Who did Henry Norris think were his enemies, in 1927? And why did it hurt so much?
Last updated: June 2008
The document Henry Norris’ barrister prepared for Norris’ case against the Football Association in February 1929 is an amazing one. Although it is in the third person, it reads like Henry Norris had dictated it, in the first person, while his barrister’s office staff took it down frantically in shorthand. When I discussed the document with Norris’ grandson, we agreed with each other that it was very unprofessionally written. I can’t believe that Sir Patrick Hastings read it word for word on the first day of Norris v FA; it wouldn’t have created a good impression. Quite the reverse: it would have given the impression of a man railing loudly and at length against his fate, quite beyond all reason or common sense; a fate he had done a great deal to bring upon himself. Norris had fallen into the gap between what Company Law required of company directors, and what the FA required: that was the overall conclusion of the FA Commission of Inquiry in 1927. But in the document of 1929 Norris was claiming that several figures well-known in football had acted so as to get him ejected from the sport; and that people he thought he could trust had let them do it.
Norris named the people he meant in the document - not in a list of his enemies but by dwelling at length on their part in what had happened in 1927. It was rather unsporting of him to do so, because as it was part of the evidence in a legal case it was privileged - none of the people could sue him for the damage it might have done to their reputations if their names had been mentioned in court. Fortunately for them, it didn’t come to that. And maybe, if they had seen the document, they might have laughed, rather than been offended, at the wildness of some of Norris’ allegations and his inability to see events from any other perspective than his own. However, some of what Norris claimed, the people he named might well have done. They are: William Hall; Herbert Chapman; John Dean and his staff Bradshaw and Liddell; Charles Sutcliffe; and Fred Wall. Hall and Chapman have their own files. I deal with the others below.
JOHN DEAN of Fulham FC
As chairman of Fulham FC in 1927, John Dean was the employer of Edward Liddell and Joe Bradshaw; Henry Norris tried to sue all of them for defamation. The involvement of John Dean must have angered him most, however, as Norris and Dean went back a long way.
John Dean ran a company which supplied window blinds, tents and flags to the British government. In 1902 his firm had premises in London at 339 Putney Bridge Road and in Birmingham at 274 Corporation Street, so it was quite a big concern. He was a Fulham fan, probably from the days in the late 1880s/early 1890s when the club played its matches south of the river. When the West London Observer printed the first public announcement from the proposed Fulham Football and Athletic Company Limited, Dean was amongst the list of local men who had already bought shares; together with William Gilbert Allen, Henry Norris, their employees Francis Plummer and Arthur Foulds, and others. According to papers at Companies House covering 1903, Dean had bought more shares in the new company than anyone else: 126. Along with Norris and Allen, he became one of the new company’s first directors. However, when the Mears brothers began to redevelop the Stamford Bridge sports ground for professional football (1904) and offered the tenancy of it to Fulham FC, John Dean wanted to accept the offer, while William Gilbert Allen and Henry Norris wanted to redevelop Craven Cottage instead. The Allen and Norris faction won the day. Dean didn’t buy any of the shares available in the big share issue of September 1904 which funded the rebuilding work. This needn’t have been bloody-mindedness of course; Dean could just have felt that he couldn’t risk any more of his own money on the Fulham FC project. In June 1906 he did own 226 shares in the company but several other men owned about as many by that time, and in that month he again didn’t take part in a share issue (he may not have been asked) in which Henry Norris and William Gilbert Allen both bought 200 shares in addition to those they already owned.
Despite disagreeing with the Allen and Norris faction in 1904, and the loss of his original status as the company’s major shareholder, John Dean stayed a director of Fulham Football and Athletic Company until the AGM of 1910 when he did not seek re-election to the board. Though there was no comment on his decision to leave the club’s board in the local press at the time, all the histories of Fulham FC say that he opted not to continue as a director because of differences of opinion with Henry Norris (specifically). If the histories are correct, in 1910 the greatest source of strife at Fulham FC was the involvement of William Hall and Henry Norris with Woolwich Arsenal FC, and this is most likely what Dean and Norris argued about. Dean did not sell his shares in Fulham FC but he took no further part in the management of the club until Hall, Norris and even William Gilbert Allen had all retired from active involvement. In September 1925 Dean bought all the shares then owned by Allen (832, I think), becoming the club’s largest shareholder by far and its guiding force.
It sounds as though John Dean might well not be a member of the Henry Norris fan club. But actively circulating rumours in the football world that Norris had taken money from Arsenal to line his own pocket? And allowing men who worked for him to do the same? That’s what, in 1927, Norris was accusing him of, and it’s a big jump up. Differences of opinion do not necessarily an enemy make and 17 years is a long time to sit waiting for revenge. On the other hand, Dean had been prepared to wait longer than that, to get sole control of Fulham FC.
I’ve already discussed the actions of Liddell and Bradshaw in my file about how some of his ex-players came back to make a nuisance of themselves in Norris’ life. There were a number of things John Dean could have done when Liddell and Bradshaw went to him and told him about Liddell seeing the £170 cheque and recognising Henry Norris’ hand-writing. What Dean chose to do was to go to see James MacDermott (the cheque had originally been drawn on his business) and persuade him to let them take the cheque away with him. But Dean didn’t show it to Norris, he showed it to Herbert Chapman. Why might he have done that?
One possible reason is that Dean, Liddell and Bradshaw thought that Herbert Chapman had attempted to embezzle Arsenal using the £170 cheque, and approached him privately to tell him the game was up. As even Henry Norris admitted in his 1929 document that Liddell had recognised his (Norris’) hand-writing, all three men must have known it wasn’t Chapman’s signature on the cheque’s endorsement, so this reason seems very unlikely.
The most ungenerous interpretation - the one Norris believed in 1927 - was that three angry men from his past showed Chapman the cheque, knowingly putting Chapman in a position where he could get rid of Norris from football. It was on this basis that Norris began his legal action against Dean, his two employees and MacDermott; note that Chapman wasn’t included in Norris’ action. But under oath in 1929 he said that he had dropped the case, and paid both sides’ costs - suggesting that he couldn’t get enough evidence to prove this interpretation was the correct one. In his document of 1929 Norris assumes that Liddell and Bradshaw had “some spite” (as he called it) against him, left over from the time when he employed him. The ungenerous explanation requires them to have brooded for years on the unlikely chance that they’d be able to get back at him one day, and to have got Dean’s cooperation in doing so; it also requires the three of them to suppose that Chapman would want to do Norris harm too. It’s not impossible I suppose.
The kindest explanation is that Dean and his fellow Fulham men approached Chapman, hoping to hear him say that he had no problem with Norris endorsing cheques by writing Chapman’s supposed signature on them. Then they could let MacDermott have his cheque back and forget all about it; no one else would ever know. Unfortunately, they discovered Chapman had a big problem with it. The genie shot out of the bottle and couldn’t be put back in again. Chapman insisted on photographing the cheque; within a few days word had reached Henry Norris and Dean, Liddell and Bradshaw’s names had all been mentioned as the source of the trouble; and next thing they knew, they were being sued, accused of spreading malicious gossip.
I rather like the kindest interpretation. In it, Dean feels he can’t leave the question of possible foul play with the £170 cheque alone, but hopes to deal with the matter quietly; only his attempts to do so explode in his face. But the kindest explanation doesn’t cover why Dean chose not to approach Norris directly. You have to suppose that Dean thought very ill of Norris indeed, and also didn’t fancy approaching him privately and telling him the game was up. I’m not sure that constitutes enmity; but it doesn’t give you a very positive picture of the relationship between Henry Norris and John Dean.
One thing you can say: Dean didn’t go to the police. From Norris’ point of view, it could have been a lot worse.
When the FA was investigating Arsenal’s financial affairs in August 1927 nothing angered and hurt Henry Norris more than the inclusion in the FA’s Commission of Inquiry of Charles Sutcliffe. He was a last-minute substitute for someone injured in the warm-up, you could say: just before the Commission’s first hearing, he was drafted onto it when Charles Clegg was forced to withdraw from it through illness. In 1927 and still in 1929, Norris asserted that the manner in which Sutcliffe had been drafted was contrary to the FA’s constitution; this standpoint was also at the bottom of his statements to the press, in late August 1927, that the FA and the FL both needed replacing by an entirely new body to govern football. Henry Norris knew nearly all of the FA Commission members well, he was going to feel embarrassed in future whenever he met any of them again; why did he particularly and loudly object particularly to Sutcliffe? There are two reasons: one - Sutcliffe knew too much; two - Sutcliffe was his friend, or at least Norris thought he was.
Charles Sutcliffe was the only member of the FA Commission of Inquiry who had already investigated Arsenal’s finances in 1927. I’ve written elsewhere how he and Fred Rinder had visited Arsenal’s offices over a weekend in April 1927 on behalf of the Football League. They came to investigate the £170 cheque for the reserve team bus and for their doing so, Henry Norris was most to blame, as the FL got to hear about it as a result of Norris taking legal action against Dean and his fellows over it. Rinder and Sutcliffe carried out a preliminary search of Arsenal’s accounts; and Sutcliffe had what must have been a rather trying conversation with Norris about his part in what was going on and why the £170 was not yet in Arsenal’s account. At the end of the weekend, Sutcliffe and Rinder agreed that legal action about the cheque seemed inevitable and until it was finished, there was nothing more the FL could do.
However, there matter didn’t rest there: at some time during the next few weeks there was a meeting between Charles Sutcliffe and J J Edwards, acting for Henry Norris, at which Sutcliffe urged Edwards to persuade Norris to resign from Arsenal. Norris’ account of this meeting reads as if Sutcliffe had been the man to suggest it; and that he was acting in a capacity which wasn’t quite personal but was also not quite official on behalf of the FL. As a result of this meeting between Sutcliffe and Edwards only, Norris did agree to resign before Arsenal FC’s next AGM. (He didn’t keep his word, but I talk about that elsewhere.) And Sutcliffe agreed that as long as Norris did resign, there would be no further investigation of the cheque.
So when Sutcliffe, at the last minute, was included amongst those men who were going to ask awkward questions at the first formal sitting of the FA Commission of Inquiry, he knew probably more than any of the others about what had happened to the £170 cheque; and Norris knew that Sutcliffe thought it was a resigning matter. Enough said about reason one, I think!
About the second reason, perhaps describing Henry Norris and Charles Sutcliffe as friends is not quite what I mean. What I mean is a bit more nebulous and less personal than that: what I’m trying to convey is the idea that the two men did have some views on football in common, which other men in football didn’t necessarily share; and that in 1927 Sutcliffe’s addition to the FA Commissioners symbolised all that Norris thought was wrong with the closeness between the FL and FA.
Norris and Sutcliffe had known each other a long time by 1927, of course. They may have known each other even before, but the first occasion on which both men probably attended the same football function was the AGM of the FA in 1903; they were both at the opening of Stamford Bridge as a football ground in September 1905. They shared the view that a national league was inevitable and to be welcomed, long before it actually came to pass: Sutcliffe argued for the amalgamation of the FL and the Southern League in Athletic News in February 1907, and a positive response from Norris was printed in the same paper the following week. The idea was rejected by most of football then, and again in 1919, but Sutcliffe was not put off. In 1920 he put forward another plan in his column in Athletic News and this time it was taken up and led to the formation of a national league, incorporating the Southern League and run by the Football League; though in 1920 Norris had other things to do and didn’t offer Sutcliffe the support he had in earlier years. The two men didn’t agree on everything: Sutcliffe was one of the most vigorous proponents of the maximum wage, which Norris wanted to abolish. Norris wanted to have a maximum transfer fee; Sutcliffe opposed this idea, as impractical and as taking from poorer football clubs one of their main sources of income.
And in 1910, the plans of William Hall, Henry Norris and George Leavey for the swallowing of Woolwich Arsenal FC by Fulham FC were banned by an FL committee of which Sutcliffe was a member. Norris could have born Sutcliffe a big grudge over that one - it cost him a lot of money over many years - but at least at first, he didn’t do so; or not so far as to refuse to use Sutcliffe’s expertise in football administration when he needed it. In 1913 when negotiations between Woolwich Arsenal FC and St John’s College for the leasing of the college lands at Highbury were being held up by a very negative local response to the scheme, it was Sutcliffe that Norris asked to speak in favour of it at two crucial meetings. So on 4 April 1913 Sutcliffe represented Woolwich Arsenal at a meeting of the Islington Council; and on 8 April 1913 he spoke on the club’s behalf at a meeting of the st John’s College’s governing council. Sutcliffe didn’t convince the Council members, who voted to oppose the club’s move to Highbury, but he did well for Norris on the second occasion: despite its last-minute misgivings, the College did agree to let the football club have its lease. In his turn, Sutcliffe will have been pleased with Norris’ handling of the parliamentary bill criminalising the use of football matches in coupon betting schemes; Sutcliffe had always advocated football taking strong measures against gambling in football. The two men also shared a distrust (shall I say) of the FA: Sutcliffe had always viewed it as an organisation too much dominated by the public-school view of football; Norris tended to think it was dominated too much by county leagues.
Sutcliffe and Norris also had something in common outside football: they had both earned their living from the law. However this was a more tenuous link - it might be said to point up the differences between them as much as the similarities. Henry Norris had worked as a solicitors’ clerk but had left to make a fortune in the rough-and-tumble world of London property development. Sutcliffe had qualified as a solicitor and was a partner in the family firm in a small town in Lancashire.
I don’t think, on reflection, that Norris saw his long link with Sutcliffe as a friendship: he seems not to have invited him to Joy Norris’ wedding, for example. I think it is more the case that he thought Sutcliffe might feel that he owed him.
A brief profile of Sutcliffe. I’ve researched his connection with Norris myself but the information below also draws on Matthew Taylor’s The Leaguers: the making of professional football. Sutcliffe was a loyal son of Lancashire, where he lived all his life based in Rawtenstall, near Burnley. He was a devout Methodist and a committed member of his local chapel - whence came his dislike of any connection between football and betting. He was active in political life in Rawtenstall, being President of its Liberal Party (Norris was a Conservative Unionist), a town councillor and (for one year) the deputy mayor. However, although I think he was not a life-long supporter of any particular club, he spent most of his busy life in football administration. For several years he was president of the Referees’ Union. At different times he was a director of Burnley FC and of Oldham Athletic FC but his enduring loyalty was to the game itself.
He first joined the FL in 1898 representing Burnley; by 1901 he was on its management committee and he continued to be a member past 1927. Although he was a member of the FA as well, and very senior there too, it was the FL that had Sutcliffe’s greatest commitment of time and effort; via the regular column he wrote in Athletic News he was also seen as its deepest thinker. He also most actively embodied football’s conscience, particularly after the FA enquiry into the Manchester United 2 Liverpool 0 match of season 1914/15 found that the players had agreed the score before the kick-off to make a killing from some pre-match bets. The match came to represent for Sutcliffe all that football should most be ashamed of, and when the end of the World War 1 fighting was in sight, he became the most eloquent advocate of the return of Chelsea to FL Division One. He argued that Chelsea might not have been relegated in 1914/15 had it not been for United winning the fixed match. His views carried weight: Chelsea were put back in FL Division One for season 1919/20 and Sutcliffe had persuaded so many of the FL members of the justice of Chelsea’s cause, that they didn’t bother with a vote on it. Then, at the AGM of the FA in 1925, he was the strongest advocate of the change in the offside rule, arguing that match-day crowds had a right to expect an entertaining game (I wish the football authorities thought so now).
Sutcliffe was always anxious that nothing should discredit the game of football in the eyes of the public. I think it is significant that in April 1927 it was he that, with Fred Rinder, undertook to go through Arsenal’s records. He was attempting to head off two possible scandals that would damage football’s image: financial corruption at a football club (yet again); and the suing of one club chairman by another. He failed. The legal proceedings didn’t reach court, but not because of anything Sutcliffe did or didn’t do.
On behalf of the FL Sutcliffe made the best he could of the bad situation. His willingness to drop any further investigation of Arsenal if Norris resigned shows, I think, that he did feel Norris was owed something, if only Norris would do his bit (by resigning) to keep the good name of football unsullied. Sutcliffe even suggested that a ceremony at Arsenal should mark the occasion of Norris’ retirement from the board of directors, with thanks for all he’d done for football, allowing Norris to get out of the mess he was in and go in a blaze of glory. Then, if Norris’ case against John Dean and his fellows reached court and the sorry tale of the £170 cheque came out, Norris would no longer be the chairman of an FL football club and the damage to the FL would be rather less. It was the best plan Sutcliffe could devise in the circumstances, and it was kinder to Norris then maybe he deserved. But due to the collapse of the trust between Henry Norris and William Hall, it didn’t work.
Worse than that, having not originally been chosen as a member of the FA Commission of Inquiry into Arsenal, Sutcliffe was the man the members decided they wanted, when Clegg’s illness forced him to drop out.
Norris’ 1929 account of what happened on the first day the FA Commission members took evidence in person (20 July 1927 in Sheffield) says that before the day’s proceedings began, he lodged a protest at Sutcliffe’s presence. However, Norris contradicts himself when it comes to what happened next. Whereas he claims immediately below his protest that Sutcliffe responded, assuring Norris that his presence wouldn’t prejudice Norris’ case, elsewhere in the document Norris claims that Sutcliffe said nothing at all throughout that day. At least Sutcliffe didn’t, while Norris was present, tell the FA what he knew from his investigation into Arsenal for the FL. He may have had to in the end, but Norris’ document from 1929 quotes Fred Wall as saying that Sutcliffe “never came to any conclusions with regard to the matters in question” - that is, with regard to the evidence the FA investigation found. I think we might also detect Sutcliffe’s hand and legal knowledge in the fact that the tale of the £170 cheque was declared sub judice in the FA Commission’s report and no details about it were given. On the other hand, he did agree to join the investigation. It was important to him that allegations of financial irregularities at a football club should be investigated: he already knew there were irregularities for the FA Commission to find. There’s no evidence that he tried to prevent the publication of the FA Commission’s report on Arsenal: when it came to the crunch, he decided that it was more important for the FA to be seen to be tough on misdemeanours, than that football men’s wrong-doings should be kept private.
During the autumn of 1928, Sutcliffe also took part in the second attempt to reach an out-of-court settlement of Norris’ case against the Football Association Limited. He helped set up a meeting between the warring parties and it was he who was most insistent that Fred Wall (the FA secretary) should not be present - another instance of his anti-FA bias, perhaps, but he might also have been very aware that it had been Wall who had scuppered the first attempt. If Sutcliffe thought that settling out-of-court would be the best result for both sides’ reputation, he must have been disappointed at the outcome: Henry Norris wanted a public statement from the FA that it did not believe he had taken money from Arsenal for himself; and the FA as a body would not agree to make one, even though individual members of the 1927 Commission of Inquiry (probably including Sutcliffe himself) didn’t think Norris had lined his own pocket. So the case went to court, Norris was humiliated and the hand of the football authorities against those who disobeyed the rules was strengthened. I wonder how Sutcliffe felt about the fact that it was the FA in particular which ended with its authority to punish and publicise much-enhanced.
In his document of 1929 Norris saw Sutcliffe simply as one of the men at the top of football who had not hesitated to bring him down despite all he had done for the game. He couldn’t see that it wasn’t as easy as that in Sutcliffe’s case. Norris couldn’t appreciate that Sutcliffe hadn’t just taken the view that football’s house must be kept in order, no matter what or who got trampled underfoot in the process. Sutcliffe did want football to keep its reputation clean; but within those limits, he made several attempts to get Norris let off lightly. He got no thanks for it!
[ROGER NEXT FILE IN THIS SEQUENCE IS SLWALLS WHICH FOLLOWS STRAIGHT ON FROM HERE]
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Copyright Sally Davis June 2008