George Peachey: 1927 and After
Last updated: July 2008
[ROGER THIS FILE FOLLOWS STRAIGHT AFTER SLPAFC]
Whether George Peachey began the year as per usual in January 1927 I don’t know. He shouldn’t have done because the underlying stresses between the major players at Arsenal FC were beginning to surface with unpleasant effect. But if Peachey was the ‘hands off’ director he seems to have been, he may have set out on 1927 with no anxiety or sense of foreboding except about Edith Norris, who was very ill early in 1927.
Peachey does seem to have been present for a lot of the matches in Arsenal’s final-reaching FA Cup run that year. On Saturday 8 January 1927 Edith Norris was too ill for Henry Norris to go but directors Peachey, Hall, Humble and Hill-Wood accompanied the team to Bramall Lane for the third round. Sheffield United 2 Arsenal 3 was quite an upset at what had become a bogey-ground for the club. It was the usual long football day, with the Arsenal party catching the 5.30pm train back to London.
31 January 1927 was the day Chapman photographed the endorsed £170 cheque for the Arsenal reserve team bus. Peachey may have been unaware of this. It depends on how many matches he went to at which he’d hear all the gossip; and how much he kept in touch with the club in between matches. I’ve got no factual information to go on, of course, just a feeling that Peachey didn’t keep in touch.
I don’t have any information on which of the directors went to the FA Cup fourth round tie at Port Vale, on Saturday 29 January 1927: 2-2 was the final score. The replay, on Wednesday 2 February 1927 was the occasion of the row between Herbert Chapman and George Hardy. William Hall and Samuel Hill-Wood were asked to go and referee the argument. They are the only directors mentioned in the local press as being at the match; Edith was still very ill so Henry Norris was not at the game. The match result was 1-0.
It’s clear from even Henry Norris’ account of what happened about George Hardy that he and William Hall took opposite sides: Hall for Chapman, Norris for Hardy. I don’t know, of course, whether Peachey had any views on this difficult issue of authority and hierarchy; or if he held them, whether he expressed them. He may not even have known about the row, let alone what had happened as a result, unless Norris had rung him later to complain. He was not present - all other people were specifically excluded - at the meeting between William Hall and Henry Norris about the £170 cheque, which ended with Norris refusing to resign as chairman. But the dispute continued at the board meeting on Monday 14 February 1927 and was joined as a subject of discussion by the aftermath of the row between Chapman and Hardy. I guess Peachey must have been present at this fractious occasion; if he tried to mediate between the various opposing parties, he failed. All the other directors pleaded with William Hall not to resign as a director but he was adamant; the only thing he would do was leave announcing it publically while Arsenal’s FA Cup run continued, in case the strife in the boardroom got to the team. It seems that no one was elected to replace Hall as vice-chairman.
So by mid-February Peachey could hardly have been still in ignorance that Arsenal FC was coming apart at the seams. He might have taken refuge in his garden - the minutes of proceedings of the London Borough of Fulham for 16 March 1927 recorded that Peachey presented the Parks Department with some shrubs.
The weekend of 2 and 3 April 1927 was the one on which the Football League’s Charles Sutcliffe and Fred Rinder were at Highbury, looking at Arsenal’s financial records to try to find out about the £170 cheque. Henry Norris was summoned back from Nice to meet them, by means of a telegram sent by the other directors and probably Peachey was consulted about it if he wasn’t the one who ordered it. Norris put his case in an interview with Rinder and Sutcliffe; no one else is mentioned as having been present. Peachey isn’t mentioned in the coverage of that weekend’s events, which included a long statement to the press from Norris giving his version of events. There was a match on the Saturday, if Peachey watched it: Arsenal 0 Huddersfield Town 2.
The following week was spent by Henry Norris consulting his solicitors in preparation for suing John Dean, chairman of Fulham FC, his manager and assistant manager and the owner of a garage for what they had been saying about the £170 cheque for the reserve team bus. I don’t suppose he needed Peachey’s advice on this, but Peachey was his friend. Peachey never made a public comment on what he felt about it all. The chances are, no one from the press thought to ask him. Rushing to the media anxious to sell your version of events is a relatively recent idea in football; and George Peachey was never that sort anyway.
I don’t know either whether Henry Norris consulted Peachey or anyone about the recommendation, made privately to Norris’ solicitor by Charles Sutcliffe, that Norris resign as Arsenal chairman to forestall a full and formal investigation into Arsenal FC’s accounts. It’s not clear from the records whether Sutcliffe made his offer before or after the Cup Final; nor, indeed, whether Norris told anyone that - after some mediation by his solicitor acquaintance J J Edwards - Norris agreed to resign at the next AGM of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company. Norris doesn’t mention having told anyone of this agreement. I guess it depends on how close he was to Peachey, whether Peachey knew anything about it.
The FA Cup final of 1927 took place on Saturday 24 April and it’s inconceivable to me that any director would miss such an occasion unless things were desperate so I presume George Peachey was there, to see a game blighted by the nervousness of both teams and settled (1-0) by a goal resulting from a terrible goal-keeping error. It was Henry Norris’ privilege, of course, as chairman of the club despite Hall’s urging, to lead the team out to meet King George V.
Then it was the end of season 1926/27 and for a few weeks everything went quiet before William Hall went to the Football Association in the last week of June to request that they investigate Arsenal’s finances. Although Hall’s request was not made formally until Saturday 2 July 1927, it was known in football circles at least a week before that he had made an informal approach. Unless George Peachey happened to be on holiday, he must have found out about it. And then on Saturday 2 July 1927 he will have received his copy of Henry Norris’ official letter of resignation.
Norris’ resignation didn’t stop the FA agreeing to a formal enquiry into Arsenal FC and in week commencing 4 July 1927 Fred Hall the FA Secretary arrived at the offices in Highbury and started work, looking at the records and interviewing the staff. The directors of the club received their official notification of the enquiry a day or two later.
All the remaining directors of Arsenal FC were present at the Royal Victoria Hotel in Sheffield on Wednesday 20 July 1927, with Henry Norris and William Hall, to give evidence and answer questions in person. However, Peachey later said about this hearing and the second one, on Monday 8 August 1927, that he had been willing to give much more evidence than he was asked to. He also said that the FA Commissioners (most of whom he must have known at least slightly) didn’t ask any questions on either day about some of the spending on expenses that their Report later said was against the FA rules. It’s clear from Peachey’s comments that he would have been willing to defend the decision of Henry Norris and William Hall to put their chauffeurs onto Arsenal’s payroll so that the club would pay their wages; and the decision of the directors to leave in Norris’ hands the purchasing of office furniture, something that the FA Report particularly criticised. Peachey’s view, re-stated in his affidavit of 1929 for Henry Norris’ court case, was that it was ridiculous of the directors to refuse Norris’ expenses when he had poured so much money into the club, and none of them thought of doing so or even querying how much he spent. He also missed the FA’s point completely by saying that such expenses were allowable under Company Law. They were and are, of course; but they weren’t allowable under the FA rules.
In his affidavit George Peachey states that in his own view, he was not asked to contribute as much to the enquiry as he was willing to do, solely because he was a friend of Henry Norris. The wording of his affidavit is careful, but he does think that as a friend of Norris, the FA thought his evidence was not worth anything. As I say, the affidavit is careful; it stops short of accusing the FA of only taking the evidence they wanted to hear.
In the midst of all this, Arsenal FC tried to continue as normal. The AGM of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company had been due to take place on Tuesday 2 August 1927 and it did go ahead. I suppose Samuel Hill-Wood chaired it. Sometime between Norris’ resignation and 9 September, he became the Arsenal FC chairman. Peachey will have attended it. It was not his year for being up for re-election, and he doesn’t seem to have said anything that drew the notice of the press. According to the report in the Islington Gazette the meeting was “lively”, with a spirited attempt by some shareholders to co-opt Henry Norris back onto the board. The share-holders agreed, however, that with the FA enquiry continuing, the AGM couldn’t be finished, so it was agreed to resume it when the results of the enquiry were known.
The Arsenal squad was also attempting pre-season training as normal. The yearly cricket match between Arsenal and the local amateur club Tufnell Park CC took place on Thursday 11 August 1927, with the proceeds going to local hospitals. As Peachey liked a cricket match, he may have gone along; but the coverage doesn’t mention which of the directors were there. There was another cricket game on Thursday 11 August 1927 at North Middlesex cricket ground, against a team from QPR.
Henry Norris said in 1929 that over the weekend of 12-13 August 1927 he at least had been telephoned by someone from the FA and given a brief outline of the FA Commission’s findings. Norris gives the impression that all the directors were contacted then, which is borne out by the fact that William Hall had resigned from all his official posts in football by Friday 19 August. So that week, George Peachey would have known that the FA had found him and John Humble negligent as directors, giving Hall and Norris too much leeway to do as they liked; and that the FA was going to demand his removal as a director of Arsenal FC. He probably would have gathered in the days after - possibly from Henry Norris who was furious about it - that the FA’s Report on Arsenal was likely to be published. However, unlike Norris, Peachey did not attempt legal action to prevent this (it failed anyway).
Henry Norris had not received his copy of the FA Commission’s Report by the weekend of 27-28 August; although he noted in 1929 that by Saturday 27 August 1927 the sports editor of the Daily Mail had received his. All the directors, however, had received a very stiff and formal letter from Fred Wall as Secretary of the FA demanding that they attend the FA Council meeting at 3pm on Monday 29 August 1927 at the FA’s offices at 42 Russell Square, WC to hear the Council consider the Report and its recommendations. Norris refused to attend. George Peachey and all the other directors did go along. With John Humble, George Peachey was banned from continuing as a director of the company and from playing an part whatsoever in the club’s future management. John Humble, not wealthy enough to afford to challenge this ruling, accepted it and resigned on Friday 2 September 1927 after helping Samuel Hill-Wood prepare a final version of the club’s annual accounts. Peachey, however, was not so inclined to let the matter rest.
In all the press coverage of the FA Commission’s conclusions, most reports focused on Henry Norris - the punishments meted out to him and his statement to the press, of 30 August 1927. However, probably on the same day George Peachey also spoke to the press. Although his affidavit from 1929 shows that he was disgruntled, if not angry, about the way the FA’s enquiry had been conducted, he didn’t say so. Instead he said that he would be taking legal advice about the punishment dealt out to him: he thought the FA had no power to remove him from his directorship of a limited company even though the company was a member of the FA. Therefore, unlike Humble, Peachey did not resign as a director of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company but attempted to continue to carry out his directorial responsibilities.
The legal advice Peachey obtained confirmed his understanding of Company Law. However, when he attempted to attend the board meeting on Friday 2 September 1927, the other directors tried to stop him. There was a confrontation which turned into a scuffle, with hands being laid on George Peachey in the attempt to keep him out of the board room. On Wednesday 8 September 1927, therefore, Peachey’s lawyers began his court case - Peachey v Arsenal FC Limited - by trying to obtain an injunction to stop the other directors excluding Peachey from the board meeting due to take place the following Wednesday, 15 September. The argument put forward by Mr Mathews, Peachey’s barrister, was that under Article 77 of Table A of the Companies Act 1908 the remaining directors had no power to exclude one of their number from a board meeting. Mathews argued that Peachey was entitled to attend board meetings until he resigned or until this case was resolved in the FA’s favour. In fact, the Judge decided that he couldn’t issue an injunction for that meeting, but that the point of law Peachey’s case raised was an important one and he should continue with his case.
The injunction didn’t apply to the resumed AGM of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company as Peachey was entitled to attend that as a shareholder. The AGM was finished off on the evening of Friday 9 September 1927 and Peachey was definitely at the meeting though none of the coverage said whether he acted as a board member or sat with the mass of the shareholders.
Peachey’s lawyers returned to court on Wednesday 14 September applying for another injunction to force Arsenal’s board members to allow Peachey into the next board meeting. This time the FA were sufficiently worried by the case Mr Mathews was putting, to have a barrister present themselves (that hadn’t been true of the first hearing) arguing that the FA had the power to suspend the officials of any of its member clubs. For Peachey, Mr Mathews argued that there were only two ways in which the director of a company could be got rid of during a term of office: by “extraordinary resolution” - that is, by a motion put to a meeting by another director, under Article 86 of Table A; or he could resign. Mr Mathews followed this up by saying that he hadn’t been able to find any precedent for the removal of a company director by an outside body. And finished his argument by saying that if the other directors didn’t inform one of their number about when a board meeting was going to take place, any decisions passed at that meeting would be invalid. The judge then asked the FA’s barrister, Mr Danckwerts, for the FA’s own view of its powers, but decided that his argument was “too vague and intangible”. He considered granting the injunction Peachey was wanting but decided that as Peachey wasn’t paid, he was not being deprived of his livelihood and therefore giving an injunction wasn’t possible in his case.
It seemed that Peachey’s argument was convincingly proved but in fact there were some more hearings in the case as the FA tried a different tack to be rid of him. At its meeting on Monday 17 October 1927 the FA Council rescinded its Resolution 3 of the previous one (the one on 29 August) which said that John Humble and George Peachey “are hereby removed from the board of management”. Instead the FA Council ordered Arsenal “to take steps forthwith to remove Mr Peachey and Mr Humble from their offices as directors of the Arsenal Football Club”. Humble had already gone, of course.
When the annual report of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company Limited was issued, finally, on 23 September 1927, George Peachey was still listed as a director. However, following the council meeting of 17 October the FA wrote to the Arsenal board threatening to expel the club from the FA if they didn’t remove Peachey as a director. On Friday 11 November 1927 there was an emergency meeting of the company at which those directors who remained - Samuel Hill-Wood, J J Edwards and George Allison, each bought 500 shares in the club at £1 per share. As a shareholder Peachey had been notified of this meeting. He had responded by letting them know that he wanted to buy 500 shares himself but the other directors had not allowed him to do that, so he had re-opened his legal case. It seems from his barrister’s argument later (see below) that Peachey did not attend the emergency meeting. After the new shares had been bought, Peachey still had his 105, but now any one of the others could vote him off the board.
So there was another hearing in the case of Peachey v Arsenal FC Company Limited, on Wednesday 16 November 1927, at which Mr Danckwerts who had represented the FA in the last hearing now represented Arsenal. Peachey’s barrister Mr Mathews argued that the buying of the 500 shares was void; I suppose this was because Peachey hadn’t been allowed to buy any. He also argued that the need to sell new shares in the club had arisen solely because Peachey had still refused to resign when the FA changed its tack: that is, he had turned down the other directors’ offer to publish a letter of resignation written by Peachey together with a statement from them that his having to resign was “no reflection on his integrity”. A lot of the evidence in the hearing was from Arsenal’s side (including from Chapman and Allison) that the shares were issued to raise money for players, as well as to solve the problem of Peachey.
While evidence was still being heard, the barristers for both sides negotiated an out-of-court settlement. Peachey agreed to resign from the board, Arsenal agreed to pay his legal fees. As part of the agreement Peachey explained that he’d never had any intention of causing Arsenal to be in danger of being ejected from the FA, and had intended to resign when he had proved his legal point: that the Companies Act was the only precedent for the resignation of a company director and the FA could not enforce an order to have a director of one of their member clubs sacked.
And that was the end of George Peachey’s excursion into football - a rather sorry business, beginning with an act of friendship which led to his becoming a director of a company he knew nothing about and on the understanding that he didn’t interfere in its workings; and ending with a dismissal and a court wrangle. The FA had not banned him from going to football matches as a spectator but I haven’t found any evidence that he ever went to a match again. He did keep his shares, though - he still owned them at this death. His friendship with Henry Norris continued. It’s clear from Peachey’s comments at the time and in 1929 that he didn’t consider Norris had done anything particularly wrong as a director of Arsenal FC, so there was no need for a quarrel on the subject.
Peachey went back to his quiet life. In 1929 or 1930 he finally moved away from Fulham. He went further out of town, to 17 Vineyard Hill Road, Wimbledon Park, which was his address at his death. On Thursday 2 August 1934 he went to Barnes Cemetery, East Sheen to attend Henry Norris’ funeral; together with his sister Mabel Whitelock and her daughter Violet, he also sent a wreath.
Within two years, George Peachey was dead himself. He had a heart attack at the wheel of his car while driving through East Grinstead on Friday 13 March 1936; he was able to steer the car safely to the side of the road, but died a short while afterwards. He was cremated at Woking on 19 March 1936. He left his money - which was a tidy sum - to Mabel Whitelock, her daughter Violet and two nephews, Herbert Clarkson and Hamilton Jeffery. By 1938 his 105 shares no longer appear in the Arsenal shareholders list; his executors had sold them, I don’t know who to.
IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE SOURCES OF ALL THIS INFORMATION, SEND ME AN EMAIL AND I’LL SEND YOU THE SOURCES FILE.
Copyright Sally Davis July 2008