1927: the Fall of Henry Norris

Last updated: June 2008


The point I want to make in this file is that the seeds of Henry Norris’ banishment from football at the hands of the Football Association were sown many years before.  I want to start the file by looking at two of my most important sources of information.




There are very few accounts still around of what happened at Arsenal FC during 1927; and even fewer to which the public has access.  The archives of the FA contain only the minutes of its meetings.  None of the evidence collected during its enquiry into Arsenal’s finances has been kept though you can still read the report as it was published in the Daily Mail.  I have not been able to use the minutes of meetings of Arsenal’s board of directors; when I asked if I could see them I was told that no member of the public had ever been given access.  The Football League’s records, too, are not available to the public.  However, Norris’ family has given me access to two documents Henry Norris prepared as he attempted to save his reputation.  The first is the account he put together in July 1927 in response to FA secretary Fred Wall’s invitation to put his side of the argument.  The second is part of the brief prepared by his barrister for the libel case Norris brought against the Football Association in the wake of its Report into Arsenal’s finances of August 1927.  Alas!  This document is not complete.  The whole was over 100 legal-sized pages long.  Norris’ statement is the part now held by his grand-children - 50 pages; the rest was another 50-or-so pages of witness statements (from Wall and others) and copies of relevant letters - now all lost.


The FA’s Report recommended that Arsenal FC directors Norris, William Hall, John Humble and George Peachey be banned from taking any further part in the management of any football club.  Peachey took the FA to court on a point of company law; and won.  But Norris was the only one who complained about these punishments in public.  His documents of 1927 and 1929 give histories of his connection with Arsenal FC from 1910 and shed a lot of light on how the club operated.  But they are his story, not anyone else’s.  Indeed, the documents have given me the impression that Norris had gone beyond seeing anyone’s point of view but his own.  They also give a picture of a man who can’t acknowledge that those who are not with him are not necessarily against him.  In 1927, and more strongly and at greater length in 1929, Norris’s is the only voice you hear.




When I say ‘football authorities’ I mean the Football Association and the Football League which ran football in England.  The Football Association dealt with over-arching themes like money, discipline and the rules which governed what was and was not allowed in a match; it had the larger membership, including county football associations and amateur leagues and teams as well as professional, commercially-operated clubs.  The Football League ran the league competitions and their rules, and only clubs that competed in its leagues could be members.  However, though they were separate organisations and were often antagonistic to each other during Norris’ lifetime, there were lots of areas where the remits of the two of them over-lapped - transfers was an obvious one - and it was one of Henry Norris’ main complaints in 1927 and 1929 that the same men ran both of them.  He was right, there: these men were the FA Commission that investigated Arsenal FC in 1927:


Charles Clegg of both Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United.  In 1927 the most senior member of the FA.  He had been its chairman since 1890 and its President since the death of Lord Kinnaird in 1923.  Not so prominent in the FL.


John McKenna of Liverpool FC.  President of the FL since 1910 and ex officio chairman of its management committee.  A Vice-President of the FA (there were several).


Arthur Kingscott of Derby County.  On the FL Division One list of referees in the early 1900s and still refereeing in season 1925/26.   Honorary treasurer of the FA since 1919.


Henry Keys of West Bromwich Albion.  A Vice-President of the FL since 1910; had been a member of its management committee for over 20 years.  Not so prominent in the FA though he was on some of its working sub-committees.


Arthur Hines.  On the FL Division One list of referees in the early 1900s, linesman at the 1908 Olympic Games football competition which was organised by the FA.  A Vice-President of the FA since 1923. 


A J Dickinson of Sheffield Wednesday.  Member of the FL management committee since 1911.  FA Council member from 1919.


Charles Sutcliffe (replacing Clegg who was ill) of Lancashire FA.  FL management committee member widely regarded as the brains of the FL.  FA Council member.  For a longer section on relations between Sutcliffe and Norris see my file 1929: Henry Norris v the Football Association Limited. [ROGER I’LL NEED A LINK HERE BUT THE FILE’S NOT WRITTEN YET]


In addition, earlier in 1927 Arsenal had, fleetingly, been investigated by Charles Sutcliffe and Fred Rinder for the FL.  Fred Rinder of Aston Villa FC, chairman of the club since the early 1900s.  A Vice-President of the FL and management committee member.  Active member of the FA but with strong views on the FL’s independence from it, which probably prevented him reaching the very top in the FA.


McKenna and Rinder were both freemasons; but this doesn’t seem to have influenced them in their dealings with fellow freemasons Henry Norris, William Hall and George Peachey.


Dickinson, Kingscott, McKenna and Sutcliffe were all on the FA International Selection Committee (see below, on Tom Whittaker’s injury).  McKenna, Keys and Sutcliffe supervised the winding-up of Leeds City after the club was expelled from the FA in 1920.  Clegg, McKenna and Dickinson were on the FA Commission which enquired into the fracas at the north London derby of September 1922.  And it’s likely that some if not all of them sat in judgement on Henry Norris in 1913 and 1923.  If you offended someone at an FL meeting, say, you might rue the consequences at an FA one. 


You might continue to rue it for many years afterwards.  Seniority was considered very important in both organisations when positions of authority came up for election, and not only by the organisations’ members either.  When discussing the candidates for election to a vacancy amongst the FA’s vice-presidents, Athletic News thought Arthur Hines was not quite senior enough to be suitable; at that time (1923) he’d been an FA member 35 years!!


Henry Norris was never elected to any of the very senior posts in either organisation. 



In both the FA and the FL, all members had the right to send at least one delegate to the organisation’s major meetings.  In between these big occasions the FA was run by a council and an emergency committee and the FL was run by a 12-man management committee.  Henry Norris would have first been eligible to attend FA meetings in 1903 when a group based on the Allen and Norris building partnership took over Fulham FC; and the FL meetings in 1907 when Fulham FC was elected a member.  By 1907 the men who ran both institutions will have known Norris as a man with strong opinions on the football issues of the day, some of which were ahead of their time and thus controversial; and as a man who was happy to air these opinions in public, speaking at meetings and writing in the press. 


There doesn’t seem to have been a problem with this tendency of Norris’ to air his views, however, until 1913, when - stressed by being relegated with Woolwich Arsenal while trying to secure the club a move to north London - Norris wrote in a newspaper article, that he thought a particular Football League Division One match had been fixed.  A joint commission of FA and FL members interviewed people from both clubs.  Then it held a hearing at which Norris was required to explain himself and then censured for voicing his concern in the newspapers rather than taking it to the FL to investigate quietly.  Norris was annoyed with this outcome, feeling that the authorities had singled him out although other football writers had made similar suggestions (that one team had agreed to lose the game).  Other football writers felt, however, that it was Norris’ words that needed a follow-up; they stressed that such an accusation had to be investigated when it was made by a man with such a high profile in football.  In a way, Norris was hoist with his own petard in this case.


Relations between Norris and both the FL and the FA continued to be positive on the whole, though.  Between December 1918 and March 1919 the sports newspaper Athletic News, whose editor was very close indeed to the FL management committee members, ran a campaign of support for Arsenal being elected back into the post-war Football League Division One.  And in 1920, the FA chose Henry Norris, now MP for Fulham East, to pilot through Parliament their latest attempt to criminalise the use of football by organised betting rings.  Despite an encounter with  a heavy sent to threaten him by of a group of major betting companies, and nearly having the Bill timed-out by delays at its committee stages, Norris did manoeuvre the Ready Money Football Betting Bill successfully through the parliamentary process.  It became law in August 1920 and the FA were pleased. 

From his earliest days in football management, in 1906 when he’d been on the management committee of the Southern League, Henry Norris had had strong opinions on transfers and had not hesitated to try to get other football people to see the subject his way.  He believed (with good reason) that there was a gulf  between what the regulations allowed with regard to transfers and what actually went on in the football market place; and he believed that transfers should only be permitted during the close season (a bit like they are now in the Premier League and abroad, but not like they were during his time).  The thorniest part of what he believed, though, was that he thought transfer fees should be capped.  In fact, for a few months in 1908 transfer fees were capped, at £350 per man; but at the AGM of the FA that year the short experiment was brought to an end, according to the Times’ report of the meeting, because “it had been found to be unworkable”.


At the resumption of professional football in season 1919/20 Norris enforced a one-club transfer fee cap, appointing Leslie Knighton as manager on the understanding that he would not be allowed to pay more than £1000 for a player.  This figure was very low even in 1919, when according to statistics collected by Fred Wall (secretary to the FA) £3000 was being paid for players of no more than average ability; and resulted in an Arsenal first-team comprised (essentially) of the less-than-average and the cheap-because-young-and-untried (I make no comment on possible comparisons with the present-day situation).  A few years later Knighton got Norris - with great reluctance - to lift his limit to £1200.  It’s not clear from Knighton’s account of this episode just when it took place, but Wall’s statistics show that the early 1920s were a period of inflation in player prices: the maximum paid for any player in 1920 was £4000; in 1921 it was £4750; in 1922 £5000 and in 1925 £6560.  As the seasons passed, then, Norris’ attitude was leaving Arsenal less and less able to compete in the market.  Rather than increase the amount he was willing to pay, however, he tried to put the brakes on everyone else.


In this he had a lot of sympathy from the press, particularly from the Athletic News which had by 1921 begun a campaign to have transfer fees discussed at the Football League’s AGM.  In 1922 the Athletic News was glad to see that Henry Norris had tabled a motion for that year’s AGM to put a cap on transfer fees of £1650 per man.  However, in its coverage of what happened at the meeting, there was a barely contained exasperation: without actually saying so, Athletic News made it clear it thought Norris had bungled, on two counts.  Firstly, it thought that the scheme he put forward was too simplistic: Norris’ £1650 was to apply to every transfer without any reference to variables like the player’s age and fitness.  Secondly, Norris had shown no understanding of the importance of transfer fees to the overall finances of poorer clubs; in his speech he had said that if clubs couldn’t manage their money without recourse to transfer fees, they should go out of business.  (Even though at Woolwich Arsenal he had regularly sold players to pay the club’s debts.)  He’d also issued a veiled threat of government intervention in transfer fees if the FL couldn’t come up with a scheme for regulating their levels: he said he had heard that the Treasury might end its practice of allowing transfer fees as “proper items of expenditure” in clubs’ annual accounts.  I couldn’t find any evidence that the government ever considered doing this in Norris’ time.  In the Athletic News’ view, Norris’ sledge-hammer tactics had alienated clubs that might otherwise have favoured his core idea.  Norris’ motion about the £1650 cap was heavily defeated: only 5 clubs voted in favour including Norris for Arsenal and Kirby of Chelsea who had seconded the motion.

After defeat on his core idea, Norris had tried a different tack.  He proposed a motion to make it a rule that no transferred player should be allowed to play against any one club twice in the same season: in effect, a cup-tying restriction, but applied to league matches.  He couldn’t even find a seconder for that one.  But he swore he would be back to try again next year, when the representatives at this year’s meeting had had a chance to consult their other club directors about his ideas.


At least Norris was consistent.  In January 1923 Arsenal were struggling to avoid relegation.  By April, however, the Islington Daily Gazette was congratulating the club on escaping the relegation zone by dipping into the reserve team rather than via a spending spree.  And on the agenda for the 1923 AGM of the Football League, Norris had a motion reintroducing his cap on transfer fees, this time with variations.  His motion set the cap on transfer fees at £1650 or a sum decided by the FL management committee as arbitrators; and gave the management committee powers to prevent deals going through that looked as though they had been cooked up to get round the £1650 limit - sought-after player + make-weight, for example.  The variations, however, were reflections more of Norris’ knowledge of how football had a tendency to enact a good rule and then spend all its time inventing dodges round it; they didn’t really address the economic issues which Athletic News had identified as crucial to any working rule on transfers.  So despite what Athletic News described as a “reasoned speech” Henry Norris was defeated again, the opposition being led by Arthur Kingscott’s Derby County on behalf of those poorer clubs that Norris had dismissed in so Thatcherite a way the year before.  He did get more votes than in 1922: 12 not 5; but out of 44, they weren’t nearly enough.


Norris nagged, though, and eventually he got the representatives to agree that the FL management committee should undertake a review of the current transfer system.  Not, however, before Charles Sutcliffe, on behalf of the management committee, had watered down the motion’s wording by getting removed Norris’ original description of transfer fees as of “grave concern”.


By the end of that year (1923) the FL management committee had already finished the promised review and issued a report, and a statement trying to head Henry Norris off at the pass by saying transfer fees would not be on the agenda for the AGM of 1924.  And also by the end of 1923 Norris had been investigated by the FL for flouting the rules on signing-on payments, so he wasn’t in so good a position as he had been, if he wanted to continue his argument.  Despite these drawbacks, he did raise the issue at the AGM, having an exchange with Charles Sutcliffe which began with Norris criticising the lack of information in the FL’s report on transfer fees.  Sutcliffe replied (rather wearily, I think) that the management committee members had talked through many different schemes which might regulate transfer fees, but couldn’t come up with one which they all liked and thought would work; and if those 12 men couldn’t agree on any particular scheme, he couldn’t see the full FL membership doing so.  In addition, the members - when canvassed - had mostly said they didn’t want to change the current system.  Norris said he would raise the issue next year (1925).  But he didn’t; and in fact he never raised it again. 


Quite the reverse: in 1925 he appointed Herbert Chapman as manager of Arsenal FC. The job advertisement that Chapman answered did state that the man appointed would not be allowed to pay “heavy and exorbitant” sums for players.  But Chapman put Norris under pressure over that almost at once.  In attempting to bring in a signing that Chapman insisted was crucial to his strategy for the team, Norris paid £4100 for Charlie Buchan though not all at once.  In fact Norris had refused to pay Sunderland’s original asking price of £4000. £2000 was not exorbitant by the standards of 1925, but Norris thought it was too much, well over the maximum he had allowed Knighton to spend on one player.  In his efforts to get the man Chapman wanted while continuing to look like someone who was tough on transfer fees, Norris persuaded Sunderland to agree to £2000 plus £100 a goal. 


There seems to have been a feeling in football at the time that Norris had made rather an ass of himself, in the deal over Buchan; but it wasn’t a hostile feeling, he just became the butt of some good jokes about it.  At the FL’s AGM in 1926, all deals in which the transfer fee involved a sum per goal scored were banned, on the grounds that they put undue pressure on the player transferred; but in the discussion on the motion (put forward by Charles Sutcliffe) everyone seems to have been careful to talk in general terms and not refer to anyone or any club in particular.  Although he was not necessarily liked by some of its poorer member clubs, the FL’s relations with Henry Norris continued to be cordial.


A couple of incidents in the mid 1920s did cause Arsenal’s relations with the FA to get prickly, though.  The problem of Jock Rutherford’s registration as a professional player could have caused a lot more friction between the FA and his club than it actually did: the FA’s investigations into whether Rutherford was being paid by a betting syndicate for the use of his name held up his registration from July 1925 to January 1926, during which time he couldn’t play for any club which was an FA member.  Norris encouraged Rutherford to bring a legal case to clear his name; and the club helped Rutherford pay his costs, which were not fully covered by the damages he received.   However the club didn’t protest all that loudly to the FA at the loss of a senior member of their squad; and at the time the FA didn’t know about Arsenal paying some of Rutherford’s costs.  So the incident passed without much noise at the time, though later a lot more noise was made, by the FA.  Arsenal’s attitude might have been different, but in Chapman’s first season in charge the team was doing better than ever in Norris’ time at the club; so Rutherford was not much missed.


A more serious cause of annoyance to both Arsenal and the FA was Tom Whittaker’s injury.  After several years at Arsenal as a full-back, never getting further than the fringes of the first team, Tom Whittaker had his right knee-cap broken in a match at Wollongong, New South Wales, while on an FA tour.  This happened in June 1925.  In his own account of what happened (given in the 1950s) Whittaker said that he had no treatment at all for this career-threatening injury until he got back to England the following September; but then the FA paid his wages for all of season 1925/26 while he underwent different attempts at a cure.  By the autumn of 1926, however, Whittaker was not only not fit enough to play football, he was having trouble even walking on his injured right leg.  He wanted to be treated by surgeon Sir Robert Jones, whom he’d been told was the only man likely to rescue his footballing career, but the FA didn’t let him be examined by Jones until Arsenal rang them and harrassed them on the issue, during the autumn of 1926.  According to Whittaker, it was Herbert Chapman at Arsenal who rang the FA and insisted on Jones; Whittaker’s description of it makes it sound as though Chapman may even have been the one to ring Jones’ office and make the appointment.


Jones gave Whittaker bad news, though at least he and Arsenal knew where they stood: Jones told Whittaker that he would never play again, although he did operate and give Whittaker back full use of his right leg for all ordinary purposes.  With Whittaker’s career as a player over, the FA wanted to stop paying his wages; so they offered him a pay-off package.  Whittaker said that it was Henry Norris, as Arsenal’s representative on the FA Council, who argued at this point for proper financial compensation for Whittaker.  But Whittaker’s account of how a sum of money was arrived at, was that when he met with John McKenna, Charles Sutcliffe and Fred Wall of the FA, he was put under considerable pressure to accept £350 - just over one year’s wages.  According to Whittaker, it was Herbert Chapman, not Henry Norris, who was outraged at his being coerced to accept such a small sum; and that it was Chapman who, at a board meeting, encouraged the directors to make a public statement on what had happened. 


In the match-day programme for Arsenal 1 Bury 0 on Saturday 4 December 1926, the regular column by the directors (attributed to all the directors but usually written by Henry Norris) accused the FA of acting in a manner “totally unworthy of the parent organisation” in more or less forcing Whittaker to accept £350 for the end of his career.  The programme told its readers that to make up for such an inadequate payment, the directors had voted to pay Whittaker an extra £100, although they were under no obligation to do so. 


The Arsenal directors’ denouncement of the FA’s behaviour was taken up by the press, of course, and the Daily Express asked the FA for a response.  A member of the FA hierarchy, unidentified except as a member of its International Selection Committee, had given the FA’s side of events.  He told the Daily Express that Arsenal’s response in their match-day programme had been “ill-advised” and had left out a lot of inconvenient detail.  For example, he said, it was widely assumed in football that Arsenal had been paying Whittaker since his injury, but actually it had been the FA who had been paying him, from the date of the injury to the time of Jones’ examination of his leg.  The FA’s spokesman also told the Daily Express that Arsenal had not re-signed Whittaker for season 1926/27 - something else that the public didn’t know.  (He was still around the club, but working as a member of the back-room staff.)  And finally he said that the £100 paid by Arsenal to Whittaker was only the compensation the club had been paid by the FA for the loss of their player’s career, not a sum taken from the club’s own money.


The FA’s comments were published in the Daily Express on Monday 6 December 1926 and brought a sharp response from Henry Norris, printed in the paper the next day.  The FA’s spokesman had argued that the FA had treated Whittaker generously, but Norris disagreed; he said that they had only been doing their duty towards a footballer injured while playing for his country.  And he said (presumably Whittaker had told him this) that the FA had threatened that if Whittaker didn’t accept the proffered £350 compensation, they would withdraw it and pay him only what he was entitled to under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, and not a penny more.  Norris then went on to tell the readers of the Daily Express a few more facts they didn’t know: that the FA had not bothered to insure any of the players on the Australia tour  - £10 per player was not much, Norris argued, and would have had them all covered for up to £1000 medical costs.  Norris also said that since he had been paid off by the FA, Arsenal had taken up paying Whittaker his wage again.  Not mentioning that Whittaker was now working as assistant to the club’s trainer, George Hardy, Norris managed to make it sound as though Whittaker was being paid by his generous employer while still unable to work due to his injury.  Norris ended by calling the FA’s spokesman “a little impudent” for saying that Arsenal’s making the incident public was ill-advised.


So when 1927 - Norris’ year from hell - began, relations between Arsenal FC and the FA were frosty.  Norris mentioned Charles Clegg as one man who was particularly annoyed about the Whittaker incident; and he was not a good man to offend.


RULES AND LAWS - the FA Commission of Inquiry into Arsenal FC’s finances.


The FA’s investigations in July and August 1927 found:

1) the payment of a £200 signing-on fee to player C R Voysey in 1919 broke the FL rules on inducements

2) when Henry Norris took £487 due to player H A White as his financial cut of his transfer to Blackpool FC, he broke the FL rules

3) the payment by Arsenal FC in 1925 of £143 legal costs incurred by Jock Rutherford broke the FL rules; the FA also reminded Arsenal that at the time Rutherford was suspended from playing, while he was investigated to see whether he had broken FA Rule 43 on players’ links with betting companies

4) although the FA Commission’s report didn’t actually say so, it implied that a cheque made out by Arsenal to Queensborough Motor Company; and what was done with the £170 cheque for the sale of the reserve team bus; had both broken FA Financial Rules 1 and 4.  In fact - as the FA Commission members probably knew very well but couldn’t prove at the time - they actually broke far more rules than those, they broke the rules on payments to players

5) the FA Commission’s report said that Arsenal’s payment of travel expenses for Henry Norris in 1927; and the wages of both his and William Hall’s chauffeurs from 1921 to 1923, broke FA Company Rule 6.


I’ve found it difficult to discover any list of the FL rules from 1927.  It doesn’t really make a difference to my argument: Norris wasn’t suspended by the FL; and he didn’t try to sue them either.  In each case it was the FA.  Here are the rules of the FA that the report found had been broken:


Financial Rule 1: every club that was a member of the FA had to keep a cash book which contained details of all payments and receipts.

Financial Rule 4: all incoming cash had to be entered in the club’s cash book within 48 hours of its receipt.

Company Rule 6 : “A director shall not be entitled to receive any remuneration in respect of his office as director” of a company that was a member of the FA.  My quote is actually from the FA Rule Book of 1907/08; but Company Rule 6 from the 1927 edition has exactly the same wording. 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word ‘remuneration’ means: reward, recompense, repayment, payment, pay.  And the verb ‘to remunerate’ means: to pay, to make some return for [services rendered etc].  The Companies Act of 1908, which was the one in force in 1927 for the governance of limited companies based in the UK, had no clauses forbidding payment of wages and expenses; directors were expected to be paid.   But the FA was quite clear in its own mind that in their Company Rule 6, by ‘remuneration’ they meant that the director of a football club couldn’t take any money from his club for any reason: not wages, and not expenses.  Limited companies that became members of the FA were expected to abide by a rather different standard of behaviour than was allowed by the law. 


At least Arsenal didn’t break Rule 48, which gave the FA the powers to examine, on demand, a club’s account books or any other records which it deemed relevant.  In 1920 Leeds City had refused to let the FA’s representatives see their accounts, and been suspended from the FA.  No member of the FA is allowed to play matches against members who are suspended.  Within weeks the club went bankrupt.


In bringing his libel case against the FA after the publication of its 1927 report, Henry Norris seems to have overlooked FA Rule 46, which gave the FA powers to publish anything it chose.  He tried to argue (amongst a great deal else) that the FA had no right to interfere in the business of a limited company, even if it was a member of the FA, if the company was acting within the law.  In 1927 Norris and Hall hadn’t broken the law with their claims for expenses and wages.  They had broken the rules.  They were suspended from the FA which was the usual punishment in such cases; with the FA also having the right to decide how long the suspension should last.  In addition, other directors of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company were disqualified as directors because they had allowed this breaking of the rules.  They hadn’t broken the law either. 


Each year when renewing their FA membership, all members sign an undertaking to abide by the current rules; and I’ve indicated above how some rules had remained the same for many years so you couldn’t exactly say you didn’t know what they were, or they had changed since you last looked.  Of course, the rules were broken - more often than either the FA or the FL was willing to admit, especially those concerning money paid to players.  But why did Hall as well, but Norris in particular, take to ignoring the FA and FL rules when he found them inconvenient?  And why did no one at the club seem to care?  Well, that’s got to do with the way Arsenal FC was run, from 1910 to 1925 when Henry Norris and William Hall were in charge.






Copyright Sally Davis June 2008