man knocking out a half page of inaccuracy hoping no one notices.

There is a lot more gibberish in the article.  Like this, for example, “And influential Liverpool owner John McKenna successfully argued in his role as Football League chairman that Chelsea should remain in the top flight as the ­London club had missed out on safety by just a single point.”

No, he knew that Liverpool were guilty from top to bottom, and was probably desperate for their not to be an enquiry into what the hell the directors were doing while the matches were being fixed.

Then the article says, “Rumours that Norris had bribed his way into the top flight have never been proved.   But the Kennington-born ­property developer was banned from football in 1927 for making an illegal ­financial approach to sign Sunderland’s Charlie Buchan.”

Well, actually no.  And even Knighton doesn’t claim this in his book – for Knighton claims that he was the one who first went to sign Buchan.   The League looked at the £100 a goal that Buchan was paid, and found that there was nothing in the rules to stop that, but they then changed the rules to stop that happening again.

No, manager banning for life was fairly common in these days.  Herbert Chapman was banned for life when he was manager at Leeds.   He appealed after a few years out of football, and immediately had that ruling overturned.  That was how it went at that time.  Men were banned until they appealed.  Norris was banned for selling the unwanted coach that the Arsenal reserves used to get to away games, and keeping the money for himself.

That was quite probably true, but it was quite ludicrous, because the value of the coach was about £150, whereas at the time Norris had invested over £30,000 in Arsenal and was guaranteeing the bank loans on the building of the stadium.  All the evidence points to Norris simply making a mistake.  He shouldn’t have done, but he did.  As, at some time, most people do.

Norris walked away from Arsenal at this point because the Hill-Wood family had grabbed control of the boardroom and Norris had been out-manoeuvred and he realised it.  But more importantly, his wife was ill, and in those days before modern medicine, the only cure to move to a warm climate away from London’s smoke and rain.   The family had already bought a house in France and for her sake they moved there.

Besides, Norris had appointed Herbert Chapman as manager – and the club was clearly edging towards success.  Norris had rescued the club from bankruptcy and paid off all its debts in 1910, he’d moved the club to a place where they could get hugely bigger crowds, he personally guaranteed all the costs of building the new stadium, and above all he had the vision of a club owned by its supporters.  In fact he spent nine years working to sell shares in the club to the fans, something that the Hill-Wood family and its allies – and indeed the rest of football – utterly feared.

If you would like to read more of the real story about Henry Norris at the Arsenal but don’t want our complete history, you might like to try some of these pieces about the 1919 promotion.

If you have been, thanks for reading.

The preliminaries

The voting and the comments before and after the election

The Second Libel


6 Replies to “How lazy football journalists make it up to meet their own requirements”

  1. Even when football is of no important it seems important to give the daily Arsenal beating in the media…

  2. Twisted headlines.

    FirstPost has this:

    FIFA rulings challenged by English Football Association, Brazilian official Ricardo Teixera; to be heard by CAS in June

    Now what do you think the FIFA ruling is that the English Football Association is challenging?

    The English appeal on 26 June is against a 350,000 Swiss franc ($362,000) fine imposed as part of FIFA’s case against Chelsea for breaking rules to sign youth players and register them with the national football body. Chelsea served a transfer ban last year and won an appeal at CAS to be cleared to trade again in January.

    Is The (sweet) FA cahllenging this ruling, or is it Chel$ea that is challenging this ruling?

    Why phrase things this way?

  3. I live about 10 miles from the Alberta/BC border in Canada. So, I am following this virus on both sides. BC and Alberta have different policies on announcing confirmed cases of COVID-19. But, in any event, both provinces look at the moment like they are close to the peak in the curve.

    Not a lot of (association) football fans up here, but if there were they would be overjoyed that football would be starting “soon”.

    Wait a minute, says a group of people. This is just the first wave. If you jump off the control measures improperly, you can initiate an immediate second wave. As the snow goes away and we get sunshine and warmth, more people spend more time outside. And the ultraviolet exposure will go a long ways towards reducing virus populations. So, we expect that if we relax controls properly, the virus levels will go down quite a bit for the summer. But the virus isn’t expected to be gone. Come fall and winter, people spend less time outside, days a shorter and we get more clouds; the virus will return. And we expect another wave of infection. Probably of big enough extent and potential, that controls will need to be placed on the population again

    In the language of football, we may or may not be able to finish the season which was stopped. My money is on we won’t finish it. But, we may not be able to start the next season until the fall of 2021.

    Will this new respiratory virus become one of the colds and flus we will normally deal with in winter? Possibly. If so it is likely to continue to have severe repercussions on infection.

  4. Tony

    Given the quality of your writing, the general high level of this blogs output that is almost always supported with statistics and or evidence, aligned to the amount of occasions you are plagiarised by the National press, I cannot imagine for one second he’s unaware of your highly researched book on Sir Henry Norris.

    Have you written personally to this Simon Mullock, Chief Football Writer of the Sunday Mirror, for an explanation ?

    Not that I expect him to respond.

    As such it seems he simply chooses to ignore the truth in order to facilitate his anti Arsenal agenda. Well there’s a surprise.

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