Henry Norris and Woolwich Arsenal: 1910-13, the end of the day at Woolwich.

Last updated: 2 January 2008


In describing the three years Henry Norris and William Hall ran Woolwich Arsenal FC at the Manor Ground, Plumstead, I’m not going to spend much time discussing results - partly because the team didn’t do much that’s worth discussing, partly because most of the significant events took place off-field; but mostly because the decisions of the board of directors illustrate so beautifully the great conundrum of a football club: is it there to win matches or to make a profit? 


It seems such a simple choice - or no choice at all, since surely if the team wins matches, more people come to see them and club revenue increases, debts (there are usually debts) can be paid off and more incurred investing in the future.  Well, yes.  Ish.  It doesn’t always follow: think of George Graham’s Arsenal or Mourinho’s Chelsea, boring their way to victory, watched by their own fans (and not always by them) while the other team’s supporters keep well away; or Juventus, winning so often, scarcely ever watched by more than a scattering of fans in their huge Stadio delli Alpi.  And - fan loyalty being one of the great imponderables - think Newcastle United for a team that hasn’t won matches to the fans’ expectations for decades, but which still draws big crowds always hoping that this is the season when it will be different.  It also doesn’t follow that if the team wins its matches its club will be able to balance its books: will Leeds United ever recover from their glory days in the 1990s?   And again Abramovic’s Chelsea, where wages are rumoured to exceed 100% of revenue, but nobody knows for sure because it’s not a limited company and can be as much in debt as he chooses.  If a club is well-run and the team does well and wins matches and trophies, the conundrum doesn’t go away, it takes a slightly different form: what does a club do with its profits?  Fans who are shareholders must be the only shareholders who don’t necessarily want to be paid a dividend.  They usually want any surplus ploughed back into the company: into facilities, keeping ticket prices down and - more than anything - players.  But supposing the directors feel that they - personally - want to be paid their dividend to get some return for all the money they’ve invested (much more, of course, than most fans have even got), often over many years with - football is so very unpredictable - no cast-iron guarantee of any return? 


How Henry Norris approached these no-right-answer questions from 1910 to 1913 says a lot about him, I think.  Those seasons also brought him up against some difficult questions that hardly any other directors have ever had to face: what do you do, when - say - both the clubs you are director of are wanting to sign the same player?


After the statutory meeting of Woolwich Arsenal Football and Athletic Company Limited in July 1910, the debts of the original company were taken on by the new one but in a new form.  The directors seem to have had as their priority, the freeing of the Manor Ground from debts for which it was being used as security.  This would leave the site unencumbered if the new limited company wanted to break the lease.  So the overdraft at the bank, and the mortgage owed to George Leavey, were replaced by other loans - £475 each from William Hall and Henry Norris, and £234 from Leavey.  The directors also looked at the Woolwich Arsenal’s overheads; there seems to have been considerable slack to be taken up in this area, and the weekly expenses were cut back severely.  And after Christmas the club offered all its unsold season tickets for sale at half-price.


In theory the money loaned the club by Leavey, Norris and Hall was to be repaid in 15 years; but Henry Norris and William Hall (Leavey made no public statement on the matter) made it clear they did not want to have their own money tied up in this way until 1925.  In November 1910, with the team in tenth place in Football League Division One - their highest position for several years - they made an effort to raise more money: a set of 5000 shares in the club went on sale.


The date on which the share prospectus was released was carefully chosen: on Saturday 26 November 1910 Woolwich Arsenal was expecting its biggest gate of the season so far, for the visit of Newcastle United.  Each person entering the Manor Ground was handed a copy of the prospectus, with a letter from Henry Norris in it going into the club’s current financial position in some detail and stating in no uncertain manner what he and William Hall were expecting from the local population. 


Norris began by addressing the problem of the money raised by Woolwich Arsenal’s fund-raising committee, formed in early 1910.  The committee had decided not to hand over the money until it had a clearer idea what the new management at the club would do with it - meaning, of course, until they saw whether the new, non-local owners would move the club away.  Henry Norris now stated that the money they were withholding belonged to Woolwich Arsenal FC.  But he did not give the committee members the reassurance they were waiting for.  He said that he and William Hall were not intending to allow Woolwich Arsenal to continue to play at the Manor Ground if they didn’t get more local financial support.  He reminded local people that he and Hall were the major shareholders at the club, though they were not intending to use the power that gave them.  What they wanted at present was for the club to return to local ownership and for the loans he and Hall had made to it to be repaid as soon as possible.  Norris hoped that some local men would buy enough shares to be eligible to stand for election to the board.  He and William Hall would then resign as directors and stand against them.  Local people (that is, those who had bought shares and could vote in such an election) would thereby have a chance to take the club back into local ownership.  If this didn’t happen, however, he and William Hall would continue to run the club perforce, and in those circumstances they’d be left with no alternative but to find somewhere else for the club to be based.  Norris’ view at this stage was that Woolwich Arsenal could be made to pay its way in Woolwich; but only once its debts had all been paid - meaning, of course, those to him, William Hall.  Finally, on behalf of himself and William Hall, Henry Norris offered terms to encourage people to buy shares: if enough of the 5000 shares were sold, they would guarantee the buyers a dividend of 5% (the maximum the Football Association allowed) for the next three years - that is, to the end of season 1912/13 - whatever the club’s financial results were like.


It’s interesting that Henry Norris offered to stay on as a director of Woolwich Arsenal FC, given the right circumstances and if elected.  Of course, he was only intending to do so if his and Hall’s loans had been repaid and enough shares bought by other people to distribute the financial burden of the club more widely.  It’s also typical that it was Henry Norris who had written this letter on behalf of those who now ran Woolwich Arsenal FC, not George Leavey.  With his own money invested in a club whose support was so poor, he clearly wasn’t going to leave writing this important appeal to the club chairman.


Nothing was heard of the share issue during December, a month in which Woolwich Arsenal lost nearly every game and sank to the bottom of the Football League Division One.  However, in the last week of the month, a rumour got through to the football press that the sale had been a disaster, with only 50 shares being applied for out of the 5000 available.  No public statement was made on the subject by anyone at the club, but by the end of the month - in tacit acknowledgement that they weren’t going to escape Woolwich Arsenal quickly - Norris and Hall had adjusted their thinking with regard to the 5000 shares.  They approached the local fund-raising committee and suggested that it try to raise £1250 to buy one-quarter of the 5000.  In this second scheme to sell the shares, Norris, Hall and Leavey would then buy one-quarter of the available shares each.  The committee did organise a series of local events to try to reach this target, but their efforts were hampered by the continuing economic decline of the area, and by their bad relations with the club’s new directors, a situation Henry Norris’ letter had only exacerbated.  John Humble acted as intermediary but he couldn’t erase the deep suspicion with which each party regarded the other.  The mone raised by the committee during 1910 became the focus of the antagonism: the directors of Woolwich Arsenal said they wouldn’t accept a bid for shares from the committee until they had handed it over; and the committee members wouldn’t do that without better assurances than they’d received so far that the club would stay in Woolwich.  The stalemate continued until the end of the season and was eased only slightly when the team started to play better in the season’s last two months.  Crowds continued to be bad: an FA Cup replay in mid-March against Aston Villa (well-known for their attractive style of play) got a crowd of only 4773; the gate money was a mere £142 and £69 of that was Aston Villa’s share. Part of the Manor Ground’s grandstand blew down in a gale, its repair an unexpected expense that couldn’t even be put off until the close season.


By 22 April 1911 Woolwich Arsenal were out of danger of relegation but on this day Henry Norris preferred to be at the Cup Final (the worst for years, ending Newcastle Utd 0 Bradford City 0) rather than at Woolwich Arsenal 2 Preston North End 0; or indeed at Blackpool 1 Fulham 2.  29 April was the last day of the football season; despite all the uncertainty and the harsh financial regime the directors had imposed, Woolwich Arsenal finished tenth. 


The AGM of Woolwich Arsenal Football and Athletic Company Limited, held on 17 June 1911, was a cautiously optimistic affair.  The club’s financial state was good.  Relations with the fund-raising committee had improved so far that members of the committee actually attended the AGM and its Secretary even made a speech praising the efforts of the new directors over the past season.  However he noted that - so far at least - local people had bought fewer season tickets; he wondered when the club were going to buy new players for season 1911/12; and his speech made it clear that his committee still hadn’t given the club any of the money raised during 1910.  His remarks turned out to be pointers to a difficult future.  I can’t find any evidence that the fund-raising committee ever did obtain the money the club had required from them before they could buy their quarter of the 1910 share issue.  So power at the club remained with Henry Norris and William Hall, who continued to make financial probity at the club their first priority; footballing matters came second.


Decisions made around the AGM of 1911 indicate a change in the thinking of Henry Norris and William Hall about the future: they had come to admit that - like it or not (and Norris definitely didn’t like it) - they were in it at Woolwich Arsenal for the long haul.  They took decisions that set trends for the future.  The appointment of a director with close links to Norris or Hall but

no interest in football at all was one.  The decision to leave it as late as possible to sign new players for season 1911/12 was another. 


New director George E Davis attended his first Woolwich Arsenal FC AGM in 1911.  He had no previous connection with Woolwich or with Woolwich Arsenal.  He only ever owned 25 shares at £1 each and doesn’t seem to have been expected to contribute any more money to the club.  His main importance was in being William Hall’s brother-in-law and thus a vote Norris and Hall could count on.


The biggest overhead at a football club is, of course, the wages of its staff - and the players make up most of the staff.  In Henry Norris’ time, the full wage was only payable to a player during the football season; during the close season, players signed for the following season would be paid a retainer, those without a club wouldn’t be paid at all.  The policy at Woolwich Arsenal when it was run by Henry Norris was to sign up most of the squad for the following season as soon as the current one was over; but to leave it as late as possible to sign new players.  It wasn’t until the middle of July 1911 that Woolwich Arsenal signed a new player: someone called Birtley, who was never heard of again, from the (presumably amateur, and completely unimportant) Northern Alliance League.  At least this close season of 1911, they didn’t sell any.  Wages at the club were thus kept down at the time when there was no match-day revenue coming in.  However, I agree with Arsène Wenger, who does not like to buy in the January transfer window.  You get a better choice of players if you buy in the summer; specifically you get a better choice of good players.  Of course, injury crises can wreck the most careful and comprehensive summer-buying strategy.  But too often in Henry Norris’ time in charge at Woolwich Arsenal, he left it very late, long after his managers had been aware of the need to buy urgently, and went into the transfer market when it had the least amount of talent available in it.  And this leads me to the third trend that seems to have been started at Woolwich Arsenal in 1911: the breaking of the rules to get players.


From 1910 until 1927 it was Henry Norris who was in charge of transfer negotiations at Woolwich Arsenal.  He usually undertook the bargaining process in person.  And on several occasions his anxiety to get the best deal for the club - that is, what he saw as the best financial deal in the long run - caused him to break the rules to secure particular players who were being made offers by other clubs.


Word seems to have got around in early December 1911 that goalkeeper Dr L R Roose wanted to leave Aston Villa.  Over the weekend of 9-10 December the press were saying he’d be joining Fulham FC; and it seems the deal did get as far as Aston Villa sending Fulham the papers needed to register him there.  But on Monday 11 December, he signed for Woolwich Arsenal FC.  It seems now that Roose was induced to change his mind by an offer of money: in 1927 Henry Norris admitted that in 1911 he and Hall had put up half each to pay a player £200 to sign for Woolwich Arsenal.  He did not name the player, but his description of him suggests that it was Roose.  The player took the money, and all three men therefore broke the Football Association rules (the maximum signing-on fee in 1911 was a paltry £10).    For Henry Norris and William Hall as well, this was the clearest possible instance of conflict of interest.  They were both still directors of Fulham FC as well as Woolwich Arsenal FC.  They were therefore guilty of snatching for one of their clubs a player more or less signed by the other.  The most curious aspect of the transaction, for me, is that no one at Fulham FC cried ‘foul!’  If their fellow directors at Fulham FC were furious they didn’t say so in public; nor in private, seeing neither Hall nor Norris was asked to resign.  I can only suppose that the other directors took the snatching away of Roose from under their noses as the ruthlessness of football, and didn’t know until 1927 that he’d been bribed.


Low crowd figures seem to have been the driving force behind Norris’ decision to disregard the rule book.  Roose, though an amateur, was an international, and his first game at the Manor Ground, against Middlesbrough, did have a larger than usual crowd.  But in general, Woolwich Arsenal during season 1911/12 were stuck in the same vicious circle they had been for seasons before: poor performances driving away crowds; less money coming in; less money spent on players; poor team giving poor performances, driving away crowds...  At Christmas 1911 with the team sixth from bottom Henry Norris tried another way of increasing revenue - one I think is a recipe for disaster, but one he’d already often turned to at Fulham FC - he doubled ticket prices, from 6d to 1 shilling, for the Boxing Day derby match Woolwich Arsenal v Spurs.  Woolwich Arsenal won 3-1 but lost their other three Christmas fixtures and were knocked out of the FA Cup in the third round.  Inside-Left, writing in the Kentish Independent, despaired of their attack - something match reporters did very often when considering teams run by Henry Norris - and the season continued much the same, ending with crowds pushed down even further by a rail-strike followed by a coal-strike and those supporters who had bothered to turn up for the last home game - a 0-3 defeat by Notts County - booing their own team.  Woolwich Arsenal finished in tenth place, exactly where they’d been the season before.  Just before the end of the season, though, its most important event occurred: George Leavey quit.  His resignation letter was published on Tuesday 16 April 1912 and he took no further part in running Woolwich Arsenal after May 1912. (For a little more information on Woolwich Arsenal’s saviour before Norris and Hall, see my file GEORGE LEAVEY.)


It was looking like the end of an era, because by Friday 26 April 1912 George Morrell had accepted the job of manager at Leeds City.  After being talked to (or possibly at) by Henry Norris and William Hall, he changed his mind, and the job at Leeds City went to the up-and-coming Herbert Chapman.  Someone else left Woolwich Arsenal instead.  Was it the knowledge that Norris and Hall would consider offers for him that finally broke Leavey’s will?  On 14 June centre-forward Andy Ducat was sold to Aston Villa.  For eight seasons he had been the jewel in Woolwich Arsenal’s crown, their player to be proud of.  Here is another of the impossible problems facing the average - or even the genius - football management team: to sell or not to sell?  I write this on 1 January 2008, half a season after Arsène Wenger allowed the sale of Thierry Henry and Arsenal’s chances of even making mid-table were written off by all the footballing press.  Here we are though, top of the Premier League on New Year’s day and playing a passing game to die for.  Cesc, Hleb, amazing how Sagna’s slotted in...  As usual, Wenger Knew.  Henry, too, is 30 - the years to come are the years of his decline.  Ducat was 26 - just reaching his pomp.  There was no indication in the press beforehand that the player was agitating for a move: indeed, Ducat had proved remarkably loyal through all the turmoil and uncertainty, and the sale came as a surprise to all. 


Ducat’s transfer fee, and a footballing tour of Prussia and Austria-Hungary, helped the club to make a profit in its year 1911/12 after many years in the red; but at what cost?  It looks like a bad decision to me, the more so because he wasn’t really replaced.  Not that you replace that kind of talent very easily, of course, but in allowing the sale of Thierry Henry, Wenger clearly believed Adebayor could do a bloody good job and that the style of play of the team as a whole would take up any falling-off in the number of goals scored by the main striker - which it has.  Woolwich Arsenal didn’t even buy a youngster with potential to give the rest of the squad a reason to feel that the club had a clear vision of where it was going, football-wise.  On the contrary, the sale was a clear indication that team-building was less important than profits.  You could almost go so far as to say Woolwich Arsenal didn’t recover from the consequences of the sale of Andy Ducat until the mid-1920s.  Because if he had stayed, maybe season 1912/13 might not have been the absolute worst in the club’s history.


The AGM of Woolwich Football and Athletic Company Limited, on 26 July 1912, was Henry Norris’ first as chairman; he continued in the role, unchallenged, until July 1927.  The speech urging a vote in favour of accepting the Annual Report - the speech every chairman has to make at the annual shareholders’ meeting - was typically robust, but if you were a shareholder/fan based in Woolwich it was ominous.  Norris told his listeners that crowd figures were enough to make any man go into mourning, and headed off potential criticism from those present by saying they were the reason why Ducat had to go.  He made no mention of the new National Insurance Act, which had come into operation on 15 July 1912, but the money for its administration and the employer’s payments would have to be found from somewhere, in addition to all the club’s other costs.  He just reminded his audience that he and Hall owned more than 50% of the club’s shares; and that they weren’t going to continue to maintain the club at their own expense for other people’s benefit.  And he made it clear that no one would be appointed or elected to the board to replace George Leavey.  John Humble then made a speech saying that, although a local man, he would support the club moving away from Woolwich if that was what it took to keep it going.  When the official part of the meeting ended and everyone turned to the refreshments provided by Henry Norris, despite none of the speeches having stated it in so many words, no one could really have been in any doubt that the decision had already been taken, to move Woolwich Arsenal somewhere else.


Work on the project had already started.  Woolwich Arsenal had already made one attempt to get a representative of the club elected to the Football League management committee: George Leavey had stood unsuccessfully in 1911 though certainly (given his views on the subject) without the moving of the club in mind.  At the AGM of the Football League (3 June 1912) they tried again, this time with William Hall, who came top of those candidates who didn’t get elected.  This left him in pole position if anything should happen to the serving members - and in September Tom Houghton of Preston North End died.  Hall was appointed to take his place, and attended his first meeting at the end of November.  He continued to serve on the committee, as the only representative of a club from the south of England, until August 1927.  I’m not suggesting that getting Woolwich Arsenal moved somewhere else couldn’t be done without the help of someone on the Football League management committee.  But having Hall a member of what was the Football League’s governing élite, attending their meetings, getting to know and be liked and trusted by the powers-that-were in it, was useful to Arsenal and Henry Norris on several occasions, not just in 1913.  The only wonder is that Henry Norris allowed Leavey, and then Hall, to go for it rather than try to be elected himself; but he did have more other commitments than they did. When discussion of Woolwich Arsenal’s move was forced on the management committee at the end of February 1913, Hall (very properly) left the room; but no doubt his work with the management committee preparing the way for the move had been completed by then.


Henry Norris, meanwhile, had begun motoring around London, looking for a suitable site.  It was quite clear from his actions in the spring of 1913 that he hoped no one would find out what he was up to until a deal on a new site was well and truly done - for example, he gave not one hint of it in his weekly column in the West London and Fulham Times - but of course club employees knew it and it further lowered morale in the team; and the rumours in the press (more or less continuous since mid-1910) did start to be a little more specific.  In October 1912 the Athletic News, usually very authoritative, said a plot of land had been bought at Harringay Park Station.  At the end of November a director of Fulham FC (unnamed but I doubt if it was Norris or Hall) had to deny for the umpteenth time that Woolwich Arsenal would move to Craven Cottage.  A rumour which surfaced later had Norris picking a site in Battersea sometime during the autumn; there was probably some truth in this rumour, both Norris and Hall knowing Battersea so well.  So he did not quite escape detection.  However, when the football press published reports that Woolwich Arsenal were moving to a site in North London - one going so far as to name the place, correctly, as Gillespie Road, near Finsbury Park - it came like a bolt out of the blue to Spurs and Clapton Orient.  This was over the weekend of 22 and 23 February 1913.


The search for new premises may have been a welcome distraction from the football results.  Season 1912/13 was a bad season for London clubs as a whole.  Watford FC and Croydon Common FC were in deep financial trouble.  At the first weekend of November, London clubs occupied the bottom three places in Football League Division One.  Woolwich Arsenal, though, were the worst of the worst.  Saturday 2 November’s 0-4 defeat by Manchester City was particularly dire, George Allison (writing as The Mate in Athletic News) thought, because City hadn’t even played particularly well, but their team was well-balanced and the players had confidence where their opponents had none.  Allison pin-pointed the central problem: Woolwich Arsenal had no one in the team who could be looked to to get a goal.  Though Spurs didn’t win their first match until December, Woolwich Arsenal’s form was far worse than that: just one win between August and 8 March 1913: 24 matches, the longest run without a win in the Football League’s history to that date.  By 15 November, in his column in West London and Fulham Times Henry Norris admitted that Woolwich Arsenal’s position was grim; ever the optimist in his writings, he described Woolwich Arsenal 0 Everton 0 as showing an improvement.  At least it wasn’t a loss, I suppose.  But his writings at that time do show how hard he was finding it to keep positive.  He couldn’t even seek relief from Woolwich Arsenal’s terrible displays by watching Fulham instead: at Christmas they were third from bottom in Football League Division Two.  He chose to flee the country, spending the holiday in Switzerland.


In the New Year Spurs found some form and got away from the relegation zone.  Chelsea were still stuck in it, though, and at Fulham and Woolwich Arsenal things continued much the same.   In the first round of the FA Cup Woolwich Arsenal needed a replay to beat Croydon Common, whose players may not even have been fully professional.  On 24 January 1913 Henry Norris - long after the rest of the football press - mentioned relegation.  He was referring to Woolwich Arsenal but he might equally well have meant Fulham: they were in the lowest place they’d ever occupied in Football League Division Two (though they did pull away later).  My point is, though, that although panic buying usually makes bad worse, buying someone (particularly someone who could score; or someone more capable of preventing the other side from doing so) might have cheered up the team and made them feel somewhat less neglected.  But Henry Norris didn’t do it.  And so the torture of Woolwich Arsenal went on and of course, crowds stayed away.  A home tie against Liverpool in the FA Cup seemed to offer a respite.  Hoping for a 20,000 crowd, the club put up entrance prices to 1 shilling.  It didn’t work this time either: just 8000 people turned up to see the home side lose 1-4, and local opinion of Norris in particular took another turn for the worse.  Inside Left, writing in the Kentish Independent, reported that all the talk in the tiny crowd was on whether it might be better to have a good division two side than a poor division one one: they’d accepted the inevitable already.  I think Norris had too, perhaps as early as the late autumn and for such an energetic and positive man he was curiously apathetic about it.  He was more worried about match-day revenue than the desperate need for a good striker; even though if you have a good striker he can increase your match-day revenue in the short- and long-term.  Or perhaps Norris was just too focused on getting Arsenal out of Woolwich to be bothered about the fact that the team was hopeless (in both senses of the word) but that he of all people was in a position to do something about that. 


It was three weeks after that cup tie that the news leaked out that the club was moving to north London.  So site-specific a set of rumours engendered a period of frantic activity both inside football and out.  The Kentish Independent asked Henry Norris, as Woolwich Arsenal’s chairman, to comment on them; and on Friday 28 February published his response, a letter in which he neither confirmed or denied them but suggested that people should do what he always did and ignore them.  However, he wrote - trenchantly and with no reference to the team’s awful performances - that if the directors of Woolwich Arsenal had decided to move the club to a more populated area of London they could scarcely be blamed for doing so with gates at the Manor Ground as low as they were.  People in Woolwich knew how to interpret that, I’m sure.  Elsewhere, too, people were not hanging about waiting for Norris to admit it.  On Monday 24 February, Spurs’ Cadnam and Clapton Orient’s Wells-Holland went uninvited to the scheduled meeting of the Football League management committee to ask them to prevent any move by Woolwich Arsenal to north London from going ahead.  The response they got was not encouraging, but they pushed the committee so far as to force a second meeting on the subject, held in Glasgow at midnight on Friday 28 February before the Scottish Football League v English Football League fixture; this was the meeting William Hall was careful to state that he had not stayed in the room for.  Spurs and Clapton Orient did get the Football League to issue a statement on the matter, on Saturday 1 March, but the management committee’s conclusions were not at all what they’d wanted to hear: the Football League agreed that it was unusual for a club to move its headquarters, but reminded everyone that it wasn’t unprecedented; the Football League considered the population of north London well-capable of supporting three football clubs; and in any case there was nothing in the Football League rules which gave it the right to interfere with a move by one of its members.  It was therefore proposing to do nothing to stop Woolwich Arsenal’s proposed move to the north London site.  On Monday 3 March the Athletic News published comments very sympathetic to Woolwich Arsenal’s cause.  Skating lightly over the shortcomings of teams over the past few seasons, the Athletic News told its readers that crowds at the Manor Ground had been falling for several years as a result of the economic decline of the area around it. This was an important statement, because Athletic News was always very close to the Football League hierarchy, many of whom wrote regularly in it.  The belief that Woolwich Arsenal’s decline was not entirely of its own making was still guiding the thinking of the Football League when its members met in March 1919 to reconstitute football after World War One.  Perhaps we can detect the work of William Hall here.  


Athletic News having stated that the club’s new site was a plot of land behind St John’s College in Gillespie Road, Highbury, Woolwich Arsenal’s board’s plan of not making the move public until a lease had been signed was in complete disarray.  The directors therefore entertained a group of sports journalists to dinner at the Connaught Rooms in Covent Garden on Tuesday 4 March, with the intention of making the best of things.  As was usual on these occasions, Henry Norris did most of the talking, and he did, finally, state that last week’s rumours were true.


The Football League’s refusal to act did not satisfy Spurs or Clapton Orient, of course, and Henry Norris’ speech confirmed their worst fears.  Cadnam and Wells-Holland tried to raise the 22 members’ signatures necessary to provoke an extraordinary meeting of the full Football League on the subject; but after such a pointed statement from the management committee, they found clubs unwilling to sign their petition.  The only thing left for them to do was to raise the issue at the AGM, and that meeting was consequently a pretty bad-tempered affair.  But by that time, Woolwich Arsenal were settling in as their new neighbours.  In Football League Division Two.


There wasn’t much action in Woolwich after the three years of rumour were finally confirmed as truth. There were some letters in the Kentish Independent resenting that Norris had put the blame for the move on the locals without considering his own decisions at the club as culpable.  Some traders did try to get organised to prevent the move from happening but their efforts came to nothing and they were three years too late.  One or two tentative enquiries were made by football clubs in the area about the Manor Ground but they too came to nothing when the Woolwich Arsenal directors made it clear they wouldn’t lease the site to a possible rival.  In September 1913 the ground was being rented by Woolwich FC, a newly-formed club playing in the amateur Kent and London leagues - perhaps the level of football local people could manage.


Opposition to the move was noisier - noisiest - in Highbury, and held up the signing of the lease by a good month. 

See my File “Why Highbury?”


I have been an Arsenal fan for over 30 years and I can remember some pretty grim times.  But in part thanks to the activities of Henry Norris, I have never faced relegation.  It looks like beyond hell to me.  I can only hope that sufferers eventually reach a state of numbness about it where any more bad news cannot touch them.  I do not know how I would cope.  When it seemed to be inevitable, Henry Norris seemed to cope well, though irritably, and he stuck to what seems to have been the directors’ policy, of not going further out on a limb financially to prevent it - here’s that football conundrum showing itself in another way.  But in mid-March Woolwich Arsenal finally broke their non-winning run and - seeing Chelsea were doing as badly as ever - it looked briefly as if they might stay up at Chelsea’s expense.  This was the situation going into the last weekend of March 1913, the Easter weekend, a holiday Norris spent in Lancashire.  On Easter Monday he went to Anfield and saw Liverpool 1 Chelsea 2; an entirely unexpected victory that extinguished Woolwich Arsenal’s brief period of hope.  The various stresses of this terrible season got to him at last: in his column in West London and Fulham Times the following Friday he all but accused Liverpool of throwing the match and Chelsea of bribing them to do so, provoking an investigation by the Football League (who found Liverpool to have been idle and spineless but not corrupt) and abruptly ending his career as a football writer.  I write more about this - the first time Norris’ doings were investigated by the football authorities - in my file HENRY NORRIS AND THE WORLD OF JOURNALISM. 


What Chelsea did and Liverpool didn’t in that match made no difference anyway: Woolwich Arsenal lost all three of their Easter fixtures and were officially relegated on Saturday 26 April 1913, drawing 1-1 with Middlesbrough in their last ever match at the Manor Ground, yet another poor performance before a crowd of 3000.  The men who, in 1910, had formed the fund-raising committee to save the club in Woolwich had already said their goodbyes.  On Thursday 24 April they held a farewell social evening.  Most of the squad, and trainer George Hardy were there.  William Hall and George Morrell had been invited but sent their apologies.  Henry Norris was not invited; and neither was John Humble, because he’d supported the move despite living in the area since the 1880s.


Season 1912/13: played 38.  Won 3 (1 at home), lost 23, drawn 12.  Goals for 26; goals against 74.  You can’t argue with that.





Copyright Sally Davis November 2007