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.

3 June 1912: how Arsenal got its voice heard on the board of the Football League

It may seem an incredibly trivial point to note that at the AGM of the Football League on 3 June 1912 William Hall applied to be a director of the League. Especially since he didn’t get elected but gained the highest number of votes of those not elected.  

But there is a real point here and this moment gives us a real insight into what was happening at Arsenal in the early years after Henry Norris took over the club in 1910 and saved it from liquidation.

When Tom Houghton of Preston North End died in September, that left a place on the board of the Football League vacant, and having gained the highest number of votes of those not elected, Hall gained a place on the Football League board.

This was significant for Arsenal because he was not only the first Arsenal man to get onto the board of the Football League, and not only the first man from the south of England to do so, he was the first man to do so for many a long year.

But it is also interesting in relation to our attempts to unravel the early history of Arsenal, that it was Hall and not Norris who applied for this post – and it suggests a knowledge of how power and committees work on the part of Norris that is generally not allowed for in reports of his life.  

And this should not surprise us.  Norris had risen from relatively humble beginnings to be a most powerful and wealthy man: mayor of Fulham, mega-property developer, chair of Arsenal and director of Fulham… in early 20th century England one did not have such success without being either born into the right sort of family, or having an incredibly astute understanding of how power systems work. Henry Norris had the latter.

Thus it was not Norris who fought Arsenal’s position in the powerhouse of the League in the two monumental conflicts to come (the right to move to Highbury, and the election of the club to the first division) but Norris’ friend and nominee, Hall. Norris meanwhile was working on a route to making the club solvent, by preparing to move Woolwich Arsenal from Plumstead to Highbury, and having an Arsenal man as a director of the League meant that the Arsenal case for allowing the club to be moved could be heard from an Arsenal man.

And this really was important, for as the history of the club shows, Tottenham Hotspur went to great lengths to try and stop Arsenal moving to Highbury – but were of course eventually defeated by Henry Norris’ strategies and William Hall’s voice on the inside.

2 June: Tom Whittaker becomes Arsenal manager

Tom Whittaker became Arsenal manager on 2 June 1947 but his connection with Arsenal goes back a lot further than that.

On 4 June 1925 Herbert Chapman returned to England early from a tour with Huddersfield, ready for talks with Henry Norris at Arsenal about becoming the club’s new manager. Meanwhile on the other side of the world on 6 June 1925: Tom Whittaker received his career-ending injury in Wollongong during the game which ended Illawarra District  0-8  England

On 11 June 1925 Herbert Chapman became the manager of Arsenal, replacing Leslie Knighton who had been manager since the resumption of football after the first world war. Thus Chapman would not have seen Tom Whittaker play, would never have experienced his relationship with his fellow professionals at the club etc.  The histories of Arsenal and Chapman often tell us that at this point Chapman told Whittaker that he was going to become “the greatest trainer in the world” at this time, but the men were on the opposite side of the world, and Whittaker was coming to terms with the end of his career.

When Tom Whittaker got back to England he was fortunate to come under the medical guidance of Sir Robert Jones (who operated on his knee).  Sir Robert was the founding father of orthopaedics. Indeed so eminent was Sir Robert that he became the first president of the International Society of Orthopaedic Surgery.

Having operated on Tom, and got to know him a little in hospital, he became very impressed with Tom’s drive and interest and arranged for him to go on a year-long training programme in anatomy massage and electrical treatment.

This wouldn’t have been a full-time five days a week course, and we also know from Tom’s own account that before leaving for Australia he was given a new contract by Arsenal, so he was still an employee of the club – although of course now unable to play.

Whittaker also already knew Joe Shaw who was running the reserve side, because in his last season as a player (the season before Chapman arrived at Arsenal) he spent almost all of his time in the Reserves, and so would have got to know Joe Shaw well.  

But then, as he faced 1925/6 without being able to play at all, opportunities did present themselves. One was came through a series of conversations with Joe Shaw about fitness, who had become particularly interested in the way massage could help a player’s fitness and with Whittaker now undergoing massage treatment there was a point of connection.

But also in the summer of 1925 the offside law was changed, and this led to a tactical revolution.  We know that Chapman called on several men to help him arrange tactics on the pitch to cope with this, and these included Shaw and Whittaker (Chapman was known for his ability to listen to everyone’s viewpoint).  So it was the opportunity for Tom Whittaker also to reveal his thinking as a strategist in front of Chapman.

We also know that Chapman didn’t (as some suggest) introduce the revolutionary WM system of playing at one go – it introduced the idea and modified it over time. (This was based on the notion of the centre half playing further back between the two full backs, and when getting the ball passing it immediately to a midfield player who could put in the perfect pass up the pitch to a winger.)

So it was that out of a chance combination of events – the injury, the course that Whittaker took as he looked for a career now his playing days were over, the association with Shaw, and finally the need for ideas and consultations to deal with the new offside law, that Tom Whittaker came to the fore.

With Tom’s growing interest in physiotherapy, Chapman made Whittaker assistant trainer in 1926.  Not a very senior role, but a permanent job at Arsenal to replace his playing contract.

The next event that had a major impact on Tom’s life came on 2 February 1927 as Herbert Chapman had his first major fall out with Sir Henry Norris in the George Hardy affair.

Hardy was close to Norris, but Chapman didn’t rate Hardy, and the affair of 2 February (in which in a Cup replay against Port Vale, Hardy took it onto himself to shout to the players to change tactics countermanding Chapman’s own pitchside instructions) was his chance to get rid of Hardy.

Chapman sent Hardy to the dressing room (knowing that Sir Henry meanwhile was out of the country, and so couldn’t countermand Chapman).

On the following Monday morning Herbert Chapman summoned Whittaker to his office and told him that he was now the first-team trainer. Chapman added: “I am going to make this the greatest club ground in the world, and I am going to make you the greatest trainer in the game.”

This caused Tom some difficulties it seems, for Hardy was from the same part of the north east as Tom Whittaker and was highly liked at Arsenal, being a long-term employee of the club.

But Tom had his chance and set about replacing the bucket and sponge with sun ray lamps heating apparatus and other electrical equipment that no one but he understood with the aim of halving the time it took to get a player back playing, and as he started to deliver, no one could argue with him.   He became an integral part of the great Arsenal management team of the 1930s – and then after Chapman’s passing worked closely with Allison, before finally taking over the management of the club himself after the war, starting on 2 June 1947.

31 May 1947: George Allison announces his retirement

George Frederick Allison (24 October 1883 – 13 March 1957) was a journalist who had a mega impact on Arsenal through his writings, the BBC’s first sports commentator, and the man who managed the club after Chapman. Indeed just as with Chapman, he achieved two league titles and one FA Cup win during his time in charge of the club.

George Allison came from Hurworth on Tees, a village south of Darlington where having become interested in football as an amateur player he started writing about his team for the local paper.  

Being a better writer than footballer he took up the former and dropped the latter, except he never lost his interest in the game, and at some stage before 1906 became assistant to the manager of Middlesbrough FC.

It then seems that he decided to expand his journalistic career and he moved to London, working for Edward Hulton who ultimately started the Daily Sketch, a Conservative-leaning rival daily paper to the Daily Mirror.

It appears that Allison initially worked as a freelance and established himself as a football writer by being willing to go out to the wilderness of north Kent to report on Woolwich Arsenal FC.  This was the era when the club was on the edge of becoming something special for both in 1906 and 1907 Woolwich Arsenal got to the semi-final of the FA Cup and indeed in 1907 they had their best league finish – 7th in the first division.  Indeed it appears that Allison wrote reports on the matches at Plumstead for several different papers using different journalistic “voices” and different writing noms-de-plume.

In 1910 he became the greyhound racing correspondent of Sporting Life, and at the same time under Henry Norris’ ownership of Woolwich Arsenal, started to write Gunners’ Mate – the leading article in the Arsenal match day programme.

It is also reported that at the coronation of King George V (an event which failed to set the working classes of London alight with royal enthusiasm), he met Lord Kitchener, and wrote up the story for the New York Post which led to a regular weekly column in that paper.   In 1912 he joined the staff of William Randolph Hearst, the American politician and newspaper magnate.

The following year George Allison edited the first club handbook in which appeared the first official history of Arsenal FC.   Unfortunately, the part that related to Arsenal’s move into professionalism and the resultant action of the London FA and Kent FA in allegedly kicking Arsenal out of the associations, was highly inaccurate. In fact what happened was that Arsenal, on turning professional, offered to resign from these associations in which every other club was an amateur club, but the other clubs rejected the offer, being keen to keep playing the biggest attraction in footballing and financial terms, in the area.

Now Randolph Hearst who employed Allison, is described in the book Unreliable Sources as a man who  “routinely invented sensational stories, faked interviews, ran phony pictures and distorted real events.”    A similar charge is laid in the book “The Brass Check: A Study of American Journalism” by Upton Sinclair. I would not suggest George Allison was in this league, but rather that taking verbatim reports and not checking the facts was the general approach of journalism in this era, and it would appear that this approach was the one that Allison used as a journalist.

Following this experience in what we might call “inventive journalism,” during the first world war Allison worked with the War Office and the Admiralty writing propaganda.  Then after the war he joined both Arsenal and the BBC.  For the BBC he was the first person to do radio commentaries on major sports events such as the Derby, the Grand National, the football international England v Scotland (then an annual match) and, most notably, the 1927 Cup final of Cardiff v Arsenal.

Indeed George Allison was the main football commentator of the BBC which by 1931 was broadcasting over 100 games per season on the radio.   However, the Football League was apparently unhappy with the effect it believed the coverage was having on attendance at games, and so banned the BBC from continuing the activity – and the ban stayed in place until 1945 (although the FA Cup Final continued to be broadcast).

Because of his prominence in football at a time when few people in the game beyond the players were in the public eye, and because his support of Arsenal was universally acknowledged, Allison became Secretary of Arsenal, and then managing director – although he seemingly did not always get on with Chapman, who at one stage effectively banned Allison from doing matchday commentaries from Arsenal.

However, when Herbert Chapman died in January 1934, the club appointed Joe Shaw as temporary manager for the rest of the season while waiting for George Allison to clear himself of other commitments.  He thus became Arsenal’s manager in August 1934 and subsequently won the league twice and the FA Cup; exactly the same achievement as Chapman.

Allison also appeared in the film “The Arsenal Stadium Mystery” in 1939 where unlike most of the rest of the club, he had a proper acting role as himself, saying part-way through the game that is the heart of the story, “It’s one-nil to the Arsenal. That’s the way we like it.”

As manager, George Allison retained the services of Joe Shaw (who had led the club to the title after Chapman’s death) and Tom Whittaker (who followed him as manager).  Those two trained the players, while George Allison focussed on transfers and the media, using his connections to ensure that Arsenal were always in the headlines, and always for positive reasons.

Bernard Joy, who wrote “Forward Arsenal!” and who reprinted the false story from the handbook about the boycott of Woolwich Arsenal by clubs after Arsenal turned professional, said of George Allison that he was “tactful, friendly and good-hearted” but “lacked the professional’s deep knowledge of the game”.

Bob Wall (Herbert Chapman’s assistant), said in his autobiography “Arsenal from the Heart”, “Allison was a complete contrast to Chapman… He never claimed to possess a deep theoretical knowledge of the game but he listened closely to what people like Tom Whittaker and Alex James had to say. Like Chapman before him, Allison always insisted that, no matter how good a prospective signing might be, he would secure him only if his character was beyond reproach.”

This did not stop him making big signings, however.  In 1938 he bought Bryn Jones from Wolverhampton for £14,000 – a world record, a signing which led to a debate in the House of Commons in which the club and its manager were roundly criticised.

Allison kept Arsenal running from a single room during the war, and although then wanting to retire, he was persuaded to manage the club for the 1946-7 season, as the club waited for the demobilisation of Tom Whittaker who was ear-marked to be the next manager. George Allison then retired, and he died ten years later on 13 March 1957. There’s a video of George Allison talking here and there’s a picture of him in the National Portrait Gallery

But there is one more thing I must add. At the same time as Allison’s autobiography of his time at Arsenal was published in 1947, so was the autobiography of Leslie Knighton who had managed Arsenal after the first world war, prior to Chapman’s appointment. The two books were utterly different: Knighton’s volume makes a series of wild allegations about the by-then deceased Sir Henry Norris’ miserliness, incompetence and criminality and no mention at all of the vital role he played in the first world war in the War Office, in terms of recruitment, demobilisation, propaganda and administration, for which he gained his knighthood and his rise from private citizen to Lieutenant Colonel.

Allison on the other hand does nothing but speak very highly of Sir Henry Norris and all he did to save the club from liquidation in 1910 and take it to the top of the league under Chapman. But it was Knighton’s slim volume that was serialised in a Sunday newspaper, thus giving credence to the long-running notion that Norris was the crooked club owner, rather than it being Knighton who was the incompetent manager re-writing history.

Sadly, Allison’s autobiography is now long forgotten, but Knighton’s fairy-tale lives on in some parts of the public and journalistic memory and his false claims about Norris can be found being recycled even today.

Arsenal anniversaries 30 May – 5 June

30 May 1995: The passing of the most wonderful Ted Drake

30 May 2015: Arsenal win the cup and break the records

31 May 1893: Woolwich Arsenal FC elected to Division II of the Football League.

31 May 1947: George Allison announces his retirement as Arsenal manager.

1 June 2007, Gilberto captained Brazil against England

2 June 1936: Arsenal fined for putting out a weakened team.

2 June 1947: Tom Whittaker becomes Arsenal’s manager

3 June 1912: How Arsenal got its voice heard on the board of the Football League

3 June 2008: The only man to play in the entire unbeaten season left Arsenal.

4 June 1915, 1917, 1920: Three insights into Henry Norris, main shareholder in Arsenal FC

4 June 1925: Herbert Chapman returned to England to talk about the vacancy at Arsenal

5 June 1922: Concern about dramatic rise in transfer fees

5 June 2013: Arsenal’s record signing leaves the club on a free

23 May 1998: Arsenal recording of “Hot Stuff” entered the top 10.

Arsenal anniversaries 23-29 May

23 May 1891: Arsenal kicked out of football… or not?

23 May 1998: The Arsenal video of “Hot Stuff” enters the top 10.

24 May 1919: when friendship broke out between Arsenal and Tottenham

24 May 2015 Wilshere’s best goal and a Theo hattrick: the video

25 May 1949: Bryn Jones suffers career-ending assault by a policeman

25 May: The videos against Brighton

26 May 1989: “It’s up for grabs now”. Arsenal win at Liverpool – the video

26 May 1989: Arsenal win the league at Liverpool

27 May 2017: Arsenal win the FA Cup for a record number of times: the story

27 May 2017: Arsenal win the cup for the record number of times: the video

28 May 1934: George Allison becomes manager of Arsenal

28 May: Arsenal’s lack of games on 28 May, and videos of games against Burnley

29 May 1968: Sammy Nelson’s first team debut in a 4-0 victory over Japan.

29 May 2019: The Arsenal video you might not want

21 May 2017: the end of the run

21 May 2017: Arsenal ended the league season with a 3-1 win over Everton to make it seven wins in the last eight league games – but it was not enough to retain their record of the second-longest-ever run in the Champions League. 

Real Madrid hold the record number of consecutive participations in the UEFA Champions League with 21 from 1997–98 to 2017–18. Arsenal (from 1998–99 to 2016–17) participated in 19 consecutive campaigns – more than any other English club, and indeed second only to Real Madrid.

Arsenal in fact finished 2016/17 in fifth place and that meant entry into the Europa League, although the league season’s end was not quite the end of the affair, for in 2017, Arsenal had one more match however – the Cup Final against Chelsea.

Arsenal won that game 2-1 which confirmed Arsenal as the most successful FA Cup team ever (13 wins), while Arsene Wenger became the most successful manager in the tournament’s history with seven wins. Wenger’s achievement was particularly memorable because he overtook the record of George Ramsay. Ramsay won his first three FA Cup finals in the 19th century, at a time when the number of teams entering the competition was much smaller than today, and Aston Villa became known as the dominant force in the FA Cup.

Arsenal beat Wednesday in cup final replay (the video)

17 May 1929: Cliff Bastin signed from Exeter

On leaving school Cliff Bastin he started to train as an electrician, but also joined his first club was Exeter, playing for the reserves for the first time on December 24, 1927.   He was in the first team by the following April aged 16 years 1 month playing against Coventry City in a 0-0 draw.    In his home debut for the first team he scored two in a 5-1 win against Newport County.  In all he played 17 times for Exeter and scored six.

The story that is told is that Herbert Chapman actually went to St James Park, Exeter, to watch a Watford player but was so taken with Cliff that he negotiated to buy him.  Certainly Chapman did travel the country following up reports from Arsenal scouts, so the story does have a ring of truth although travelling to Exeter to watch a Watford player when Watford was so much closer seems unlikely.

But however it happened Cliff Bastin was duly signed for Arsenal for £2,000 (about £400,000 in today’s money using comparative wages probably around £4m using transfer fee inflation) on 27 April 1929. I suspect it was a bit like watching Martinelli for the first time, without any knowledge of what one might see.

Because of his youth, Cliff earned the nickname “Boy Bastin”.  Within a year he was the youngest ever FA Cup winner.

At this time Herbert Chapman was changing the tactics of the Arsenal wingers, following recent changes in the offside rule.   Wingers, up to this point had been playing up and down the line.   Chapman’s idea was to get the wingers to cut inside, either with the inside forwards dropping back, or with inside forward moving out to the wing to receive the ball if the move into the centre broke down.   Boy Bastin was the ideal player to do this since he had played both on the wing and as an inside forward.

It was a tactical innovation that to take advantage of the change of the offside law. But more than this Bastin became a dead-ball specialist, and dangerous in the air at the far post – another rare trait for a winger at the time.   In his first full season (1930-1) he scored 28 goals in 42 games playing in each game at number 11.  Arsenal won the league after being 14th the previous year.

In all he scored 150 goals in 350 games for Arsenal – a remarkable achievement for a player who spent all his games on the wing.   He won the league five times and the Cup twice.    He was capped for England 21 times.

Cliff Bastin also played the game used as the backdrop to “The Arsenal Stadium Mystery” film and in the 1942 movie “One of our aircraft is missing”.

In 1936 Bastin suffered from a serious attack of the flu, which led to an inner ear infection, which in turn led to the onset of deafness.  Although his form declined somewhat he was able to keep playing, and during the last three pre-war years he often played as a half back rather than a winger.

War broke out when Bastin was 27 and was excused war service for failing the army hearing test, instead serving as an ARP Warden at the Highbury.   During the war he played 241 games and scored 70 goals.

He played in the first six matches after the war in the 1946/7 season but then retired.   His total including cup games for Arsenal was 178 goals in 395 games.

In retirement, he ran a cafe, wrote for the Sunday Pictorial and went on to be a publican, and died aged 79 back in Devon.

16 May 1891: The date in Arsenal’s history that has been completely mis-reported.

On 25 April 1891 Royal Arsenal FC held it annual dinner. The club at this time was an amateur side, and there was no talk of the club turning professional. Indeed when a list of the teams that Arsenal would play in the coming season was announced it contained the usual assortment of other local amateur sides, plus Cambridge University.

The actual vote to turn professional came on 2 May 1891 in an Extraordinary General Meeting where the members voted by 250 to 10 to turn professional. And because the cup competitions that the club played in were for amateur sides only, this was followed by the resignation of Arsenal from the London FA and Kent FA. (Various history books including Arsenal’s hand book for many years made the point that Arsenal were expelled from the FAs for turning professional, but detailed research by Andy Kelly revealed that this was not the case).

Sadly Arsenal’s own official handbook reported for years thereafter in its summary of the club’s history that Arsenal were reduced to near bankruptcy by not being able to play local teams, while some simple research would have shown that the same teams that were played before, were still happy to play Arsenal as a professional side. And why not – Arsenal were the most famous team around, and always drew the biggest crowds, so the coffers of the amateur clubs received a big boost when Arsenal came visiting.

Arsenal turned professional for two major reasons. First the players were working men who deserved reward for their work – so the idea was that they should be paid.   But worse, professional teams in the Midlands were starting to tap up Arsenal players by offering to pay them to play. And there were, at this time, no rules against tapping up.

The thinking at Arsenal was clearly also that if the club became a professional side, they would be the ones who could attract the best players by recruiting amateurs from local sides in London and Kent.

So on 16 May 1891 at its AGM Royal Arsenal voted in favour of paying players, but against forming a limited company. The local newspapers also said that the club had offered to resign from the London FA and Kent FA and were waiting for a reply.

In fact although the Arsenal handbook for many years in its history section reported that Royal Arsenal were thrown out of the two associations, and were unable to find local teams to play, the fixture list shows this was not the case and during 1891-92, the club played against eight out of the nine amateur teams that they were regularly playing season by season with other teams now applying to play the region’s only professional side.

That left one issue: what the local associations would make of it all. The Arsenal handbook for many years said that the club was thrown out of the Kent and London FA for becoming professional, but in fact although the issue was debated, the vote was to keep Arsenal in the associations (not least because of the extra money playing the most famous club in the region would generate).

And so the big step forward was taken, but not in the way that the Arsenal handbook reported it for many decades thereafter.