Sir Henry Norris Part Two:
With the first world war coming to an end, The Arsenal counted its costs.
Eleven first team players had either lost their lives or had career ending injuries, while three players received the Military Medal – Dick Roose, Tim Coleman and Charlie Buchan.
There had been some regional football played during the conflict however, under the banner of the London Combination league and our club even allowed the spuds to use our ground to play their “home games”.
At the end of the 14/15 season, Chelsea and Tottenham had occupied the relegation spots in the first division, while Arsenal could only manage a miserable fifth in the second.
The Football League proposed to enlarge the first division from 20 to 22 teams and it was assumed that the two relegated teams would get a reprieve, while the top two clubs from the second division would make up the 22 clubs who would compete in said league…..Enter Sir Henry George Norris!!
Using the contacts he had made during his political, freemason and business, he started to call in favours he was owed.
There were allegations of bribery and undue pressure being put on individuals who, it was rumoured, had their own skeletons hidden in the cupboard.
It seemed that nothing would deter Sir Henry, however, even to the point where it was alleged, he shared secret meetings with every club…except Tottenham.
The biggest help given to Norris it seems, was the Liverpool owner and League Chairman John McKenna and it was this man who presented the argument that it should be The Arsenal and not Tottenham who deserved a place in the first division.
The main argument was that Arsenal had been a league member since 1893, while the spuds had only entered in 1908 – completely ignoring the fact that Wolves, who had finished one place above The Arsenal, had been one of the clubs that were part of the leagues inception in 1888!!
At the historic meeting, presided over by John McKenna, the vote was recorded as 18 -8 and The Arsenal were in the top tier of English football and have been there ever since.
Spuds were relegated but returned immediately by winning the second division.
Such was the general outcry from the public at large, chants were heard wherever The Arsenal played, usually consisting of “Lucky Arsenal” or “Cheating Arsenal” but Sir Henry had realised his dream – The Arsenal were North London’s top dogs!!!
Sir Henry decided in 1925 to sack Leslie Knighton and ensured Herbert Chapman would leave the current champions, Huddersfield Town, by offering him double his wages to take over as manager.
For some reason, Sir Henry said that sacking Knighton was the only decision he ever regretted- the consensus at the time was because Herbert Chapman gave him as good as he got, while Leslie Knighton was a more conciliatory person.
However, even more scandal followed Sir Henry, as he was found guilty of giving Charlie Buchan back handers to join Arsenal – it was discovered that he had used Arsenal money to pay his chauffer and, finally, that he pocketed the £125 from the sale of the team bus!!!!
He sued both the FA and the Daily Mail for libel, lost the case and in 1929, was banned from football for life.
That meant he had to watch from the side-lines as Herbert Chapman brought the kind of success that he had dreamed of way back in 1910.
He retired from public life and following a heart attack he died in 1934.
Sir Henry seems to have led the most colourful life any person could have had – there is no question that his intervention, when buying a club that had gone into voluntary liquidation, was the launch pad of The Arsenal becoming a top flight club…whether or not we can hold our heads up high is another matter and we should, on reflection, not be quite so harsh on other clubs that have, seemingly, broken the law…such a shame about the spuds!!!!
Hope you enjoyed a look at this remarkable man and his place in our club’s history.