Without the events of 100 years ago today, there would be no Arsenal
22 January 1910 is a date that should be remembered by every Arsenal supporter, and yet somehow it is just another day. I doubt that many other web sites will remember this day, and certainly none of the media will note it, and indeed even Arsenal FC seem to have forgotten it.
But this was the day, when Woolwich Arsenal FC held two meetings, either side of their home match with Middlesbrough. The first was a shareholders’ meeting and the second was a public meeting – both being held in the Town Hall.
The purpose of the meetings was the same in each case… to announce to all and sundry that Woolwich Arsenal had run out of money, and that the man who had been financing them for years – George Leavey – could carry on the good work no longer. He was not a mega-wealthy man, but did own a chain of gentleman’s outfitters, so his funding potential was not unlimited and he felt he had reached the limit.
The club’s shareholders had been aware for some time that Arsenal was in serious trouble – which was why the 1909/10 season was going so poorly with Arsenal in the relegation zone. The order had gone out one year before: clear out the playing staff, get any transfer fees you can, and bring in players for free on lower salaries.
But by 22 January 1910 it was clear that this was not enough. The club had significant debts, including salaries and (although this was not made public at the time) debts payable to Archie Leitch who had designed the grandstand at the ground years before.
So why was the day so important?
The answer is that it was the reporting of these two meetings that led to a general awareness that the club was teetering on the edge of extinction. And this reporting also aroused the interest of one man, who turned out to be the club’s saviour.
And by the Monday following the two Saturday meetings Henry Norris, the owner of Division 2 Fulham (Division 2) was expressing an interest in helping to save London’s original league club.
Norris was a man who had left school at 14, and built up a huge property empire in Fulham but had never lost his love of football. Indeed he was a director of Fulham FC.
He regularly wrote columns in several newspapers to put his point of view across and after just one term as a councillor in the Borough of Fulham he had become the Mayor of the Borough. Indeed he went on to become the longest serving mayor in the history of London.
On the Monday after the announcement of Woolwich Arsenal’s impending demise Norris used his column to write about “London’s oldest professional club” and the sadness it would cause all Londoners if this club went out of business.
Whether in fact he knew where his opening article about Woolwich Arsenal FC would lead is anyone’s guess, but from the moment of his comments he was drawn into the Arsenal saga, and did eventually take the club over in the summer of 1910.
Throughout the process of rescuing Arsenal, Henry Norris acted carefully and with aplomb, exploring every avenue, and taking note of supporters’ views as much as those owed money by the club.
From the off there was talk about moving Woolwich Arsenal out of Plumstead, but respecting the supporters’ wishes Norris gave the committee that ran the club the assurance that if he were involved, he would leave the club in Plumstead until every avenue for rescuing the club and keeping it in the area had been explored.
Indeed although he only promised at first to keep the club south of the river for one year, he quickly extended the promise to two years, and ultimately continued to support Arsenal in Plumstead for three years until he announced the move to Highbury.
What’s more, with Arsenal having run out of money, it was Henry Norris who personally supplied the funds to move grounds, guaranteed the lease on the land in Highbury, and guaranteed the bank loans for the building of the stadium.
His aim throughout was for the club to become financially self-supporting, and this is exactly what he achieved.
A fictionalised account of the year in which Henry Norris took over Arsenal, through the eyes of a young Fleet Street journalist and Woolwich Arsenal supporter is published in the novel “Making the Arsenal”
You can read more about, and order a copy of the book “Making the Arsenal” by clicking here.