Today of all days

Arsenal’s history one day at a time

This series takes a look at what was happening to Arsenal and in the world around them on this day at one point in Arsenal’s past.

The series has articles for each day from 21 October onward – just scroll down the page to find the date you want

20 June 1966: Bertie Mee takes over

On this day Bertie Mee became Arsenal manager.  After the experience of taking a very high profile ex-footballer as manager, Arsenal had tried this again with Billy Wright but the result had been a disaster.

This time, instead, they sought to repeat the success of Tom Whittaker by promoting the club’s physiotherapist. 

And just as with Tom Whittaker, the plan worked for a while.  Bertie Mee brought Arsenal its first European trophy, as well as the first league and cup double, but quickly after that the success faded away and within a few seasons Arsenal were flirting seriously with relegation.

Worse Mee had a vision of football getting ever small, and spoke of reducing the first team squad to 18 players, and abandoning the two youth teams totally.  

Tom Whittaker delivered two league titles and one FA cup, exactly the same as Herbert Chapman and George Allison.

19 June 2009: Thomas Vermaelen signed from Ajax for £10m

This was the only significant signing for Arsenal this summer.

But apart from signing a very good player the transfer was of interest because over time it helped highlight how Arsene Wenger made the books balance at Arsenal – something that was essential in these days of paying off the stadium debt.

At this time two players left Arsenal: Adebayor went to Manchester City for £25m on 20 July.  He had cost just £3m three years earlier, and as a quick profit sale must rank alongside Anelka who moved from £250,000 to £25m also in three years.  Three years after joining City he was told he was not part of their plans and could leave.

So a fine deal with Arsenal for a player who was already causing problems.

Nine days after taking Adebayor Manchester City also took Kole Toure for £16m.  He had cost £150,000 in 2002.

In short Arsenal made £32m profit for those two players.  In the case of Vermaelen he moved on to Barcelona for £17m – but remained injured for most of this time there.

17 June 1922: Bob John signed from Barry Town

And if you want a simple fact about Bob John it is that he played for Arsenal 470 times – more than any other player up to the cessation of football in 1939.

He was born on February 3, 1899  in the Welsh town of Barry, near Cardiff.   By 1920 Bob John was playing for Caerphilly (just for accuracy not Caerphilly Town which was a different team,) who came bottom of the second division of the Southern League and then left the league.   They returned a couple of seasons later but did not finish the fixtures, ultimately ceasing to exist.

From Caerphilly Bob moved to Barry AFC (again, not Barry Town as sometimes said – the club changing its name after Bob John left them) – again in the Southern League.  The club was a centre for rising new Welsh players, and they have had over 50 internationals play for them.

Arsenal signed Bob in January 1922 for £750, and as such is recorded as the most successful of Leslie Knighton’s transfers.   He made his first team début on October 28 that year in a 2-1 defeat at home to Newcastle and went on to make 24 league appearances that year, taking over the number 6 shirt from Tom Whittaker.

By 1923 he was playing for Wales (against Scotland, 17 March 1923) and eventually totted up 15 caps – a very notable total in an era when international sides tended to play little more than three games a season. 

Bob John played in the losing cup final of 1927, and started finding himself playing in a team with Herbie Roberts, Joe Hume, Cliff Bastin and of course Charlie Buchan.   He got his cup medal in the winning final of 1930, and of course was in place for the whole of the magnificent 30s.  He even managed to score in a cup final (1932) although on that occasion we lost.

Having won the league in 1931, Bob John broke the club appearance record held by Percy Sands of 327 games (April 2nd 1932), before going on to get his second and third winners’ medals in 1932 and 1933.   He then became very much a senior player, and lost his place when George Allison signed Wilf Copping.  But he stayed with the club, often dropping down to the reserves in later years, but continuing to advise and support the younger players who were joining the club.  He had, after all, be there and done it.

He later worked with various club as a coach or trainer, and died in his birth town of Barry in 1982, at the age of 83.  His shirts from the 1927, 1930 and 1932 Cup Finals are in the Arsenal Museum.

16 June: Arsenal create football’s first feeder club

During the inter-war period many first division clubs hit on the idea of taking over non-league sides and running them as “Nurseries”. Perhaps by coincidence or perhaps as a result of some copycat activities, all three of the north London teams in the 1930s had nursery clubs in Kent. Tottenham were linked with Northfleet United, Clapton Orient with Ashford and most famously, Arsenal with Margate.

At this time the school leaving age was 14, but the youngest a man could be signed as a full time pro was 17. This meant that clubs either had to take youngsters onto the groundstaff (something many of the lads didn’t fancy) or risk losing them to other jobs. The nursery club was an ideal arena in which the youngster could train as an amateur and have his development monitored while working elsewhere.

Quite why Arsenal chose Margate is not known. It might have been a nod in the direction of Arsenal’s 19th century origins in Kent, although we might also note that it was also the place where manager George Allison’s daughter attended a local school.

As Major Sir Samuel Hill-Wood was quoted as saying in the Isle of Thanet Gazette in 1934: “In the past we have suffered very much because we have been unable to take likely boys of eighteen or nineteen found by our scouts. We could not play them. Perhaps unfortunately our second team is at the head of the London Combination year after year, and we dare not experiment with the team. It would only offend players hoping to get their Combination medal. What we wanted was some club willing and good enough to teach our young players for us. We can and do find lots of promising young boys but they must have somewhere to play and be taught.”

But let’s go back to the start and trace the history.

The first link I have found between Arsenal and Margate dates from the summer of 1930 when Gerard Keizer was signed from non-league Margate, and immediately thrust into the first division side where he stayed for 12 games, of which we won 8, drew 3 and lost 1.

Keizer was Dutch.  He had joined Ajax aged 16 and by the time he was 20 he was their reserve keeper.  In fact Keizer was registered with two clubs (allowable since he was an amateur and the clubs were in different countries).  Apparently he would fly back to the Netherlands on Saturday nights to play for Ajax on Sundays although quite what a player who was capable of keeping goal for Arsenal was doing playing for Margate, is a little hard to fathom.

The next connection comes in 1933 when ex-Arsenal striker Reg Tricker moved to Margate.  After that in June 1934 Margate and Arsenal reached an agreement through which Arsenal would loan promising players to Margate for them to get some experience playing competitive matches.

Arsenal provided the manager (Jimmy Ramsay) and the chief coach (Willie Arbuckle) and chief scout for the club and paid 60% of the wages. Margate Town Council meanwhile spent significant funds improving the ground, (undoubtedly seeing the publicity as a way of promoting Margate as a holiday and day trip resort).  Arsenal also explained the situation by saying that with the club winning the Football Combination each season, and players there valuing their championship medal, it would be unfair on those reserve players to find their chances of a medal being reduced by having youngsters given a run out – so instead the youngsters would go to Margate.

Reg Lewis is perhaps the most famous player to have made his name there, while Mal Griffiths and Horace Cumner also came through the ranks and later played for their countries. Eddie Hapgood was among many who played for Margate while recovering from injury.

In addition Arsenal either loaned or transferred Charlie Preedy and Jack Lambert to the club to help bolster the team and provide training support.  Jack Lambert then went on to be manager of the club and was certainly in that position by 1936.  By that time Horace Cumner and Mal Griffiths who both became Welsh internationals, were in the team.  Cliff Bastin and Eddie Hapgood also trained there while recovering from injuries.

However after Ashford played Clapton Orient in the FA Cup in 1934/5 season protests about match fixing were made and the FA eventually banned linked clubs from entering the Cup from 1937 onwards.

This decision caused a major problem for Margate. On the pitch they were a huge success winning almost every competition they entered. They even reached the third round of the FA Cup one year before losing to first division Blackpool. But in terms of league games they always lost money. In fact a good Cup run was Margate’s only hope of financial survival and without it, the club was doomed.

So it was that also in 1937 Arsenal announced they would be pulling out of the arrangement as it was costing them too much money.  Margate left the Southern League and returned to the Kent League and at the end of the 1937/8 season the arrangement was ended, just as Herbie Roberts was about to become Margate’s trainer.

True, for the friendly against Boulogne in January 1938 Margate took 800 supporters with them. But the average home crowd about that time was 2,000, and that just wasn’t enough through the turnstile each week for the run of the mill matches.

When the Cup ban came into being the partnership ended and Arsenal entered their own A team in the Southern League, playing at Enfield.

The last major connection between the two clubs came in 1989 when Arsenal played a friendly at Margate to celebrate 60 years of football at Hartsdown Park

Some nursery clubs did continue into the 1950s although most league clubs subsequently followed the Arsenal model of creating an “A” and “B” team as a home for their up and coming talent.

15 June 1925: Arsenal buy Highbury

If ever there was a time of one era ending and another beginning the early summer of 1925 was it.

On 11 May Arsenal advertised for a manager.  Herbert Chapman, who had just won the league with Huddersfield, and whose team had smashed Arsenal 5-0 at Highbury on February 14, applied for the job.  We don’t know for sure why he applied – maybe he had talked with Sir Henry on February 14, or maybe he fancied London, or maybe he wanted to prove himself again, or…

Knighton worked out his notice and left on 16 May 1925.  Chapman’s Huddersfield were on a tour of Scandinavia, and returned on 4 June, and there was clearly then some talk between Chapman and Sir Henry Norris even if there had not been earlier.

On 8 June the Football League voted to change the offside law to two defenders behind the ball, rather than three.  (A couple of matches experimenting with this had been tried at Highbury in recent weeks).

Sir Henry Norris then opened discussions about the transfer of Charlie Buchan.  This was before Chapman signed for Arsenal – but Buchan claimed later that he was told about the transfer possibility by Chapman, which suggests the discussions started before the Scandinavian tour, and included the option of buying Buchan.  Maybe Chapman made signing Buchan one of his demands for taking the job.

On 10 June Hudersfield’s directors met with Chapman to discuss the move to Arsenal, and on 10th or 11th June 1925 Chapman called Sir Henry to accept a job offer.  Arsenal then bought a house in Hendon for Chapman and his family and they moved in the following year.

Then on June 15 Arsenal announced that they had bought Highbury and some extra land from the College that was leasing it to the club.  Until this point Arsenal had been leasing the ground, meaning that at the end of the lease the club could be forced to leave the ground, pull down the stadium, and return the site to that of a recreational area.

On Monday 22 June 1925, exactly 32 years to the day after Jack Humble took the chair for the first ever AGM of the newly formed Woolwich Arsenal Football and Athletic Club Ltd, Herbert Chapman took up the job of Secretary Manager of Arsenal FC.  An iconic moment if ever there was one.

14 June 2014: Sir Chips Keswick announced as Arsenal’s new chairman

Sir Chips Keswick replaced Denis Hill-Wood as chairman on this day, ending the Hill-Wood domination of the club, since the coup which threw Sir Henry Norris off the board in 1927.

Denis Hill-Wood was the third generation of his family to serve as chairman of Arsenal going back to his grandfather, Samuel Hill-Wood who ousted Sir Henry Norris in a coup.

In 1961 Arsenal had appointed Denis Hill-Wood as chairman and he opened his tenure by replacing ex-Arsenal player George Swindin who had taken Arsenal into the lower parts of the league and replace him with Billy Wright who was just as bad and quite often even worse.

Wright’s one success was the signing of Joe Baker who was the top scorer in three of Swindin’s four seasons, but the fact that in the last of those three top scoring seasons Baker scored but 13 goals shows how far the club had sunk.

After that season Wright was sacked and Bertie Mee given the job which brought three trophies in two seasons, rescued Denis Hill-Wood’s football reputation – as long as one forgets about the awful decline in the club that happened in the manager’s last four years.

After Dennis Hill-Wood passed on, his son Peter was appointed but as with his forebears again sacking the manager became the order of the day.

However, it could be said that at least at this time the board and the Hill-Wood family (who had reigned at Arsenal since they forced Sir Henry Norris off the board) had one good idea.  For having themselves appointed only a couple of managers who could win the league, they issued 1100 new shares and sold them to David Dein. Dein was the man who did what the Hill-Woods could not do.  He brought in a man who could win Arsenal the league: Arsene Wenger.

Following a heart attack in 2012 Hill-Wood retired from the board.  There was much written about the 90 years of Hill-Woods at the club, and about Peter Hill-Wood being the longest serving director and chairman, but nothing about the way the family’s coup had forced Sir Henry Norris, the man who saved Arsenal in 1910, moved the club to Highbury, and brought in Herbert Chapman, off the board and out of the club.

As in every battle, history is written by the victors, and is not always written well.

13 June 1910: The deadline day for Arsenal

Following Arsenal’s financial collapse, the Football League made it clear they wanted Woolwich Arsenal’s finances sorted out by the date of its AGM, 13 June 1910, which meant the new investors needed to be in place by then.  

Thus the board now sent out a letter to all the people who had applied for shares in the first attempt to refinance the club, stating that anyone who applied for five or more shares and who bought now, would have the guarantee that not only would Woolwich Arsenal stay in Plumstead for a year, if the club then moved William Hall and Henry Norris would then buy back the shares at face value (£1 each), if so required.

Thereafter (although it is difficult to know the date) Henry Norris extended the date to which he guaranteed to keep Arsenal at Plumstead from one year (as agreed with the League Management Committee) to two years.  

Unfortunately, neither supporters nor local businesses nor anyone else stepped up to support the club and Norris and Hall were now in charge and the new share register was drawn up.   This showed Hall and Norris having 240 shares each along with some other shareholders. 

Although there were numerous financial matters to handle, Henry Norris also started to consider the club he had just taken over, and on 8 June he had a meeting with Arsenal’s manager George Morrell to say that his job was safe despite missing relegation by just one place and two points in the season just finished.

This was a pivotal moment.  Had Henry Norris not stepped up at this point and put his own money forward, there really was no one else waiting in the wings.  The club owed vast amounts of money, and without a financial saviour it would have closed at the end of that day.

12 June 1980: The strangest Arsenal transfer ever.

Clive Allen was signed by Arsenal from QPR in one of the strangest transfers ever.  He never played for Arsenal in the league (although he played in three pre-season friendlies) and moved to Crystal Palace in a swap deal for Kenny Sansom before the season began. 

He played three games for Carlisle in 1995/6 and NFL for the London Monarchs in 1997. 

11 June 1925: Herbert Chapman joins Arsenal

The story of Arsenal’s post-first-world-war era is that Sir Henry Norris refused to allow Leslie Knighton to buy players, but allowed Chapman to buy anyone he wanted.  That at least is how it is generally reported – not least because a lot of Knighton’s autobiography is a justification of Knighton’s time at Arsenal, and contains such allegations.

In effect if Knighton was told anything it was to keep the top level of Arsenal transfers at something around half the world record.  To put that in context, today that would mean “no transfers over £45m.”

But there is more – and this might be the key issue with regards to transfers.  In late 1924, Syd Hoar – a winger joined Arsenal from Luton of the Third Division South for £3,000 – over half of the then British transfer record.

This makes a mockery of Knighton’s self-proclaimed limitation on transfers and it is also interesting that in reality Chapman did not go in for wholesale changes.  The regular core of his team was made up of the players that Knighton left behind.  About 17% of the playing positions in Chapman’s first season were taken with newly introduced players.

And yet remarkably while Knighton was fighting relegation with this squad, Chapman took the team up to second in the league – their highest ever position – working a near miracle mostly with a squad that had, the previous season, just avoided relegation.

10 June 1910: Supporters given the chance to buy Arsenal

Press reports on this day confirmed that Henry Norris was willing to sell his Woolwich Arsenal shares to supporters.   It was also confirmed that the last share issue itself had failed because local people were not taking up the offer. 

On this day the Kentish Independent printed a letter from Norris explaining why he was helping Woolwich Arsenal, and expressing his willingness to hand the club over to anyone else who thought they could do a better job.  The appeal fell on deaf ears.

Thus it was that the club found itself in a state of flux with only a small percentage of the shares in the new company that would run Arsenal, being sold – and with the biggest single percentage of those going to Norris and Hall not because they wanted a majority, but because few others were willing to buy..

That then was the backdrop to the meeting on Monday 13 June 1910: the Football League’s Annual General Meeting.

Hall and Norris had already made it clear to anyone who was interested that they were acting simply to save the club – and they continued to do this even when a few days later Archibald Leitch, the architect who was one of the old company’s biggest creditors reneged on an agreement with George Leavey (the chairman of the old company) and now submitted a bill for £1317 for his work on the Woolwich Arsenal ground.  (That would be around £140,000 in today’s money).  Which was a bit cheeky since it appears he hadn’t actually done the work he was commissioned to do by the club.

That meant that Norris and Hall now had to pay that bill, as well as all the others.

So this muddled and seemingly hopeless situation was the background to the AGM of the Football League on Monday 13 June 1910.  And it was at that meeting Henry Norris gave a guarantee to the League that he would see to the survival of Woolwich Arsenal FC and pay off all the creditors so the club could continue in the league for the 1910/11 season.

It was an incredibly expensive and extraordinarily honourable move, and one that earned considerable favour with the League. It should have earned the heartfelt thanks of every Arsenal supporter then and since, but sadly life isn’t like that.