George Wyatt Peachey and Arsenal FC: 1919 or 20 to 1927
Last updated: July 2008
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I hope I’ve made clear in my description of his life so far that Peachey was a very un-football man; I think you could safely say that he had little interest in sport as a whole. However, he was a man with spare money and a good friend of Henry Norris. I’m sure that it was Norris who asked him to get involved with Arsenal FC; no one at Arsenal other than Norris and Middleton knew him at all and I’m sure Peachey would not have volunteered to put money and time into football - I don’t think he’d been to a football match in his life until then.
In his pre-match preview in the Islington Daily Gazette on Saturday 20 December 1919 its football reporter Arthur Bourke (writing as Norseman) mentioned hearing a rumour that Arsenal FC were about to get a new director, someone he’d heard described (he didn’t say by whom) as “one of the best”. Bourke didn’t mention the new director’s name; and in fact he didn’t mention the new director even by inference for the rest of season 1919/20, which suggests two things to me. Firstly: the rumour he heard was a bit premature. Secondly: he’d never heard of the man in question, one of the best though he might be. Bourke was well plugged in to football in north London; if he’d known the man through local football, he would have told his readers a bit more about him.
George Peachey was definitely a member of the board of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company by its annual report of 19 October 1920. Without the necessary documentation I’m as sure as I can be that Peachey bought Walter Middleton’s 100 shares on 28 September 1920; Middleton certainly sold them on that day but the information at Companies House doesn’t say who to.
What did Peachey do as a director for Arsenal FC? As he was not a football fan, he won’t have been able to spot a good player when he saw one; and in any case, the Arsenal directors didn’t do any scouting while Leslie Knighton was manager (1919-25) and Herbert Chapman employed his own staff of scouts (1915-27). If the going with Arsenal’s debts had got very rough he had money to lend the club, though he was not a wealthy man by Henry Norris’ standards; but it never came to that. So the answer to the question so far is: not much.
In fact, it seems to have been less than that. In order to help Henry Norris bring his libel case against the Football Association Limited in 1929, Peachey swore an affidavit describing the terms under which he took office and continued as a director. He said that he was told that control of Arsenal’s finances was in the hands of the two directors the club owed most money to (Henry Norris and William Hall); and Peachey made clear that he was happy to leave the club’s money in their hands. On the question of payments to players which broke the FA or FL rules, and the payments to the chauffeurs of Norris and Hall, Peachey is rather vague - maybe deliberately. He says he didn’t know about Norris’ loan to White until long after it was agreed. Also that he wasn’t able to remember any mention of the club paying the two chauffeurs’ wages; he now thought it was an “unfortunate” way of dealing with travel expenses for the two busiest directors and that it might have been better to hire a car; but the wages, Peachey said, were a very small sum compared to what the club had borrowed from Norris and Hall. On the issue of the £170 cheque for the sale of the reserve team bus (1926) he suggested that it would have been “preposterous” for anyone at the club to enquire into what had happened to it, seeing Norris had lent the club so much. I’m sure that in swearing this affidavit Peachey meant to show the amount Arsenal owed Norris - not just in money terms but in rescuing it from bankruptcy. However, the document just shows that whereas Peachey understood the Company Law’s rules on payments to directors, he didn’t understand the FA’s rules on them: that is to say, in seven or eight years of association with the football club, he’d never really paid attention to the rules under which it worked. Whether he left well alone because Norris was his friend and if he hadn’t been he wouldn’t have become a director; or because he wasn’t interested, not really, I’m not sure; perhaps it was a bit of both. Peachey, though, was a real ‘hands off’ director; too much so, in the FA’s opinion. In 1927 the FA decided that Peachey’s ‘hands off’ habit had allowed Henry Norris to be lackadaisical about financial administration and to break the rules, without restraint.
Peachey was Norris’ friend: in the wake of the 1927 FA Report that sacked them both from football management, he even said so when no one else was doing so. If Norris could have taken restraint at all, surely it would have been from Peachey.
Some duties of a football club director, Peachey did do. On Monday 8 November 1920 Arsenal directors Norris, Crisp, Hall and Peachey (but not Humble) attended a dinner at the House of Commons given not by Henry Norris MP but by Baldwin Raper MP, whose constituency Highbury was in. Leslie Knighton, Harry John Peters, all the Arsenal first team and the current mayor and town clerk of Islington were also Raper’s guests that evening.
And seeing he wasn’t busy at Arsenal, Peachey was able to carry on with his Fulham duties and social life uninterrupted by too much match-going and board-meeting attendance. On Friday 26 November 1920, for example, he went to a social evening organised by the Conservative Party in Hurlingham Ward at the LCC school in the New King’s Road.
In the spring of 1921 George Peachey played a major part in organising the Old Fulham Fayre, a long charitable event raising money for Fulham District Nursing Association, with which Edith Norris was heavily involved. Peachey was not the main organiser, that was councillor Shaw, but he was the honorary treasurer. There were three days of stalls, with all the stall-holders in historical dress representing characters from Fulham’s history. There’s no record of who George Peachey chose to be. The whole thing ran from Wednesday to Friday, 8-10 June 1920 at Fulham Town Hall. Mayor R M Gentry held a social evening for all those people who’d been involved in running it. George Peachey made one of his rare public speeches, and was able to tell everybody that the event had made a profit of £1116.
Fulham’s efforts to get a war memorial finished had dragged on, but on Sunday 10 July 1921 George Peachey was able to attend the unveiling of a memorial statue. Henry and Edith Norris, both the Fulham LCC councillors and even the bishop of London (who lived in the borough but never took more than a minimal interest in what went on there) were at the ceremony. He was also present at Fulham Town Hall on Monday 31 October 1921 for the winding-up meeting of the Fulham War Memorial Committee.
In the interests of discovering what the residents of Fulham were getting for their money from their councillors, in 1921 the Fulham Chronicle did a survey of councillor attendance at the Wednesday evening meetings of the full council. The Fulham Chronicle singled George Peachey in particular out for criticism as (though councillors’ attendance records had generally been good) Peachey’s record was particularly bad: he’d been at only 15 out of 50 meetings. No doubt he was finding being in a Conservative minority on a Labour council trying, but Fulham Chronicle thought he should have done better for his party in a period of high civic disturbance and increasing dissatisfaction with local government, particularly amongst the middle classes who were forming all sorts of new, quasi-political groupings to campaign on particular issues.
I’m not quite sure of the date but it was probably on Thursday 19 January 1922 that George Peachey took office as the MEZ of Fulham Chapter, the role in the Chapter equivalent to that of Master of Fulham Lodge number 2512. As with the master of a lodge, the MEZ of a chapter served for twelve months.
He also kept up his commitment to Fulham Philanthropic Society. At its 85th AGM, on Tuesday 17 January 1922 at the King’s Head Hotel he was elected to be chairman of its standing committees for the next twelve months. The early 1920s were a period of high unemployment in Fulham as elsewhere and the Society was probably pretty busy doling out its charitable funds.
It was during 1922 that the relationship between Henry Norris and his constituency party in Fulham East came under strain, ostensibly about the amount he contributed to the local party funds. As a convinced Conservative with friends in all the local Conservative societies, George Peachey could hardly have remained ignorant about the level of dissatisfaction with Norris as MP. Around Christmas 1922-23 Henry Norris announced that he was intending to stand in Fulham East at the next election not as a Conservative but as an independent, against whoever the local party chose to be their official candidate. But in all the publicity that broke over the winter of 1922-23, Peachey’s name was never mentioned as taking part in the controversy over whether Norris should be de-selected.
In the 1920s there are one or two sitings of George Peachey at Arsenal games. On Saturday 4 February 1922, when Norris was at his villa in the south of France and William Hall had been laid low with flu, John Humble, George Peachey and Charles Crisp were the directors charged with entertaining the Duke of York (later King George VI) and his suite when they watched a match at Highbury in what Arthur Bourke described tersely as, “sleet, snow, damp, mud and rain”. In the absence of the chairman and vice-chairman, Charles Crisp made the welcoming speech and took the Duke on a tour of the ground. Peachey was also at Highbury on the last day of the season, Saturday 6 May 1922, to see Arsenal play Bradford City in what would have been a relegation decider if Arsenal hadn’t won their match the previous weekend.
By August 1922 the bitterness between Henry Norris and the Conservatives of Fulham East had reached the stage where a candidate was being chosen to take Norris’ place at the next election. A committee was set up to interview the men on the short-list. Peachey played no part in the selection process and did not attend the meeting in late September which officially endorsed Norris’ successor. The same week (week commencing 25 September 1922) Henry Norris gave an interview to the Fulham Chronicle putting his side of the argument with the Fulham East Conservatives; it was published on Friday 29 September 1922. Norris never needed anyone’s advice on whether to go into print in his own defence, but it’s just possible he consulted Peachey about the wisdom of it.
Peachey seemed to go to football matches at the beginnings and the ends of seasons but not so much to the long hard grind of the matches in between. He was at Highbury on Saturday 2 September 1922 to see Arsenal 1 Liverpool 0, again on a day when Norris was not there. And he saw Arsenal 2 Cardiff City 1 on Saturday 16 September 1922, again when Norris was missing. And he was also at the north London derby on Saturday 30 September 1922, probably the first attended as a director by Sir Samuel Hill-Wood; Peachey might also have met FA secretary Fred Wall at this game if he hadn’t done so already.
Despite his poor attendance record over the past three years George Peachey did decide to stand again, in Town Ward as usual, when the next local elections came in November 1922. Just as campaigning got started for these the national coalition government fell from power and a general election was called. The candidate chosen to replace Henry Norris in August 1922 had dropped out; the constituency party had to pick another in a rush and chose Mr Kenyon Vaughan Morgan. Again, there was no mention in the local press of Peachey taking any part in this; nor was he amongst those local Conservatives who officially nominated Vaughan Morgan as a candidate; and he was not mentioned as having done any campaigning for him - though of course he was probably busy campaigning on his own account. The Fulham Chronicle described the Conservatives in Fulham east as disorganised and lacking unity - hardly surprising after a year of turbulence over Henry Norris. However, despite having threatened to, Henry Norris did not stand as an independent candidate, and Vaughan Morgan was elected. In the local elections the Conservatives regained their majority on Fulham Council. George Peachey kept his seat in Town Ward and in due course was elected onto the standing committees for Electricity and Lighting, and the Council Establishment (which oversaw the buildings and employees).
Because all I know about Peachey is based on official documents and news reports, I’ve no idea whether he went abroad very often. However, he did accompany the Arsenal touring party for at least party of their trip to Scandinavia after the end of season 1922/23. On Friday 25 May 1923 the party arrived in Gothenburg and Charles Crisp, John Humble and George Peachey were with them then.
I’ve made it clear that George Peachey played no active part in the controversy which ended Norris’ career as an MP. If he had any views on it, he never announced them in public. The chances are that he was on Norris’ side in the dispute. So the friendship between the two men continued. On Saturday 28 July 1923 George Peachey attended the wedding of Henry and Edith Norris’ eldest daughter, Joy, at St Matthias Church Richmond, and the reception, at Lichfield House, Richmond where the Norris family were living. Peachey’s niece Violet Whitelock was one of Joy’s bridesmaids.
I’ve said in other files that during the 1920s Henry Norris’ strong views on the football issues of his day were souring his relations with some of football’s powers-that-be. George Peachey was present, with all the Arsenal directors, on 4 August 1923 at the Hotel Cecil near Piccadilly when Norris made a speech which greatly annoyed the pressmen who’d been invited. The occasion was a dinner to celebrate the retirement from playing of Jock Rutherford, who’d been the mainstay of Arsenal’s first team since 1913. Peachey had of course contributed to the silver tea and coffee service the directors presented to Rutherford.
On Saturday 11 August 1923 the first pre-season trial game was held at Highbury; but Peachey wasn’t there to watch it. On Saturday 18 August 1923, however, Peachey, Henry Norris, William Hall, Charles Crisp and John Humble were all present to watch the second. Perhaps after three seasons as a football director, Peachey may have been beginning to learn the finer points of team selection.
George Peachey and the other directors all sat in a box at the Alhambra Theatre on Friday 12 October 1923 at the invitation of the management, to watch a film of the Arsenal team, made by the Regent Film Company. All the Arsenal squad, and Harry John Peters and Leslie Knighton were also there, but in the stalls.
Peachey was spotted at two other Arsenal games before the end of that year: Arsenal 2 Middlesbrough 1 on Saturday 3 November when Fred Wall and members of the FA International Selection Committee were there but not Henry Norris. And Arsenal 1 Huddersfield Town 4 on Saturday 15 December 1923, which again Norris missed. I do wonder what Peachey made of this game, in particular: did he know enough about football by now to appreciate Arsenal being taken apart by the champions-to-be, managed by Herbert Chapman?
In between those two games there was another general election. Henry Norris wasn’t standing as a candidate - he never was an MP again - but during the election campaign he managed to rile his ex-constituency party in Fulham East one more time, to such an extent that its chairman, Edward Reed Armfield, wrote a letter which caused Norris to sue him for libel (and win). Again, Peachey seems to have kept well out of the controversy. In the twelve months from November 1923 to October 1924 he served with Armfield on the Electricity and Lighting, and the Establishment standing committees at Fulham Council; all the time Norris’ libel case against Armfield was coming to court.
When there were social occasions at Arsenal FC requiring all the directors to be present, George Peachey did go along. In early August 1924, as a part of pre-season preparations, Arsenal’s squad for season 1924/25, the admin staff, some (hand-picked) journalists and all the directors went on a day out on a Thames river-boat, stopping off at Henley (where Norris had his summer home) for a cricket match that perhaps Peachey played in. He also went to another pre-season practice match, on Saturday 23 August 1924; and was even named by Arthur Bourke in the Islington Daily Gazette when he listed all the directors as the people who could do most to ensure Arsenal didn’t have yet another relegation battle in the coming season. Bourke’s comments went to waste, however. It was another poor season. As he was named so rarely as being at matches at Highbury it’s a pity that for the second season running, George Peachey saw Arsenal destroyed by Huddersfield Town: Saturday 14 February 1925 with a worse score than last year - 0-5.
In 1925 George Peachey brought to an end his long period as a councillor in Fulham: he didn’t stand in the local elections of November 1925. As a result, of course, he drops completely off the radar of the local press and Council minutes and I have very little idea how he spent his time from now on. In 1924 Peachey had passed his sixtieth birthday; perhaps he just enjoyed his retirement.
Peachey’s temperate commitment to football did not hot up, that’s one thing I’m certain of. However he did play a modest part in a new policy of the board at this time, of buying up shares in the club as and when they were for sale: usually one or two at a time. In May 1926, the Islington Daily Gazette praised all the Arsenal directors for their decision to appoint Herbert Chapman as manager; but in 1929 Norris made it very clear that in fact the decision was his alone, none of the other directors was asked about it (not that I’m saying any of them would have objected, mind, just that Norris didn’t ask them).
Chapman’s appointment was part of a trend at Arsenal FC. After his retirement from politics in October 1923, Henry Norris became more involved in the daily running of the club; but asked for advice less and less. That may have suited George Peachey, now retired himself; but it wasn’t good for Arsenal. Norris was getting careless in money matters, and no one - Peachey included - made any attempt to make him more tidy about money in and money out. So the chaos of the £170 cheque for the reserve team bus (1926) went unchallenged; and the hostility between Norris and Chapman went unmediated (and I think that Peachey’s quiet good sense might have helped here). And so we get to 1927.
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Copyright Sally Davis July 2008