Football and War: Henry Norris Sep-Dec 1914

Last updated: April 2008


On Tue 1 September 1914 after much agonising, the FA decided that the professional football season would go ahead.  It was a strange season - there was something very unreal about it all, it being dominated by the war.  Arsenal played their first Football League Division Two fixture that afternoon: Arsenal 3 Glossop 0 which had a crowd of only 7000. 

During season 1914/15 J McEwen, known to all as ‘Punch’ was employed as a coach at Arsenal; though I haven’t been able to discover the exact date he started to work for the club.  At this stage his immediate boss was manager George Morrell.

On Thur 3 September 1914 in the wake of great press criticism of their decision to let football continue, the FA made a public announcement encouraging footballers to join up.  However, Charles Buchan wrote in his memoirs that when he told his employers at Sunderland FC of his intention to join up, they responded with a not-particularly-veiled threat to sue him for breach of contract; so he didn’t volunteer until the summer of 1915.  The FA’s announcement encouraged football clubs to offer their grounds for use by the military for drill practice.  They also encouraged  “well known public men” to use the occasions football matches provided to speak to the match-going crowds about volunteering for the forces.  Henry Norris responded to this last suggestion enthusiastically - he probably urged the FA to mention it in their announcement - and during the autumn made speeches on many occasions at Highbury and Craven Cottage, urging young men in the crowds to volunteer.

The repercussions of the incident at Craven Cottage with the anti-football agitator Charrington got to court (for the original incident see August 1914).  On Fri 4 Sep 1914 he went to West London Police Court to obtain a summons against the Fulham FC employees who had removed him from Craven Cottage.  On Fri 4 September 1914 all mayors of London borough received an invitation to a recruitment meeting to be held at the Guildhall; the principal speaker would be Prime Minister Asquith.

One for the future: by Wed 9 September 1914 Glossop FC were in such deep financial trouble that the club couldn’t pay its weekly expenses.  It’s not clear to me from articles in the press whether their problems were the result of the war or of longer standing; but they were made very serious now by Sir Samuel Hill-Wood’s telling them that he couldn’t go on subsidising the club’s finances any longer - that same Hill-Wood who became chairman of Arsenal FC when Henry Norris went. That afternoon’s match: Glossop 0 Arsenal 4, had a crowd of only 700 - the war was already biting into crowd figures.

Autumn-Winter 1914-15 bureaucracy in London carried on with business as usual despite the fighting.  Henry Norris continued to attend meetings of the London Borough of Fulham, every fortnight on Wednesday evenings; and of the Metropolitan Water Board, every fortnight on Friday afternoons.

During the day, Wed 9 September 1914, in advance of the usual evening meeting, Henry Norris chaired an emergency meeting of the London Borough of Fulham at which the councillors discussed the problems they were already facing, trying to deliver the services required of them now the war was on.  At the meeting that evening Henry Norris announced a recruiting campaign in Fulham. 

On Fri 11 September 1914 with the mayors of other London boroughs Henry Norris attended a ‘Call to Arms’ meeting at the London Opera House, Kingsway.

After the match on Sat 12 September 1914 - Arsenal 3 Fulham 0 - Arsenal were at the top of Football League Division Two.  Although it pitted his two teams against each other I couldn’t find proof that Henry Norris had time to see the match.

At 8pm Tue 15 September 1914 Henry Norris chaired a public meeting at the Fulham Town Hall to launch Fulham’s recruiting campaign.  He was able to tell the audience that 2900 from the borough had already volunteered.  He also accused Kaiser Wilhelm of the “vilest crimes in the history of the world”.  I wonder, in that case, why he had so recently attempted to visit the Kaiser’s country - but no doubt he was being influenced by the mixture of truth and propaganda that was appearing in the papers about the German invasion of Belgium.

By Fri 18 September 1914 the employees of the Allen and Norris partnership had made a donation to the National Relief Fund; it was reported in the West London and Fulham Times.  Regular donations to the Fund were also being made by Fulham FC, probably from collections taken at home games.

As mayoress of a London borough, Henry Norris’ wife Edith had been made an honorary member of the Red Cross when World War 1 was declared.  At 10.30 Sun 20 Sep 1914 she marched with its Putney and Fulham branch to All Saints Church Putney for the Sunday morning service.  I do not get any impression that Henry Norris was a regular church-goer, but he may have gone to this service.

At 4pm Mon 21 September 1914 the crowd was poor even by Monday afternoon standards, for theLondon FA Challenge Cup tie Arsenal 6 Tufnell Park 0.  Arsenal played their Reserve side.

On Wed 23 September 1914 Charrington’s case against the two Fulham FC officials who removed him from Craven Cottage was heard at West London Police Court.  Henry Norris, William Allen, Fred Wall and Fulham manager Phil Kelso all had to give evidence.  Fulham’s employees were found not guilty of assaulting him and the judge awarded costs against Charrington as well.

At 8pm on Wed 23 September 1914 the Fulham Amateur Boxing Club held its AGM, at the Kelvedon Hall, Kelvedon Road Fulham.  Under normal circumstances this would be a function Henry Norris would attend.  However, the war was ensuring that circumstances were anything but normal for Norris, and I don’t know whether he found time to go to it.   

On the evening of Thur 24 September 1914 there was a concert at Fulham Town Hall organised by the Staff Federation of the Prudential insurance company in aid of the Fulham NRF.  Henry Norris was one of the patrons of the event, but the report of it in the local paper - very much shorter than it would have been before the war broke out - didn’t specifically say he’d gone to the concert.

On Sat 26 September 1914 Arsenal were still top of Football League Division Two after Arsenal 2 Hull City 1.

At 8.15pm Wed 30 September 1914 the Fulham branch of the National Relief Fund held its first relief committee meeting, immediately after the usual meeting of the London Borough of Fulham.  The relief committee members were all councillors, and as mayor Henry Norris was its chairman.  At these meetings people applying for money from the NRF were subjected to means-testing (I think not in person).  Despite the humiliating procedures applicants had to go through, the relief committee had already received very many applications and Wednesday evenings became its regular time for holding its assessment sessions.

In the evening of Thur 1 October 1914 Henry and Edith Norris, with their friend George Peachey, attended a patriotic concert at the Shorrold’s Road Conservative Club.  I’m rather curious to know what music was played at it; and I suppose collections were taken perhaps for the NRF or for the Prince of Wales’ fund - which may be the same fund, I’m not sure.


By Fri 2 October 1914 Henry Norris had already agreed to continue as mayor of Fulham for one more year.  In the wartime conditions that were beginning to prevail, this wasn’t unusual - nearly all those mayors who were willing did continue in post, many serving throughout the war years.

On Fri 9 October 1914 a letter to the West London and Fulham Times, from a Mr W S Brooks, launched the National Volunteer Reserve in Fulham.


On Fri 9 October 1914 the directors of Arsenal FC attempted to carry on as normal, and to make best use of the team’s current good form, by launching a new share issue.  Between that day and Mon 9 November 1914, despite the effects of war 276 new shares were sold, mostly to people living in the north of London, in a swathe from Somers Town (north of King’s Cross) to Enfield.

On the first match-day of the share issue, Sat 10 October 1914, there were 30000 at Highbury for the Football League Division Two north London derby Arsenal 2 Clapton Orient 1, the biggest crowd anywhere in England that day.  Spurs were also at home, in Football League Division One; their crowd was 16000.

After the usual London Borough of Fulham meetings in the     evening of Wed 14 October 1914 Henry Norris went on to the King’s Hall, Fulham, to make a speech at the end of a whist drive organised by the Conservative and Unionist Party in Sand’s End, the area for which he was a councillor.  Holding a whist drive was a popular way of raising money for charity in Fulham; the charity in question on this occasion isn’t clear from the reports but was probably the local NRF.

On Fri 16 October 1914 an article in West London and Fulham Times followed up the previous Friday’s letter by encouraging local men to join the National Volunteer Reserve.  You had to be less than 45 and (for whatever reason) not eligible for the full army; at 49, Henry Norris was too old for the NRV and there’s no evidence he volunteered for it.  West London and Fulham Times also noted that the Fulham Board of Guardians was already having problems recruiting doctors, as so many had already joined the armed forces.

At 2.30pm Fri 16 October 1914 Henry Norris attended the first meeting of the Metropolitan Water Board since it had adjourned for its summer break, and the war had broken out.  Three of the current representatives were absent and likely to continue so: they had been registered with either the Territorial Force or the naval reserve, and had been called up already.  Like other such representative organisations, the MWB carried on its work as best it could without them, but as the war continued many such organisations were left depending for their decisions on the handful of mostly elderly men not working for the war effort elsewhere.

On Sat 17 October 1914 Arsenal 2 Blackpool 0 kept them at the top of Football League Division Two though they were now being run very close by Huddersfield Town.  Blackpool missed a penalty at 0-0; then Arsenal hung on for their win despite being down to 9 through injury (no substitutes allowed for any reason during Norris’ life in football).  They lost their league leadership after the match on Sat 24 October 1914 - Derby County 4 Arsenal 0 - never got it back and didn’t qualify for promotion.

Just to prove that hooliganism at football games is nothing new!  I don’t know whether Henry Norris was at the game, but on Sat 31 October 1914 the police were called to Highbury during the Arsenal-Lincoln City game after a City player said a stone had been thrown at him from the crowd.  Match reporter Candid Critic, in the Islington Daily Gazette said that when the policemen started to make their presence felt, the crowd showed its resentment in no uncertain manner.  The match ended 1-1.

On Mon 9 Nov 1914 Henry Norris went through the formality of being made mayor of Fulham again.  His Metropolitan Water Board acquaintance Elliott was also re-elected as mayor of Islington; this was for a record 9th time though he hadn’t served all 9 years in succession. 


On Thur 19 November 1914 Fred Wall, on behalf of the FA, issued another ‘appeal to all good sportsmen’ encouraging both players and football match watchers to volunteer for the armed forces.  Following this plea, a reporter from the Times - one of the papers most hostile to the continuation of professional football in wartime - attended the match at Highbury on Sat 21 November 1914.  His article said that despite the concerted effort at recruiting that he saw at that game, very few of the crowd had volunteered.  What he didn’t say was that the crowd was very small that day as he’d gone to Arsenal Reserves 1 Chelsea Reserves 2; the first team were losing at Huddersfield Town, 3-0.  In his column in Islington Daily Gazette on Mon 23 November 1914, football reporter Candid Critic said that the Government only had itself to blame if young men didn’t see the need to volunteer: its censorship of the news meant that the population at large didn’t understand just why it was so urgent.  He was also one of the few commentators in the debate who pointed out that while joining the armed forces was still voluntary, no one should criticise those who didn’t chose to do so.


By Thur 26 November 1914 the boroughs around Earl’s Court had a new burden on their resources: Belgians fleeing the German invasion were being housed in the exhibitions building there.  They stayed there until the fighting had stopped, and as the war progressed and shortages (especially of food) began to be very serious, there were ugly incidents between them and local residents.  However, at this early stage there was still more sympathy than hostility towards them.  As mayoress of Fulham, Edith Norris ran a flag day to raise money for them; her efforts collected £162/5/7.


On Fri 27 November 1914 the Times printed a letter which contributed to the debate about whether professional football should continue, by putting the point of view of those who were trying to run football clubs.  The letter was from the unnamed director of a football club and it’s possible that Henry Norris was the writer; but when writing to the press he didn’t usually hide behind anonymity in this way.  He was involved in the follow-up to the letter, though: before the match on Sat 28 November 1914 Norris gave an interview at Highbury to a reporter from the Times, about using football as an aid to recruiting men for the war.  He spoke as one who had made a lot of speeches recently, encouraging young men to volunteer.  The match ended Arsenal 3 Bristol City 0.  It poured with rain throughout, the crowd was only 5000 and as the Islington Daily Gazette noted, 2000 of those were in army uniform already, and the rest were either too old, or too young, to serve.

On Mon 30 November 1914 representatives of all the London football clubs attended a meeting organised by Chelsea, to discuss what more London football could do to help the recruiting effort.  I don’t know for certain if Henry Norris was present but I should imagine he was unless kept away by a prior engagement.

By Fri 4 December 1914 Arsenal’s financial troubles were being compounded by the drop in crowd figures.  The Islington Daily Gazette reported football attendances were half what they’d been during season 1913/14.

On Mon 7 December 1914 the London Mayors’ Lodge number 3560 held its main meeting of the year, the one at which the officials took office for the next twelve months.  Henry Norris was installed as the lodge’s Worshipful Master, to serve until December 1915.  I think the ceremony took place at the Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street Covent Garden, where the lodge held its regular meetings.

The initiative begun by Chelsea FC led to a second meeting, this time organised by FA Secretary, Fred Wall.  It was held on Tue 8 December 1914 and attended by all the London clubs’ secretaries, as well as the FA President Lord Kinnaird, and “other gentlemen” including Mr Joynson-Hicks MP and Henry Norris.  This meeting resulted in the formation of a committee to obtain permission from the War Office to form a battalion specifically for volunteer footballers to join - a variation on the ‘pals’ recruiting strategy first put forward by Lord Derby.  Henry Norris was on this organising committee, with representatives from Millwall, Clapton Orient and Chelsea.

At the usual meeting of the London Borough of Fulham on Wed 9 December 1914 Henry Norris and the councillors heard a long list of borough employees who had volunteered already.  This was good news for the war effort but not especially good news for the efficient running of the services the borough was still trying to provide. 

At 2.30pm Fri 11 December 1914 Henry Norris attended the last meeting of the year at the Metropolitan Water Board; where he heard that, because of the war, the MWB was having to borrow money against the property that it owned, to meet its running costs.

At 3.30 on Tue 15 December 1914 with War Office permission obtained, a public meeting took place at Fulham Town Hall to launch the Footballers’ Battalion*.  Its chairman, Joynson-Hicks, made a speech in which he urged footballers to join up to protect their wives and daughters from German atrocities.   Several other speakers described those who volunteered here as agreeing to go to Flanders to play a greater game - a reference to Sir Henry Newbolt’s 1907 poem Vitae Lampada  which moves from playing cricket to dying on an imperial battlefield with the refrain “Play up! Play up!  And play the game!”   However, Henry Norris in his speech was obliged to speak of his disappointment that no player from Fulham FC had volunteered as yet.  Some of the professional footballers present at the meeting did volunteer at the end of it; including Arsenal’s trainer Tom Ratcliff.  And in a campaign speech in December 1918 Henry Norris told his audience that he too had volunteered for active service at this meeting.  He applied for a commission in the Footballers’ Battalion.  His application got as far as his having a medical but he was rejected on several grounds: his age (he was 49); his poor eye-sight; and the argument of William Hayes Fisher, MP for Fulham and chairman of the battalion’s recruitment committee, that Norris would serve his country more efficiently by staying as mayor of Fulham and leading the whole borough to do its duty.

*If you want to follow the Footballers’ Battalion through World War 1, its official designation was 17th (Service) Battalion (1st Football) Middlesex Regiment.

By Christmas Day, Fri 25 December 1914 player Coquet had become Fulham FC’s first recruit to the Footballers’ Battalion.  However, in 1927 Henry Norris admitted that recruitment to the battalion had been so slow that at some time after 15 December 1914 Mr Joynson-Hicks, Mr Hayes Fisher and he got together and agreed to pay a bribe to the battalion’s recruiting sergeant for every man recruited.  Joynson-Hicks contributed 1 shilling per man, Hayes Fisher and Norris 6d each; for every 132 men who joined the battalion Norris paid the it £20/2/0.




Copyright Sally Davis February 2008