Our History continued – 1916-1926 (the turning point of the clubs history to date)
This decade was in hindsight, going to be one of the most important and history defining moments where the club was concerned and in this article you will see why.
In 1919, six years after The Arsenal had moved to Highbury in North London, The Football League rather controversially voted to promote The Arsenal, instead of relegated local rivals Tottenham Hotspur, into the newly enlarged First Division, despite the team only finishing fifth in the Second Division’s last pre-war season of 1914–15.
Later on in the year of 1919, The Arsenal started dropping “The” in official documents, gradually shifting its name for the final time towards just Arsenal, although the press at the time continued to refer to them as “The Arsenal” and some still do but ultimately the name changed to that of what it is generally known today, barring the inappropriate names some people and fans may call us..
And so with a new home and First Division football part of the club, attendances were more than double those at the Manor Ground.
Highbury definitely brought about much larger crowds and the average attendance in Arsenal’s first season at the new ground was 23,000 (compared to 11,000 at the Manor Ground) and the attendance rose further after promotion in 1919, which finally managed to ward off the looming financial ruin as in turn Arsenal’s budget grew rapidly.
And so the target that both Sir Henry Norris and William Hall were aiming for was finally looking like it was being reached.
The club controversially re-joined the First Division in 1919 though, despite having only finished sixth in 1914–15, the last season of competitive football before the First World War, although an error in the calculation of goal average meant Arsenal had actually finished fifth, an error which was corrected by the Football League in 1975. This is something that definitely would not happen in these times and we can guarantee if it did Arsenal would be deducted points not given any!
However it was during this time that the First Division was being expanded from 20 teams to 22 and the two new entrants were to be elected at an AGM of the Football League.
On past precedent the two places would be given to the two clubs that would otherwise have been relegated, namely Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. Instead one of the extra places was awarded to Chelsea and a ballot was called for the remaining place. The candidates included 20th-placed Tottenham and from the Second Division, Barnsley (who had finished third), Wolverhampton Wanderers, (fourth), Birmingham (fifth, later amended to sixth), Arsenal and Hull City (seventh) and Nottingham Forest (18th). The League voted to promote sixth-placed Arsenal, for reasons of history over merit, but what they really didn’t want to admit was that they just didn’t want Tottenham in the Division, LOL…
At the time Norris argued that Arsenal be promoted for their “long service to league football”, having been the first League club from the South and so he got what he wished for and the League board agreed as Arsenal received 18 votes, Tottenham 8, Barnsley 5 and Wolves 4, with a further 6 votes shared between the other clubs.
The announcement of the vote reportedly caught all the clubs, except Arsenal, unaware and the choice to pick Arsenal over Tottenham from back in the day is a major contributing factor to the rivalry which has fuelled the long-standing hostility shall we say, between Arsenal and Tottenham and not just the location of the two clubs it seems.
There is also an inconsistency in the argument that if “long service to league football” was the criteria for promoting Arsenal instead of Tottenham, then Wolves, who finished two points ahead of Arsenal and were founder members of the Football League, would appear to have had a stronger claim.
And so even back then it seemed corruption or some form of it was apparent as it has been alleged that this was due to backroom deals or even outright bribery by Sir Henry Norris, who was accused of conspiring with his friend John McKenna, the chairman of Liverpool and the Football League, who recommended Arsenal’s promotion at the AGM.
Although there is to this day still NO conclusive proof of wrongdoing that has come to light.
But other aspects of Norris’s financial dealings unrelated to the promotion controversy have fuelled speculation on the matter and Norris resigned as chairman and left the club in 1929 after being found guilty by the Football Association of financial irregularities where he was found to have misused his expenses account while also pocketing the proceeds of the sale of the Arsenal team bus.
However, regardless of the circumstances of their promotion, Arsenal have remained in the top division since 1919, and as a result hold the English record for the longest unbroken stretch of top-flight football. Long may this continue!
The club’s return to the First Division was not immediately successful though.
Under Leslie Knighton, the club never finished higher than ninth and in the 1923–24 season they came close to returning to the Second Division, finishing 19th and only a point clear of the relegation zone.
Arsenal did no better the following season, finishing 20th and although the club was a lot safer this time when they finished seven points clear of the relegation zone this was the last straw for Norris because although they were not relegated, who would really be happy with those sorts of finishes.
And so Norris fired Knighton in May 1925 and appointed the Huddersfield Town manager Herbert Chapman in his place. It was then, no doubt, that Arsenal’s location and record-breaking salary offer, managed to lure Chapman over to the club.
Chapman wasted no time in ringing the changes and reformed many of the club’s practices, including modernising the training and physiotherapy regimes and one of the key additions was the adding of numbers to the players’ shirts in August 1928.
And this is when the REAL story begins….