SIR HENRY GEORGE NORRIS – 23/7/1865 TO 30/7/1934: DESCRIPTION: BUSINESSMAN – POLITICIAN – F.C. DIRECTOR AT FULHAM AND (WOOLWICH) ARSENAL:
Standing at over six-foot-tall, this pipe smoking enigma made his fortune building houses in south and west London, but mainly in the Fulham area. His political life saw him perform mayoral duties in the borough of Fulham from 1909-19 and a member of the L.C.C. (London County Council) from 1916-19. He became Tory M.P. representing Fulham East from 1918-22.
During WW1, he served in the 3rd Middlesex Artillery Volunteers and in 1917, he was awarded a knighthood for services to his country and the Honorary rank of Colonel. He was also a member of the Freemasons, where he became the Grand Deacon of the United Grand Lodge of England.
A potted history of his business and political career, that gained him access to many influential people, but also saw him make some powerful enemies at the same time.
His life in football began when he became Director of Fulham, who at that time, were a struggling amateur side. Within four years, he had risen the club to Football League status – by any means possible, it seems, judging by the various rumours and innuendos that appeared around that time.
He was offered the opportunity to move home with Fulham to a new ground at Chelsea, but he baulked at the price quoted and that resulted, eventually, in the forming of Chelsea F.C.
Casting his net wider, he became the majority shareholder in a club that had just gone into voluntary liquidation, Woolwich Arsenal. He was Chairman from 1912-1929, to be succeeded by Sir Samuel Hill-Wood, the first of the Hill-Wood family to be involved with our club.
His plan was to amalgamate both clubs into a “super club” but his idea was vetoed by the Football League.
He realised the potential of moving across to North London, where the population was growing, and had, at that time, only two big clubs, Leyton Orient and Tottenham Hotspur – with many other North Londoners travelling to watch Chelsea.
It is rumoured and suggested that he planned to do this by under investing in the clubs playing staff, leading to their relegation for the one and only time in its history.
His reasoning was that the crowds would drop (which they did) and he leaked his intentions to the press. In 1913, the headlines “WOOLWICH ARSENAL TO MOVE TO THE OTHER SIDE OF LONDON” greeted the fans and it was met with furious anger by the Woolwich Arsenal fans. Norris himself received death threats and the Football League investigated the claims of impropriety and irregularities regarding match fixing, but nothing was proven, and the move was given the go ahead.
That, however, was just one side of the coin!!!
Over in North London, the anger was even more volatile in its intensity as Chelsea, Leyton Orient and Tottenham vented their anger.
Furious at seeing what a new club could possibly do to their revenue and fan base, they reacted with real venom. They begged their fans to boycott these upstarts and issued dire warnings as to what would happen to their own clubs if they gave any kind of support – it was all out tribal war, both at Woolwich and north London!!!
The Tottenham Herald newspaper headlines read “Interlopers” and “No right to be here” emblazoned across the headlines and Norris, personally, was not spared. Cartoons appeared, depicting him as a skulking thief-like character, bent on ripping apart the Spurs cockerel and stealing its food…. I kid you not!!!! Despite all this and many more examples too many to list, the move went ahead.
The church land on which Highbury was to be built, had been purchased for £20,000, with Norris’s old friend The Archbishop of Canterbury himself signing over the deeds.
Woolwich Arsenal had become a North London side and would be playing on land once used by priests for keeping fit and relaxation!!! No wonder Highbury always felt like heaven, at least to me it did!!!
In the 1914/15 season, after dropping the name Woolwich, Arsenal finished fifth in the second division, but the great war had begun to take over the world stage and football was called off.
This seems a good point to take a break as well and in the second part, I will cover the period from 1918 up and until Sir Henry’s death in 1934.
If we thought the Spuds had a case to dislike us, what followed then would ensure a rivalry that lasts to this day.
Hope you enjoyed the history lesson, I have!!!