Henry Norris and Herbert Chapman: Why all the Bitterness?
Last updated: December 2008
By August 1927 Norris thought appointing Herbert Chapman was, “the biggest mistake I have made in my 62 years of life” and that Arsenal should cut their losses by giving him a pay-off for the last three years of his contract, and getting rid of him. In February 1929 he stated that Chapman had orchestrated a campaign inside and outside Arsenal to get him ejected from football - a campaign that had been so successful many of Norris’ friends now thought he was a crook. Put like that, it’s no wonder Norris hated Chapman. I’ve tried to show in my earlier files on Norris and Arsenal that there was no campaign by anyone to get him out, just a series of mess-ups, many of which he caused himself, leading to a breakdown in many relationships at the club; and a complacency about financial details that eventually caught the eye of the football authorities. If Norris was looking for a betrayer, William Hall was a better choice; why did he blame Chapman more?
Henry Norris was not a man given to self-reflection. Researching his life I’ve often wondered how self-aware he was. Particularly in the run-up to his libel action in February 1929, he was inclined to feel that everybody was against him, without examining why - let alone if - they might feel that way. I’m sure he never analysed why he ended feeling such bitter hostility towards Chapman - who was, after all, doing all that was expected of him in making Arsenal a footballing force to be reckoned with. It has to do with Norris’ assumption that he was pre-eminent, not only at Arsenal but in every other enterprise he was involved in. I’m sure the assumption was quite unconscious, but consciously he would hate anybody who he unconsciously perceived as challenging it (if you follow that). Chapman challenged it; again I’m not sure how far he was aware of it. Maybe a bit.
Perhaps a lot. I’ve just (November 2008) read again Herbert Chapman on Football, a collection of the sports columns Chapman had written over several years for the Sunday Express and I’ve come away with the feeling that Chapman’s ideas on how to run a successful football team were in complete opposition to a lot of ideas Norris held dear. Again I wonder about that job interview. You don’t have to know who the other applicants were to be sure that Chapman had the best record as a football club secretary-manager; but it’s not necessarily the applicant with the best record that’s the one you can work with. Norris not being very self-aware (that is my working assumption these days), I think there was a big, unacknowledged gap in his mind between the type of man he thought he wanted as Arsenal’s manager, and the type of man he had become used to dealing with as an employer. Chapman was different from that type of man in several respects.
“THE ORGANISATION OF VICTORY” - Chapman’s own phrase for how a football club should be run if it wants regular success on the pitch. It encompasses the manager’s job as he saw it - overseeing all those details that had to be got exactly right on a daily basis for the organisation of victory to work. He admitted himself that when he had been a player, the phrase was unknown because the thinking behind it didn’t exist. Chapman had brought it into existence himself in his career as a secretary-manager: his career had caused the secretary-manager’s job to become the focus of all the big changes in football that followed the professionalisation of the players, and the creation of competitive, full-time leagues. The job that had started out as taking in office administration as well as team matters grew and branched out in all directions, creating any number of new specialisms and becoming too multifarious and demanding for one man to do alone. Arsenal FC had moved with the times to a certain extent: Leslie Knighton had presided over an office staff of at least four, and a footballing staff including separate trainers for the first and reserve teams, coaches and a (part-time) doctor. However in Chapman’s eyes, it was lagging behind in other respects.
In 1925 Chapman set about organising Arsenal for victory, like he had done at all the clubs he had managed. He brought an experience second to none to the job; but also energy, intelligence, a relentless attention to detail and what Tom Whittaker calls a “restless, electric planning brain”. He was one of those people who can’t be still: Whittaker describes him as sitting behind his desk drumming on its top or twiddling with his pencils as he spoke. With Chapman in charge at Arsenal the changes soon began to pile up - suggesting that he thought that up until he started work there, the organisation of victory had not been what Arsenal was about. The early changes at least were focussed on the preparation of the players for their matches and the board of directors were happy to go along with, and to pay for, these. They agreed to having some walls knocked through to expand the gym underneath the grandstand. They paid for Tom Whittaker (a trained engineer) to wire up the gym and dressing rooms for electric lighting. They sanctioned the purchase of new physiotherapy equipment. Chapman installed the very latest methods of keeping the players fit; he made it clear to the players that money spent on their mental and physical fitness was money well-spent.
In his scrutiny of the way in which the players were prepared for their tasks on the pitch, Chapman very quickly reached the conclusion that George Hardy did not have the skills to undertake the training job as he envisaged it. In preparing Tom Whittaker to be Hardy’s successor, Chapman had him trained in sports massage, anatomy, electrical therapy and medical gymnastics. I think you can assume that Hardy did not have some if not all of these skills which were focussed on injury - prevention and recovery - rather than just fitness. Chapman’s request to Norris to demote Hardy - presumably so that someone with modern skills could replace him - was a pivotal moment, and Norris’ response a defining one. Norris said that Hardy would remain in his current job. Writing about the incident later, Norris made it clear that he did not view Hardy’s skills as lacking in any respect, but I think there was more to his refusal than just an inability to understand how the job of trainer had moved on. Norris had been pleased to appoint Chapman as the new broom; but when it came to Chapman starting to sweep clean, he made it clear to him that there were limits to what he would allow, especially when it came to rejecting as inadequate staff he had appointed. Whether the other directors played any role in Norris’ decision about Hardy isn’t clear but from Norris’ description of the incident, the decision to refuse to demote Hardy was his alone. Chapman made the best of it with Hardy for another 18 months, while gradually coming to see Whittaker as the man to replace him; but he must have wondered whether his chairman understood all that was necessary to create a winning team in the modern game.
WHO REPRESENTS ARSENAL?
It’s astonishing how quickly Herbert Chapman came to be the voice of Arsenal FC in the mind of the public. He was helped, I think, by a change in personnel at the Islington Gazette in 1926: Arthur Bourke, writing as Norseman, was replaced by St Ivel (I don’t know his real name) whose style focussed less on match detail and more on daily news - a more ‘hands-on’ approach that suited Chapman very well. In writing about Arsenal’s directors Bourke had always been careful to praise and defend rather than criticise. I think St Ivel was a younger man because he took a more robust, less deferential, view of the role of the reporter in football news-making.
Chapman was happy to speak to Arthur Bourke and to St Ivel on a regular basis and this leads me to the main reason why the image of Arsenal in the minds of the public changed so rapidly. It has to do with attitudes to the media but that’s only part of it. The whole of it was that Chapman was prepared to put himself about, to engage with press and public in a way Henry Norris never dreamed of or thought was at all important. I deal with Norris’ relations with the media in another file. Here I’ll just say that some indication of his views on the importance of the media to a football club can be gleaned from the fact that until well into the 1920s there was no electric lighting in the Arsenal press-room, reporters having to type their shorthand notes taken during the match, and undertake interviews, by gas or even candle light.
Herbert Chapman and Henry Norris held different views on the question of how you control what the media says about you and your football club. The best way to make sure your own views get into the media with as little adulteration as possible is to write for the press yourself, and both men did do that. However, by the mid-1920s Norris had largely given up writing about football and was controlling what the press said about him and his club by talking to them as little as possible. Chapman, however, preferred the other route - giving football reporters information and opinion that was good copy but which was controlled by what subjects you chose to discuss and how you chose to talk about them. Chapman was a very well-prepared, professional interviewee. He was an interviewer’s gift, as well, with his enthusiasm, his vision, his intelligent analysis and wide knowledge of the game. So naturally reporters preferred to hear him than to hear Norris.
Chapman’s quickest route to being the voice of Arsenal in the minds of the club’s supporters was via his articles in the match-day programme. These began on Saturday 29 August 1925 with a statement of his aims for the club - “to make the Arsenal FC one of the best football clubs from all points of view” and “to employ, without exception, the very best type of player to represent the club”. The second aim, in particular, would have been music to the ears of the Arsenal match-goers. I think that they were mostly on Chapman’s side already, though: they could see he meant what he said - he’d bought Charles Buchan. That’s not to say that no one else at Arsenal could use this platform any longer. When Tom Whittaker was so badly treated by the FA when told he would never play again, the statement of support in the match-day programme was written by Henry Norris on behalf of all the directors. It was widely quoted and referred to in the press coverage of the controversy. That was an exceptional incident, though. On a regular basis it was Chapman’s voice that spoke to the fans through the medium of the match-day programme. His writings there were also used as the basis for other articles on football and reached a wider audience that way. For example, the Times quoted his views in the course of an article on the current level of transfer fees, on Monday 20 December 1926; though the reporter did feel obliged to note that Chapman was “the manager of the Arsenal club” in case some readers didn’t know who he was.
From coverage at the time I can’t discover who it was at Arsenal who gave permission for Arsenal 1 Sheffield United 1 (Saturday 22 January 1927) to be the first football match to be broadcast live over the radio. Samuel Hill-Wood is the only Arsenal director mentioned as having been at the match. Henry Norris’ absence from this epoch-making event was probably down to the illness of his wife. However, I can’t quite see him being enthusiastic about radio’s possibilities; the best I can see is his not minding either way about radio commentary. Chapman may not have made the decision to allow the match to be broadcast but he was always enthusiastic about the right kind of innovation. While never supporting newness for its own sake, if Chapman thought any new idea would benefit the game of football, he was all for it. He will have been amongst the idea’s most enthusiastic supporters at the club - he and George Allison, who very soon after that first broadcast took over as the nation’s live football match commentator.
I’m not sure how far Chapman’s becoming the voice of Arsenal was the result of a conscious effort. I think Chapman’s conscious effort was towards getting the name of Arsenal known in non-footballing circles. In some instances it was the result of his involvement as Arsenal secretary-manager in events that weren’t football matches. The annual charity cricket match between Arsenal FC and Tufnell Park CC/FC was not even Chapman’s idea - it had been going on since before World War 1 - but in 1926 Chapman made the occasion his own. I don’t know who picked the team in the years before Chapman, but this year he chose Arsenal’s team and was in charge of it on the day. He also spoke on the club’s behalf at the lunch that was an important part of the day’s fund-raising effort. In September of that year Chapman encouraged Arsenal’s brass band (which played before every match and during half-time) to absent themselves from a home game to compete in a band contest at Crystal Palace (providing they won, of course!) A month later Chapman (a regular church-goer) gave a talk on training for football as part of the Sunday evening service at Islington Chapel. In January 1927 he even went with the Arsenal brass band when they gave a concert at Pentonville Prison. The concert was the latest in a series, which I presume Chapman had organised or given permission for. George Allison went with him on that occasion. Small things and not much to do with football; but they got Arsenal’s name noticed by a wider group of people than would ever go to a football match; and the man who these non-footballing people understood as speaking on Arsenal’s behalf was Herbert Chapman. Not Henry Norris.
No way can I see Henry Norris giving a lecture to a young people’s Sunday service at a chapel. But he wasn’t the person who was asked. It was Herbert Chapman who was asked and that seems to have been a first: no one else at the club had ever been asked. Ditto with the brass band contest. The annual cricket match is a more interesting case, though. In previous years, Henry Norris had attended the lunch and made the speech; in 1926 he only came for afternoon tea at which no speech-making was done. So a question arises: did Chapman step into a breach left by Norris saying he couldn’t spare the time to be at the lunch? Or was Chapman the man Tufnell Park CC wanted?
Close-season cricket matches and church services may have been occasions which Henry Norris had never considered important enough to bother with. However, Herbert Chapman also seems to have spoken on behalf of Arsenal FC at the AGM of the Football League in 1926. It was Chapman who tried to get the FL members to agree to a transfer deadline each season; not Norris. For all his track-record, Chapman was only an employee of the club. The job of representing Arsenal at the the AGMs of the FL and the Football Association had been done by Henry Norris for many years. It seems an odd transfer of power; even if it was only meant to be for the one meeting, say because of some last-minute clash of commitments on Norris’ part. It brings me to my next source of contention between Chapman and Norris.
When Athletic News announced to its readers (15 June 1925) that Herbert Chapman had taken the job at Arsenal, they said that he had been appointed “as the directors’ representative” and with “full charge”. That conveys to me as I hope it does to you, the idea that Chapman would have full control over all the club’s affairs, both the football and the finances, reporting to the directors and having everybody else report to him. However, at least in 1929, Henry Norris didn’t see the term “full charge” in that way and sounded quite baffled by Chapman’s actions and the conflicts they had caused, Norris being the directors’ spokesman and writing about it in 1929 as if there had never been any conflict before Chapman got there. Perhaps there hadn’t been - not in that sense. When I looked further into the announcements of Leslie Knighton’s appointment in 1919, I found that he too had been appointed with what the press termed “full charge”; but I’ve written above that Knighton’s influence in Arsenal’s finance office was actually rather limited and he seems to have been happy to leave it that way, although it was still his job to sign off the annual accounts even if he hadn’t prepared them himself. There had been rows between Knighton and Norris - perhaps by 1929 Norris had forgotten them - but (at least in Knighton’s own recollection of them) they had been rows in which Knighton had acted like someone with very limited power, and Norris like the man with all the power.
A quick note on how Leslie Knighton got the job at Arsenal FC. As far as I have been able to find, the job was not advertised. Knighton was head-hunted as far as I can tell. Although he never claimed to have appointed Knighton all on his own, Henry Norris did lead the head-hunting, probably suggesting his name to the other directors, and making the first contact with the man himself. Knighton was given a job interview. There are two accounts of it, one of which describes it as having been conducted by Henry Norris alone, the other by Henry Norris in the main but with the other directors present. Both accounts agree that the interview took place on the terrace of the House of Commons - a location, I suggest, chosen by Norris so that he could fit it in with his other appointments, but also one which would over-awe the interviewee. When he was contacted by Norris Leslie Knighton was the assistant secretary at Manchester City. Writing in his memoirs about getting the Arsenal job, Knighton made it clear how pleased he was to be offered such a big step up the managerial career ladder. He also said that, when appointed, he was the youngest secretary-manager in the FL Division One. I think that Henry Norris was very well aware of both those points, and they were the main reasons why Knighton was appointed: he was good enough at the job, he would be grateful, and not in a position to argue, so that Henry Norris and William Hall, with the help of Harry John Peters, could continue to run Arsenal as they wanted, without argument.
It was very different with Herbert Chapman. He and Knighton had the same job title and were, apparently, appointed on the same terms. But, “Mr Chapman meant to be Manager in fact as well as in name”, said Henry Norris in 1929, astonished. Well - yes. It’s what Herbert Chapman expected - what he needed, given his view of the secretary-manager’s job as directing and controlling every aspect of the football club’s daily life, creating the right conditions for the organisation of victory. And, I think, what he needed for his own peace of mind, after the fall of Leeds City, in which he was punished as its manager for a breach of the rules that took place while he was doing war-work elsewhere and had hardly any involvement in the club’s administration. Perhaps Henry Norris had forgotten this as well, when he appointed Herbert Chapman and again I wonder whether there a job interview ever took place. But a job interview shouldn’t have been necessary for Norris to reach the conclusion that Chapman was likely to take a closer interest than Knighton had done in what was happening at Arsenal off the pitch as well as on.
One important aspect of having “full charge” that Chapman and Norris didn’t (apparently) differ about is who picked the team. Picking the team was a responsibility which had originally been solely down to the club’s directors; there are references to Arsenal’s directors doing it as late as the early 1920s - that is, when Leslie Knighton was at the club. Herbert Chapman, however, regarded directors as too out of touch with players to make good decisions on the matter; in his view the manager should have the final word on who played. Seeing Chapman had such a history of forging great teams, I guess Henry Norris let him get on with picking the team at Arsenal. I do find it strange, though, that there’s no evidence that they argued about it.
Maybe they were too busy arguing about other things. And for Norris it wasn’t team selection that was the sticking-point, it was who was the ultimate authority when it came to Arsenal’s money. Norris’ 1929 description of money matters at Arsenal was that, “the management of the affairs of the Arsenal Club was until the arrival of Mr Chapman...mainly in the hands of [Norris] and Mr Hall. The whole of the financial transactions of the Club were left in the hands of [Norris] and Mr Hall...there is a minute [in the record of the directors’ meetings] to this effect.” He could have added that the decisions of Norris and Hall were carried out by two people in the finance office who -as I’ve said above - had been worked for Norris for a long time, and who owed him pretty-big time for their jobs. Harry John Peters - the man in charge of Arsenal’s cheque-book - was particularly close to Norris; for the very reason that he did as his bosses wanted, apparently only ever questioning Norris and Hall’s decisions once (in 1921) - and even then he backed down, allowing an arrangement to be put into place that broke the FA rules on payments to directors.
Henry Norris was aghast when Herbert Chapman showed that he intended to exercise as much control over the ‘secretary’ side of his job as over the ‘manager’ side - that he was going to take the term ‘full-charge’ literally. Norris’ writings in 1927 and in 1929 indicate he just couldn’t cope with it. He took particular exception to the letters he received from Chapman as company secretary in the immediate aftermath of the FA Commission of Inquiry’s report. The letters were sent by Chapman in his ‘secretary’ capacity on behalft of the new Arsenal board of directors but Norris seemed to blame Chapman personally for their content, which reminded him that he was no longer in power at the club. His attitude leads me to suppose that Knighton had been willing to neglect the ‘secretary’ aspect of his job, which was exactly what Norris wanted. When Chapman scrutinised the workings of the men in Arsenal’s finance office, Norris got angry. Though actually, after giving Norris the £170 cheque for the reserve team bus, in July 1927, Chapman didn’t notice that Norris hadn’t settled up and put the money into Arsenal’s account; he seems to have assumed that the settling up had been done without checking the bank statements - so his scrutiny can’t have been that close. And when Chapman did get told what had happened to the cheque, his anger was not on Arsenal’s behalf but on his own.
Chapman knew where the problem was. His fury was directed at Norris personally - not at the employees in the finance office who had been too inclined to do Norris’ bidding without considering the consequences for the company. From Norris’ account of board meetings after the £170 had resurfaced, Chapman lost any respect he had had for Henry Norris, and showed it. However, he was happy to continue to work with Harry John Peters after the FA Commission of Inquiry - that is, when Norris was gone and Chapman’s authority at the club was no longer a subject of dispute. Peters continued to be employed by Arsenal FC until he retired in the late 1940s. I don’t know what happened to John Edward Norris but it doesn’t matter quite so much because he didn’t have such a responsible job at the club.
Henry Norris’ attitude towards Herbert Chapman is evidence that he was not used to having his financial manoeuvres checked over, especially by an eye he considered hostile. I daresay it had not happened to him for many years, at any of the enterprises he was involved in. Chapman’s record as manager of a football team was nothing to Norris in 1927 and 1929; he thought the man ought to be sacked because he had questioned Norris’ authority and the rights he gave himself to do financial dealings as he saw fit. My point is that the appointment of Herbert Chapman was an aberration on Norris’ part - he had preferred, particularly at the football clubs he was involved in, to give jobs to people who weren’t in a position to argue or the type to do so. It was an aberration and within two years he deeply regretted it.
In his document for the FA Commission of 1927, Norris was concentrating on money, because it was Arsenal’s finances that were being investigated. In 1929 he was trying to right what he saw was the wrong of the FA’s implication, in their report, that he had stolen money from his football club. He saw Chapman as the man who’d not cooperated with his way of running Arsenal’s money. However, I believe an unacknowledged part of the hatred he came to feel for Chapman was to do with LOYALTY.
Henry Norris valued Harry John Peters and John Edward Norris at Arsenal, and his other long-term employees at Allen and Norris and other companies for their loyalty to him, which often took the form of allowing Norris to get away with actions that weren’t good business practice, or worse. But these were office employees and the office was where Norris thought his power ought to be. He had never felt that the footballers he employed were that important to him, not even those who had loyally been playing for the club for years. Herbert Chapman, however, took a completely different view of which employees were the most important at a football club: he made it very clear that it was the players and the staff that kept them playing. His whole vision of footballing success was built on getting the best players and keeping them at their optimum level of skill and fitness; and in that regard he viewed the reserve team as needing quite as much attention as the first team. The innovations he brought in - especially the team meetings, at which every person’s point of view was sought and equally valued - brought the players from the wings to centre-stage. From the writings of Chapman and of Charles Buchan it’s clear that there hadn’t been team meetings at Arsenal before. Players’ views had been canvassed either individually and ad hoc or not at all; and they hadn’t been considered important. It might be expected that Buchan, brought in and made club captain by Herbert Chapman, might be a stout supporter of Chapman’s regime at Arsenal. But even players like Tom Whittaker, who’d been signed by Leslie Knighton and had been at the club for five rather inglorious years without thinking of leaving, turned into Chapman’s men. Chapman inspired players to believe in themselves, and thus they came to believe in him. Whatever loyalty they may have felt towards Henry Norris and William Hall, as the two directors they had most contact with, was replaced by loyalty to Chapman. Whittaker, of course, had particular reason to be very grateful to Chapman for Chapman’s belief that he had the education and the ability to succeed as a football trainer, when Whittaker was told he could never play football again.
You can see the row between Herbert Chapman and George Hardy in February 1927 as bringing the issue of who had authority at Arsenal into the open; destroying the regime of Henry Norris and William Hall in the process. The row itself was about who had authority to shout instructions to the players during a match. William Hall was called on to exercise his authority as a director to bring the row to an end; he chose to allow Chapman to deal with Hardy as he saw fit - which rather contradicted what had happened about Hardy in 1925. Chapman demoted Hardy and appointing Whittaker to succeed him. It was like a rite of passage in the dressing-room: an acknowledgement by the club’s vice-chairman that Chapman now had authority over football matters. Henry Norris, however, told Chapman that he had exceeded his authority in making this change of personnel. He was angry that it had happened to Hardy, obviously, but his view was that only the club’s directors had the authority to hire, raise up and cast down. He may have been right. I don’t think such a situation had ever arisen at Arsenal before. Telling Chapman he’d done wrong, however, had consequences Norris didn’t foresee: Hall took what Norris had said to Chapman as a challenge to his own authority at the club, and he resigned from the board of directors.
Although he hadn’t been sacked, Hardy saw which way the wind was blowing, and got another job. So Norris never got the chance to reinstate him. What Chapman would have done if Norris had insisted that Hardy be reinstated, goodness knows. As it was, Whittaker continued to be the first-team trainer and Chapman’s authority to make appointments, at least on the footballing side, was confirmed. In Norris’ letter of resignation from Arsenal’s board of directors (July 1927) he declared that his position as club chairman was now untenable because of the challenges to his authority made by Hall and Chapman.
In 1927 and again in 1929 Norris more or less admitted in so many words that he didn’t like what had happened to Arsenal since Chapman had arrived. Not even the second place of season 1925/26 and the cup final of season 1926/27 weighed with him. His writings have an under-tone of bewilderment that people didn’t appreciate his own contributions to Arsenal FC more than they seemed to. They are the writings of a man who’s waiting for a round of applause - only to find the crowd yelling three cheers for someone else. Someone who had stolen the spotlight despite being only an employee, with ideas above his station; someone who’d only been around a year or two; someone who had never done the hard bit - putting in money to keep the club alive.
What Herbert Chapman thought about Henry Norris and his role at Arsenal FC I don’t know for certain because he had the discretion never to discuss the man in public. He even passed up a golden opportunity to give his views on Norris, at the AGM of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company in September 1927, when he was called on to make a speech to follow (and refute, I suppose) one by Norris in which Norris admitted (later) he had made a personal attack on Chapman. However, when writing for the Sunday Express in the early 1930s Herbert Chapman considered the professionalisation of the management of a football club - something his own career had contributed to, by showing what could happen to your club if you left football to those who were being paid for their expertise. He wrote, “The truth is, football to-day is too big a job to be a director’s hobby, and most clubs have recognised it, though I imagine in some cases authority has been surrendered to a paid official with a good deal of reluctance.” He named no names; and I don’t suppose he just had Arsenal in mind.
I think Norris was exaggerating when he accused Chapman of orchestrating a campaign to be rid of him from Arsenal. On the other hand, Chapman must have heaved a sigh of relief when he was gone. I think he will have come to see Norris in person and Norris as a director as the biggest obstacle to the successful football team he was trying to build. Under Samuel Hill-Wood’s chairmanship of Arsenal FC, Chapman’s authority over football and over money was never challenged.
Norris did Arsenal a great favour, appointing Chapman; but I don’t think he did himself one. I do think Norris supposed Chapman would be grateful to be appointed: that somehow he would be as obedient as Norris’ other employees and let him run the enterprise of Arsenal as he saw fit. He misjudged the man badly and appointed someone that, as an employer, he just couldn’t deal with.
IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE SOURCES OF ALL THIS INFORMATION, SEND ME AN EMAIL AND I’LL SEND YOU THE SOURCES FILE.
Copyright Sally Davis December 2008