Henry Norris and the World of Journalism

Last updated: December 2008




Mass-circulation newspapers needed mass literacy.  And - like paying to see a football match or going to a music hall - they also needed people with money to spare from their weekly wage that could be spent on something that could be seen as a luxury.  The Education Act of 1870 created a readership for mass-circulation newspapers; and for more specialist publications like sports magazines.  When Henry Norris was born in 1865 there were a few newspapers with a national readership and a small but select readership; they were written by and for the educated classes.  By 1927, though, there had been an explosion of national newspapers for the educated but not powerful, with titles like the Daily Mail - which in 1927 published the FA’s Report on the Commission of Inquiry into Arsenal FC - having a readership of hundreds of thousands and being read by people all over the country. 


A huge number of local newspapers had also been founded, kept afloat financially by their ‘small ads’ columns.  Their news coverage was based on cases in the local courts; coverage of the local council and poor law union meetings; reports on the local churches and meetings of locally-based charities; and sport.  They were often owned by limited companies whose shareholders were all local businessmen; and often had their shareholders’ bias towards one or other of the major political parties.  Most were published once a week, on Fridays or Saturdays, when their readership might have some leisure for reading them.  They had few employees; their professional journalists tended to concentrate on court cases and council meetings.  They therefore relied very heavily on what you might call ‘volunteer’ reportage - secretaries of local clubs sending them reports on their latest meetings; and sports-watchers sending in copy of matches or bouts they had recently seen.  As mayor of Fulham, leader of the local council and involved in local politics, Henry Norris was a constant source of news articles for Fulham’s local papers.  He was proactive in providing news, as well, sending the local papers the guest lists for his big receptions in 1911, 1913 and 1919, which were printed word for word (a gift for me, trying to find out who he knew); a reporter also went to the 1913 function and added some details of the food, the orchestra and the decorations.  He also gave interviews on a few select occasions.


Amongst the first publications to have a mass circulation were the sports newspapers.  Edward Hulton’s Sporting Chronicle was one of the first if not the first; its first edition went on sale in 1871; from a brief look at some editions in the 1920s I got the impression that it had a great deal of horse racing coverage - horse racing being one sport which both the upper and working classes had an interest in.  The growth in popularity of football, however, was a gift to Hulton, and in 1875 Hulton Newspapers launched a second sports paper, Athletic News


ATHLETIC NEWS deserves its own section because by 1903, when William Gilbert Allen and Henry Norris were leaders of a group that took over Fulham FC, it was - if not the most widely-read (I don’t have any statistics for its readership) - the most authoritative sports paper in England.  Henry Norris certainly thought so.  It was to Athletic News that he sent “an authoritative statement” on behalf of Fulham FC announcing the club’s intention to apply for election to the Football League at its forthcoming AGM; his letter appeared on 6 May 1907 and quelled a lot of gossip that the directors had begun to fear would ruin their case.


Athletic News didn’t do horse racing.  But it did most other sports with any popularity: rugby, cricket, athletics, cycling, swimming and golf.  And of course, football.  It was published once a week, on Monday, and in 1903 I think Athletic News was the only place where you could read match reports on all the weekend’s matches in the Southern League and the Football League.  Local newspapers were the other place where you could read about the local professional football team.  But each local newspaper stuck to its own team or teams, and most didn’t even cover their away matches, only their home ones; there seems to have been virtually no link-up between local newspapers to swap match reports.  In addition to its exhaustive coverage of football matches, Athletic News - published in Manchester - was the best place to discover the current thinking of the men who ran the Football League, which was dominated by the representatives of the big Lancashire teams.  Many of the FL’s senior administrators wrote weekly columns there, giving their opinions on the issues of the day and making it clear to the readers which way the FL was likely to jump if it had to take a vote on the matter.  Athletic News was professional football’s mouthpiece in 1903; it was suspicious of the London-based Football Association, which it perceived as being dominated by representatives of the amateur game, as played by the public schools and local leagues.


I believe that the members of the FL’s hierarchy who wrote in Athletic News didn’t get paid for their trouble; though I may be wrong on this.  However, Athletic News did employ professional football reporters - people like George Allison (see below) - to do the ‘every Saturday August to May’ stints at the football matches. 


I’ve mentioned that local newspapers also covered football - both amateur and professional, with the relative amounts dependent on what football there was locally; and with football giving way to cricket in the summer, often being written by the same men who’d done the football coverage during its season.  I’ve discussed some of these local football writers in my section on Henry Norris and his employees, mainly putting forward my argument for why I thought he never had to pay them.  Their main job was to cover the last home game; these match reports had to be very detailed, describing all the important moves in great detail in the absence of radio or TV coverage.  (Life radio commentary of football matches didn’t begin until 1927; at Arsenal.)  Such long match reports left relatively little room in the column for news; so there was much less coverage of topics like players’ injuries and transfers.  There was also hardly any of what I call gossip; that wasn’t just for lack of space, however, it was part of the very different journalistic ethos of the time.



JOURNALISM IN HENRY NORRIS’ TIME was a relatively new occupation, laying down its code of behaviour in a more deferential era.  Journalists working for the new publications took their cue from the long-serving ones, with these results:


1) very few journalists and reporters signed their work with their own name.  Instead they adopted a writing name: Frederick Oscar Drew chose ‘Merula’  - the latin word for blackbird; Arthur Bourke wrote as ‘Norseman’.  They were amateur football reporters but the professionals also hid their true identity: George Allison called himself ‘The Mate’ when writing for Athletic News, and ‘The Gunners’ Mate’ when editing [Woolwich] Arsenal’s match-day programme.  Occasionally the writer’s real name would become public property: the editor of Athletic News used the writing name of ‘Tityrus’ but by the time he retired, in the mid-1920s, his real name (J A H Catton) was widely known though he never used it to sign his writings.  The members of the FL’s hierarchy who wrote in Athletic News signed their articles with their own names; their names were the basis for their authority to write on the subject.  Catton’s successor at Athletic News broke with the past by signing his articles with his real name.  There was a particular reason for this: Ivan Sharpe had been a footballer himself so his real name was part of his credentials for the job.  However, by the late 1920s it was more commonplace for journalists to dispense with the writing name and use their own.


Henry Norris always used his real name when writing for the newspapers.  Of course, when writing to (say) the Athletic News as a director of a football club trying to make a point, his real name was part of his argument.  However, even when writing a letter it was still quite unusual for the letter writer to use their own name; they too would adopt a writing name, usually something with reference to the subject they were writing about.  So Norris was quite a rarity as a letter-writer.  But even when writing an article, Henry Norris still wrote under his own name.  Some of the articles he wrote put forward ideas that caused very vocal opposition; but he didn’t choose to deflect that opposition by hiding his name.


2) there was plenty of controversy in football during Henry Norris’ time involved with the game; but it was played out in a gentlemanly manner, with those who opposed each other focusing on the issues at stake rather than attempting to decry the opposite view by slinging mud at its proponents.  Even Henry Norris kept to these rules in public; though less so in private.  It depended on the writer and the publication - and they always had to bear in mind the law of libel - but there was a tendency to not mention issues which today form the basis of a lot of football coverage - the obvious one being personal disputes.  The personal dispute between Henry Norris and Herbert Chapman never got into the papers; even after Norris had left Arsenal.  Not even the row between Chapman and trainer George Hardy during an FA Cup replay made it into the match coverage; it had begun on the touchline, so some reporters might have noticed it, but they didn’t write about it.


3) the modern-day interview, with biographical background, quotes and photographs, hadn’t really got started.  It’s partly because people weren’t so famous!  That’s not to say that journalists never interviewed anybody; but (particular with football coverage) the stand-alone interview was still a rarity.  Journalists hadn’t yet made the connection between fame and newspaper sales.  As a result, of course, the modern-day interviewee only started to evolve during Norris’ lifetime.  It would have helped Norris, I think, to have learned the modern techniques of being interviewed.   He did understand the basic principles of the political interview - answer the question you wanted to hear rather than the one that was asked - but he never mastered that ability to appear honest while lying through his back-teeth; and to appear sane while saying things that are lunatic; that so many politicians now have.




Norris was a busy man.  But at various times in his life he acted and spoke like a man who had read the papers; more particularly, the local ones.  He had a close relationship with both the local newspapers based in Fulham: the Fulham Chronicle a very long-standing newspaper; and the West London and Fulham Times which was founded during his rise to prominence in the borough.  However, it might not actually have been based on his reading either of them on a regular basis; it was more a relationship where Norris contributed to the news in them, especially after 1903 when he became chairman of Fulham FC; and as councillor and then mayor of the borough; and he actually wrote a football column in WLFT - see below.  West London Observer was relatively local too, being published in Hammersmith, but his relationship to WLO wasn’t so close and I don’t suppose he read it regularly; it just illustrates how local local newspapers were, that Norris didn’t pay WLO such close attention!


He read the Athletic News; perhaps not regularly throughout the period 1903-1927, but certainly during the years 1903-14.  He also read the Football Chat, a London-based sports paper no rival to Athletic News; he mentioned having done so as early as 1905.  And in 1908 he mentioned being a regular reader of Referee - the man in the middle’s point of view.


I’m sure he read a national newspaper; perhaps more than one; especially during his time as an MP.  I’ve used the Times myself as a source for a lot of research; solely for the reason that it’s had the historical nous to put its back issues on the web.  Henry Norris does appear in the Times on various occasions but I’m not sure whether it reflected his political views sufficiently for it to be his regular choice of newspaper.  There were several types of news that Norris might have read the Times for on a regular basis: the property adverts which gave news of forthcoming auctions - although I’m sure he had other sources for this; the reports on recent important legal cases; and foreign news.  One thing he won’t have read the Times for was football, at least until after the first world war.  Before the war, the Times was very against the professionalisation of the game; it only gave match reports on games between the public school amateur sides.  Even in the 1920s when it cover the Football League, it still gave greater prominence to public school games.


He may also have read a number of journals in the building and estate agency field.  The Builder was that field’s senior publication; although when I looked at it, it seemed rather too biased towards design and architecture issues for it to be something Norris read regularly.


AND WHAT ABOUT HENRY NORRIS’ WRITING - where did that appear?  This is the list so far:  Athletic News - letters, and articles; though not on a regular basis, just when issues arose

that he had an interest in

Football Chat - a regular weekly column for football season 1908/09

West London and Fulham Times - which took over his regular column previously at

Football Chat

Times - one or two letters, on political issues; particularly one on free trade that led to

his being libelled by a member of his local Party

Kentish Independent - letters, as (new) director of Woolwich Arsenal FC.

He also gave interviews to:

Islington Daily Gazette - in 1913 on Arsenal’s arrival at Highbury; and in May 1927

about the £170 cheque for the reserve team bus

Fulham Chronicle - in 1922 after being de-selected by his constituency party.



IF YOU CAN’T BEAT ‘EM, JOIN ‘EM seems to have been Henry Norris’ battle-cry in his dealings with the newspapers.  It was all a matter of control.





In a way you can credit Henry Norris, William Gilbert Allen and their group of fellow investors for bringing football coverage to Fulham; because until they got involved in Fulham football there was virtually no football reporting in any of the local newspapers.  If you wanted to read reports of Fulham’s matches, until season 1903/04 you would have been better off buying Athletic News, which had a London-based correspondent writing as Grasshopper.  You might have been able to buy Football Chat instead but no copies of it exist for 1903/04 so I haven’t been able to find out how good and regular its football coverage was.   And I do think Athletic News was a better choice; because it covered the football issues of the day very thoroughly.  Its Grasshopper was sufficiently well-informed about developments on his patch to attend the meeting which began the process of taking over Fulham FC and turning it into a limited company in the summer of 1903; he told his Athletic News readers that it was a foolish venture that he wasn’t going to take any active part in!


Allen and Norris’ takeover of Fulham FC got the club elected to Southern League Division One and in season 1903/04 the local press started to take notice.  The West London Observer began publishing match reports on home games and some news.  Fulham Chronicle was not so quick on the uptake however: it covered the club’s annual dinner in March 1904 and the first AGM of the limited company in July 1904, but didn’t report on any games!  Things began to change in January 1904 however, when a new newspaper began to be published in Fulham, the West London and Fulham Times.  One of its first editions had football coverage written by a man calling himself Crock.  When Crock’s real name was revealed, in 1906, he turned out to be Herbert Jackson, assistant secretary of Fulham FC.  The new owners of Fulham FC had played a very active role in increasing the coverage of Fulham football.  An ex-player, Jackson was well-qualified to do match reporting; and of course he had all the latest news from Fulham FC; but you could hardly call him unbiased! 


The appearance of West London and Fulham Times as a rival to Fulham Chronicle meant that battle was joined for readership in Fulham; and football coverage played a part in that. West London Observer didn’t take part in the rivalry; because it covered a larger area and was not so dependent on Fulham either for news or readers.   Herbert Jackson/Crock was poached from WLFT by FC and wrote weekly columns during the football season in seasons 1904/05 and 1905/06.  His coverage was far more exhaustive than anything that had gone before, even Grasshopper’s writings in the Athletic News.  Though it still didn’t cover away games thoroughly it included match reports on reserve games and on mid-week matches - not always very well-covered in the local press; and not covered by Athletic News.  In October 1904 Jackson/Crock was joined at FC by someone writing as Old Fulhamite.  WLFT recruited two writers of its own for season 1904/05, Expertus and Olympian; but they couldn’t really rival Jackson/Crock’s inside information. 


Whose idea was it to send one of Fulham FC’s office staff out as a football writer?  No doubt the board of directors as a group made the decision.  However, my reading of the local press in Fulham has established beyond any doubt that Henry Norris was the most publicity-aware of all the directors; and he was the board’s chairman.  I think that it was Norris that suggested the idea.  I think he also had some say in the fact that it was WLFT where Jackson/Crock’s writing first appeared.  Despite the fact that it was a Liberal Party paper, Norris had some kind of ‘in’ at WLFT; some years later he had to make a public statement denying that he was its biggest shareholder - a statement which I’ve taken to mean that he had in fact bought some shares in it.  However, I daresay he was pleased in one sense, when Jackson/Crock was led away by FC, because it was a long-established paper, with more readers.  I’m sure that regular Fulham match-goers worked out who Crock was before it became public knowledge; but until his identity was confirmed, Fulham FC had an ‘in-house’ football writer publishing in an apparently independent local outlet.  That suited Henry Norris very well.


I think it also suited him that because its main football writer was a Fulham FC insider, FC missed most of the developments that led to the formation of Chelsea FC in the spring of 1905.  WLFT covered those better, though not well.  Better coverage by more independent writers might have exposed Norris’ obstructive behaviour in the matter of Stamford Bridge and Chelsea FC.


At the beginning of season 1905/06, FC finally acknowledged Chelsea’s existence: a writer calling himself Chelstam was taken on to cover Chelsea while Jackson/Crock continued to write on Fulham.  And it was at this point that Henry Norris began his career as a football journalist.

As part of its build-up to the new season WLFT on Friday 25 August 1905 published “Football Notes Specially Contributed by H. G. Norris”.  It’s odd that his first published article (as far as I know) should set the pattern for his later writing so completely; but in several respects this “Football Notes” is typical of what came after, even down to its title.


1) it wasn’t a match report and it didn’t contain much news about Fulham FC - he tended to leave that to other journalists while he looked at the wider issues;


2) it’s an attempt by Norris to set his recent doings in as positive a light as possible in the midst of negative publicity; and


3) he’d have done better to keep quiet - his article provoked an outraged back-lash from another writer.


Henry Norris’ first football column was an attempt to explain away why Fulham FC, the established club, and Chelsea FC, the newcomer next-door, had not played any friendly matches in the build-up to the season.  Apparently there had been a lot of gossip about it as the football season approached.  Norris wished to tell everyone that he’d written to Chelsea suggesting the two clubs play some friendlies but hadn’t had a reply.  He also wanted to correct some information that had been going the rounds to the effect that the Stamford Bridge ground had a bigger capacity and more room under cover than Craven Cottage.  It all seems very petty, but instead of ignoring it as the work of a man who was worried about his crowd figures, FC’s Chelstam set out to make his reputation by writing an furious defence of Chelsea, which appeared on Friday 1 September 1905, the day before the first match of the season. 


Chelstam accused Norris of having led Fulham FC in a campaign of obstructive behaviour and hostile and offensive comments towards Chelsea and towards its stadium, a campaign based on their fear that the new club would lessen the value of Fulham FC’s shares by becoming the preferred venue for local people who wanted to see the best football and the best teams (he was right on that one).  Chelstam admitted that Chelsea had not replied to a letter from Fulham FC about friendly matches.  He explained that the club’s directors had chosen to snub their nearest rivals in retaliation for their recent bloody-minded behaviour - they had been too angry to make peace.


I’m sure it was good for Fulham’s newspaper sales to have so much noise being made locally over football just as the season began, but as so often in his public life, Henry Norris had sown the wind and reaped the inevitable whirlwind.  Trying to give the public an impression of himself as a man behaving reasonably and generously towards the new kid on the block, he had found himself described by Chelstam as “bullying” and “unsportsmanlike” man, subject to bouts of unfounded “jealousy and suspicion” of possible rivals.  Chelstam said of him, “The little mind of Mr Norris is merely the little mind of a private gentleman thirsting for notoriety, and not much troubling how he gets it.”  In my view Chelstam’s assessment of Norris was wrong, there.  Perhaps he didn’t know him all that well.   While rather enjoying being well-known, Norris troubled very much over what he was famous for - as I’ve indicated in 2) above, he wanted people to see him always in the best possible light.  As Chelstam specifically stated that the hierarchy at Chelsea FC had no grudge against the rest of the Fulham directors, readers were left to suppose that Norris had taken the founding of Chelsea as a personal insult.


WLFT offered Norris a chance to write a riposte; or he demanded it.  It appeared in the issue of Friday 8 September 1905 and showed Norris resisting the temptation to write a word-for-word rebuttal.  Instead he said that he was taking the philosophical view, that articles like Chelstam’s were one of the evils you had to cope with, if you lived in the public eye.  He announced that he would “dismiss it with the contempt it so richly merits”.  He spent the rest of his article describing the opening ceremony of the newly-refurbished ground at Craven Cottage which had taken place before the first home game of the season, the previous Saturday.


Henry Norris wrote two more columns in WLFT; the last in the set appeared on 22 September 1905. I don’t think he was sacked; I think he’d probably only agreed to do these few columns specifically because they would appear during Chelsea’s first weeks of existence.  I say ‘agreed’ - but I don’t know whether WLFT asked him to do them, or whether he offered.  Norris was so worried about the effect of Chelsea FC on Fulham FC that he might well have volunteered.  To replace him, WLFT took on a man whom Norris probably knew: Frederick Oscar Drew, who was a Fulham FC fan, and possibly even a shareholder by now.  The tradition Norris was trying to create, of having Fulham football covered by pro-Fulham writers in the local press, continued until the end of season 1905/06.  Then, in May 1906, Herbert Jackson/Crock committed suicide.






Copyright Sally Davis December 2008