Henry Norris as an Employer - Football

Last updated: November 2008



In this file on Henry Norris’ relations with his employees in football I begin by making a couple of points:

1) It’s the players and the managers that grab all the headlines but in order to keep their show on the road a football club has to employ a lot of other types of people as well.

2) Norris was an employer in the world of football at Fulham FC and at [Woolwich] Arsenal FC, but I’m going to concentrate on Arsenal FC for these reasons: I’m an Arsenal supporter so Arsenal is what I know about; and at Fulham FC Henry Norris was ‘first amongst equals’, but at Arsenal FC especially as the 1920s wore on, his role was more and more ‘first with no real equals’, so that his personal views as a football employer show more clearly.


I’ve already indicated that the policy begun by William Gilbert Allen, of employing family in his firm, was something Henry Norris was happy to continue.  I hope to show in this file that in football Norris employed both family and the people I’ve described as ‘family’.


I start, though, with a group of people whose importance to keeping football’s show on the road is highly questionable: football writers.  In the course of his career in football Henry Norris was a football writer himself and employed several others.  I deal in more detail with Norris’ up-and-down relations with football journalism in another file.  Here I just talk briefly about the ‘employment’ aspects and argue that Norris probably only paid a salary to one of the football journalists he employed.


To put my view as briefly as possible: in my researches for the life of Henry Norris I have looked systematically at football coverage between 1903 and 1931 in Athletic News, Fulham Chronicle, West London and Fulham Times, the Kentish Independent and the Islington Daily Gazette I have come to believe that none of the football writers in the local papers were paid, most had other jobs as well and did their football writing for the love of the game (and the influence it gave them).  Some at least of Athletic News’ writers were paid but then, the paper had the financial clout of Hulton Newspapers behind it.  The local papers seemed to operate on a shoestring, funded largely by their small-ads.  They might employ one editor, and one or two full-time writers, but I think they simply couldn’t afford to pay their sports reporters - in Fulham and Islington you needed two football writers - never mind the other local sports - because there were two important local teams; that’s a lot of wages. 




At the end of season 1907/08 a group of London-based football men bought out an ailing local weekly sports paper known by the clumsy title of Athletics World, Cycling and Football Chat.  Henry Norris was a member of this group, and as such he became the employer, for one season, of a number of football writers, and one editor.  AWCFC was relaunched as Football Chat and during season 1908/09 published articles from a variety of men involved in football but not footballers - referees, members of the football’s administrative hierarchy etc.  They all had paid jobs that were nothing to do with football; football was their (all-consuming) but unpaid leisure-time passion; and I believe that they never expected to be paid for the contributions to Football Chat.  Norris wrote a weekly column himself, and he didn’t get paid.  In its issue of Wednesday 26 August 1908 Football Chat announced a real coup: the appointment as its editor of J J Bentley, founder member of the Football League, vice-president of the Football Association, director of Manchester United and until very recently editor of Athletic News.  Without any documentation I can’t state categorically that Bentley was paid a wage; but I can’t believe that Football Chat would have been able to offer him the editorship without a wage attached to it.  Bentley was a very sought-after man, and getting a weekly paper to its reading public was a full-time job.  I think he was paid; and that payment of his salary added to Football Chat’s troubles.  Despite the care taken by the group that bought AWCFC to investigate the paper’s finances, they were still sold a pig in a poke.  Football Chat never gained enough readers to cover its costs, and folded in May 1909.   Norris and his fellow shareholders had to make Bentley redundant.




Henry Norris also employed football writers to write for and edit match-day programmes; but I believe that they weren’t paid.  Like the writers on Football Chat, the two main men I’m thinking of did Norris’ writing and editing work in addition to a full-time job. 


Merula was the football-writing name of Frederick Oscar Drew: clerk in HM Office of Works, local councillor in Fulham (for the Liberals), writer of the football column in the West London and Fulham Times and Fulham FC fan and shareholder.  At the beginning of season 1907/08 the directors of Fulham FC offered Drew the job of writing and editing their match-day programme as the club embarked on life in the Football League.  Henry Norris was still chairman of Fulham FC in 1907 so it’s likely he had a big say, if not the big say, in Drew being given the job; though all the directors will have known Drew reasonably well.  It transpired much later that Norris also was the writer of the column in the programme described as expressing the point of view of all the directors.  So you could say that he had a lot to do with the club’s programmes.  Too much, Drew decided: in early November 1907 he quit as editor, putting a notice in the West London and Fulham Times saying exactly why, which the Fulham Chronicle summed up as “he could not obtain his own way”.  Drew’s public statement did not mention who exactly was standing in the way of editorial freedom, but it caused a storm in a teacup in footballing Fulham and the “stinging letter” the Fulham FC directors sent to WLFT in response was definitely written by Henry Norris - it’s full of the kind of trenchant, downright language he tended to use when someone had got his goat.   Drew went off on a sea voyage, only returning to England in January 1908, by which time Norris and the other directors had had time to reflect.  Drew took the job on again, so I guess he had been assured that he’d be allowed to exercise his editorial judgement without argument.  He was helped I daresay in July 1908 when Norris stood down as Fulham FC’s chairman.  William Hall succeeded Norris, who always had a more ‘leave it to the experts’ attitude to the tasks of an employer.  Even the programme’s directors’ column got shorter and less abrasive.


Henry Norris’ other match-day programme editor, at [Woolwich] Arsenal FC, doesn’t seem to have had the problems Drew had with his football employers.  There are two reasons for this, I think.  Firstly, George Allison’s association with Woolwich Arsenal FC predated the involvement of Henry Norris and William Hall - he’d been going to their matches since 1906 and he was a fan.  Secondly, Allison was a professional journalist, employed by Hulton Newspapers as a London-based reporter for their Athletic News sports paper, for which he wrote match reports and other columns as The Gunner’s Mate.  Where Drew might be thought as an amateur not to know what he was doing (though I think he did know), Allison definitely did know what was what when it came to journalism.  I still think that he wasn’t paid a wage at Arsenal, though.




Journalist/editors were not the only people Henry Norris employed who were not paid by him; as late as the mid-1920s it was still just about possible for a footballer who had a paid job elsewhere to play as an amateur at a professional club and hold his own with its professionals.  Particularly at Arsenal FC, with its big debts, the attraction to Henry Norris of good players who were not paid a wage was obvious.  And whereas I can’t say for certain that Norris’ journalist/editors were not paid, I am sure that the amateur footballers Norris employed received only expenses - that was in the FA rules.  There were limitations to employing amateur football players, however. 


The first was, they weren’t so easily tied down.  For example, on August 1921, Arsenal FC took on Sabek Fahmy after he had impressed manager Leslie Knighton during a short trial.  Fahmy was an Egyptian, in London to do post-graduate studies.  He didn’t want to be a professional, which suited Henry Norris just fine.  But from reading between the lines about Fahmy in the Islington Daily Gazette I have got the impression that Arsenal couldn’t get Fahmy to take a professional attitude to the game.  He was a good player, he just wasn’t so keen on the training sessions and other baggage that went with a commitment to a professional club: frustrating, in a player with talent.


Fahmy was Egyptian; he may have been a Muslim.  That doesn’t seem to have bothered Henry Norris in the least, when he was considering hiring him: the player’s footballing skills, and the fact that he wouldn’t need paying, were more important to him than his race or religion.  There was not much opportunity in English football during Norris’ time for him to exercise any racial prejudices he might have, for most footballers were white and British; however, Norris didn’t act in a racist manner over Fahmy.


The second problem with amateur players was that paid work of theirs.  Percy Sands - an amateur already playing for Woolwich Arsenal FC when William Hall and Henry Norris got involved there - was a teacher and could fit matches and training sessions in around his working hours relatively easily.  With others, however, their work was a big counter-commitment, and never any bigger than with James Paterson.  Paterson was signed by Arsenal FC in 1920's close season and played for the club until his retirement at the end of season 1923/24.  He was a good capture - as Jimmy Paterson he’d played as a professional for Glasgow Rangers.  By 1920, though, he’d qualified as a doctor and had come to London to join his brother-in-law’s general practice in Hackney.  His patients would come first: he didn’t want to be a professional footballer any longer for precisely that reason.  Arsenal out-talked Spurs to get Paterson to sign for them, but I presume they did so by being more amenable to Paterson’s terms: he rarely travelled to away games and sometimes had to miss even home fixtures.  And when Paterson didn’t play, it showed.


Most players that were employed by Henry Norris were professionals.  I’ve been doing some analysis on the players who plied their trade for Arsenal between 1915 and 1927.  Though there was somewhat of a break in personnel at the end of season 1922/23 (after Arsenal FC had escaped relegation by a hair’s breadth thanks to some players promoted at Christmas from the Reserves) in general I noticed that there were a core of players who stayed with the club for many seasons.  They were not household names, even at the time; I think there are good reasons why not, which shed light on Henry Norris as an employer of football players.


Like Percy Sands and George Allison, some of them pre-dated Henry Norris at [Woolwich] Arsenal FC:

-           Charles Lewis.  Joined Woolwich Arsenal FC as a youth player 1907.  Player for the club during World War I.  Transferred to Margate FC 1921.  Never a regular in the first team.  14 seasons as an employee of Henry Norris.

-           Joseph Shaw.  Signed by Woolwich Arsenal FC 1907.  Played for the club during World War I.  Retired as a player 1922 but stayed at Arsenal as a coach.  I could have put him further down this list, because he survived the Norris era and the Chapman one, continuing to work at Arsenal FC until the 1950s.  12 seasons as a player working for Henry Norris and 5 as a coach.

Others were hired during the years in which Henry Norris and William Hall made the financial decisions at the club:

-           John (Jock) Rutherford.  He was actually quite well-known when he arrived at Arsenal FC in October 1913 - he was paid one of Norris’ illegal payments to join the club.  Joined Clapton Orient in the close season 1926.  13 seasons as an employee of Henry Norris.

-           Alexander (Alec) Graham.  Signed for Arsenal FC January 1912; final appearance October 1924, then transferred to Brentford FC.  12 seasons as an employee of Henry Norris.

-           Frederick Groves - I wonder if he’s any relation to the immortal Perry?!  Joined Woolwich Arsenal FC October 1913; transferred to Brighton and Hove Albion 1921.  Played through World War I so 8 seasons as an employee of Henry Norris.

-           Joseph Toner.  Joined Arsenal FC 1919; transferred to St Johnstone January 1926.  6½ seasons as an employee of Henry Norris.

-           Clem Voysey.  His story is told elsewhere in this Life of Henry Norris.  He was paid a bribe to join Arsenal FC 1919.  Severe injury early 1919/20 and never a first team regular after that.  Retired as a player at the end of 1925/26.  7 seasons as an employee of Henry Norris.

Some did last into the post-Norris era:

-           Alfred Baker.  Joined Arsenal FC May 1919; final game for the first team March 1931.  During those seasons the only position he didn’t play in was goal-keeper.  8 seasons as an employee of Henry Norris.

-           John Butler.  Joined Arsenal FC March 1914; first game in first team not until 1919 because of World War I.  Last game for Arsenal, reserve team game April 1930.  8 seasons working for Henry Norris.

-           William Milne.  Joined Arsenal FC 1921; one of the reserve team players who rescued season 1922/23.  Final first team appearance April 1927; retired as a player and became assistant trainer at Arsenal FC.  7 seasons working for Henry Norris.

-           Tom Whittaker, who also figures elsewhere in this history of Norris.  Joined Arsenal FC November 1919 after being demobbed.  Not a first team regular.  Last game for Arsenal, April 1925; then he got his career-ending injury.  6 seasons as a player employee of Henry Norris; one as injured; half a season doing odd-jobs before being made first-team coach by Chapman.  Continued to work for Arsenal into the 1950s.


Of course, there were a great many other players at [Woolwich] Arsenal FC during the seasons in which it was run by William Hall and Henry Norris.  Some lasted only a very short time there: I’ve discussed the Arsenal career of Midget Moffatt (one season maximum) elsewhere.  My argument is that there was a core of players at [Woolwich] Arsenal FC who carried on there through thick and thin - and there was very little thick during Norris’ years there so I would like readers to consider these points about those players:


1) Most of the people I’ve listed above never won anything that I would consider worth winning.  Shaw and Rutherford were exceptions of a sort; but Shaw didn’t win anything as a player; and Rutherford didn’t win anything at Arsenal.

 2) I’ve stated elsewhere the assertion by Arthur Bourke, who wrote for Islington Daily Gazette (where he was not employed by Henry Norris), that during the early 1920s only one player at Arsenal was paid the maximum wage.  Bourke didn’t say who it was but throughout my work on Henry Norris I’ve assumed it was Rutherford.  In fact, from 1919-23 H A White was being paid more than the maximum wage; but it was a secret deal, against the rules, and Bourke didn’t know of it until late 1923, though the other players did.  It may even have reinforced Norris’ general views on paying players.  Norris was so anxious to make sure White didn’t sign for another club that for once in his career as an employer, he let the employee dictate the terms.  He regretted it very soon afterwards: White didn’t live up to expectations on the pitch, and he seems to have made sure other players knew about his special deal, by which he (only just turned professional) earned more than they (with many years experience but less cheek).  When next Norris paid a player above the odds, he did at least choose one who was worth it.

3) I quote various comments made by Bourke in his newspaper column during the years he covered Arsenal FC:


-           In January 1923 after Frederick Groves been sold, Bourke said he was “under-rated by the Highbury management”.  In Bourke’s opinion Groves was a good ball-player who would have thrived at Spurs.

-           On the team of May 1922.  Bourke called them “a team of triers and hard workers...[not] a team of talents”.

-           On the team of April and May 1924.  Bourke called them “game spoilers” and “not good enough to earn laurels in the First Division”.          


Not the beautiful game, then.  More like good players, working hard: I’m sure Henry Norris would have identified with George Graham’s view on how to put a winning team together.  But if the team you’ve put together is not even managing “one nil to the Arsenal”?  If it doesn’t win anything much, season after season after season?  And if, perhaps, the players in it are not that good, even - not really? - just willing to continue to play for you anyway?  Isn’t there a lack of ambition in players who are willing to stay at a club that doesn’t win anything, year after year?  (I find (December 2008) that I can’t really blame Alexander Hleb for leaving Arsenal.)  Being paid less than the maximum wage in a city where the cost of living is higher than elsewhere?  


I think Bourke’s assertion about only one Arsenal player getting the top wage says a lot about Norris’ attitude to football players.  It was not that he couldn’t appreciate footballing skills - he enjoyed watching that kind of player as much as anyone.  It was not even that he just wouldn’t pay the maximum wage on principle - because he paid it to one player in the early 1920s and probably to Charles Buchan from July 1925 as well.  I think you can best describe his views on paying footballers in the early 1920s as: good players cost more than average ones, and getting the club to pay its way was more important than getting good players.  Not that he ever summed them up that way in public, mind you.   No doubt he would have been pleased if Leslie Knighton had turned out to be the Wenger of his age: able to spot potential greatness while it’s still young and cheap.  However, from 1919 to 1925 he acted as if he was happy with Knighton’s rather chequered history as a discoverer of youthful talent.


When he was mayor of Fulham, Henry Norris held several big receptions.  The only footballer he ever invited to any of them was Vivian Woodward, who never played for either of the clubs Norris was associated with.  Norris made an exception in Woodward’s case for three reasons, I think: he was an amateur; he was an architect (though as far as I know he never did any work for Allen and Norris); and he was a freemason.  Although I don’t know their names I am confident in saying that the mass of workers employed by Allen and Norris weren’t invited either.  I’ve identified most of the people on the guest-list; they fall into three categories: family, ‘family’ and political contacts of Henry Norris and his wife.  The players at Fulham FC and [Woolwich] Arsenal FC didn’t fall into any of those categories.  I think Norris thought of them as on a par with the workers employed by Allen and Norris: skilled, necessary, but there were always others where they came from.


Was this attitude towards footballers as employees was one Henry Norris held between 1919 and 1925 because of Arsenal FC’s big debts?  It’s difficult to tell.  In looking at Arsenal FC in 1925 most people tend to focus on the arrival of Herbert Chapman but something else happened in 1925 that may have been just as important for Arsenal’s future: the club’s purchase of the freehold at Highbury.  Of course the club still had debts; but instead of Norris and Hall having to act as guarantors of these, they could now use the land for that, freeing their money up for other things - like paying good players.  If they wanted to.  Long after Norris’ death, Leslie Knighton wrote that he had been sacked from Arsenal because he had gone behind Norris’ back to try to buy Charles Buchan at a price Henry Norris wouldn’t have agreed to; but he could equally well have been got rid of as part of preparing the ground for the club to produce a great team, for which a more experienced manager with a better track-record was a pre-requisite. 


Certainly, in 1925, Norris did relax his own rules on payments to players, and on transfer fees.  At Herbert Chapman’s insistence, he once again negotiated a deal to pay a player more than the rules allowed - something he hadn’t done since 1919. This time, though, he knew exactly what he was getting - Charles Buchan, whose greatness as a player and as a leader of men was acknowledged by all except the England selectors.  Norris had spent years watching Buchan’s ball skills and quick reactions making a pile of rubble out of Arsenal’s defences.  He’s the one player who played for Norris who might almost get into a Wenger team.  Later in the year, Norris also paid another big-ish transfer fee for goal-keeper Harper; though that’s all Norris paid, Harper wasn’t offered the kind of wages deal Buchan had got.  Chapman’s first season, 1925/26, wasn’t a wholesale break with the money-focused past.  The second-place finish was achieved with just those two major signings - which perhaps indicates some players at the club weren’t quite as bad as they’d been playing before Chapman’s arrival.   Bourke’s comment that Chapman would bring a “the end of square pegs for round holes” (an implied criticism of Knighton’s team-selection skills) had been proved correct.


Because it’s not just the players that make a team, as Bourke’s ‘square pegs’ criticism acknowledged.  The right kind of back-room staff can make the players.  As with his players at [Woolwich] Arsenal FC, Henry Norris’ back-room staff had consisted of the same men for many years.  Some of the men below are such shadowy figures that without more information from Arsenal FC I can’t be precise about how long they worked at the club.

-           Tom Ratcliff.  Was Woolwich Arsenal FC’s assistant trainer by 1912.  Fought through World War I.  Then returned to his job at Arsenal FC for season 1919/20.  Got the job of trainer at Brentford FC April 1925.  At least 9 seasons as an employee of Henry Norris.

-           James McEwen known as Punch.  He’d worked for Henry Norris once already, as a scout at Fulham FC.  Was employed by Arsenal FC before May 1915.  Coached the team during the wartime rules seasons; I take it he wasn’t paid for this.  Assistant manager to Leslie Knighton 1919-25.  Still on the Arsenal staff 1931.  At least 14 seasons working for Henry Norris.

-           George Hardy.  Hired 1910 as first-team coach - Henry Norris and William Hall’s first appointment at Woolwich Arsenal FC.  Still in that job February 1927; left to work at Spurs after being demoted by Chapman.  Was not at the club from 1915 to 1919 so 13 seasons an employee of Henry Norris.

-           Alexander (Alec) Rae.  Already a groundsman at Woolwich Arsenal FC when Norris and Hall arrived in 1910; still at the club, in charge of match-day entertainment, in 1923 and may have lasted longer.  He was at the club during World War I so at least 13 seasons as an employee of Henry Norris.


Alec Rae and George Hardy were bequeathed money in Henry Norris’ Will - they had become ‘family’ by then.  Like all the other coaching staff, they were not invited to Henry Norris’ great receptions: they were not that important.  During Norris’ time at Arsenal, Ratcliff and Hardy occupied a kind of middle ground.  They both coached Woolwich Arsenal to relegation in 1912/13; and through several brushes with relegation in the 1920s, but Henry Norris never considered sacking them, not for a moment as far as I can tell.  At least he didn’t make them carry the can for failures that were not just theirs.  And they did not resign.  It was not as though they were working in a comfort zone - Arthur Bourke several times mentions the strain they and Knighton were under as Arsenal struggled in and around the relegation zone, season after season.  But Ratcliff stayed until 1925 and Hardy until 1927.


I don’t know whether Ratcliff left Arsenal because Knighton was being sacked; or whether their leaving at the same time was a coincidence.  Ratcliff took the job of trainer at Brentford FC - promotion of a kind, I suppose.  Hardy, however, carried on.  He was not sacked with Knighton - a fact that supports Knighton’s view of his own sacking (that he paid the penalty for being willing to pay the going rate for talent) rather than the alternative view I mentioned above, that it was a clearing of the decks.






Copyright Sally Davis November 2008