Sir Henry Norris #2 – The dodgy legend who (allegedly) bought Arsenal promotion

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.



  1. Another fascinating read KEN but my own detailed research into Sir Henry goes into far greater depth and covers the feud between he and Knighton(running long after Knightons sacking in 1925) and also the matter of the Liverpool versus Man Utd match fixing of 1914-15, which was then put on ice til the war ended but which then became a factor in our promotion, albeit indirectly. Much more beside but a good precis even so. I realise space on here limits more detail, so what you need to leave out is always a difficult choice.

    1. Your right Jon, I could have made this a three part article with no problem at all, based on the allegations, innuendos and rumours surrounding this man.

      With regards to the liverpool/manchester united match fixing allegations, it was this, supposedly, inside knowledge that Sir Henry had, that saw him get the support of John McKenna, the Liverpool owner.

      Of course, nothing was ever proven and it became another one of Sir Henry’s secrets, but there does seem to be some creedance to the story, especially when one analysis the backing he got from McKenna for no apparent reason.

      The man was a total enigma and, after doing this research, I have to say I would put him in equal the No.1 spot as the most influential person in our clubs history.

      Along with David Danskin of course, the principle founding member of Dial Square aka Royal Arsenal aka Woolwich Arsenal aka The Arsenal – without him, our club would never have exited in the first place.

      1. Yes Ken and on Danskin, of course he was not the only founder member, though as you say, the primary one. Not sure being a founder member of what was an unremarkable club before Sir Henry makes him equal to Sir Henry or even Chapman in Arsenals importance.

        Were we now in the same historical importance as say, Barnsley, would Danskin be awarded such importance, I suggest? Without Sir H and HC, we woud probably never have had such a history, so THEY must be far above any of our founding members in relevance. Anyway they are, IMO.

        But over and above this debate from two knowledgeable fans, why not do a longer more in depth series, in episodes for space reasons, about both Sir H and HC? Also such important men as Bob Wall, Tom Whittaker, the Bracewell Smith and Hill- Wood families, who many younger fans well know nothing or very little about?

        Sadly, with this virus lingering, we may all have more time on our hands than we’d ideally like.

        Finally KEN , though you and I have differing emphasies on how soon ALL top level players should adopt wage cuts, I assume you have heard the news right now on SKY, ABOUT OUR PLAYERS BEING CLOSE TO AGREEMENT WITH THE CLUB!

        1. Jon, I have just finished an article on what I see the players should/could do – I don’t know if it has any relevance now, as I haven’t seen what the club and players have agreed, but I’ll send ot off to Pat – there is a view of mine in it that might cause a ripple or two!!!

        2. Brilliant you two, love reading your exchanges, don’t forget it was Danskin who wrote to his friend at Nottingham Forest and asked if they could help with some old used kit after he formed Dial Square Football Club. Forest very kindly sent two brand new sets of red and white kit and was the reason we wore Nottingham Forest colours for the whole season 1965/66 season to commemorate their centenary

          1. Yes Kenny and that is one reason why I have always had a soft spot for Forest, the other reason being Clough, who much impressed me and some away day Gooners in 1972 when he crossed the road outside Derby County to speak to us, and talk for several minutes, quite unbidden too. Impressive man in may ways. The big headedness worried me not a jot, as he had plenty to be big headed about, in truth!
            I actually have a soft spot for Chelsea, Spuds, United too; it is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!

  2. Brilliant again Ken and so well put together. Poor old Tottenham, they still haven’t got over it and the modern day spuds actually call us Woolwich. They can talk, at Tottenham’s inception they weren’t even a London club, officially they were from the local Government of North East Middlesex that lasted between 1850 and 1965. Tottenham never became a borough of London till many years later. One point I’d like to make Ken, Sir Henry died in 1934 as you say, I never knew that, considering Herbert died in January I believe, Sir Henry must have died after. Although Arsenal won the Football League in 1934 we also lost two of our greatest patrons and must have been a sad year for supporters. However with Arsenal now one of the greatest club sides in the world if not the greatest after beating the current World Champions Italy 3-2 in the “Battle of Highbury” Sir Henry saw the fruition of his work and died a happy man

    1. KENNY, ACTUALLY HE DID NOT QUITE LIVE TO SEE THE BATTLE OF HIGHBURY, which was in November 1934. Sir Henry died in that July, 1934. But our two greatest Arsenal men ever in my view, both died in 1934, Chapman in January and Sir Henry in July in the middle of our three titles in a row.

      1. I did realise that Jon when I read Sir Henry’y date of death however even before “the Battle of Highbury” I think Arsenal were still looked upon as the best club side in the world. Just like to say i also agree with you that Sir Henry was more of an opportunist than crook. Slippery, devious, knew every trick in the book, a very clever man but not a crook.

  3. Ken, got to add this because I find it so funny. Just read up on Sir Henry and his relationship with Sir John McKenna, Chairman of Liverpool and President of the Football League. Sir Henry was presumed not to have bribed McKenna because he never had to, he had information of cohesion between Manchester United and Liverpool over match fixing the year before in the last game of the season to keep both clubs first division status. Sir Henry therefore threatened to expose this unless the Football League Chairman influenced the Arsenal vote, he had Mckenna by the short and curly’s. Wonderful skulduggery , can’t wait to tell my Tottenham friends.

    1. Thanks for the extra information Kenny, it all helps build up the knowledge of our club.

      There is a a veritable feast of information on our club and its individuals – never had a chance before and thanks for the compliments.

    2. This is merely interpretation of what certainly DID happen Kenny. I personally do NOT any longer believe Sir Henry was dishonest, though it is a grey area I wll admit and he was definitely an opportuist and a chancer but I sincerely believe both of these qualities were because he was also a philanthropist and a humanity loving man. He always denied the bribery and there were some others who were corrupt who opposed him. That tells me a great deal, when you put it all in context. Even the bus reclamation can beloked upon in two ways.

      1. Hmmm Jon, methinks you are looking at the man with red and white glasses.

        You need to explain how from finishing 5th in the second division to be promoted to the first division above three other clubs who finished above them for starters my friend.

        1. KEN, there was a lot of good will towards Arsenal for having not gone into the Southern League(then a serious rival to the FL) as Spuds did and for there also being at that time no London team at all left in thr first div, assuming Spuds and Chelsea went down and Arsenal did not come up. There was a natural fear of the Northern clubs being totally dominant and a number of clubs, not only Southern ones, were afraid of this ans were keen to increase theWHOLE national interest in football. Sir Henry was also not backward in cultivating influential friends but that is surely good business , not corruption. You could equally argue that Chapman was corrupt and anyway, what may pass for corruption in todays world was looked upon very differently back then I’d suggest, except by jealous rivals! Jealousy as a reason for accusations is ofter overlooked in modern life (outside of sexual and romantic jealousy, of course, which is irrelevant here).
          I could go far deeper into this and have learned a great deal in this last short period which has much changed my previous firm opinion about Sir Henry. I do not say he was a saint of course, not was he a strict rule observer(except when it suited him) but history has been unfairly influenced by what Knighton alleged and any in depth article of Sir Henry needs to mention his feud with Knighton and what lay behind it. You also need to fully factor in his own well documented philanthropy. Remember he was knighted too! And why!
          I refer you to Tony Attwoods book which goes into far greater depth and should be read by all Gooners. I HAVE AT LAST NOW DONE SO.

          1. Agree with that Jon about not going into the Southern League, something that definitely went in our favour in the vote of 1919. As you say the Southern League was not only a rival but an obstacle to the Football League in those early days and being a Football League member since 1893 was definitely a feather in our cap. Wolves were probably just not big enough to challenge Arsenal at the time especially with the fact we were a progressive club with a new stadium. Great article by Ken, I thought you were going to do a follow up to your last history lesson, still looking forward to it Jon

  4. I am sure Arsenal were originally listed as 6th up until the year and it is that I can’t remember. I have checked Bernard Joy’s book ‘Forward Arsenal’, but the book doesn’t have league tables. In his section on the ‘Promotion’ he doesn’t mention the actual league position and indeed difficult to work out from his text the top top six.
    With many people out of work I am in the fortunate position of being over loaded with work. and don’t have time to check elsewhere.
    Over on Untold Arsenal there is more on Arsenal history, they might have something on this.

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