William Hall and the Paying of Arsenal’s debts: 1919-25
Last updated: July 2008
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At the end of World War 1 (according to Henry Norris in 1927) Arsenal FC owed Norris and William Hall about £17000; and in addition Humphreys Limited were owed about £16000. That’s a lot of money and it’s no wonder both men were very anxious to have it paid back as soon as possible. Arsenal’s return to Football League Division One was the basis of the plans they had to get the club out of debt and have their own money returned to them. Another was issuing more shares: the first share issue at Arsenal Football and Athletic Company since 1914 took place in late April 1919.
A third important plank in the plan was that very little money was to be spent on players, either in transfer fees or wages. In the first of his two accounts of how he was appointed, manager Leslie Knighton states that all Arsenal’s directors were present at his job interview, which took place at the House of Commons so Henry Norris must have been the one to organise it; Norris was their spokesman, however, and it was he who explained to Knighton the financial constraints he would be working under. Knighton accepted them - though he came to find them very irksome later - and was in-post by mid-April 1919. However, it was Norris and Hall who did most of the transfer negotiations over the next three months and they soon came up against a big snag in their cost-cutting plan - the players.
The first player to make financial demands was Clement Voysey, a player brought to Arsenal’s attention by Knighton. In 1927 Norris recalled that he and Hall had not wanted to pay Voysey the £200 he demanded for his signature; not because it was against the rules, you understand, but because they didn’t want to spend the money. However, Voysey was an intelligent and versatile defender and several other clubs were offering, so Norris and Hall agreed to pay him what he was asking. Hall was in more of a dilemma than Norris, of course, and Norris’ account of how the money was handed over illustrates the hair-splitting and conscience-salving done by Hall. Norris says of Hall that he “did not want to know anything about it” - meaning he’d rather have let Norris do the dirty work. But Voysey was coming to London on a day when Norris was out of town. So someone from Arsenal’s office went with Hall to meet Voysey off the train, and the employee actually did the giving of the pound notes to the player while Hall (presumably) did his best to appear unknowing.
A few weeks later, on Monday 2 June 1919 the Football League held its first AGM for four years, at the Connaught Rooms in Covent Garden. Some important votes were taken, on players’ wages and whether to have promotion and relegation in season 1919/20; and Charles Sutcliffe was presented with gifts and thanks for his work in keeping the FL ticking-over virtually single-handed during the fighting. I’m sure William Hall attended this meeting and I daresay he wasn’t the only member erecting barriers in his thinking between the rules and what actually went on in everyday life.
H A White then became the second player to demand more money than the rules allowed: a much sought-after forward, he wanted £1000 if he was going to sign for a club in London, with its higher cost of living. William Hall doesn’t seem to have been involved in the negotiations with White. They seem to have been conducted by Henry Norris and player Walter Hardinge who had brought club and player together. Nor did Hall take any part in the loan agreement that Norris reached with White, whereby Norris agreed to pay White £200 per year for five years, recouping the money from White’s benefit match when the five years were up. It was a strange deal, and the only such deal Norris made; and in the end, because White turned out to be a bad bargain, Norris lost money. But in 1929 Norris argued that such a deal wasn’t actually against the regulations; and maybe Hall saw it that way too, or tried to. In 1927 Norris stated in so many words that he had told William Hall of the loan deal he’d made and that Hall had approved of it. Norris told Hall about the loan deal after White had already signed for Arsenal, so there was very little Hall could have done if he hadn’t liked it; but Norris said that Hall had approved of it, probably because Norris had made it clear he would be paying White out of his own money, not Arsenal’s. However, the matter didn’t end there and several years later the loan to White became a bone of contention between Hall and Norris; perhaps the first real disagreement they had.
Season 1919/20 saw William Hall able to go to more matches than for during the war. All the current Arsenal directors attended Arsenal 1 Everton 1 on Saturday 18 October, the first time they had all done so for many years: Norris, Hall, Charles Crisp, George Davis and John Humble. Hall was also able to attend some mid-week matches this season too: on Monday 20 October 1919 he and Norris were the directors at the London Challenge Cup tie Arsenal 1 Fulham 3.
And Hall was still very much a part of Henry Norris’ social life even though Norris was now a knight of the realm and an MP. William and Kate Elizabeth Hall were amongst the guests at the last reception Henry and Edith Norris gave as mayor and mayoress of Fulham; on Thursday 16 October 1919 at the Fulham Town Hall. Then on Monday 12 January 1920 William Hall was made a freeman of the Worshipful Company of Feltmakers, the City of London guild that Norris had been a freeman of since 1917. Hall was the only acquaintance Norris introduced to the Feltmakers.
As the club’s chairman Henry Norris was the figurehead of Arsenal FC, but his work as an MP tied him to London during parliamentary sessions. So it was William Hall who stayed in Manchester on Saturday 17 January 1920 after Manchester City 4 Arsenal 1 to attend a dinner given by City’s ground-staff for Leslie Knighton, who’d worked there until he took the Arsenal job.
Arsenal ended their first season back in Football League Division One in mid-table; and the annual report of 19 October 1920 showed that Hall and Norris had been able to move Arsenal’s debts about to decrease their loans to the club: the £17000 they had loaned the club had been replaced by an overdraft of the same amount though no doubt they had to act as guarantors for it. The amount owed to Humphreys had also dropped.
As a long-time advocate of a national football league, William Hall was probably disappointed with the decision of the FL in 1919, not to create one by merging with the Southern League. But in one of those quick about-turns that seem to be such a feature of the English football hierarchy, by 1920 the creation of a national league was part of FL policy, largely due to the efforts of Charles Sutcliffe, a dedicated and eloquent nationalist. It was a relatively simple matter for the FL to absorb the Southern League; its clubs became the FL Division Three in time for season 1920/21. But there was no equivalent to the Southern League in the north of England. During season 1920/21 therefore, the FL management committee undertook a vetting process in which its members visited the grounds of clubs based in the north of England in order to draw up a short-list for FL Division Three North. Hall will have had to play his part in this time-consuming investigation, checking each club’s facilities, administrative competence, gate figures, transport access and financial backing; and he will have had to travel more than any of the other members, who all lived in the north of England - when FL Division Three North played its first matches in season 1921/22, its southern-most member was Walsall FC.
There was time in Hall’s very busy life at that time for some social events: on Monday 8 November 1920 all the directors of Arsenal FC, Knighton and the players were all the guests of Baldwin Raper MP, in whose constituency Highbury was situated.
Arsenal had a second season in mid-table in 1920/21 and for a second year the debts of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company also dropped; at least I think so but it’s at this stage in the 1920s that the annual accounts become rather unhelpful, with all the money owed by the club except that owed to Humphreys Ltd being lumped together as ‘sundry loans’ which might or might not include money owed to Hall and Norris. However, the important thing about the club’s financial position was that Henry Norris thought it had reached a point where he and Hall might get some money back rather than continually put money in; and he told Hall so. Up to this point, Norris said, neither he nor Hall had even considered claiming expenses for all the travel that they had done on Arsenal’s behalf since 1910. According to Norris’ 1927 account of this (there is another from 1929), Hall agreed to the idea of taking some expenses now, in principle, so they talked it over further between them. Norris’ suggestion was that the club pay them directly and call it travel expenses in the accounts. But Hall preferred an alternative scheme whereby their chauffeurs would go onto Arsenal’s staff as groundsmen and have their wages paid by the club. I don’t know why Hall opted for the second, more complicated scheme. Norris agreed to it as he wasn’t too bothered either way. Harry John Peters in the Arsenal finance office was bothered, and said to them both that he preferred the travel expenses idea, but Hall over-rode him. Before I carry on I will say that according to the FA interpretation of their rules in 1927, no director was allowed to take any money from their club either in wages or expenses; though under Company law, payments of wages and expenses to directors are normal and expected.
Exactly how the money was paid to the two chauffeurs didn’t seem important at the time but became so later. In 1927 Norris described the money due to Hall’s chauffeur as being paid periodically; in 1929 he gave some more details, saying that sometimes the periodic payments were made by Harry John Peters into Hall’s bank account, and sometimes they were paid in cash. Each chauffeur was paid £3/10 per week from 4 June 1921 to 5 May 1923; £539 per man. In 1923 the arrangement stopped; and in 1927 Hall denied that it had ever started.
Hall was particularly busy at the time the arrangement was set up and perhaps didn’t give it the careful consideration he ought to have done. The long vetting process for FL Division Three North was being wound up and the clubs chosen from those that had been visited; and Hall was moving into politics. He was standing as a Conservative candidate in South Battersea in the by-election to the London County Council caused by the death of councillor William Hammond. Voting took place on Tuesday 29 June 1921 and Hall was elected. He attended his first meeting of the full LCC membership on Tuesday 5 July 1921 at its offices in Spring Gardens on the South Bank. This new commitment was a time-consuming one - fortnightly meetings of the full LCC and meetings, probably fortnightly, of the standing committees on which it relied to do its everyday work.
Season 1921/22 was undermined and some strange results caused by another severe flu epidemic. Flu made its way through the Arsenal squad at the beginning of 1922 and Hall caught it at the end of January. He missed the visit of the Duke of York to Highbury on Saturday 4 February 1922: Arsenal 2 Newcastle United 1. Henry Norris wasn’t at the match either, so director Charles Crisp made the speech of welcome and showed HRH and his entourag around the stadium. Hall was not well enough to attend a match until the FA Cup tie Arsenal 1 Preston North End 1, on Saturday 4 March 1922 (Arsenal lost the replay).
Elections to the LCC for the next three years took place on Thursday 2 March 1922 and as a sitting councillor, Hall was re-elected in South Battersea. At the first meeting of the new council, on Tuesday 14 March 1922, he was elected onto the Improvements and the Parks and Open Spaces standing committees but managed to avoid the education, licensing and finance committees with their very heavy commitment of time and effort; perhaps Norris had advised him on that, from his time as an LCC councillor 1917-19.
Season 1921/22 was an important season for Hall and Norris’ Arsenal. Their drive to pay off the club’s debts was still going well but their insistence on spending little on players was beginning to have its inevitable consequences. The club was in the relegation zone for a lot of the season, only making itself safe in the last two weeks. The crunch match was on Saturday 30 April 1922 between the two most likely teams to go down; I don’t know whether William Hall went to it. It ended Bradford City 0 Arsenal 2, so that the last home game, on Saturday 6 May 1922, wasn’t quite as important as it had been feared it would be. Nevertheless Henry Norris, Hall and all the other directors turned out for Arsenal 1 Bradford City 0. They were all there again on Saturday 2 September 1922 to see Arsenal beat champions Liverpool 1-0, a good start to a rather better season.
By the annual report of 15 September 1922 Arsenal Football and Athletic Company’s most pressing debt, to Humphreys Limited, was more or less paid off. The company’s overdraft was still big, but the ‘sundry creditors’ were only owed a few thousands. A few weeks later Sir Samuel Hill-Wood became a director though at this stage he didn’t put much money into the club beyond the price he paid for his shares. Hill-Wood was known to Hall slightly, as a former director of Glossop FC; however it was almost certainly as Norris’ acquaintance that he was invited to join the board of Arsenal. It was probably now that Norris and Hall - still the only two on the club’s finance sub-committee - decided they could move on to the last phase of the freeing of Arsenal from debt: the buying of the freehold of the land which the club leased from St John’s College. According to Henry Norris in 1929, he was the only actor for Arsenal in the protracted negotiations with the College, which ended with the buying of the freehold and the freehold of the land abutting the original plot to its south, in June 1925.
I hope I’ve made fairly clear that it was a rare match that saw all the Arsenal directors in attendance. The north London derby was usually one of those rare matches. So William Hall, like the other directors, was at White Hart Lane on Saturday 23 September 1922 for the one that ended in a fight, after Spurs had just scored their one, to Arsenal’s 2 (and that was how the game ended). On Thursday 5 October 1922 all the directors of both clubs, the officials at the match and several players from each team were at the FA’s offices in Russell Square to give evidence at the enquiry into what happened; which ended with neither club being punished, though Spurs’ crowd was warned as to its future behaviour, and two players were suspended.
On 30 January 1923 Lord Kinnaird, feared footballer and long-time President of the FA, died after many months of illness. William Hall represented the Football League at the memorial service for Kinnaird, held at St Martin’s-in-the-Fields on Thursday 1 February 1923.
Around Christmas 1922-23 Arsenal were near the bottom of Division One, with a crisis of long-term injuries, but Norris and Hall had, as in the past, refused to panic-buy their way out of trouble. They had promoted several players from the reserve team instead, and in the second half of season 1922/23 Arsenal enjoyed their best period of form under Knighton’s managership, going three months unbeaten, scoring 17 and conceding only 1. As a little reward, the directors of Arsenal entertained the players at the Grand National, on Wednesday 21 March 1923 when they were in the NW for a league game.
Only one problem served to blight the team’s winning run: player H A White, beneficiary of Norris’ £200-a-season loan. He had never established himself in the first team, and his poor relations with his fellow professionals caused the directors, in the end, to opt to cut their losses. On 2 March 1923 White was sold to Blackpool FC whose chairman Hall knew as a fellow FL management committee member. But White hadn’t wanted to go to Blackpool; and as part of the transfer negotiations Henry Norris attempted to recoup his losses on the loan to White by impounding the sum White was due as his percentage. According to Norris’ account of the loan, written in 1927, Hall was not involved in the transfer negotiations; Norris didn’t say whether he told Hall that he’d intercepted some of money due to White and taken it himself. During the summer, White kicked up a fuss about it all, which had its sequel in the autumn.
Arsenal finished the season in 11th place. While tidying up the financial loose ends of the season, however, Leslie Knighton discovered the chauffeur-paying arrangement, which had then been running for two seasons. It was Hall he chose to speak to about it: he told Hall that he didn’t think the arrangement was a proper thing for a member of the FL management committee to be a party to. Hall related the conversation to Norris, and the two men agreed to stop paying their chauffeurs this way, the last such payments being made on 5 May 1923. I’ve suggested elsewhere in my account of Norris’ life that this intervention by Knighton in an area which he’d left very well alone until then might indicate greater confidence on his part in his capabilities as manager. I also suggested that the rows that Knighton claims in his biography were a regular feature of board meetings at Arsenal during his time there began as he grew in confidence; though I have to say that Knighton’s biography gives the impression they had begun as soon as he started work at Arsenal. My point here is that rows, particularly about the amount of money available for transfers, became a regular feature of board meetings at some stage during Knighton’s tenure. His biography concentrates on his relationship with Henry Norris and hardly mentions any other directors; but even if William Hall took no part in the slanging matches, he did continue to agree with the club’s policy of spending very little on transfers.
On Saturday 28 July 1923 William and Kate Elizabeth Hall were at St Matthias Church Richmond for the wedding of Henry and Edith Norris’ eldest daughter Joy, whom they must have known very well. The Halls’ daughter Elsa Kate was one of Joy’s bridesmaids. Then everyone went to the Norris’ home, Lichfield House in the centre of Richmond, for the reception.
At the end of season 1922/23 Jock Rutherford had announced that he would be retiring as a player to begin a career in management. He had been given a send-off on Easter Saturday, 31 March 1923 being made captain for Arsenal 2 Aston Villa 0. But in addition, on Saturday 4 August 1923 all the directors were present at the Hotel Cecil in central London at a farewell dinner for him. On their behalf Norris presented Rutherford with a silver tea and coffee service, and both he and William Hall made speeches reminding everyone of Rutherford’s long career. Unfortunately, Norris chose this occasion to make a speech attacking the way Arsenal’s games were covered by the press, a large number of whom were amongst the guests. I wonder how embarrassing Hall found that?
As vice-chairman of Arsenal it was Hall’s job to welcome official visitors on the club’s behalf if Norris couldn’t be there. On Saturday 15 September 1923 John McKenna, as President of the Football League, came to Highbury to see Arsenal 1 West Bromwich Albion 0 after opening the new grandstand at Clapton Orient. Hall was doing the welcoming that day.
It was probably on the way back from the international match Irish League 2 English League 6, played in Belfast on Saturday 29 September 1923, that Hall first got wind of how far the player White had gone in his moaning about what happened at his transfer. Hall, travelling with McKenna, Charles Sutcliffe and other members of the FL management committee to this fixture, was told that White had been threatening legal action and the FL would probably have to have an enquiry into the allegations he was making, including an investigation of his transfer to Arsenal in 1919. As soon as Hall got back to London he let Henry Norris know what was in the wind. Norris replied that he would take full responsibility for White’s transfers, both in and out of Arsenal, and that in any case there was no need for Hall to worry as he hadn’t broken the rules and so he (Norris) and the club had nothing to fear. The Football League duly convened a hearing to gather evidence from all the parties concerned.
While he was waiting for the FL verdict on White, William Hall made progress up the ladder of the Feltmakers’ Company by being elected to a vacancy on the company’s Court of Assistants, the inner ring of members who oversaw its daily running and organised its functions. His election took place at the Company’s meeting on Thursday 4 October 1923; he was seconded as a suitable member of the Court by Henry Norris and nominated by J J Edwards, a long-time freeman of the Company, who became a director of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company in 1927. Members of the Court of Assistants had to attend its meetings, on the first Mondays of January, April and July, and the first Thursday of October, at which the Master for the coming year was installed and the four wardens chosen who would become masters in due course. The records of the Company show that Hall was a diligent member of the Court of Assistants, attending its meetings more regularly than Henry Norris did. Hall missed relatively few of its meetings over the next five years.
On Friday evening, 12 October 1923 all the directors of Arsenal FC, the squad, Knighton and the office staff all went to the Alhambra music hall, on Charing Cross Road, at the invitation of its manager. They were there to see a film, in which there was footage of the Arsenal team. The directors sat in one of the boxes, the rest of the Arsenal personnel sat in the body of the hall.
I don’t have a definite date for the Football League hearing into White’s transfers, but it probably took place on Monday 22 October 1923. Nor do I know which members of the FL management committee were picked to sit in judgement that day, but Hall, and Barcroft of Blackpool FC took no part in the hearing. The outcome of the hearing angered and upset Norris very much at the time; and several years later he was still annoyed about it. He was censured for breaking the FL’s rule on signing-on fees (maximum £10) and was ordered to repay to White the money he had confiscated from White’s transfer to Blackpool FC. There does seem to have been some investigation during the hearing of who exactly at Arsenal knew about Norris’ loan to White (agreed in 1919); the FL’s conclusion was that no other directors had known of it until much later - which wasn’t quite true as Hall had been told in 1919.
Whether it was dudgeon or embarrassment, Norris missed the next few matches. It was left to Hall to welcome and entertain the mayor of Islington, councillor Sydney Harper, on Saturday 27 October 1923; to watch Arsenal 2 Middlesbrough 1 on Saturday 3 November 1923, the first 30 minutes of which were described by Arthur Bourke of the Islington Daily Gazette as the best half-hour he’d ever seen by Arsenal; and to watch Arsenal go down 1-4 to Herbert Chapman’s Huddersfield Town, on their way to being the best team in the country. Hall was still acting as chairman and host by the time of the FA Cup third round tie Arsenal 4 Luton Town 1 on Saturday 12 January 1924, welcoming all the sheriffs of the City of London and their wives, and the mayors of both Islington and Luton.
It’s not too much to describe Henry Norris as furious about the outcome of the FL hearing on White; though he doesn’t seem to have blamed Hall for what had occurred. Quite apart from the humiliation he felt at finding White’s version of events believed rather than his own; he was several hundreds of pounds out of pocket. Immediately after the hearing he resigned from his position as vice-President of the London Football Association. And he also gave in his resignation as chairman and director of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company. It was William Hall who led the other directors in their pleas to have him stay and their reminders of the importance of his role in the negotiations (which were continuing) with St John’s College for the purchase of the Highbury freehold. In the end, Norris relented. But he said in 1927 that he told them that he expected the club to pay him the money he’d lost to White. This was directed particularly at William Hall as the other member of the finance sub-committee; Norris told him in no uncertain terms that although he’d hardly ever asked the club to reimburse him for money paid out on its behalf, he was going to make an exception in White’s case, presumably because the sum involved was so big. In 1927 Norris didn’t say what Hall’s response to this was; but as far as I know, none of the money Norris lost on the loan with White was paid back to him in 1923. Though Norris was persuaded not to resign, it’s possible that it was at this stage that Charles Crisp felt he could not continue as a director; he did not stand as a director at Arsenal’s AGM in 1924.
Norris may also have resigned at this stage as Arsenal’s representative on the executive committee of the London Combination League which organised fixtures for reserve teams in the London area. I haven’t been able to trace the early records of the Combination to find out more, but from references in the press I’ve gathered that Hall became a member of the London Combination committee in the mid-1920s. During his tenure, which ended with his resignation in August 1927, he worked very hard to raise the league’s profile and get its matches bigger crowds.
At the AGM of the Football League on Monday 2 June 1924 William Hall was one of three members of the management committee having to seek re-election. As usual, the sitting members were re-elected; in fact this year there was only one new candidate, and he didn’t get in. It was William Cuff of Everton FC, who later did legal work for Allen and Norris Limited.
There was no dinner as part of the preparations for season 1924/25. Instead, virtually all the Arsenal staff, the directors and some journalists went on a day out on the Thames, on either Tuesday 5 or Wednesday 6 August. Having gone by train to Windsor they took the river boat Empress of India as far as Reading, stopping at Henley to play a cricket match. William Hall was in charge of the party on the train and boat part of the day; Norris only joined it at Henley, where he had a houseboat. Lunch, tea and dinner were taken on the boat, with Hall making the speech welcoming all the guests, a speech that didn’t arouse the anger of his pressmen listeners.
It’s noticeable, too, that it was William Hall who wrote to the Athletic News in tribute to J A H Catton (writing as Tityrus), retiring as its editor after nearly two decades. Hall wrote his letter as an FL member; despite all Catton had done in 1918-19 to ensure Arsenal’s return to FL Division One, there was no such letter from Arsenal.
On Thursday 1 January 1925, William Hall bought one share in Arsenal Football and Athletic Company from a Mr Charles Marten. This seems to have been the first transaction in a new policy at the club, of buying up small numbers of shares as and when they came up for sale. On Wednesday 4 February 1925 William Hall’s daughter Elsa Kate bought 10 shares from a Mr John Messaut of Woolwich. Over the next two to three years, the Halls increased their share-holdings by a quite surprising amount in this rather piecemeal way.
It seems that William Hall was not well over the winter of 1924-25. In his despairing match report on Arsenal 0 Huddersfield Town 5 (Saturday 14 February 1925) Arthur Bourke mentioned that William Hall was about to depart for a short holiday on the French Riviera, to see if that would improve his health. I may be jumping to conclusions but I presume that Hall was going to stay at the Norris’ villa in Villefranche.
Before he went abroad, Hall joined the London County Council’s freemasons’ lodge, number 2603; he remained a member until his death. However, his membership was as a past LCC councillor: perhaps scaling down his commitments in view of his ill-health, Hall didn’t stand in the LCC elections of Thursday 5 March 1925.
There wasn’t much for Hall to stay for, football wise. As the end of the season approached Islington Daily Gazette’s football reporter Arthur Bourke gave Arsenal’s statistics so far: away - 2 won, 2 drawn, 12 lost out of 16, 13 goals for, 30 against; home - 10 won, 2 drawn, 6 lost out of 18, 25 goals for, 16 against. Perhaps Bourke thought the date appropriate to the information: 1 April 1925. As Arsenal teetered on the brink of relegation, Bourke longed for a centre forward worthy of the name. On Easter Saturday Arsenal lost 2-0 to Preston North End, who’d already been relegated and Bourke gave up hope. However, the Tuesday after Easter (14 April 1925) brought a shock win 2-0 at home to championship contenders West Bromwich Albion. Arsenal were left needing two points from their last four games to be completely safe. They got them on Saturday 18 April 1925 in Arsenal 5 Burnley 0, but two bottom-four finishes in a row did for Leslie Knighton and he was sacked as soon as the season was over. Perhaps sensing which way the wind was blowing, assistant trainer Tom Ratcliffe had already applied for another job. In his memoirs Knighton doesn’t charge any particular director with having made the decision to be rid of him; it seems they all agreed that enough was enough.
It was Henry Norris acting alone, however, who made the exciting - revolutionary in terms of his Arsenal - decision to appoint Herbert Chapman as Knighton’s successor; though I can’t imagine that there would have been any disagreement over the hiring of the acknowledged best manager in the business. It was a big break with the past, however, and drove a wedge into the Arsenal Norris and Hall knew.
That’s for the next file though.
[ROGER SLHALL5 FOLLOWS ON IMMEDIATELY AFTER THIS]
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Copyright Sally Davis July 2008