4 February 1922

The Duke visits Arsenal, and asks for a cup of tea

We have noted before that Leslie Knighton, the manager who came to Arsenal to take over after the first war world was in many ways doing what others were all over football were doing: bringing in players where ever he could find them, using 30+ players in a season (seasons which included only the FA Cup and the League – no extraneous issues in those days) and trying to cope with the fact that so many  of the men who would have been at the height of their footballing ability by 1922 had tragically died or been injured in the war.

Yet despite having an average sized squad for the first division and using many players throughout each season, Knighton also claims that he was “ordered” to “abandon” the Arsenal scouting system by Sir Henry and that as a result he had to scrabble around to find players.

We’ve already seen one example of this: how Knighton claimed he was so short of money and players he was forced to play the Arsenal club doctor’s brother-in-law on the wing.  But as we have noted the player in question had played for Rangers before the war and represented the Scottish League against the English League.   Paterson in fact ended his career in February 1926 as a highly regarded player, having played 77 times for Arsenal.

But of course Knighton did bring in players: people like Bob John, Jimmy Brain, Tom Whittaker and Alf Baker (and all brought in despite his having to “abandon” the Arsenal scouting network, and having to resort to signing 5 feet tall players from the 7th tier of English football).

Bob John was Knighton’s great triumph, who was found playing for Caerphilly when he was transferred in January 1922, and there were other clubs interested in signing him.  (In fact Knighton makes much of how he beat the others to the signature of John, in his autobiography.  John made his first team début in October 1922.)

Jimmy Brain was also in Wales, a player at Ton Pentre, and he came to Arsenal in 1923 – again being picked up by the Arsenal scouting system which seems to have spread across the whole of the UK.

So what was going on at Arsenal at the time?    Certainly during this period, Sir Henry and William Hall (who were primarily property developers) were incredibly busy with their business, as well as spending time abroad (which Sir Henry had always liked to do).  When these two were away Jack Humble (the first Woolwich Arsenal chairman back in 1893) took greater responsibilities in the club, but he was still employed full time with the armaments factory.  

All this activity contradicts another claim made in Knighton’s autobiography: that Sir Henry Norris was in charge of everything, and with him not around, everything fell apart.

As an example of this Knighton tells in which the Duke of York came to a match at Highbury on 4 February 1922, and with Sir Henry and William Hall unavailable, Jack Humble and two other directors (Charles Crisp and George Peachey) did the honours.   Here Knighton could have made much of Humble – a man who famously walked from Durham to Plumstead to find work, in 1886 – now meeting the Duke as a director of London’s most famous club.   But no, he attacks Humble and the other directors for not knowing how to behave, by suggesting (and it is all done by suggestion) that Arsenal wasted money buying in the finest champagne for the Duke, only to find that all he wanted was a cup of tea.  

There is no evidence, and even if true, the champagne could have been put in store for the day Arsenal won the League, but champagne for the Duke, winding up the scouting system, putting arbitrary restrictions on who could be signed…  it is all set up to show that Sir Henry was a fool with no knowledge of football and that Knighton was the man holding it together.

None of it can be backed up and most of these stories can be shown to be untrue, but these are the tales that form the basis of the endless attacks that we still see today on Arsenal’s competence.  In terms of media, it seems, nothing changes.