Mostly Fulham 1907-19 - in the Football League

Last updated: November 2007


Tue 3 September 1907 was Fulham FC’s first fixture in the Football League Division Two: Hull City 1 Fulham 0.  The first home game was Sat 14 September 1907: Fulham 0 Lincoln City 0.  By as early as the match-day programme of Sat 5 October 1907 Merula was admitting that the club was finding it hard going (this might have been the kind of honesty that got Merula into trouble with his employers).  But season 1907/08 saw the best FA Cup run by any Henry Norris team before 1927.  It began on Sat 11 January 1908 with Luton Town 3 Fulham 8 (yes, eight) played on a ice-bound pitch; and took in an easy victory over Norwich City before hitting the heights against clubs from FL Division One.  Henry Norris had flu and didn’t see Manchester City 1 Fulham 1, on Sat 22 February 1908 in a gale-force wind; but he’d probably recovered by Wed 26 February 1908 when 38000 saw Fulham win the replay 3-1.  Panic at the injury to key player Threlfall caused an emergency meeting of the board of directors on Wed 4 March 1908 but perhaps they need not have worried: Sat 7 March 1908 was one of the greatest afternoons in Henry Norris’ career in football.  Even though the FA Cup quarter-final was marred by a pitch invasion at the final whistle, Fulham 2 Manchester Utd 1 was a great result and there’s a pen-portrait of Henry Norris benignly presiding over the counting of the money brought in by a 41,000 crowd.  Apparently, this was usually his task on home match-days but rarely can his smile have been as big as on that day.  After the gate money had all been totted up, the players and all the Fulham hierarchy went to the Alhambra Theatre in Leicester Square to watch a film of the match.


The long FA Cup run was taking its toll on the team, however.  On Sat 21 March 1908 an injury-ravaged Fulham FC lost at Stockport County and effectively ended the club’s hopes of a first-season promotion to FL Division One.  In fact they never did reach Division One during Henry Norris’ lifetime.  And the end of the cup run was one of those horrors everyone endures sometimes as a football fan: Henry Norris was at Anfield at 3.30pm on Sat 28 March 1908 to watch Fulham being murdered 6-0 by Newcastle Utd (who didn’t win the final), the match lasting only 30 minutes as a serious contest.


It was probably to take advantage of all this excitement that some new shares in Fulham Football and Athletic Company Ltd were issued on Tue 16 March 1908; this was a high-point, though, and no more shares were bought by anybody before 1913.  Instead, in early April 1908 the Fulham directors were digging into their own pockets to fund the signing of players for next season; the owners of the pockets in question weren’t named in the local press but Henry Norris and William Allen were likely to have been involved.


Fulham FC finished 4th in Division Two: not bad for newcomers.  The fact that they’d become established in the Football League so easily may have influenced Henry Norris when he considered the future; but he seems also to have decided to cut back on his football involvement to concentrate on his political ambitions.  At the AGM of Fulham Football and Athletic Company Ltd on Tue 11 August 1908 he stepped down as the club’s chairman.  He never held that post again although he continued as a director of the company until 1919 and kept all his shares in the club until his death. The evidence shows that at least during season 1908/09 he continued to work for Fulham FC much as before: on Fri 11 September and Fri 25 August 1908 and again on Fri 5 February 1909 he represented the club at meetings of the Football League at which they tried to decide how to enforce the FA rules on bonuses and the maximum wage.  Sometime in November 1908 it was Norris and William Hall who went to a music hall for a stage-managed ‘accidental’ meeting with player Jimmy Sharp and ex Woolwich Arsenal FC manager Phil Kelso, both of whom joined Fulham FC within the next few months.  But when a group of football notables were entertained to lunch at Fulham FC on Sat 3 April 1909, it was Hall who took the major role in organising the occasion and presiding at it.  During season 1909/10, at least, Henry Norris was the director with responsibility for overseeing the Reserve team.  Fulham Reserves played in the South Eastern League, so Norris could fit their matches in more easily than the first team’s as he took on all the social duties required of the mayor of a London borough.   But when on 7 December 1909 Fulham won the London Cup - a rare thing for the club, winning a cup competition - he wasn’t there to see it.  


Fulham’s supporters detected and resented that Norris’ attention was increasingly directed elsewhere.  It seemed they could just about stomach it while the ‘elsewhere’ in question was local politics; when the ‘elsewhere’ was another football club, however, it was a different matter. 


An unusually large number of shareholders went along to Fulham FC’s AGM of 1910, held on Mon 4 July at the Fulham Town Hall, and the temperature of the occasion began to rise when Henry Norris, in his speech about the annual report, (which reported another deficit) said that the club needed more shareholders and bigger crowds if it was going to raise more money, because the directors weren’t willing to put their own money into the club any more to buy players.  It reached boiling point when manager Phil Kelso said that the future the club concentrate on bringing on players from its youth team, and that consequently, it would be three seasons before there was a team capable of winning promotion.  Kelso was criticised by several shareholders for the inadequacies of last season’s players, and asked outright what he was going to do about getting a good centre-forward - a question he seems to have avoided answering directly.  It the course of Kelso’s interrogation it came out that only two of Fulham’s players were thought good enough to be paid the maximum wage; but those two were criticised for not having justified their wage packets.  It was Henry Norris’ old critic Oscar Drew (the football writer Merula) who pointed out that even while they were being relegated Chelsea had had bigger crowds than Fulham’s, because they had better players.  Bad play and bad players, said Drew, drove crowds away.  He predicted (correctly) that next season Chelsea would finish higher than Fulham in Football League Division Two; and sketched out a bleak future in which Fulham would just sink down and down, their crowds dwindling as they dropped.  He criticised the players recently bought in by Fulham, saying they hadn’t been worth their transfer fees.  And finally he reached the real nub of all the hostility by mentioning Woolwich Arsenal - which nobody else had - saying, “The Fulham directors have dipped their hands deep enough into their pockets over Woolwich.  If they could do it for one club they could do it for another”, for which he got cheers and a round of applause from the floor.  Hall tried to explain that he and Norris had acted as concerned individuals to rescue a good, venerable club, but a shareholder interrupted him, yelling, “Rot!” and the uncomfortable questions and comments continued.


Despite all the criticism, the annual report was accepted by the shareholders that were present, and there doesn’t seem to have been criticism of anything except team selection and players bought.  I think it’s easier for shareholder-supporters to focus on this aspect of the way any club is managed.  Tackling other expenditure requires understanding the more arcane areas of a balance sheet, and knowing more about what the back-room staff do every day.  There doesn’t seem to have been any discussion of the details of how else (other than by promoting youth) the directors were going to reduce the club’s deficit.   Shareholders were given some information about Dean’s retirement as director; they were told that he would still be keeping his shares in the club.  But no one seems to have asked any awkward questions on the subject of why he should retire at all, though there were awkward questions to ask.  Dean kept out of Fulham FC’s management until not only William Hall and Henry Norris but also William Allen had all ceased any active involvement in it; and there must have been rumours at the time of what Fulham FC histories all agree on but don’t go into any details about - that Dean resigned after disagreements with other directors.  The most obvious and controversial source of disagreement in 1910 was the involvement of directors of Fulham in the running of Woolwich Arsenal.  Dean saw where it would all end, and wasn’t going to have any part of it.  Henry Norris told the shareholders that he would be staying as director.  They were lucky still to have him, he said - he wouldn’t still be working as a director of the club if it hadn’t been such a disastrous year - but he wasn’t going to give up on Fulham until he’d got them into Football League Division One.  Quite how that went down with the shareholders the press reports don’t say!


At the end of the AGM of 1910 the Fulham FC directors were: William Hall (still chairman), Henry Norris, William Allen, Arthur Foulds and Dudley Evans, Dean’s withdrawal leaving the influence of the Allen and Norris partnership dominant.  They all continued to be directors, without any new ones being elected, until 1913, and there were no big injections of money into the club until then.  If Dean’s resignation was because he thought Hall’s and Norris’ involvement with Woolwich Arsenal would drag Fulham FC down, he was right.  At the end of season 1909/10, Fulham had been seventh in Football League Division Two.  In season 1910/11 they ended tenth while newly-relegated Chelsea were third and reached the FA Cup semi-finals. 


In season 1911/12 they were eighth; and turned the deficit into a profit on the back of an FA Cup run which included wins over Burnley and Liverpool.  BUT Chelsea got promoted; they also made a profit.  William Hall in his chairman’s speech said that the number of people buying season tickets for season 1912/13 had dropped.  In his speech Henry Norris echoed Hall’s plea for bigger crowds, saying that repayment of the directors’ loans to the club was dependent on the gate-money the club earned.  He admitted that the team had had some poor matches; but then so did other clubs’ teams.  He reminded shareholders who were not directors (this was a dig at Oscar Drew) that it was the directors that took the strain of the club’s finances.  And he reminded shareholders who hadn’t yet bought their season ticket that if Fulham had the support that Chelsea and Spurs both had, the club would have the kind of money it needed to build a team like theirs.  He described Fulham FC as being run as wisely and as economically as possible.   But was that what shareholders wanted? 


Season 1912/13 was the one that (in 1910) Kelso had looked to as the first possibility for a promotion push based on bringing on players from Fulham’s youth set-up.  The lack of commitment to season tickets as the season’s beginning approached indicated that the supporters didn’t have much faith in the club’s ability to deliver; though the years before World War 1 broke out were a time of turbulence in the national economy - that was certainly also a factor.  In fact, Fulham ended ninth, but only after an effort that pulled them away from the relegation zone in the last few weeks of the season. 


It’s clear from reports of the AGMs of Fulham FC that Henry Norris continued to exercise a great deal of influence at Fulham FC, and to put in a lot of money, even when he was no longer chairman.  Coverage of the meetings in the press showed that local reporters were very aware of how much control he still had.  The other directors of the club were even more aware of it, as events in the summer of 1913 showed.


Woolwich Arsenal’s move to Highbury in 1913 coincided with the club’s relegation to Football League Division Two.  At that summer’s AGM of the Football League, Cadman of Spurs and Wells-Holland of Clapton Orient got together to argue that there was now a conflict of interest for William Hall and Henry Norris, directors of two football clubs now in the same division.  A series of angry exchanges ended with Henry Norris declaring that he and Hall would resign from the board at Fulham (NOT from Woolwich Arsenal, Fulham fans please note!), which they duly did, within the next few days.  Probably Henry Norris guessed what Fulham FC’s response would be, left with only two functioning directors, William Allen and Dudley Evans, for the three weeks before the club’s AGM.  At the AGM, directors and shareholders agreed that Fulham couldn’t do without Norris and Hall; and they successfully petitioned the Football League to overlook the decision made at its own AGM and allow them to stay on the board.  In fact, William Hall did not serve on the board again, and at some stage in 1914 or (more probably) 1915, he sold all his shares in Fulham FC to new director John Clarke.  Henry Norris stayed as a director of Fulham FC until the AGM of 1919.  However, on 26 November 1913 he gave the clearest possible indication of where his priorities now lay: he sold 202 shares in Fulham FC, about half of what he owned, to William Allen.  By 1914 William Allen had become by far the biggest shareholder, with 832.  He became the club’s chairman, and his son William Allen junior joined him on the board in 1920.  But by the annual report of June 1925 the Allens had sold all their shares to John Dean.


From 1913 to 1919 Henry Norris was still a director at Fulham FC, but it’s difficult to gauge exactly how much influence he wielded there.  Both Fulham and Woolwich Arsenal played football right through World War 1, in the Football League until the end of season 1914/15, and then in the London Combination from September 1915 to April 1919.  But the London Combination was an amateur league, crowds at matches were small and all clubs that were still playing football at all, were ticking over at a very low level.  Henry Norris became heavily involved in work for the war effort and had no time to spare to oversee either club.  He played one more role in the history of Fulham FC: in 1919, a bit-part, on behalf of Woolwich Arsenal, accusing Fulham FC of breaking the rules in a cup tie.  The incident offended him so much he cut all his ties with Fulham FC, after 13 years’ involvement.  But he kept his 200 shares until his death.


Looking at the history of Fulham FC from 1903 to the 1920s, I’ve come to the conclusion Henry Norris was not a Fulham fan in the way that William Allen was.  I think that Fulham FC was in Allen’s blood more than in Norris’; and he was committed to the club in a way that Norris was not.  Perhaps it was his idea to set up a company to run Fulham, in 1903.  To have the Allen and Norris partnership in charge at the club meant the firm and therefore its partners would become associated with this source of local pride.  I’m sure they both realised that it would help their firm’s name reach people who wouldn’t have heard of it otherwise.  Henry Norris used the fact that running a football club can put you in the public eye (if you want it to) to further a political career.  William Allen could have used his position at the club in the same way; but with him it was football first and Fulham always. 



Copyright Sally Davis October 2007