HENRY NORRIS AND FULHAM FOOTBALL CLUB
Last updated: December 2007
ELECTIONS IN FOOTBALL - established practice then
Before I start, I want to make a point that REALLY MATTERS when you look at Henry Norris’s career in football. The idea that the bottom clubs of division one got relegated and were replaced by the top clubs in division two hadn’t caught on yet. Professionalism had already arrived when Henry Norris appeared on the football scene; but the game was still quite close to its roots as a sport played by amateurs for the fun and the health of it.
The Southern League only had one division, so there was no promotion and no relegation. It was run like a gentlemen’s club: the only way in was by election as a new member. Every year at the AGM the club that had come bottom in the previous season had to apply to be re-elected as a member; but this was usually a formality and the Southern League was more or less a closed-shop. However, in 1903 things were slightly different: the Southern League had decided to increase the number of its members from 16 to 18. The additional members would be elected from a short-list, and in the run-up to the AGM it was quite in order for the new-club hopefuls to canvas for votes. In the election, a number of criteria were important. Whether the club’s team was any good was only one of them, and rather less important than the club’s financial resources for running two teams (at least two - first team and reserves), providing for and controlling the spectators, and weathering bad runs of form during which crowd numbers would inevitably decline. The Football League was run slightly differently - it had two divisions and there was promotion and relegation between them. All new members went into its second division, never its first, and a club could only become a new member by election.
Entry into a particular football division by election continued as the basis for league membership until after World War 1. It had its last flourish in the re-constituting of Football League Divisions One and Two in March 1919 - an event Henry Norris was heavily involved in. It has become a habit of football historians to accuse him of subverting the normal rules of football on behalf of his clubs. He certainly did well out of the system that prevailed in his day, but he just played it better than some others. He didn’t invent, or break, its rules.
Having got that off my chest I’ll go on to look at Henry Norris’s first great leap into the glaring spotlight of football management: Fulham 1903.
FULHAM FC INTO THE SOUTHERN LEAGUE DIVISION 1
You’ll see from my Life of Henry Norris that in May 1903,
Fulham FC had been offered the chance of election to Southern League Division 1
if they wanted it. By half way through
the month it was pretty clear in Fulham the men in charge at the club weren’t
that ambitious and were going to turn the opportunity down on financial
grounds. So, probably on Thursday 14
May, there was a meeting at the King’s Head, a pub in the
The whole scheme may have been cooked up at the Allen and Norris partnership: when the list of directors of the new company was published, William Allen and Henry Norris were both on it; and so was the man who worked in the partnership’s joinery, Arthur Foulds. I don’t know if Henry Norris was at the King’s Head that night - I expect he was - but even if he wasn’t, the work of the two weeks that followed it were Henry Norris’s first involvement in football. The effort reached its climax - not so much at the Southern League AGM but at the eve-of-AGM dinner, where some serious vote-bargaining was done and (so the complaints went in the months that followed) one particular club’s hopes were shafted.
Who put up the money that persuaded the Southern League that Fulham could cut it in their top division? When a list of the major shareholders in Fulham Football and Athletic Company Limited was printed in July 1903, it showed that a very large number of local people had bought shares, but most had only bought one, or two. About ten had bought more than one or two, and several of the ten had bought more shares than Henry Norris. John Dean (the same John Dean who owned and ran the club in the 1920s) had bought most: he had 126. George Apps and builder Robert Iles had both bought 100; and it was Iles’ company, not the Allen and Norris partnership, that did the building work at Craven Cottage that summer. Norris had bought only 59 shares and William Allen 50. However, it was Henry Norris who stood up at the Southern League AGM to make the club’s thank-you speech when - after some debate - the result of the second ballot was accepted. In doing so, he became not only Fulham FC’s figure-head in the world of football, but also the man assumed to have done the wheeler-dealing at the previous night’s dinner. Which was probably true.
Football: Saturdays, Mondays, Thursdays (all afternoons of course - no floodlights until the 1930s); in season, close season, pre-season; the FA Cup. Goals for, goals against, goals disallowed. Was it offside? Was it a penalty? Fouled, booked, sent off (extraordinarily little of that in those days). First-team, reserve-team, manager, trainer, crowd, referee, the never-ending search for a goal-a-game striker... Did the new owners of Fulham FC know what they were taking on? Probably not.
The official public meeting required by the Companies Act, to found the limited company which would now run Fulham FC, took place very shortly after the Southern League’s AGM. The new board of directors had two connected problems to sort out ASAP. Something needed to be done about the club’s lease of the Craven Cottage ground: either the lease must be renegotiated; or the club must go elsewhere. And wherever Fulham FC were going to play, by the first week of September the ground had to be ready for the kind of crowds you could expect in the Southern League. The negotiations with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who owned the freehold, dragged on so long as to influence building (and lack of it) at the site for the next two years. But by August 1903 work had begun, and a licence had been obtained from the London County Council, to build a grandstand for 3000 seated people at Craven Cottage, with offices underneath it; and to bank up the three other sides of the pitch for people standing.
By November 1903 the first flush of local enthusiasm for Fulham in Southern League Division 1 had collapsed under the strain of poor results. Exactly what was considered in the local press to be a poor crowd was what happened on Boxing Day, Saturday 26 December 1903: (only) 13000 turned up for Fulham 1 Brentford 1 when the match was the only Southern League fixture in London that day. There were other problems at Fulham FC too: the Daily Telegraph’s report on a match at Craven Cottage just before that Christmas said that Fulham’s play was crude and common-place and their supporters boorishly noisy!
It was over the next two or three seasons that the balance
of power in Fulham FC shifted towards the Allen and Norris partnership as Henry
Norris in particular invited its employees and friends to buy shares. As early as July 1903, Norris’s wife
and sister had two shares each; as did his solicitor for family matters and
fellow Freemason, Arthur Gilbert. Allen
and Norris’ joiner Arthur Foulds had ten shares; and Thomas Plummer, whose son
Francis would work for Allen and Norris and end his career as their office
manager, had ten. These people could
certainly be expected to vote with Allen and Norris if the chips were down at
the club’s AGM. By July 1904,
Dudley Evans had bought shares and joined the board of directors; he was the
son of Edwin Evans and partner in the family estate agent’s business based in
Wandsworth (see my file NORRIS AND LAVENDER HILL). Edwin Evans was a friend of both William
Allen and Henry Norris. And in September
1904, another acquaintance on the south
And so to HENRY NORRIS’ PART IN THE FORMATION OF CHELSEA
FOOTBALL CLUB which happened between the beginning of 1904 and spring 1905,
and it’s interesting to note that all the histories of Chelsea FC mention his
role, while none of the histories of Fulham FC do. I’ve said in my Life of Henry Norris that I
haven’t been able to date exactly the Mears brothers’ first approach to Fulham
FC about taking the lease of Stamford Bridge sports ground; but the Chelsea FC
histories do say that it was Gus Mears who approached Fulham’s board of
directors, not the other way round. They
also give details of what he was offering: the
It seems that negotiations did not get very far. I couldn’t find any definite date at which
they were broken off; but if Fulham FC were raising money in September 1904
they were probably doomed by then and certainly in the autumn Mears was
considering other offers for the site.
Fulham continued to raise money over season 1904/05 and the process
further strengthened the hand of the Allen and Norris partnership over John
Dean. In December 1904 William
Allen and Henry Norris bought shares so that their totals were 150 and 143
respectively - each one of them now having considerably more than Dean. And in April 1905, just before work
began on the redevelopment of Craven Cottage, 200 shares in the club were
bought by William Hall: the first important appearance in football of the man
who persuaded Henry Norris to get involved with Woolwich Arsenal FC. Hall and
The histories of Chelsea FC are in no doubt that the
intransigence of Fulham FC pushed Gus Mears towards the founding of a second
professional football club in the borough of Fulham, to play in his redeveloped
sports ground. I don’t consider it
intransigent for Fulham FC to be worried about taking on such a high rental on
the terms Mears was offering. Fulham
Football and Athletic Company Limited had had an income of £6482 over season
1903/04; a redeveloped
However, the men who founded Chelsea FC were also annoyed by finding the Southern League wasn’t prepared to welcome them in, even to their lower division - a policy ascribed specifically to Fulham FC. And as Henry Norris was the man who spoke in public for Fulham FC, he was the one who got blamed for views probably held by the majority of its board members.
Of course, the redevelopment of
Henry Norris’s behaviour as season 1905/06 approached showed he was well aware of the threat Chelsea FC posed; and - as so often with him - he went about dealing with the difficulty in ways that made him enemies and got him in the public eye for all the wrong reasons. He started well enough, with the offer of pre-season friendlies between the two clubs. He’d caused such offence at Chelsea FC that its directors ignored his overtures completely but in August he was able to turn this to good account in the most public way possible, by writing a column for the West London and Fulham Times in which - by leaving out all the events that had let up to it - he was able to describe his offer of friendly matches as an olive branch from one club to its new neighbour, an olive branch which had been spurned. It was published on Friday 25 August; and was the first essay in Henry Norris’ career as a football writer (for more, see my file NORRIS’S WRITINGS). He continued to write on football matters, in WLFT and elsewhere, until some comments on a game involving Chelsea FC got him censured by the Football Association, in April 1913, and probably lost him an influential friend. In an era where almost all writers in newspapers (on any subject, not just football) were anonymous, using a pen-name, he always wrote his columns under his own name, so there was no doubt who had written this one. The newspapers in Fulham must have been delighted, for this first piece of writing by Norris provoked a ferocious response from the pro-Chelsea FC camp, just as season 1905/06 got started.
Fulham Chronicle had appointed a new football writer
The redeveloped Craven Cottage was given an official opening
ceremony, with lunch, on the first day of season 1905/06,
The policy of offering Craven Cottage as a neutral venue
continued and for the first time, on
Craven Cottage’s status in football continued to rise (at the expense of Stamford Bridge as well as other venues) when the 1906 Charity Shield was played there on Saturday 28 April 1906 and if they had not met before, the Fulham directors were introduced to Lord Kinnaird, a fearsome player in his day and now President of the Football League, who came to present the Shield. The annual dinner of Fulham FC was held in the evening, and Henry Norris later discovered that one of the invited guests had taken shameless advantage during the evening, luring away one of Fulham’s best players by offering him more money. Amongst those guests were McKenna; J J Bentley, the very influential journalist-editor of Athletic News; and Phil Kelso, then manager of Woolwich Arsenal FC.
Then it was into the yearly round of football AGMs, and that of the Southern League showed Henry Norris attempting to change the way it operated, struggling to get the representatives to talk about transfers against a chairman who stone-walled everything not on the agenda and then led the charge to the annual dinner with the agenda abandoned in the rush. Fulham FC’s manager Harry Bradshaw was also brushed off when he tried to suggest that home and away teams wear noticeably different jerseys. Three meetings during June 1906 and early July 1906 were needed to reach a concensus amongst the representatives on how the Southern League’s fixture list should be scheduled. Although I don’t know for certain how many of the three Henry Norris attended, they must have contributed to the growing disillusionment the Fulham board as a whole were feeling with the way the Southern League was managed.
However, Norris was sufficiently relaxed about footballing
The question of how to replace the club’s secretary, Herbert
Jackson, had been left open for several months: he’d died in May but no one had
been appointed to replace him by August. The delay may have been to save the
club money. It wasn’t to do with a lack
of suitable candidates: Fulham had received 150 applications for the post. But John Edward Norris got the job - Henry
Norris’ younger brother. The first
document I have found that was signed by him is a list of new share-holders
I’ve already said that Fulham’s scorelines got to be a running joke very soon after they entered Southern League Division 1. But yet another scoreless draw, against Luton Town on Saturday 8 September 1906 caused the Athletic News to say that, “The scoring of a goal by Fulham bids fair to be one of the events of the season”; and the Daily Chronicle to write a match report that caused the Fulham directors to withdraw the press card they’d just issued to the paper. None of the coverage of the Daily Chronicle incident mentioned Henry Norris by name and it was probably a decision the whole board of directors agreed with, but I couldn’t help wondering whether he had been the prime mover in getting rid of the Daily Chronicle, showing another tendency that became more pronounced as his career in football wore on.
Towards the end of season 1907/08 some moves were made to
form a national football league by amalgamating the Football League (of clubs
mostly in the north) with the Southern League.
Discussions began on
Meanwhile, from March to May 1907 the Southern League
continued to resist all Henry Norris’ attempts to modernise its
management. West London and Fulham
Times’ new football reporter, Oscar Drew - writing as ‘Merula’ - described
Norris’ reaction to this as “very outspoken” but Norris wasn’t the only one who
condemned the Southern League’s decision-making processes - another critic was
the chief football reporter of the (
with more or less the same first eleven as in the previous season, Fulham FC
won their second successive Southern League Division One championship in May
1907. Their half-back line (roughly
equivalent to a modern defensive midfield) was described in the Athletic
News as “the strongest in the south” and West Ham had been the only team to
defeat them at home. However, the Fulham
Chronicle noted that the defence had suffered “occasional serious lapses”
and the forward line had been inconsistent, although it had played very well in
the last few matches. And perhaps
there was not quite so much celebration in Fulham this time, because on
Whether the Fulham directors were fed-up with the Southern
League refusal to get modern, or feeling that if they couldn’t beat them
(Chelsea that is) they’d better join them, on Mon 6 May 1907 Athletic News published
a letter from Henry Norris confirming all the rumours by announcing that Fulham
FC had applied to be elected to the Football League. The FL’s AGM took place at on
The 200 shares each that Henry Norris and William Allen
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 October 2007