This article started life as a small paragraph somewhere else but as I checked the detail I became more enraged by the man at its center. In his article (1) last August Suraj identified one Henry Norris as the key figure in the events that led to the hatred with Arsenal. As Monday is the 95th anniversary of the climax of those events I thought you might appreciate some more information on the man at the center of the storm.
All the information in this article is taken from various news services and journals, the majority of which was written at the time of the events. I offer no opinion, you decide. There is little ‘evidence’ to support some of the allegations that followed him throughout his life but on the face of it Norris would appear an upright member of society, Mayor of Fulham, Member of Parliament, honored for his services during World War 1. He first became involved in football as a Director of Fulham where he negotiated their very rapid rise from The Southern League to Division 2 in just four years. This led furious directors of other clubs to suggest that the Football League had received substantial bribes, but no evidence could be found. It was at Fulham that the Football League censured him over the contents of his match reports. While he was a Director at Fulham he became a major shareholder in Woolwich Arsenal,(not against the rules at that point). He wanted to merge Fulham and Arsenal but this blocked by the League. Arsenal in South London were in financial difficulties and he decide to move the club. Several locations were looked at before he chose Highbury and purchased it from the Church of England. There were protests from local clergy however he was a friend of the Archbishop of Canterbury who would personal oversee the deal and sign the contract. There was an unproven claim that more than the £20,000 cheque for the land exchanged hands.
He wanted to move the club north of the River Thames when they were relegated. There were suspicions he had deliberately leaked news about the proposed move. This with under-invested in the team, which he knew would drive down crowds and make the case for relocation stronger. Letters to the local press accused him of selling the club’s soul. One such letter to the Kentish Gazette read “Mr Norris has decided that financial gain is more important than protecting our local club. He is making a mistake. You cannot ‘franchise’ a football club, Woolwich Arsenal must stay near Woolwich. Would Norris advocate moving Liverpool to Manchester? People like him have no place in association football.”
The other London clubs led by Leyton Orient, Spurs and Chelsea were quick to protest “in the strongest possible terms” about the move. They were terrified that another London club could erode their own fanbases. The Tottenham Herald described Norris as an "interloper”, and a cartoon portrayed him as being the equivalent of the Hound of the Baskervilles, prowling around farmyards in an enormous spiked collar, ready to rip apart the Tottenham cockerel and steal its food. The FA held an enquiry but Norris was so well connected he managed to ensure a number of his cronies were involved. Therefore it was no surprise the committee ruled that the opposition had “no right to interfere”.
The Tottenham Herald placed an announcement begging its readers “not to go and support Norris’s Woolwich interlopers. They have no right to be here.” The residents of Highbury protested to the Islington Borough Council to “protect the district from what, in my opinion, will be its utter ruin.” The residents described the move as the “undesirable elements of professional football” and “a vulgar project” on their doorstep.
Norris then set about ensuring Arsenal were elected to Division 1 as they were unable to achieve it on footballing merit and remaining in the lower division would mean financial ruin. He was aided in this by his good friend and the Football Leagues committee chairman. ‘Honest’ John McKenna. The Liverpool owner was known as ‘Honest‘ John after the events of 1915 came to light. When with his knowledge and backing four of his team, conspired for a bribe, to lose a game to Manchester United. This had saved Manchester from relegation. The four players were banned from the game for life.
Before the meeting The Daily Express wrote “There is an understanding that Chelsea will be voted into the First Division, and when the present scheme was first mooted it was regarded as a matter of course that they would be accompanied by Tottenham Hotspur,” and added “ There is a strong body of opinion that considers Tottenham Hotspur ought to remain in the First Division." Whilst the Daily Mirror quoted an ‘unnamed northern official’ as saying “Our boys like a visit to London once or twice a year, they get a show at the theatres and see something of the great city. The directors also enjoy a visit to the big smoke."
Norris approached every member of the FA committee, except the Tottenham Director, with proposals claiming Arsenal deserved to be in the First Division , even if they could not manage it on the field. At that time gate receipts were shared between the clubs and Norris talked about the massive support he had locally. McKenna gave a speech supporting Arsenal.
After the decision was made it was suggested “The controversial decision led many to believe that Norris had bribed the various chairmen taking part in the vote, including John Mckenna..” It was also alleged that Norris had threatened to specifically expose the match fixing which had been rife in the seasons beforehand. Another report alleged that Norris ‘bribed or in some way unduly influenced the voting members.’
The Arsenal manager, Leslie Knighton wrote later “Norris corresponded with “a few financiers here and there” to guarantee the vote went his way, while noting that Sir Henry’s activities as Arsenal chairman were “merely a bagatelle compared with some of his other business deals”. There were allegations that Norris offered a plush house on the cheap in the Wimbledon area via his own Norris’s estate agency, but it was never proved. Neither were the allegations that brown paper bags, stuffed with cash, were handed to other compliant club directors. Arsenal were widely known in the game as ‘Cheating Arsenal’ (amongst other titles). Knighton also claimed that Norris had tied his hands and when he later advertised for a new manager the advert stated that “Those who pay exorbitant fees in players’ transfers need not apply.”
In 1927, The Daily Mail ran an article alleging that Norris was guilty of making illegal payments to Charlie Buchan a Sunderland player. When the FA finally set up a committee to investigate Norris’s answer was “without them we should not have got the player”. He also sold the team bus and paid the money into his wife’s bank account. He paid his personal chauffeur from a club account. The following year with Tottenham fighting relegation he was accused of telling the Arsenal team to take it easy against fellow strugglers Portsmouth and Manchester United to ensure the local rivals went down. The FA committee once again could not prove anything but he was banned ‘indefinitely’ from football. Norris sued for libel, one of a number of occasions, but the Lord Chief Justice found against him.
If that wasn’t enough in his Fulham days was offered the opportunity to move Fulham into Stamford Bridge. Norris declined saying the rent was too high, so the sites owners formed their own team. He was involved in fist fights with other MP’s inside the House of Commons and accursed by building rivals in the Fulham Chronicle of running a protection racket in order to preserve his construction company.
Notes 1- Suraj Sharma, The 100 years War, 29/8/13
Thanks - The BBC, 442 Magazine, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Daily Mirror, the Tottenham Weekly Herald, the Fulham Chronicle, Sporting Life, ESPN, the Kentish Gazette, Schoolnet, Jon Spurling - rebels for the Cause, the Clockend,
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Keith Harrison, Nilgiris, TN
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