William Hall 1910-12: Taking Over at Woolwich Arsenal


Last updated: July 2008


In mid-March 1910 both the Times and Athletic News reported that Woolwich Arsenal FC Limited was in deep financial trouble and would hold a meeting on 18 March as a first step towards voluntary liquidation.  It’s likely, though, that William Hall and all of London football had already heard on the gossip grapevine that the club’s main shareholder and main creditor, George Leavey, was taking what steps he could to prevent a bankruptcy.  William Hall went to Woolwich on 18 March 1910 to attend the meeting.  As he was not a shareholder, he was not allowed in, but he did establish some kind of personal contact with the club, probably with George Leavey.


Why go at all? Hall said later that he had felt it would be sad if the city’s oldest professional club were to go to the wall.  He didn’t say that he tried to attend the meeting to say he was willing to put any money into the club’s rescue - after all, he was in business for himself and was already financially committed to one football club.  However, the fact that he had taken any interest at all marked him out, and caused him to become embroiled in something he couldn’t possibly have intended at the outset, and to drag in Henry Norris.


The meeting of 18 March 1910 began the process of winding up the limited company that ran Woolwich Arsenal FC, part of which process would be setting up a new limited company which would take over the football club.  However, over the next weeks, people willing to put their money into the rescue project proved hard to find, and rumours began to go around of a search for alternative ways out.  By mid-April, Henry Norris, on Fulham FC’s behalf, felt obliged to make a statement to the local press that Fulham FC and Woolwich Arsenal FC were about to amalgamate.


In late April and early May 1910 it looked as though Woolwich Arsenal FC would be saved by its supporters in Woolwich - in fact a celebratory dinner even took place in late April to mark the club’s rescue by a group of local businessmen.  However, the share issue that was necessary for this rescue to work didn’t raise nearly enough money to pay the liquidated company’s debts, and George Leavey, increasingly anxious about the money he was owed by the club, took desperate measures.  Exactly when Leavey went, cap in hand, to the directors of Fulham FC suggesting that Woolwich Arsenal FC be absorbed into Fulham FC was a subject of much anger later.  Residents of Woolwich accused Hall and Norris of having listened to Leavey as early as late April.  It’s more likely that serious talk between Leavey and the Fulham directors didn’t take place before mid-May 1910, very shortly before the news became public and both parties approached the Football League to gain sanction for a scheme they had cooked up together whereby Woolwich Arsenal would move into Craven Cottage and the Fulham directors would pay Woolwich Arsenal’s debts off.  Coverage of this scheme in the papers showed, I think, that Henry Norris had got involved - very little information was coming out into the public domain!  Newspaper articles couldn’t state for sure whether the scheme was a ground-share idea, or would involve the disappearance altogether of Woolwich Arsenal into Fulham and if so, which league division the resulting club would play in.  Reporters went to the rule-books for clues as to what would be the outcome.  Athletic News (always close to the Football League hierarchy) looked at whether a ground-share would be against the regulations, and wondered what would become of Woolwich Arsenal’s current players. 


The Football League had a discussion about Woolwich Arsenal’s problems at its management committee meeting on Friday 13 May 1910.  The committee  decided it needed to have more information before attempting to decide what kind of rescue it would sanction.  It decided to hold a second meeting at which representatives of both Fulham FC and Woolwich Arsenal FC would explain in more detail what they were proposing.  This took place at the Imperial Hotel in London on Wednesday 18 May 1910, with J J Bentley, Charles Sutcliffe and T Harris present for the management committee.  I presume William Hall, Henry Norris and William Gilbert Allen attended for Fulham FC; George Leavey did for Woolwich Arsenal FC.  The three FL management committee men had already heard one alternative - the merger of the two clubs at Craven Cottage.  Now George Leavey told them of a second one - Henry Norris, William Hall and William Gilbert Allen of Fulham FC had agreed to become directors of a new company to run Woolwich Arsenal FC in Woolwich. 


The FL management committee didn’t like either option but they knew which one they liked least.  Probably to William Hall and Henry Norris’ consternation, they absolutely ruled out any scheme involving both clubs being at Craven Cottage; neither a merger nor a ground share would be allowed.  They may have had an inkling before the Wednesday meeting that any solution involving Craven Cottage wasn’t acceptable which is why Leavey came up with the alternative which involved the three Fulham men becoming involved in a second football club.  Disliking the Craven Cottage-based ideas so much, he FL management committee allowed the second alternative but only as a temporary measure (at least, that was how it was meant to be).  The men from Fulham would become directors at Woolwich Arsenal for a 12-month trial period.  If by the end of it Woolwich Arsenal’s financial position was no more secure, the club would be allowed to move from Woolwich.


And so, by a series of stumbles and outcomes that they surely had not wanted, Hall, Norris and Allen were called upon to solve the financial difficulties of a club none of them supported.  And it got worse for William Hall and Henry Norris: William Gilbert Allen got cold feet and dropped out; he never became a director of Woolwich Arsenal FC and never loaned the club any money.  Norris and Hall were left holding the baby no one else (except Leavey) wanted.  It’s to their credit that despite the calls on their own money it would involve, neither Hall nor Norris took Allen’s option and got out.  In its coverage of the FL’s decision, Athletic News listed William Hall first and praised him most of the three men from Fulham FC who had offered to get involved in rescuing Woolwich Arsenal. The most authoritative football paper of its day thought William Hall had been the prime mover in getting the three of them committed.  I’m quite sure from Henry Norris’ statements (made several years later) that if it had been left to him, no rescue would have been mounted from Fulham; he became known as Woolwich Arsenal’s rescuer because he talked about it most, both at the time and in later years.  Hall himself made just one public statement on his part in it, and that too was many years later: he said that once he had made up his mind to take any particular course of action, he had always seen it through to the end. 

After two months of confusion and uncertainty Woolwich Arsenal’s finances needed to be sorted out ASAP.  Between 21 and 26 May 1910, William Hall and Henry Norris put money into Woolwich Arsenal FC by buying 240 shares each.  In the succeeding weeks George Morrell, the club’s manager, and his assistant were confirmed in their posts, and some money was made available for new players.  Hall and Norris took steps to ensure they could move Woolwich Arsenal away from Woolwich if they chose, by blocking any further purchase of shares in the new company by men from the Woolwich area.  To provide a fig-leaf of local representation on the new company’s board of directors they approached John Humble, probably because he’d already stated that if saving Woolwich Arsenal meant moving it somewhere else, he would support that. 


I think it was at this stage - when spending money on Woolwich Arsenal had become something Hall and Norris could no longer escape - that Henry Norris began to take the lead in the action; probably because he had the clearer idea what he wanted (to be able to leave Woolwich Arsenal to its own devices and the sooner the better) and probably because it was in his nature to take centre stage.  He certainly took the role of the new management’s spokesman.  William Hall seems to have been content to let Norris do the talking; and - when Norris’ statements to the press only led to greater hostility between the new board of directors and the club’s local supporters - to let Norris take the flak and the public continue in whatever misapprehensions Norris’ words had caused.  No doubt William Hall was in total agreement with Henry Norris’ opinion that Woolwich Arsenal FC must become self-supporting; but he let Norris state this opinion in public in a way that provoked hostility and apathy rather than cooperation and enthusiasm, without correcting him, at least not in public.  As a result, I think, Hall was dismissed as a negligible quantity in the new Woolwich Arsenal, both at the time and in club histories since.  How much actual influence Hall had to stop Norris doing something when he disagreed with him about it I don’t really know; I only have my feeling that Hall’s influence may have lessened as the years went by and Henry Norris became a Public Man while William Hall continued quietly to run his business.


William Hall was Woolwich Arsenal’s representative at the AGM of the Football League on Monday 13 June 1910.  During the next month, however, he had to spend some time back at Fulham FC preparing for its AGM, including issuing an annual report showing that the club had made a loss of £722, and facing up to the fact that John Dean - a director since 1903 - was intending to resign, probably in protest against his fellow directors’ involvement in another football club when their first one needed more money spent.  The AGM of Fulham Football and Athletic Company Limited took place on Monday 4 July 1910 at Fulham Town Hall.  William Hall was chairman for what turned out - inevitably I suppose - to be a pretty rowdy affair, attended by more shareholders than was usual.  Critical speeches were made from the floor and the speeches of the directors were met with annoyance.  When it got to directors’ question time, some of their responses were greeted with very vocal derision; continual comparisons with Chelsea FC’s annual report were made, to Fulham’s detriment (Chelsea had made a profit of £1945 desite being relegated); and Hall himself was cross-examined by one shareholder (probably Oscar Drew, who wrote for West London and Fulham Times as Merula) about why the club had wasted so much money on players - particularly Burns and Skene - who’d turned out to be expensive duds.  Hall retained his sense of what was needed here enough to thank Oscar Drew for his criticisms, admitting that the directors didn’t always like them but appreciating their frankness.


As if one very critical meeting of football club shareholders was not enough, Hall and Norris had to go through the same again when the new Woolwich Arsenal Football and Athletic Company held its first formal meeting at the Royal Mortar Hotel Woolwich on Monday 25 July 1910.  By this time, in addition to buying a large number of shares, Hall and Norris had both lent the new company £370 and stood as guarantors on a new, second mortgage taken out on the club’s Manor Ground.  The meeting did, in the end, do what was necessary, by approving the draft agreement reached between the new company and its predecessor’s liquidator, but it was a very rough ride for the directors.  It was at this meeting, during a hostile interrogation by a Dr Clarke, representing the people he described as the ‘£1 shareholders”, that Hall first admitted that he had tried to attend the meeting way back in March at which the old limited company had been declared insolvent.  He was then asked the question I’ve asked - why get involved at all?  In reply Hall said that on hearing of Woolwich Arsenal’s plight he’d decided he would be sorry to see any Football League club go under, and that if he could put forward a helping hand he should be pleased to do it.  


Unfortunately, his honest reply was taken badly and just added fire to the flames: both he and Norris had again and again to state that they had not been part of a fiendish plot to destroy Woolwich Arsenal for Fulham’s benefit; despite Leavey joining in their denials, it’s clear from the press coverage that the local shareholders still didn’t believe them.  However, Norris took the worst of it, as was so often the case in turbulent meetings like this one; the blunt and uncompromising statements he tended to make, tended to get the kind of reaction you’d expect them to!  The Kentish Independent described an exchange of views between him and Dr Clarke as bordering on the slanderous. 


When the meeting reached the point where shareholders began asking what exactly was the current financial position of Woolwich Arsenal FC there arose one of the few occasions I’ve found of a public difference between William Hall and Henry Norris; though they didn’t argue.  After a series of questions on the subject had been stone-walled by George Leavey, Henry Norris and particularly by Arthur Gilbert, solicitor for the new company (and member of Kent Lodge number 15) William Hall seemed to disagree with those three, saying that the shareholders could ask what questions they liked.  His intervention provoked George Leavey, at least, to be a bit more forthcoming about how desperate the club’s situation had been - “£900 had to be found in 48 hours...and not the slightest hope of getting it in Woolwich” was what he said - when Hall and Norris had made their £370 loans.


The directors of Woolwich Arsenal Football and Athletic Company got everything they wanted from the meeting except the one thing that would free them from the burden of the football club soonest - the participation, financial and otherwise, of its local community.  The meeting put the tin lid on it for Hall and Norris: it ensured they would not be relieved of their new burden any time soon.  Most of the blame for that is undoubtedly Norris’; but Hall has to carry the can for not making any noticeable effort to curb Norris’ tendency to make enemies rather than friends.  Annoyance amongst the supporters of Fulham FC rumbled on into season 1910/11 as well - the directors were criticised for their handling of players’ wage negotiations during the 1910 close season - so William Hall was being assailed on all sides.  It might have been for this reason that he asked his wife’s brother to become a director of Woolwich Arsenal FC.  Kate Elizabeth’s brother George had accepted the invitation by the end of September 1910.  He couldn’t bring any large financial investment to the club, but at least he was not a hostile force and Hall knew where he was with him.


I wonder how much William Hall and Henry Norris really believed in the twelve-month plan agreed to by the FL?  Much of the autumn of 1910 at Woolwich Arsenal FC was taken up with preparations for a share issue in Woolwich Arsenal Football and Athletic Company.  This was launched, with a large amount of local publicity, on Saturday 2 December 1910.  The sales brochure posted through all local letter boxes and given to every person attending that day’s home game, included a letter probably written by Henry Norris as it made no bones about the choices facing the local public: buy shares in the new company, or the club would move away.  The letter made plain that Norris and Hall were expecting their loans to the club to be paid off by the money raised by this share sale.   However it also said that if enough shares were sold, Norris and Hall would resign as directors - in order to stand again against any local shareholders who were eligible and wanted to help run the club.  That is to say, in the few months since they’d joined the board of directors the two of them had shifted their position and no longer wanted to drop the burden of Woolwich Arsenal. 


The share issue was a big flop and was never mentioned publically again by anyone at the club though rumour had it that only 50 shares were bought out of 5000 on offer.  William Hall and Henry Norris were stuck with Woolwich Arsenal; and the Kentish Independent from about January 1911 expected the club to move away.  I wonder if there would have been much protest in Woolwich if Hall and Norris had decided at this point just to take their money away and leave Woolwich Arsenal FC to go bankrupt.  They didn’t do that, though.  They hung on in there.


In between his metals business, Fulham FC and Woolwich Arsenal FC William Hall must have had a very busy life indeed.  There was still time in it for his activities as a freemason, though.  He continued his climb up the ladder at Kent Lodge number 15, being installed as its senior warden at the meeting on Wednesday 8 March 1911.  He represented Kent Lodge number 15 at the annual festival of the Royal Masonic Institution for Boys, a fund-raising event for the school held that year at the White City stadium, Shepherd’s Bush on Wednesday 14 June 1911.


The anger amongst Fulham FC’s shareholders over Hall and Norris’ involvement in Woolwich Arsenal FC had abated by the AGM, held on Friday 30 June 1911, despite accounts showing a bigger deficit than the year before, and no improvement in results on the pitch.  Hall’s speech as chairman emphasised Fulham FC’s lack of support, and the expense of running the club and told the shareholders that the club would continue its policy of keeping its running costs to a minimum.  Questioned again about the players bought during season 1910/11, Hall had to remind his interrogator that all transfers were a gamble on the player’s future form; Hall also told him that when Fulham FC sold a player, it was for the kind of reason that made other clubs reluctant to buy him.  You could interpret this as an admittance by Hall that Fulham FC held onto players too long, until they were too old or too injured to be worth anything.  Not everyone has Wenger’s skill for knowing when a player has reached a high point of value after which his new club discovers it’s downhill all the way; even so, Fulham FC’s transfer policy might have received a rougher ride than it got in 1911.  The newspaper reports of that year’s AGM give an impression of resignation amongst the supporters about Fulham’s continued position anchored in the middle of Football League Division Two, that hadn’t been there the year before.


The first AGM of Woolwich Arsenal Football and Athletic Company, on Saturday 17 June 1911 had also been a quiet affair.  When George Leavey, making the chairman’s speech, told his listeners that the board would only guarantee one more season at the Manor Ground, there was not much complaint.  The annual report showed that William Hall, Henry Norris and George Leavey were the lives insured as part of a mortgage of £4000 with Norwich Union Life Assurance.  Their loans to the club had increased, too, to £475 each - they were committed long term now.


Hall will have had little time for social engagements but on Thursday 5 October 1911 he and Kate Elizabeth were amongst Henry and Edith Norris’ guests for dinner at the Clarendon Restaurant in Hammersmith.


Over the weekend of 9-10 December 1911 the transfer of goalkeeper Dr L R Roose from Aston Villa to Fulham FC was hi-jacked by Henry Norris and William Hall of Woolwich Arsenal, so that Roose signed for Woolwich Arsenal on the Monday, 11 December 1911.  It was bad enough that a player was snatched away from Fulham by two of its own directors; that was a clear conflict of interest.  However, in July 1927 Norris confessed to a worse sin (at least in football’s eyes), saying that as part of transfer negotiations in 1911 he and William Hall both paid a professional player £100; Norris didn’t name the player in question but the evidence suggests it was Roose.  In fact Roose never claimed the travel and other expenses he was entitled to as a player with Woolwich Arsenal, so the £200 could have been seen as an advance on those expenses.  However, if the FA and FL had chosen to do so, they could have seen the £200 as a signing-on bonus, considerably more than the £10 allowed.  In 1927 and 1929 Norris repeatedly said that this kind of paying players more than the rules allowed was commonplace in football.  It was breaking the rules though.  William Hall never made any public statement on his part in the transaction, the first of several similar deals. 


At the meeting of Kent Lodge number 15 on Wednesday 13 March 1912 William Hall reached the top of the lodge ladder and was installed as its Worshipful Master to serve for the next 12 months.  The ceremony, at the Grand Temple, seems to have been a particularly elaborate and festive one, with 62 past masters of freemasons’ lodges as guests.


Season 1911/12 ended in gloom, at least if you were a Woolwich-based supporter of Woolwich Arsenal FC: in April 1912 George Leavey announced his resignation as a director of the club and his retirement from football management.  No doubt William Hall and Henry Norris had been expecting this for some time (maybe two years!).  It left Woolwich Arsenal FC in their hands and freed them to move the club’s ground without any opposition that mattered.  George Morrell, the manager, accepted a job with another club, but William Hall and Henry Norris talked him out of it.  With the season over, the team was sent on a money-gathering tour of central Europe.  William Hall and Henry Norris went to catch them up in Budapest at the end of May, travelling with them to Vienna and then home via Germany, with matches played in each country.


I’ve decided to mention here an important development in the running of Woolwich Arsenal, although I don’t know the exact date of it because no one ever gave it.  At some stage after William Hall and Henry Norris got involved with Woolwich Arsenal FC, they set themselves up as a sub-committee of the board of directors with sole responsibility for all financial matters at the club.  It could have happened as early as the summer of 1910 but I find it hard to believe that they would do such a thing while George Leavey was at the club - after all, Leavey continued as the club chairman until he resigned.  On the other hand, the two men had got themselves set up that way by the time Charles Crisp became a director of the club in 1913.  The departure of Leavey seems to me to be the likeliest time for the finance sub-committee to have started work.  It continued to make all the decisions on Woolwich Arsenal’s finances, without anyone else being involved in any way, until early 1927: just William Hall and Henry Norris, working together.  Too much power in too few hands, in my opinion; but fine if everybody agreed to it, I suppose - as long as the two men didn’t disagree.


The summer of 1912 was an important one for William Hall.  At that year’s AGM of the Football League, at the Imperial Hotel in London on Monday 3 June, he stood for election to its management committee.  He wasn’t elected, but he did garner the most votes of those who were not, which proved decisive later in the year.  It’s likely that while Hall was taking part in the hustings at this meeting, Norris was touting forward Andy Ducat amongst the other club representatives.  Shortly afterwards, Ducat - Woolwich Arsenal’s crown jewel - was sold to Aston Villa.  As I’ve argued elsewhere, this sale put the team on the road to relegation, especially as he was not replaced with anyone even half-way as talented; but it relieved the continuing strain on the club’s - and the two men’s - finances.


Summer was full of AGMs for William Hall at this time.  Fulham Football and Athletic Company held its AGM on Friday 28 June 1912 at its usual venue, the Fulham Town Hall.  Hall had to seek re-election as a director this year; he did so and was re-elected.  He was still chairman, and still going on about the club’s lack of support but he was gracious enough to congratulate Chelsea FC on their promotion (end season 1911/12) to Football League Division One.


Woolwich Arsenal FC’s AGM was on Friday 26 July 1912, also at its usual venue, Woolwich’s Royal Mortar Hotel.  After two years of rule by Hall and Norris and the sale of Ducat, the club was in credit.  It was Norris’ turn to go on about the club’s lack of support at this meeting, the first at which he was chairman of the club; however, at this meeting even the locals agreed that the club’s support was poor.  Although more shareholders attended it than the previous year, and the atmosphere of the meeting was harmonious, there was an air of resignation about it; most of those who attended didn’t expect the club to be in Woolwich much longer.


Tom Houghton of Preston North End died in the middle of September 1912 and created an unexpected vacancy on the Football League management committee.  William Hall was invited to join as Houghton’s replacement, and attended his first meeting in October, the first member to come from a southern football club for many years.  He continued to be a member of the management committee until August 1927.  Athletic News gave a short profile of Hall in its Monday 23 September 1912 edition, which seems to suggest that in his relatively short time in football Hall had made a very good impression.  Athletic News described him as “immensely popular” (something it never would have said about Henry Norris) and as “one of those good-natured and tactful men who win friends everywhere”; however he wasn’t just seen as a good bloke to prop up a bar with, the Athletic News saying also that he was “highly respected”.


The meetings of the FL management committee, usually held in Lancashire rather than London, were another drain on William Hall’s time.  He seems to have decided to curtain some of his other commitments.  On Wednesday 25 September 1912 William Hall attended the AGM of Fulham Amateur Boxing Club, at Kelvedon Hall, Kelvedon Road; as a patron.  He did get to see some boxing tournaments - he was present at one held on Thursday 21 November 1912 - but he wasn’t a member of the club’s committee.  I hope he enjoyed the bouts and that they were a distraction from Woolwich Arsenal FC’s results.  The club was heading for relegation as well as a change of address.







Copyright Sally Davis July 2008