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.

25 November 2003

25 November 2003: Internazionale 1 Arsenal 5 in the Champions League.  Henry (2) Ljungberg, Edu, Pires each scored in one of the most memorable Arsenal nights in Europe.

It was called “One of Arsenal’s most mature performances” producing what was said to be “one of the greatest results in their history.”   As a result of it Arsenal knew that they would qualify for the group stages of the Champions League if they beat Lokomotiv Moscow at Highbury in the next game.

Indeed Arsenal not only qualified but won the group phase by two points.  But it was tight: Arsenal ended with 10 points, Lokomotiv Mowcow with 8, Inter with 8 and Dynamo Kyiv had 7 points.

The match is well remembered for its score, but it should also be noted that Arsenal were lacking several players for the game.  Players now regarded as “make-weight” like Cygan were there, and played a central part in the game.  And we had Thierry Henry who at this time was in his pomp.

For the journalists with Arsenal having lost the opening group game 0-3 to Inter at home, nerves were the dominant issue of the day.  But Thierry was not doing with that.  He scored the first and laid on the second, before running, on 85 minutes, from the halfway line to beat Javier Zanetti twice on the way to getting his third.

Henry assisted as he set up Edu before Robert Pires and Jérémie Aliadière (on as a sub) really did it for the holders of the Champions League trophy.

Inter did in fact draw level after the first Arsenal goal through Christian Vieri – and they must have thought at that moment that they could come good given that the centre of the Arsenal defence was being organised by the aforementioned Pascal Cygan, and in goal we had the oft criticised Jens Lehmann.  Both were the subject of appalling negative tirades in the English media at the time, but both played superbly, as of course did Sol Campbell – all the more necessary given that we did not have Vieira playing.

Indeed it was Cygan who started it off for the second goal, intercepting a pass and finding Henry on the left (where else?), who in turn found Freddie Ljungberg.

The story of the night was simple:   25 mins: Henry’s side-footer gives Arsenal the lead 33 mins: Inter equalise after Vieri’s shot is deflected past Lehmann 49 mins: Ljungberg puts Arsenal back in front from Henry’s cross 81 mins: Henry’s solo special gives them a two-goal cushion 87 mins: Arsenal pile forward and Edu slots home the fourth Jen Lehmann.

Arsenal: Lehmann, Cole, Campbell, Toure, Cygan, Ljungberg, Parlour, Edu, Pires, Kanu (Silva 73), Henry (Aliadiere 89).
Subs not used: Stack, Keown, Clichy, Papadopulos, Hoyte.

Booked: Cygan, Edu.

Attendance: 50,000.

24 November 1996

Arsène Wenger’s record against Tottenham Hotspur reads played 52, won 23, drawn 20 lost nine.  It is a remarkable record, and I am not sure that any previous manager who ran Arsenal for more than a few years can match that.  The only league club I know that beat us more than we beat them during Mr Wenger’s reign was Manchester United: Played 60, won 19, drawn 13, lost 28.

And I mention this today because 24 November 1996 was Mr Wenger’s first north London derby.

The press were full of put-downs of course, primarily suggesting that being French Mr Wenger would not understand the importance of the match to Arsenal fans, and wondering if anyone in the club would have informed him.

What the dodos in the media didn’t know that not only did Mr Wenger speak better English than any of them did, he also knew more English football history than they did.

He also undoubtedly already knew (as the press of the day relished in telling us) that Arsenal had not beaten Tottenham in over 3 years and Tottenham were unbeaten at Highbury since Sept 1991. 

In fact from October 1989 to April 1996 Arsenal had won four derby games, drawn seven, and lost six – the sort of run no one was used to and Mr Wenger was determined to set this aright, as he did in no uncertain fashion.  In fact Tottenham only won one of the next 28 north London derbies.

And I promise that is not a misprint. Here are the details…

4 Nov 1996Arsenal v Tottenham HotspurW3-1Premier League
15 Feb 1997Tottenham Hotspur v ArsenalD0-0Premier League
30 Aug 1997Arsenal v Tottenham HotspurD0-0Premier League
28 Dec 1997Tottenham Hotspur v ArsenalD1-1Premier League
14 Nov 1998Arsenal v Tottenham HotspurD0-0Premier League
05 May 1999Tottenham Hotspur v ArsenalW1-3Premier League
07 Nov 1999Tottenham Hotspur v ArsenalL2-1Premier League
19 Mar 2000Arsenal v Tottenham HotspurW2-1Premier League
18 Dec 2000Tottenham Hotspur v ArsenalD1-1Premier League
31 Mar 2001Arsenal v Tottenham HotspurW2-0Premier League
08 Apr 2001Arsenal v Tottenham HotspurW2-1FA Cup
17 Nov 2001Tottenham Hotspur v ArsenalD1-1Premier League
06 Apr 2002Arsenal v Tottenham HotspurW2-1Premier League
16 Nov 2002Arsenal v Tottenham HotspurW3-0Premier League
15 Dec 2002Tottenham Hotspur v ArsenalD1-1Premier League
08 Nov 2003Arsenal v Tottenham HotspurW2-1Premier League
25 Apr 2004Tottenham Hotspur v ArsenalD2-2Premier League
13 Nov 2004Tottenham Hotspur v ArsenalW4-5Premier League
25 Apr 2005Arsenal v Tottenham HotspurW1-0Premier League
29 Oct 2005Tottenham Hotspur v ArsenalD1-1Premier League
22 Apr 2006Arsenal v Tottenham HotspurD1-1Premier League
02 Dec 2006Arsenal v Tottenham HotspurW3-0Premier League
24 Jan 2007Tottenham Hotspur v ArsenalD2-2League Cup
31 Jan 2007Arsenal v Tottenham HotspurW3-1League Cup
21 Apr 2007Tottenham Hotspur v ArsenalD2-2Premier League
15 Sep 2007Tottenham Hotspur v ArsenalW1-3Premier League
22 Dec 2007Arsenal v Tottenham HotspurW2-1Premier League
09 Jan 2008Arsenal v Tottenham HotspurD1-1League Cup

What Mr Wenger, and indeed the Arsenal players, was probably not ready for on 24 November 1996 was the fact that when John Lukic threw the ball out after an injury, Tottenham failed to return it and scored as Arsenal looked on in bemusement and annoyance. 

That annoyance however re-motivated the team and Wright, Adams and Bergkamp set things right. I think Mr Wenger knew before the match what playing Tottenham was all about, but even if he did not, that one simple incident of not giving the ball back was enough to let him know about Tottenham H.

23 November 1940

Northampton Town 1 Arsenal 8. 

During the first year of the first world war, the Football League continued with its matches, much to the outrage of the national press.

There was however good reason to keep going.  There was no conscription, the vast majority of the population remained at home, and although a few German boats fired at seaside towns along the eastern coast, and a small number of German planes flew over London, there was not much to disturb the everyday life of the kingdom.  Indeed during the early months of the war the populace was regularly told it would all be over by Christmas.

At the end of that first season the Football League met and agreed to abandon the formal league programme, and they immediately set up temporary wartime leagues for clubs in the midlands and the north.  The clubs in London and the south however were left to fend for themselves, with no arrangements made for them.

These clubs quickly nominated Henry Norris, chairman of Arsenal, as the man to create a league for the southern clubs and he and his fellow chairmen rapidly instigated the London Combination which was up and running 4 September 1915 with an Arsenal home game against Tottenham, and 14,819 in the ground..

Having learned their lesson in the first world war, the footballing authorities were much faster to react in the second war, declared on 1 September 1939.  The League programme, completed three games but was abandoned on 2 September (Arsenal beat Sunderland 5-2 on that day to make it two wins and a draw – the first ever unbeaten season!), and a new set of regional leagues were up and running by 21 October.

In the first world war, Tottenham’s ground was closed and used for the testing of Enfield rifles, with Tottenham playing most of their “home” games at Highbury, (although at least one of their “home” matches against Arsenal was played at Clapton Orient’s ground).

In the second world war, it was Arsenal who found their ground closed, and so George Allison, who had been planning to retire from the club at the end of the 1939/40 season, was persuaded to continue to run Arsenal almost single handed from a small room in the White Hart Lane ground.

Throughout both wars clubs were allowed to use guest players to make up their numbers, and all players worked as amateurs.  Any trophies won were not counted as part of the official collection.

The first campaign of the second world war began on 21 October and Arsenal’s league was designated League South A Division.  Arsenal dutifully won the league suffering just one defeat in the 18-match campaign.

High scores were commonplace (Arsenal scored 19 goals in the first three matches of that first season, and they did rather well in the opening campaign of the 1940/41 season as well scoring 39 goals in the first 11 matches in the “South Regional League”. 

Then came the away game Northampton Town at their three-sided ground shared with Northants County Cricket club.   Arsenal had already beaten the Cobblers 5-4 at Highbury in October, but the away game on this day went even further with an 8-1 victory.

But it wasn’t the only time Arsenal scored eight in that 19-match campaign, for on 28 December Arsenal repeated the score with a victory over Luton Town.

Yet even these were not the highest scores of the season for on 8 February Arsenal beat Clapton Orient 15-2.  Leslie Compton who had limited himself to two in each of the demolitions of Northamton and Luton, now decided to let rip and knocked in ten.  Sadly there were only 2780 in the ground to see it.

22 November 1997

Oh how easy it is to forget!  

Take for example the second double season: 1997/98.  It was all going very well until mid-October. We were undefeated and had beaten Barnsley (yes Barnsley, in the Premier League) 5-0 and there we sat, top of the table.  Anyone who had had doubts on Arsenal signing a Frenchman as manager (“He’s French, what does he know about English football?” in Tony Adams immortal words) were long since pushed aside.  Arsenal were back.

OK it was true we hadn’t actually done anything yet, in terms of winning stuff, but that first Wenger season had looked good and that Patrick Vieira could play a bit – not bad for £3.5m!

But then, as can happen, it all went wrong, and the next eight games, after that top of the table appearance in October, were awful.  We won two of those games, drew two of them 0-0, and lost to Derby, and then 2-0 to Sheffield Wednesday, on 22 November.

So why pick a defeat as my moment to highlight for 22 November. Aren’t there better 22 November moment to remember?

Yes of course there are, and if you would like to see a list of the anniversaries of this day, with some details of each event that is published on the AISA Arsenal History Society site along with a rather jolly video taken from today in history, which I think you might enjoy.

But what made that loss to a very ordinary but immensely physical Sheffield Wednesday on this day, and what made me choose it, was that Arsenal had played Manchester United on 9 November and despite the media expecting an easy Man U victory, Nicolas Anelka standing in for the suspended Dennis Bergkamp scored his first goal for Arsenal while Patrick Vieira added a second. Cue mumblings about “all these foreigners in the game not being good for the English league,” in the newspapers. Sheringham then scored twice for Man U to prove the mumblers were right, before David Platt got the winner with seven minutes left. See, if only Arsenal had more Englishmen…

Sir Alex Ferguson, who if not actually disgruntled was not exactly gruntled either, announced that he didn’t mind too much because a one horse race was not good for the game. 

But that result did not set up an Arsenal revival.  True, it ended a run of three without a win against modest opposition (Palace, Villa and Derby) but in terms of the league all that seemed to count for nought as the defeat to Sheffield Wednesday on this day left Arsenal four points behind Man U.

But there was worse to come, for this match on 22 November was the start of a run of just two wins in the next seven Premier League matches.  By 28 December after a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane, Arsenal were sixth in the league, 12 points behind Man U who were still sitting pretty at the top and who had already been crowned champions by the media, now kow-towing fully to the all conquering Sir Alex.

And worse was to come as on 3 January we even failed to beat Port Vale at home in the FA Cup, and subsequently only managed to win the replay on penalties.

Of course what no one knew then was that a 2-1 win on Boxing Day in the League was the start of a 27 match unbeaten run in the League and FA Cup which gave us the title, rounded off on 16 May with a win over Newcastle at Wembley to give us the double.

12 points behind the leaders, half way through the season?  That’s nothing.

21 November 1914

21 November is a day that should be remembered for one of the most amusing errors ever by an over-excited newspaper sports editor, and his hapless reporter.

For it was on this day in 1914 that the Times sent a man to watch Arsenal, not realising that the first team (which is what they wanted their man to cover) were currently playing away at Huddersfield.  He watched the reserves instead, and neither he nor his editors realised.

Despite Great Britain declaring war on Germany on 4 August 1914, the 1914/15 football league season was played to its conclusion. There was no precedent for stopping sporting events during wartime (not least because the wars were always conducted somewhere else), and besides the general view that was expressed in the newspapers was that “it would all be over by Christmas”.

As the football season and the war progressed so some newspapers – most stridently The Times – made the opposition to the continuance of the League programme their prime concern.  Although they argued that horse racing, the “sport of kings”, should not be interrupted for the “sake of the horses.”

The Football League would have none of these bullying tactics, and continued the League programme to its end, the following April, after which regional leagues were instituted (because of the shortage of coal and the resultant problems in getting to away games by train).  In the meantime the League matches were used as a recruiting ground.  Henry Norris was at the forefront of this, encouraging fans to join the regiments that some of their heroes on the pitch were signing up to.

However not all clubs were so patriotic in their duty and many were reported as saying to their players that if they signed up they would be sued for breach of their contract of employment, and would most certainly not be able to return to their job after the war.

The stand off between the newspapers and football reached a peak on this day in 1914 when Arsenal lost 3-0 away to Huddersfield and the man from the Times (who seemingly knew nothing of football) went to the reserve game at Highbury, thinking he was watching the first team.

His rampant, raging piece said that the crowd was tiny and he noted that very few in the crowd volunteered to serve in the army in response to the the now usual half time announcements.  Arsenal reserves lost 1-2 although the hapless reporter seemed to have had singular difficulty in following  the game. 

Arsenal’s home crowds for the first team matches ranged from 7,000 to 15,000 that season, having reached 35,000 the previous year (also in the second division).  There was probably about 1000 inside Highbury for this match.

This ludicrous error by the Times however was not the only clerical cock-up that beset Arsenal in this season.  When the final league table was published it showed that Arsenal were sixth in the League, equal on points with Birmingham City and Hull City.  Goal average (the format used at this time for separating clubs on the same number of points, and which involved dividing the goals scored by the goals conceded) put Arsenal 6th, with Arsenal behind Birmingham.

However much later, when the results were computerised for the first time, it was realised that Arsenal had in fact come fifth.  This made no difference in terms of what happened next, but it was odd, since even a quick glance with a modest amount of mathematical knowledge would suggest Arsenal would be higher up the league.

It is a technical point, but I have often wondered since how many more errors there were like this.  This one came to light because of the post-war debates on which clubs should be promoted to the expanded first division – but I suspect there are probably many other occasions where a large amount of long division with quill and parchment led to clubs being assigned faulty positions.

However not every newspaper was against football and pro-government, and the (now) Arsenal supporting Islington Daily Gazette on the Monday following the Huddersfield game, said that it was the government’s fault if young men didn’t sign up.  The censorship, it wrote (clearly from inside knowledge) was now so stringent no one realised how desperate the situation was.

The paper also stated that as long as joining up was voluntary, no one should criticise those who didn’t volunteer.  Indeed the government was in effect criticised for wanting to have its cake and eat it.  

Then before the match on Saturday, 28 November, a home game against Bristol City, Arsenal’s chairman Henry Norris (who had obviously seen the nonsense of the reporting the reserve game and made his feelings known) was interviewed by the Times on the subject of recruiting volunteers at football matches and he made the point that this was indeed what he himself was doing. Soon after he was recruited by the War Office and his rise from civilian to Lt Colonel commenced.

As a result of the interview the reports of the game in the press focused as much on the crowd as anything else, of which there were just 7000 for the Bristol City game.  It was said that 2,000 of these were in uniform and the rest too old, or too young to serve.  The Times didn’t apologise for its complete mistake in previously thinking a reserve match was a first team game but at least did something to set the record straight via the Norris interview.

20 November 1999

20 November 1999: Arsenal beat Middlesbrough 5-1.  Overmars got three and Berkgamp two, to make it four wins and a draw in the last five.  But the season had not gone as smoothly as everyone might have wished.

In 1998, playing in Arsene Wenger’s second season, Arsenal had won the league and cup double, with Dennis Bergkamp for the one and only time being Arsenal’s top scorer.  Arsenal also started the next season by winning the Charity Shield against Manchester United who had come second in the league.

But in 1998/9 Arsenal had slipped to second themselves just one point and one goal behind Manchester United who won the double. Now it was Arsenal’s turn to be the “guests” in the Charity Shield, and we won it again.  This time the top scorer for the season was Nic Anelka with 19 league goals.

But now In 1999/2000 it looked by November as if the duopoly of Man U and Arsenal was going to be broken as Arsenal went into their match on 20 November down in fourth place behind Manchester United, Leeds and Sunderland.  Although it may seem strange now there was mumbling in the crowd about all the foreigners Wenger was bringing in, and suggesting that an English manager would understand the nature of the game better and be more able to challenge Man U! Just 18 months after the second double for the club, there was mumbling!!!

There was particular concern about a certain T. Henry who was constantly being picked but in the early part of the season not doing his job as centre forward – not least because he seemed to want to spend more time out on the wing than in his rightful position.

However as noted above on 20 November 1999: Arsenal beat Middlesbrough 5-1.  Overmars got three and Berkgamp two, to make it four wins and a draw in the last five. 

In the next match, (a league cup game) Thierry Henry did score for Arsenal – and it was a match which started a more positive run with Arsenal getting just two defeats in the next 13 games in all competitions.

Things however turned gloomy in March with the revenge of Middlesbrough who beat Arsenal 2-1 in the northeast.

That left Arsenal in fifth and the feelings of gloom continued – fifth was where Arsenal had been under Rioch and it felt to some as if no progress had been made at all.

However for the next 14 games of the season Arsenal were undefeated, and ended the league once again in second place although this time 18 points behind Man U.  Arsenal also made it to a final – the Uefa Cup Final, but lost that on penalties.

It was thus a disappointing season in terms of trophies, although there was still hope for the future, not least because Thierry Henry ended the season as top scorer for Arsenal with 26 goals.

And here is one little point that is generally ignored.  In his one season with Juventus Henry scored three goals, after getting one at the start of the season with Monaco.

In his four complete seasons with Monaco he got a total of 28 goals out of 105 games.   In his first season for Arsenal he got 26 goals, out of 31 games despite that long barren spell at the start.

Just goes to show.

19 November 1932

I’m sure many such times could be put forward as the best time to be an Arsenal fan – the run up to the Unbeaten Season would be a fairly good moment to choose – although I seem to remember the sheer nervousness of those draws near the end. Or being 1-0 down at half time in the final match to relegated Leicester.

So how about also considering the first half of the 1932/3 season?

Interestingly it did not look like it might be one of the all time great seasons at first as Arsenal won the first game 1-0 and lost the second game at home 1-2.

And one might think that losing Male and Roberts from the team after two games through injury might spell even greater disaster.   But that is what happened.  Male finally returned on October 22 as a right back while Roberts missed just four games before resuming.  Also after two games Coleman took over at number nine and ended the season as second top scorer with 24 goals in 27 games.  (Top scorer was Bastin playing at outside left with 33 goals in 42 games).

So here’s what happened.

3 September 1932.  Arsenal start an amazing 18 match run in which they won 15, drew 2 and suffered one defeat, scoring 66 goals in the process (3.66 a game!)

15 October 1932: George Male’s first appearance as a right back v Blackburn.

29 October 1932: Arsenal 8 Leicester 2, continuing a run of 9 wins, drawn 2 and lost 1 in the league.

31 October 1932:A detour away from the race to the first division, to play in the Armistice match:  Racing club de Paris 2 Arsenal 5.  Four goals from Cliff Bastin.

5 November 1932: Following the 8-2 win one week before Arsenal beat Wolverhampton 7-1 away.

12 November 1932: Arsenal make it 11 wins, 2 draws and 1 defeat in the opening of the season, with a 1-0 win over Newcastle.

19 November 1932: Arsenal let in five in 5-3 away defeat to Villa! Now you are going to think this column has been taken over by Tottenham supporters – including this match which we lost as our celebration of today… but stay with me for a moment…

3 December 1932: Arsenal score 3+ goals for the fifth match running – not repeated under 2008/9.

24 December 1932: Arsenal 9 Sheffield Wednesday 2.  It meant thus far in the season Arsenal had in different games scored 6, 7, 8 and 9 goals.

27 December 1930: George Male first game for the first team.  Arsenal beat Blackpool 7-1. The fourth game of the season with five or more goals by Arsenal.

My point here is that even in amazing winning runs things can go wrong – there was after all only one unbeaten season! At this time Arsenal were second in the league, but had suffered two defeats already and so there were commentators saying that “liked all London teams” (yes they used to talk like that, can you believe it?) Arsenal were soft and there for the taking.

Herbert Chapman was known to comment that no matter what Arsenal did, it would never be enough either for the journalists or for the fans.

Perhaps we should aim to remember days like now when things are not going so well, and store those memories for times when we are having fun. In football, it comes it goes.

Here is the league table on this day

1Aston Villa151041401824
3Derby County15933352221
4Huddersfield Town15933271721
5Sheffield Wednesday15834322119
6Leeds United15672201519

18 November 1960

On 18 November 1960 George Eastham signed from Newcastle for £47,500. He went on to play 207 times for Arsenal before leaving for Stoke City in 1966.

If you are interested in the key changes to players’ contract law across the years you’ll think about George Eastham and how in 1963 he brought about the end of the long running “retain and transfer system” through going on strike until he pushed through his transfer to Arsenal, with the court ruling that the traditional system was fundamentally illegal.

And you’ll also probably consider the Bosman ruling in the European Court of Justice in 1995 which gave the same freedom of movement to footballers as everyone else within the EU.  But when did it all begin?

Starting in 1885 players had to register at the commencement of each season, with one club.  The player could then change clubs only if his existing club agreed, although players could change clubs freely at the end of the season.

However in 1893 the “Davie v Royal Arsenal Committee” court case, a case which Arsenal won, established a different contractual relationship between club and player.

Between January and November 1892 Davie made 58 senior appearances for Royal Arsenal and scored 39 goals – an astonishing return for a man playing on the wing.

His final game was 19 November 1892 in the FA Cup 3rd qualifying round against local rivals Millwall Athletic.  At that point Davie was injured and a dispute between himself and the club escalated very quickly.  It appears that Arsenal said that Davie, although injured, could still be engaged in what today we might call “light training” while the injury healed.  

So great was the dispute that within two months of Davie’s last game, the case of Davie vs The Committee of Royal Arsenal FC was brought before the County Court.  The matter by this stage however was not so much one of whether Arsenal should continue to pay Davie’s salary, even though he was not playing, but rather if Arsenal had the right to dismiss Davie over the issue of his refusal to engage in the club’s designated training regime, given that Davie had a contract until the end of the season.

That was in fact what the court stated was the case – the club could dismiss a player even though he had a year long contract.   But what made the contract unenforceable in the eyes of the judge seems to have been the fact that the contract allowed the player to be paid whether he worked or not.  Thus if not selected for the team through poor form, injury, or a breakdown in the employer-employee relationship he would, under the standard one-year contract, still be paid.   The judge ruled this could not be valid, since such an arrangement could mean that the player could declare he was not fit to play, and yet could still demand to be paid.  The judge argued that there had to be some checks and balances – even though it was Royal Arsenal who had created the contract!

As a result of the Arsenal Committee’s victory in the Davie  case the League clubs devised a new system for the 1893-94 season, a system that very much put the players in their place at the bottom of the heap, and which lasted until the challenge of George Eastham.

Under the system introduced in 1893 once a player was registered with a Football League club, he could not be registered with any other club, even in subsequent seasons, without the permission of the club with whom he was registered.   This regulation applied even if the player’s annual contract with the club holding his registration was not renewed after it expired, and it applied whether the player was paid or not!  

And so retain and transfer was conceived and remained until the 1963 court case Eastham v Newcastle United where the High Court ruled that the retain and transfer system was unjustifiable.

In 1959, George Eastham did not sign a new contract with Newcastle, and requested a transfer. Newcastle United refused his request.

Eastham refused to play for Newcastle United in the 1960-61 season, and in October 1960, Newcastle United finally agreed to transfer Eastham to Arsenal for £47,500. Backed by the PFA, which provided financial assistance to pay for his legal fees, Eastham then brought proceedings against Newcastle United in the High Court. The case was decided in 1963. In his decision, the judge specifically criticized the “retain” aspects of the system.

In response, the Football League modified the system, dispensing with the “retain” elements of the transfer system. The ‘transfer’ aspects themselves however remained largely unchanged until the Bosman ruling and the Webster ruling changed everything once again.

A full list of all today’s Arsenal anniversaries appears on the AISA Arsenal History site.

17 November 2004

On this day in 2004 George Curtis died.  And with that news you might be ready to turn away to another article – given that you probably have no idea who I am talking about.

And yet he was a most extraordinary Arsenal player who had an extraordinary life.  However there is a problem – because like so many players from earlier eras it is sometimes difficult to verify all the facts.  But let’s try our best – if we’ve got anything that is wrong, and you can give us some evidence please do let us know.

George Curtis was born on 3 December 1919 in West Thurrock, Essex, and joined Arsenal in December 1936 and stayed with the club until 1947 making just 14 appearances either side of the war.  So, yes, obviously not one of our most famous players, but one of those whose career was ripped from him by the conflict.

He had started out with Anglo in Purfleet, and moved straight from there to Arsenal who placed him with Margate on loan until bringing him back for the April 1939 games.

His first game was 10 April 1939 in a 2-1 win over Blackpool at Highbury.  He played at number 10 and again in the following match against Man U – again a 2-1 victory.  

George served in the RAF during the war and played 50 wartime games for Arsenal as well as guesting for West Ham, Chelsea, and Orient.

After the war Arsenal gave him 11 outings in the first post war season but he failed to score and after playing in 1-1 draw with Blackpool on 8 February 1947 he played no more for the club being transferred to Southampton with Tommy Rudkin in exchange for Don Roper in August 1947.

Southampton (managed by Bill Dodgin) were going through a phase of coming third or fourth in the second division at the time, and George was certainly one of the stars of the team.  He apparently earned the name Twinkletoes, as he was known for his twists and turns rather than getting stuck into the mud.  In all he played 183 games for Southampton, scoring 12 goals.

Ultimately George moved on to Valenciennes in France in August 1952 for £1500 – a move overseas at a time when it was unusual – but seeing what happened in later life, perhaps it reflects upon his upbringing, his wartime experience overseas or a desire to see the world, or just a restless nature.

He returned to England after one season abroad, but then followed up his wartime Indian connections by coaching the Indian Olympic squad of 1948 before moving to be Chelmsford City’s player-coach.

He remained registered at Chelmsford as a player in 1953/4 and sometime around then got his coaching badges at Lilleshall and started out on his new life.

Now this is where it gets a bit hard to verify all the details, but I have notes of him coaching Sunderland (1957-1961), Brighton and Hove (1961-3), Cambridge University, Hastings, Stevenage Town (1964-7), Hull City, San Diego Toros, and Rosenborg in Norway.

There is a lovely story that is oft repeated in which he started his first training session in Norway, speaking in English, saying “This is a ball,” while pointing to the ball. “Don’t go too fast, now!” called back the club’s star player, also in English.   It may not be true, but it is a nice story.

He gained the premiership title for Rosenborg in his first season, but was not popular because of his 4-4-2 defensive style and very low scoring rates – the George Graham of Norway.  After taking the club to runners’ up position in his second season he was dismissed simply because of a desire for more goals.  

However retrospectives on his life in Norway granted him much more credit for bringing modern defensive football to Norway and in 1972 he took over the Norwegian national team and took them through 17 games before he was sacked following a couple of disastrous results.  He returned to RBK in 1976 but the death of his wife in a car accident destroyed George’s focus and he was released from his contract.  His final footballing job as a coach in Qatar from 1979 to 1981.  He was 63, and presumably came back to England to retire.

He died on 17 November 2004 (aged 84) in Basildon.   The end of his life is something of a mystery however as this is where the verification becomes impossible.   The story seems to be that he retired to Essex and coached local teams until his death.  A number of reports say “it is reported” (the get out when one really has no idea if the story is true or not) that he died alone and impoverished living in a caravan – but there is no supporting evidence for this at all.

I do not want to linger over any difficult issues for his family, but if you can clarify what happened to George Curtis in his later years I think we would all like to know.   Certainly he was a dedicated football man, and one who showed that an Englishman could function in football in many parts of the world.  He really should be remembered more fulsomely than he is.

16 November 1927

Read most histories of Arsenal and you will read of Henry Norris as being something of a dubious character.  Among other things has been accused of bribing the League to get Arsenal into the first division in 1919.   

Obviously that was 100 years ago, but amazingly, new accusations keep turning up as when on 29 March 2020 the Daily Mirror newspaper ran the headline “Inside England’s match-fixing scandal that involved Man Utd, Liverpool and Arsenal” above a story by Simon Mullock, Chief Football Writer of the Sunday Mirror.  So not a tale by a junior reporter, but by the chief football writer.

That story relates to events leading up to the first world war, and the main problem with the headline is that Arsenal have never been accused of being involved in any match-fixing scandal (although they have now!) until that article – which incidentally offered no evidence or details.  It was Man U and Liverpool who were engaged in the multiple match fixing affairs across a number of years leading up to the first world war.  Arsenal were never mentioned.

But Arsenal’s name came up in the affair because the club’s chairman, Henry Norris, wrote a newspaper column in the pre-war period, and in it highlighted a match he had attended at Liverpool (not involving Arsenal), which he felt was fixed.

To the League’s eternal discredit, rather than investigate Norris’ claims (which were enhanced by several subsequently very obviously fixed matches, ultimately resulting in the FA enquiry Norris had demanded, and various players – although no directors – being banned from football for life) they stood by Liverpool and Man U, largely because their owners had gone to “the right school” and so wouldn’t be involved in any such thing.

So instead of following up that case, the League warned Norris that if he were to write anything more on the subject, he (rather than the match-fixers) would be banned from football for life (which was the standard penalty in those days, a penalty liberally handed out for virtually any offence.  Even such luminaries as Herbert Chapman got a lifetime ban at one stage, and like most such bans his was later rescinded).

So where did all the anti-Norris stories come from?

Obviously in part from the FA, whose board was made up of gentlemen and the nobility, and who never felt that Henry Norris was “one of us”.  He left school at 14, did not attend university, was outspoken, and made his money as a property developer.  In other words, to the families of high pedigree who ran football clubs, he was an oik. When he did get his knighthood and became an army colonel it was because of what he had done, rather than through inheritance, which in those days proved he was “not one of us”.

Lt Col Sir Henry Norris, gained the knighthood and the rank the result of his extraordinary work in the War Office during the first world war, first in relation to sorting out recruitment so we had enough soldiers to fight the war and finally for being in charge of demobilisation after the first world war, an enormously complicated task since the UK was in part responsible for keeping the peace in France, and occupying Germany.

He was also the man who rescued Arsenal in 1910 when it was within days of going out of business.  It was he who paid off the debts, chose to move Arsenal to Highbury, and who guaranteed the funds for the new ground.  He also had the vision of a club ultimately owned by its supporters (an utterly radical thought which outraged the gentlemen running the other clubs) and it was he who recruited Herbert Chapman as manager.

He was also way ahead of his time seeking equal pay for women, the abolition of the maximum wage for footballers, and pensions for soldiers injured in the first world war.

These attitudes and his approach set Arsenal aside from other clubs and although the League and other club owners welcomed another strong club in north London as a bulwark against the growth of the Southern League, they were still willing to do anything to put down the upstart Norris.

The final battle between Norris and the FA came about, as can happen in such long running affairs, over something so trivial, the question of what happened to the money when Arsenal sold the reserve team bus.  The answer was it went into Sir Henry’s wife’s account, and from there into the club’s funds.  The club (which at the time still owed Sir Henry a huge amount from the loans he had put in) got the money shortly after they should have done, but the cheque took a circuitous route.

Since at the time one could countersign a cheque in order to pay it into an account other than that designated on the cheque, there was nothing unusual in this.  But it was seized on by the FA Commission which investigated the affair.

Which brings us to this day in Arsenal’s history, as on this day

On 16 November 1927 Sir Henry Norris’ legal representatives wrote to Arsenal reminding them that the FA Commission of Inquiry was not a legal body and that Sir Henry was not accused of receiving any money illicitly.   On the same day the club under its new anti-Norris board lost another case in court.  This involved Norris ally George Peachey, the high court ruling that the FA had no power to remove him as a director of a club that was a member of the FA.

In the face of such hostility and with such utter disregard for all he had done for the club in rescuing it from extermination in 1910, Sir Henry Norris resigned from being a director at Arsenal but was still (and indeed remained for the rest of his life) a major shareholder in Arsenal. 

Eventually the FA agreed that Sir Henry was not in any way accused of taking money for his own use from the club, but rather that the club had paid him some expenses – which was an odd claim given the sums he had given to Arsenal to clear the debts in 1910, and the guarantees and loans he made over the building of Highbury. 

Nevertheless the FA rubber stamped the conclusion of the enquiry that four Arsenal directors from the previous regime – Hall, Jack Humble (Arsenal’s first ever chairman who led to move towards becoming a professional club), Peachey and Sir Henry – should be banned from the management of a football club.

Interestingly one of the charges Sir Henry faced was of illegally paying a player’s legal costs  as with the case of Jock Rutherford who was stopped from playing (and thus stopped from being paid) by the FA until a legal case he was involved in (which Rutherford won) was resolved.  Sir Henry supported the player (who was found innocent of all charges) and his family so they did not starve.  After the court case the FA outrageously insisted on holding a further enquiry of their own, which meant that for another three months the player could not be paid, under FA rules. Again Sir Henry paid him from his own money. For that he was again charged and found guilty!

Indeed it was only those who were grabbing control of Arsenal at the time (primarily the Hill-Wood family) who saw Sir Henry as a criminal.  His knighthood and rise from no rank to Lt Colonel and the incredibly important role of overseeing demobilisation speaks volumes for how his country saw him.   London itself recognised his contribution to the capital as the longest serving elected mayor of all time (a record never surpassed) and indeed Sir Henry was made Deputy Lieutenant of London – the highest honour the city could give.

And immediately after the events described above the Independent Association of Arsenal Shareholders was instituted to give a voice to the thousands of shareholders not represented on the board, who had bought shares under Norris’ plan for a club owned by its fans.