Upon the outbreak of the first world war in 1914, Henry Norris, the Arsenal chairman, looked for ways in which he could help the state in its efforts. He did in fact volunteer for armed service but was declared too old, with the additional negative that his eyesight was too poor.
Not willing to accept that he could do nothing, he decided to start a recruitment drive of his own (conscription did not come in until 1917), and by June 1915, people of all positions in society were noticing that by mid-June Norris’ 177th Field Artillery had 200 recruits, whose wages it turned out, Henry Norris was paying himself.
Norris was then made a Lieutenant – a rather lowly rank for a man of his position in society, but reflecting the fact that he had not been to university, nor inherited his money, but earned through the lowly task of house building. But he seemingly made no fuss.
By 30 June the 177th had recruited everyone it needed apart from the hard-to-find skilled metal workers who maintained the guns in the field. He was now asked to raise a second artillery brigade (and again forgot to tell the council, even though it was to be billeted in Fulham Town Hall).
On 11 July the 177th Field Artillery Brigade led by the Harry Lauder Pipe Band marched through the streets of Fulham to a concert at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Injured soliders were brought along as heroes.
Meanwhile football in London had been cast adrift, for while the Football League organised regional competitions for the midlands and the north during the war years, nothing was set up in London.
As a result Norris and others called a meeting on the evening of 26 July of members of the Football League and Southern League in the region to discuss keeping football running in and around the capital.
A new league was formed and Henry Norris was elected chairman of … the London Combination – an independent league that would have no affiliation to the Football League for clubs within 18 miles of Charing Cross (thus making sure that mere footballers were not taking up spaces in railway carriages).
With local football sorted, Norris returned to the issues of the second brigade and by mid August it had its full complement and in mid-August he began recruiting the third brigade.