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.





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 Fulham Road.  The men at that meeting decided that they were going to go for it: they were going to take the club over, form a limited company to run it, and sell shares in the company to raise the money needed to convince the Southern League that Fulham FC could survive in its top division.  All in two weeks.  The football reporter in the local paper thought it was a hare-brained idea; but that’s never put anyone off in football.


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.


Saturday 30 May 1903 was the AGM of the Southern League.  When it came to the election of the two new clubs, two ballots were needed before Fulham FC were elected to the top division when Watford FC had been expected to be, and despite the very newness of the company set up to run the club.  Clearly, despite the short notice, money and guarantees of money had been found in sufficient quantities to convince enough Southern League voters to let Fulham FC in.  No doubt it weighed with them that whereas Watford was still almost rural, Fulham FC - thanks to the Allen and Norris partnership amongst others - played in a heavily built-up area with good transport links and no other clubs too near it: crowds would be bigger than at Watford and the slice of gate-money for the visiting club would be bigger too.


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.


On Tuesday 1 September 1903 Fulham FC played their first fixture in Southern League: they lost away at nearish-neighbours Queen’s Park Rangers, 2-0.  The club’s first home game was also a derby match: Fulham 0 Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) 0.  And I must say that these two scores set a precedent that was ever afterwards associated by football reporters with teams controlled by Henry Norris: Fulham’s nil score-lines became a running joke and say something about Norris’s attitude that I talk more about in my file NORRIS AND FOOTBALL.  The most interesting thing about the Fulham/Spurs match is that parts of it were FILMED and then shown at Fulham’s Granville Theatre; the directors of the club were invited to the showing on Friday 11 September 1903.


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! 


On Monday 25 April 1904, after the last game of season 1903/04, Athletic News summed up Fulham’s first season in the Southern League as nothing remarkable in the footballing sense.  They had ended below mid-table.  However, over the season as a whole the club had made a big hit with the public.   The writer hazarded a guess that in gate money terms it had probably done as well as Spurs: the takings for a recent mid-week match (usually lower than Saturday matches) had been £248; and over their FA Cup 3rd round match and its replay, Fulham and QPR had shared £688.  Athletic NewsLondon commentator, though, noted a weariness of players and match-goers during the last few weeks of the season and said that all the London clubs had organised too many fixtures.


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 London estate agents’ circuit became involved with Fulham FC: James Watts bought 200 shares. 


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 Stamford Bridge site would be redeveloped as a football ground and leased to Fulham FC for £1500 per year and all the profits from any F A Cup ties played there.  Fulham FC objected to the terms. However, according to the Chelsea FC histories, the board at Fulham was divided, John Dean believing that the figure of £1500 could be argued down and Henry Norris (specifically) saying that Fulham couldn’t afford even a reduced figure, especially if Mears was going to take the Cup tie gate-money which would be the club’s best way of ensuring they could pay the rent.


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 Watts joined the board of directors at the AGM of July 1905 and the process of out-flanking Dean was completed in June 1907 when William Allen and Henry Norris bought 200 more shares each.


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 Stamford Bridge would hold more people than Craven Cottage, so Fulham could expect that figure to increase if they took up the tenancy.  However, expenses in their first year had been heavy: £2953 on players including training and travel; £224 on other staff; £60 on the canteen; and there was the rent to be paid to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners - I couldn’t find out how much this was.  Though these costs could be cut there were limits on how much you could cut them without driving away the fans. 


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 Stamford Bridge with a grandstand modelled on the one at Ibrox Park and a capacity of 100,000; and the club’s election into the Football League’s division two, put pressure on Fulham FC to keep up with the Mears’s.  And the club’s reaction was a strange one, given their attitude to his offer to move to Stamford Bridge: the directors decided to borrow money to redevelop Craven Cottage.  By the AGM of 1906 the club was paying £1011 in interest on loans; admittedly it was on much larger gate receipts (£11615 in season 1905/06) but the sum was two-thirds of Mears’ proposed rent and was restricting Fulham’s ability to pay the best players.


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 to cover Chelsea matters.  Writing as ‘Chelstam’ and probably with the intention of making a name for himself, on Friday 1 September 1905 he wrote a vitriolic attack on Fulham FC over their attitude during the formation of the new club.  Chelstam accused Henry Norris, by name, of acting out of spite, and of having “the little mind of a private gentleman thirsting for notoriety and not much troubling how he gets it”.  Norris was sufficiently upset to reproduce this particular accusation in his own column in WLFT the following week and to spend most of his words that week defending himself.  Though he never sued the writer for what seems pretty libellous to me (though I’m no expert); possibly because he couldn’t discover the writer’s real name.  I’d just like to note the element of class envy contained in Chelstam’s attack: Henry Norris’s increasing wealth as a partner in Allen and Norris was enabling him to rise up through the ranks to the upper-middle classes, and some of his neighbours resented it.


The redeveloped Craven Cottage was given an official opening ceremony, with lunch, on the first day of season 1905/06, Saturday 2 September 1905; and with Fulham’s favourite scoreline in Fulham 0 Portsmouth 0.  And Chelsea FC did make an attempt to lighten the football atmosphere in the district when they invited all the Fulham FC directors to the friendly match which opened Stamford Bridge on Monday 4 September 1905, a friendly with Liverpool FC of Football League Division 1.  Amongst the various representatives of the Football League hierarchy was J McKenna, of Liverpool, an important ally of Henry Norris over the next few years; they may have met that day.


The policy of offering Craven Cottage as a neutral venue continued and for the first time, on Thursday 2 November 1906 a foreign country was involved: a team from Paris lost 11-0 to a London League XI.  And by Christmas 1905 Fulham FC were top of Southern League Division 1.  They won the championship on Saturday 21 April 1906 via Bristol Rovers 0 Fulham 1 with 48 points from 33 games.  The Athletic News saw it as a victory for the team’s defence, which had let in only 15 goals; but it also said that luck had played a big part - freedom from major injuries had enabled Fulham to field the same defenders in 23 of those 33 matches.


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 matters on Friday 29 June 1906 to permit some spontaneous questions from the floor at the AGM of Fulham Football and Athletic Club Limited.  According to Fulham Chronicle he “waxed exceedingly eloquent” about team selection: leading me to suppose that he had a strong hand in the weekly choice of players, rather than leave it to the manager Bradshaw.  If Norris and his fellow directors did select the team, it doesn’t necessarily show that they were interfering control-freaks who could not leave well alone.  The manager of a football club was a job still in the making at this stage, many still having to do the work of company secretary as well as running the team, and having less power to make any decisions than they were able to wield as the status of their job rose (even Herbert Chapman was still expected to be the one to sign Arsenal’s company accounts).


On Monday 3 September 1906 Fulham played Chelsea for the first time since Chelsea had been founded, in the friendly Fulham 0 Chelsea 0, indicating that now that the Fulham directors had won a league championship, they no longer felt quite the level of anxiety that they’d shown in 1905.


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 dated Monday 17 September 1906 and that may have been one of his first days at work.  Was he one of the 150 official applicants?  I haven’t seen a list of names, of course, but I would be surprised if he was.  Whether he was or not, his appointment strengthened the hand of the Allen and Norris partnership in the running of Fulham FC and is the first notable example of a habit that Henry Norris took much further with Arsenal: that of appointing people who might be thought to owe him allegiance.


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 Mon 11 March 1907 at the Tavistock Hotel, London.  I can’t find clear evidence that Henry Norris attended this but I should imagine he did, given his interest in the subject; he may even have been the person who suggested it take place.  In the evening of that day, a ceremony took place (in Fulham but I’m not sure exactly where) to present a cheque to the widow of Herbert Jackson.  Again, I have no direct evidence that Henry Norris was there but I can’t see him being busy elsewhere on such an occasion - to be there and present the cheque would be very typical of the concern he showed throughout his life for people who worked for him and showed their loyalty.


Mon 18 March 1907 was an important occasion for Fulham FC: England 1 Wales 1 was played at Craven Cottage.  It was an honour for a club to be chosen to host an England game, and Fulham’s directors went out of their way to acknowledge this, presenting commemorative gifts to the referee and linesmen, and inviting all the FA officials, and the England team, to attend a dinner afterwards at the Holborn Restaurant.  A photograph of the team and FA officials, with the Fulham directors and ground-staff, was taken after the game and is still owned by one of Norris’ grand-children.  By this time, rumours were rife in football that Fulham FC were going to desert the Southern League for the Football League.  In his after-dinner speech, Henry Norris denied the rumours outright; but he was being disingenuous.  Indeed, influencing the FA to decide to use Craven Cottage for an international match can be seen as part of a campaign to raise the Fulham FC’s profile amongst the FL members in the run-up to the AGM.


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 (London) Football News, J Dick, whom Norris knew well.

Playing 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 Sat 27 April 1907 Chelsea FC, in only their second season, were promoted to Football League Division One.  In season 1907/08 visitors to Stamford Bridge would therefore see the Big Teams - Sunderland, Manchester Utd and City, Everton, Aston Villa  - a real challenge to Fulham FC’s ability to hold on to its crowds. 


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 10am on Fri 31 May 1907 at the Tavistock Hotel, and Fulham FC, Lincoln City and Chesterfield were all elected to its Division Two.  Henry Norris was immediately called upon to take an active part in the meeting, explaining to the FL representatives how the Southern League organised payment of its referees.  Later in the day he was probably Fulham FC’s representative at the FA’s AGM held, as usual, at the Holborn Restaurant.


The 200 shares each that Henry Norris and William Allen bought on Mon 24 June 1907 (see also above) were part of the the preparations for life in the Football League, wherein travel expenses alone would be higher. 


On Sat 18 August 1907 a pre-season practice match was the occasion for the first issue of a more professional match-day programme, edited by Merula, poached from West London and Fulham Times.  The Boardroom Notes column in the programme was anonymous but Henry Norris later admitted that it was always him that wrote it, at least during season 1907/08: it became the first regular outlet for the football columns he wrote later where he looked at the footballing issues of the day and shamelessly promoted Fulham and their next matches.  To say that he and the programme’s editor had a difficult relationship, especially initially, is putting it mildly.  Merula - Oscar Drew - was a Fulham FC shareholder but he was also a professional football writer with standards of objectivity to keep up.  By Fri 1 November 1907 he’d resigned after a dispute about editorial freedom.  A letter explaining his side of the argument was published on that day in West London and Fulham Times and provoked a strong response from Henry Norris on all the directors’ behalf on Sat 2 November - a letter denying that Merula’s freedom to criticise Fulham’s management had been curtailed, and threatening WLFT with legal action.  By Tue 5 November 1907 Merula had actually been persuaded to stay in his post.  However, he wrote to the WLFT again to say that he was staying despite continuing problems with (un-named) members of the Fulham board; and then took a sea voyage to Portugal to recover from the stress of the last three months, not returning until January 1908.




Copyright Sally Davis October 2007