Henry Norris’ Enemies, continued; and other stories from 1927
Last updated: June 2008
[ROGER THIS FILE FOLLOWS IMMEDIATELY AFTER SLENEMY AND IS THE LAST OF THAT SET]
The other man whose involvement in the FA’s 1927 investigation into Arsenal particularly upset Henry Norris was Fred Wall. Norris and Wall had been friends; they had a lot in common.
Henry Norris and Fred Wall had similar backgrounds although I think Wall’s family may have been more well-to-do than Norris’s. They were both south Londoners, Frederick Joseph Wall (born 1858) having grown up in Battersea and attended school at St Mark’s College Chelsea. Like Norris, Wall too had spent his early working life as a solicitors’ clerk. Again like Norris, Wall had spent time as a member of a local volunteer militia, the 7th Surrey Rifles, based in Kennington Lane; he had been promoted to sergeant. Wall’s sporting interests were wider than Norris’s: as well as playing football (in his memoirs he didn’t say what position) he’d played cricket and rugby, and he had also been a good rower.
At 17, Wall became the honorary secretary of The Rangers, an amateur club of St Mark’s College old boys which played its fixtures around Wandsworth Common. He was a member of Middlesex Football Association and from 1891 represented it at the (English) Football Association where he found Charles Clegg and Arthur Hines already on its council. From 1881 he was a member of the London FA’s governing council. Between his working life and his leisure life Wall was gaining exactly the kind of experience required by the FA in 1895 when it decided to employ a secretary. He beat 200 other applicants to the job; and stayed in it as the FA expanded with the growth of professional football, surviving the debacle of the first FA Cup Final at Wembley (1923) and retiring in 1934 with a knighthood. During Wall’s period in charge the FA had its headquarters firstly in High Holborn, then (by World War 1) in a house backing onto the British Museum in Russell Square - admirable addresses for anyone wanting to see a lot of matches in London. Highbury was the nearest football ground, and during World War 1 Wall was a regular at matches there, more so than Norris was; becoming a fan (see 1935 below).
It’s possible Norris had met Fred Wall as early as the 1880s on the south London amateur football circuit, as they both were players then. As with Charles Sutcliffe, if Wall and Norris had not met before, they will have done so at least briefly at the 1903 AGM of the Football Association. Thereafter they met continually at matches, meetings and other football functions; Henry and Edith Norris got to know Wall’s first wife as well as she was a football fan and often went to matches with him.
The friendship became comradeship as well when World War 1 was declared. The decision to allow the professional football season 1914/15 to go ahead was bitterly criticised in the press and on the streets. In London, Henry Norris took a very active role in football’s response, which was to encourage recruiting officers to use football matches to get men to sign as volunteers. He also, on several occasions, spoke to the press at football matches, defending the continuation of the football season. I’m not quite sure whence came the idea to form a battalion of volunteers who were all professional footballers, but Fred Wall in his capacity as FA secretary became the battalion’s honorary secretary and Norris offered the recruiting effort very practical support. On the FA’s behalf he hired one of the large rooms at Fulham town hall for the first recruitment meeting (15 December 1914). The FA was represented at the meeting by its President, Lord Kinnaird, and by Fred Wall.
After the war, the friendship between the two men continued and Fred Wall, with his second wife, was one of the guests at the wedding of Norris’ daughter Joy (July 1923).
During the friendship Fred Wall as secretary of the FA had been required to be present several times when Henry Norris was being investigated by the FA: in 1913, for example; or when Arsenal were: in September 1922. These occasions don’t seem to have blighted the relationship between them. 1927 was different.
It’s clear from the document of 1929 that Norris hated Wall’s involvement in the FA’s investigation into Arsenal’s finances, but even he had to admit that it was the usual procedure in these cases for Wall, as the senior employee at the FA, to do the leg-work for the FA’s commissioners. The FA agreed to William Hall’s request for an enquiry, on 2 July 1927. On Tuesday 5 July Wall went to Arsenal’s offices and began work, going through the accounts and other records and interviewing the people who worked there. In his memoir Wall said that in this kind of investigation (which he had done before) the FA would be looking for “Receipts for work never done and for goods never delivered”. The assumption would be that they were attempts to hide illegal payments to players - very much what Norris had been doing and how he had been doing it.
The letters officially notifying Norris (and presumably the other directors of the club) didn’t arrive until he’d been at Arsenal for two days - Thursday 7 July, confirming Norris’ already poor impression of the FA’s competence. Norris had already written (5 August) to protest that since his resignation from the board of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company, the FA had no jurisdiction over him. On behalf of the FA, Wall wrote back on 6 August, quoting FA Rules 45 and 46 at him; they were the ones defining the FA’s powers over its members (Norris might no longer be a member, but Arsenal FC still was).
In Norris’ notification letter, Wall asked him to make a statement to be included as part of the records of the enquiry. At first Norris refused but by mid-July he’d changed his mind and composed the document (dated 18 July 1927) I’ve relied on so much for my accounts of 1927 and earlier. Probably two things made Norris decide to comply with Wall’s request after all: on 9 July 1927 Chapman set down in writing and sent to Fred Wall his account of what had happened to the £170 cheque for the reserve team bus; and on 14 July Wall interviewed Harry John Peters, about the cheque and other items. It began to occur to Norris that the FA might decide they had found - not attempts to hide illegal payments to players but attempts at the embezzlement of club’s funds, with Peters, or Peters and Norris together, the most likely embezzlers.
Fred Wall, as the FA’s agent, was the person who collected all the papers in readiness for the first hearing in the enquiry, at Sheffield on 20 July 1927. These included Norris’ promissory note for the £170 when he took the cheque himself rather than have it paid into Arsenal’s bank account (July 1926); and the envelope in which Peters had presented the promissory note to the bank (certainly not before February 1927). Wall made what Norris later supposed was the only written record of what people said during the first hearing. And Wall acted for the FA Commission when they wouldn’t accept Norris’ version of events unless he allowed his document of 18 July to be treated as legal evidence; which Norris eventually agreed to, but very grudgingly.
The FA Commissioners decided after their first hearing that there would have to be a second one. So Wall continued to gather evidence for them between 21 July and the second hearing on 8 August. This included taking statements from people no longer with the club: ex-director Charles Crisp, ex-manager Leslie Knighton and ex-player Clement Voysey. When the second hearing was finished, Wall supervised the completion of the enquiry and the preparation of its report including the distribution of copies to the members of the FA Council and the Arsenal directors. So he knew, better than anyone, what was in it. It’s even possible that Wall actually composed the wording of the final report; I don’t know who did that and presumably even if it had been Wall who had done the basic draft, the members of the FA Commission would have had an editorial power of veto.
It would have been a remarkable friendship that survived such a trauma. Wall’s and Norris’s friendship didn’t. Wall became one of the one-time friends who (in his document of 1929) Norris said now believed he had stolen money from Arsenal. Although please note Norris didn’t name any of these ex-friends. The investigation of Henry Norris’ doings at Arsenal would have put Fred Wall in an impossible position had he not felt that his first duty was to his employer. I don’t think Norris understood Wall’s attitude.
In 1928 the first attempt to reach an out-of-court settlement in Norris v Football Association Limited was between Arthur Gilbert, Henry Norris’ solicitor, and Charles Clegg, the FA President. In his 1929 document Norris says that Clegg was sympathetic to Norris’ desire to have it publically stated that the FA didn’t believe Norris had stolen money from Arsenal. However, Fred Wall was present at the meeting and at the end he said to Clegg (according to Norris’ account from 1929), “...you will do well to let matters stand as they are” - that is to say, without the FA making a public statement that they believed Norris to be innocent of theft, and with the wording of the FA Commission’s report unchanged. Gilbert told Norris that in his opinion it was Wall who was the most adamant that the FA shouldn’t give way to Norris’ request, and Gilbert wasn’t the only one to think that it was Wall that was the problem. When the second attempt was being organised, this time by Charles Sutcliffe, Sutcliffe acted in such a way as to lead Norris to understand that he didn’t want Wall to be there when he, McKenna and Arthur Gilbert held their meeting. Wall didn’t attend the meeting; but he may have been involved later in the day, which ended with the FA continuing to refuse to give Norris what he was asking for; and the case going to court.
Was Wall vindictive towards his ex-friend? Not personally. In his 1929 account of the attempts to reach an out-of-court settlement, Norris says himself that he’d heard on the football grapevine that the authorities were worried about what he’d do if they agreed to make the statement Norris was wanting. ‘What he’d do’ meaning, what use Norris would make in the press of such a climb-down by the FA from the conclusions implied in the FA Commission report; and ‘the authorities’ meaning senior figures in the FA, of whom Wall was one. I believe Wall was thinking Norris’ out-of-court settlement was the thin end of the wedge and on the FA’s behalf was not prepared to give an inch in case Norris or someone else (in the future) took the mile. Wall was protecting his employer; and he no longer trusted Norris.
As to what he thought personally about Norris’ role at Arsenal, Wall did write about directors of football clubs in his memoirs. Without naming names, he wrote that it was not unknown for a football director to lose his sense of perspective so far that he had “only one point of view, and his club becomes more to him than sober judgement should permit. I will not say that his conscience becomes blunt, but less sensitive. He will stretch a point for his club...will take risks and get himself entangled in such a way as he would never dream of in the conduct of his own business”. I’m sure that in his time, Wall had met a lot of men who had developed this kind of pathology about their club - he isn’t thinking of any one man in particular - but I’m sure he thought Norris was one of them. Wall went on to comment that the FA had never liked clubs where one man was too dominant: it didn’t meld with their concept of a football club as representing the aspirations of all those living where it was based. Again, Wall didn’t mention any names; but Arsenal in the 1920s fitted the bill. Today Wall must be revolving in his grave!!
The breach between Norris and Wall was total. After 1927, I don’t think they spoke again. When Norris died, Wall didn’t attend his funeral or send a wreath. In 1935, retired now, Wall was finally able to throw off the neutrality that he felt his position at the FA required, and indulge himself as an Arsenal fan. On 2 July 1935 he bought 20 shares in the club, in preparation for being elected a director of Sir Samuel Hill-Wood’s Arsenal FC on 12 August 1935.
I suppose that anyone preparing for a legal case involving alleged damage to their public reputation is likely to spend a lot of time navel-gazing, getting rather myopic about the bigger picture. Henry Norris’ document for his case against the Football Association Limited is very self-obsessed! However, in between Norris’ justification of what he did, and his resentment of what the FA and other people did, however, there other stories in the document, or at least some other points of view - if only you can spot them! I list some that I’ve spotted, below.
STORY ONE: PAYMENTS TO PLAYERS
1929 document Henry Norris gave a very precise figure for the amount he had spent over the years on payments to players which broke the FL rules: £2475. The sum may not be accurate down to the last pound but it’s too precise to be a rule-of-thumb kind-of figure. I tried totting up the payments that I knew about. That wasn’t as easy as it sounds as both H A White and Charles Buchan were promised sums by Norris that may have not been paid in full. Still, using the maximum sums that I think these two were paid, I still found my total £325 short of Norris’s. So perhaps he paid out more than the authorities found out about. However, I cannot think who else he was so anxious to sign that he promised extra money.
In 1927 and 1929 Norris claimed that paying players more than the rules allowed was common practice. In this instance he wasn’t trying to excuse himself, just stating what he knew. Players, he said, were “out for all they can get”. No change there, then, between the 1920s and the 2000s!
STORY TWO: UPPITY SHAREHOLDERS
The papers of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company Limited now at Companies House show that Henry Norris and William Hall were the biggest shareholders until September 1927. However, by the mid-1920s some ordinary Arsenal supporters had built up quite large share-holdings. I mention two in particular because they got involved in the events of 1927:
In 1922 David Lewis owned 45 shares. He ran a dairy at 82 Gillespie Road Highbury, just round the corner from the Arsenal ground; he probably delivered the club’s milk. Below, I am assuming that two references to a Mr Lewis who is a shareholder, one from 1927 and one from 1929, are referring to the same man, who is this man; neither reference gives his first name.
Percy Boyden, with two addresses in 1927, at Gloucester Road W11 and Hollybush Hill Snaresbrook, ran a paper-making business. By September 1927 he owned 141 Arsenal shares - more than club director George Peachey. I have found a Percy Boyden aged 10 in 1901, at 94 Stoke Newington Church Street living in the household of his father Benjamin, who ran a tailoring business; it’s probably him. If this Percy Boyden was still living at home in 1913 he would have found himself within walking distance of the new football ground. I think the Percy Boyden of 1927 is this one.
In October 1928, Walter and John Bailey jointly owned 75 shares; I expect they were brothers, or father and son. They must have gone way back, supporting Woolwich Arsenal, because they both lived in Plumstead. Walter was a manager in a bus company, John ran a pub.
The Companies Act of 1908 (which still prevailed in 1927 though it was about to get an overhaul) had laid down that in order to be eligible to stand for election to a company’s board of directors you had to own at least 25 shares in that company. If Mr Lewis, Mr Boyden, the Baileys and one or two others I know of had wanted to, they could have stood for election to the board at an AGM of the company. As far as I know, none of them did. There were reasons for that, no doubt: the club seemed well-run so there was no need; they had their own work to attend to and wondered if they could spare the time; they worried that it might involve them in financial commitments that they couldn’t afford - there are many reasons why eligible men don’t want to become directors of football clubs. But another reason might have been that no one got elected to Arsenal’s board of directors without the vote of the men who owned the most shares; and none of the men I’ve mentioned thought they would get Norris and Hall’s vote.
In 1927, however, the idea that Arsenal FC was well-run and in no need of help was coming apart at the seams, and as the bad news and ugly rumours began to mount up, the men I have named, and some others as well (who probably didn’t have that large a shareholding but were still very concerned) began to take action.
David Lewis was the first to get involved, playing a part in the trouble over the demotion of George Hardy from his position as trainer. A short while after Hardy’s demotion had occurred, a letter was sent to Arsenal FC purporting to be from Hardy. At the next board meeting, Hardy was called in and asked by Henry Norris if he had written the letter himself; Hardy told the meeting that he had not, his daughter had written it. A few days later, however, Herbert Chapman accused Norris of having written it, which Norris denied. Norris then did some detective work, as a result of which he was told by David Lewis that he was willing to make a sworn statement that he (Lewis) had written the letter on Hardy’s behalf. I won’t explain this here but if Chapman was accusing Norris of having written the letter I think the contents of it must have been a justification of Hardy and a plea to have his demotion rescinded - both being points of view which Norris agreed with.
When the AGM of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company Limited was finished off on Friday 9 September 1927, a Mr Lewis (as I say above I assume it’s the same Mr Lewis) was the shareholder who put forward the motion of thanks to Henry Norris, and William Hall, for all they had done for the club. As first put forward at the AGM by Lewis, it ended with a reference to the Norris and Hall always having acted with “sincerity honesty and integrity” - words which Sir Samuel Hill-Wood got agitated about, saying that if they were included it would annoy the FA (who - as all present at the AGM knew - were annoyed enough already). Shareholder Mr Lawson agreed with Sir Samuel’s reservations and said that it would be better not to pass any motion of thanks at all, rather than risk further trouble with the FA. According to Norris’ account from 1929, no one else at the meeting took Lawson’s point of view. The words that had caused Sir Samuel Hill-Wood’s jitters were taken out, therefore, and the motion was passed and put in the minutes without them; Mr Lawson was the only shareholder who voted against that compromise.
Nothing was said about it at the time, but in his document of 1929 Henry Norris admitted that Mr Lewis’ motion of thanks was not a spontaneous gesture made during the meeting: Norris had been shown a draft of it before the resumed AGM took place (how long before, he doesn’t say - it may only have been a few minutes). Norris had given his approval to the motion with its original wording. In 1929 he wrote of Mr Lewis as if he saw Lewis as the leader of a faction within Arsenal’s shareholders who were trying to help him (Norris that is) - who were on his side, as it were.
Other shareholders, however, were not on Norris’ side - though that’s not to say that they were on anyone else’s. Norris was annoyed when the Daily Mail report on the resumed AGM gave the impression he’d had to put up with a lot of interruptions while making his speech. That wasn’t true, but he did admit to being interrupted once. When he reached the subject of his payments to players, a Mr Bailey shouted out, “You know it was illegal” (meaning of course, that it was against the rules); Norris replied to him agreeing that it was, but asserting (as he’d often done recently) that he’d done it for the good of Arsenal FC. When the meeting finished, Mr Bailey sought Norris out and apologised for his interruption, saying he hadn’t meant it personally (perhaps Bailey was afraid that if he didn’t apologise, as well as the FA and John Dean and his fellows, Norris might sue him!) I should imagine the Mr Bailey in question was one of the two I’ve mentioned above.
Mr Boyden was also asked by Sir Samuel Hill-Wood to say something at the resumed AGM though it’s clear from Norris’ document of 1929 that Boyden hadn’t waited until the meeting to get active. Norris describes Boyden as having been “making himself rather prominent at this time by calling meetings of the shareholders and circularising them”. Norris didn’t go into any details about what Boyden’s speech was about, except to say that Boyden had spoken about “his views as to what ought to be the policy of the shareholders with regard to the Directorate in the future”. As part of a very disparaging assessment of Boyden’s concerns, Norris says that “doubtless his real object was to get a seat on the Board”. Clearly he wouldn’t have got one at Norris’ invitation. From the dismissive - hostile, really - tone of Norris’ remarks on Boyden I take it that Boyden was wanting the non-director shareholders to take a more active role, and have a greater say, in what was decided at the AGMs.
Boyden went on to play the major role in a buying and selling event on 23 September 1927 which led to a redistribution of a large number of shares in Arsenal FC and ended the power of William Hall and Henry Norris to dictate policy and choose directors. Firstly Boyden bought 508 shares in Arsenal Football and Athletic Company Limited from William Hall - all Hall owned; and 81 shares from Hall’s daughter Elsa Kate - all she owned. Then he sold 170 shares to Sir Samuel Hill-Wood, 180 to George Allison and 168 to J J Edwards who at the time were the only directors of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company Limited. Until that day, the three of them had all owned not very many more shares than would make them eligible to be directors. From that day, if it came to the crunch, the three of them acting together could out-vote Norris’ 400-or-so shares (though there’s no evidence it ever came to that). At the end of these transactions Boyden himself still owned 210 shares. But he didn’t become a director of the club. I think Norris was wrong in dismissing Boyden’s activities as merely vote-gathering. His activities on 23 September show that he had come to believe that the club would be better off if it was out of any one person’s hands, or even any two people’s hands, especially if one of them was Henry Norris. As a major shareholder he was well-placed to do something about that, and he did.
Meanwhile the ‘small’ shareholders - those with less than 25 shares, or with more but not wanting to burden themselves with a seat on the board - were nevertheless banding together. Shortly after the resumed AGM, the Arsenal Shareholders Association was formed. Norris called it a “supporters’ club”, and of course it was, but it aspired to be more than that; it was set up to give the non-director shareholders a forum to discuss their views on contentious issues and to make sure they got heard if they had something important to say or to ask. Mr Lawson became the ASA’s first chairman; definitely the same man who had spoken at the 1927 AGM.
The spectacular fall of Henry Norris had made all Arsenal’s shareholders sit up and think. Some seem to have decided that, in the past, they had been rather too laissez faire for the club’s good. They resolved to take action in the crisis. It’s very clear from Norris’ discussion of the AGM of 1927, that he was only prepared to welcome this if the action taken helped his position.
THE CONDUCT OF THE FA COMMISSION OF INQUIRY
In his rage at the FA Commission’s conclusions Henry Norris questioned its legitimacy, its remit and its competence, both in the press at the time, and in his documents of 1927 and 1929. You might dismiss this as Henry Norris fighting his corner but George Peachey doesn’t seem to have been very impressed either by the way the FA had carried out their enquiries.
After the directors of Arsenal had learned their fate, at the FA Council meeting of 29 August, George Peachey, as well as Henry Norris, made a statement to the press. Peachey’s was not covered by many papers as he was not a well-known figure. He was known in Fulham, however, and his statement appeared in the Fulham Gazette on Friday 2 September. Peachey said, “I am going to take legal advice. I went to the club in 1920, and I was always devoted to its interests. My opinion is that they [the FA] have no power to remove me from the board of directors, to which position I was elected by the shareholders. I am a great friend of Sir Henry - a fact which the Commission was well aware [of]”.
Peachey was correct in saying he thought the FA had no power to order him to demand that he ceased to be a director of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company: he brought a court case to clarify the law, and won.
I’ve tried reading Peachey’s last comment in other ways but I always come back to thinking he meant one of two things here: that the FA didn’t attach much weight to what Peachey told them; or that he was trying to give them his opinion and they wouldn’t listen to him at all. Perhaps it’s significant that while complaining about Wall’s information gathering at the Arsenal offices, Norris doesn’t name Peachey as one of the people Wall took statements from. Peachey seems to be suggesting that the FA’s information gathering was - shall we call it selective? - that they were happy to take information from people Norris saw as his enemies, but not so happy when the people were his friends.
Peachey’s comment is just one person’s opinion, and as a friend of Norris’, accused of allowing Norris’ behaviour to go unchecked, he can hardly be described as a neutral observer of the FA Commission’s activities. But there’s a glimpse of another story in what he said. Maybe when Norris complained that the FA were out to get him, he wasn’t paranoid, he was right! All the information collected by the FA Commission during its investigation of Arsenal FC has now been thrown away, so I shall never know for sure.
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 June 2008