By 1919 the Football League was gearing up for the return of the national game after the trials and tribulations of the First World War. It was proposed that the First Division be extended to include 22 teams rather than the 20 which had competed 4 years previously. On previous League expansions, teams who had sat in the relegation positions stayed up and two were added from Divison Two. With such a large gap between the cessation of League football because of the Great War and its resumption in 1919, normal rules did not apply.
The 1914/5 season had ended in dubious circumstances. There had been allegations that Manchester United and Liverpool had colluded to ensure that the red Mancs would not be relegated. Their final game was allegedly fixed, United winning 2-0 and thus condemning 19th placed Chelsea to the second relegation spot.
Liverpool chairman John McKenna, wracked with guilt at the League’s resumption, gave a speech at the League’s AGM insisting that the West London club remain in the top flight. Preston and Derby had finished first and second in the promotion places at the end of the 1914/5 season. It was unanimously agreed that Chelsea, Preston and Derby would be in the new First Division.
This left one position in the new 22 team First Division up for grabs. Seven contenders emerged, the five teams who had finished 3rd to 7th in the 1915 League Division Two table, Barnsley, Wolves, Birmingham, Arsenal and Hull , Nottingham Forest (for some bizarre reason) who had finished 18th in Division Two and finally and by every means least, Tottenham Hotspurs, who had ignominiously finished bottom in Division One behind Chelsea.
A formal vote was held at the League meeting of March 10th 1919 and the results, as documented in the minutes, were as follows;
Arsenal 18, Tottenham Hotspur 8, Barnsley 5, Wolves 4, Nottingham Forest 3, Birmingham 2, Hull 1
Arsenal Football Club’s inherent glamour and prestige appeared to be major overriding factors in the result, most seeing how beneficial it would be to the top flight to include such attractive opposition. Accusations of vote-influencing bribery are, of course, preposterous; Sir Henry Norris was of far too upstanding a character to stoop to such levels. Judging by how unpopular Spurs were at the time, it is remarkable that they even managed to gather 8 votes. For years there had been a festering of resentment against Tottenham Hotspur because of their delayed entry to the Football League right up until 1908, favouring the Southern League previously. There were even allegations that they had had to bribe their way into the Football League by offering financial inducements to Stoke City to resign.
Perhaps teams in the First Divison had just become tired of trudging across Tottenham Marshes to get to White Hart Lane?
Perhaps it was recognised that a proper London Club, rather than one from the swamps of South Middlesex would be more fitting in the top flight in the new period of post-war optimism?
Thus began Arsenal’s glorious and long-enduring run in the top flight of English football.
Long may it continue.