Arsenal – England’s Longest Top Flight Team

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?

Middlesex in green, Essex in blue, the County of London in white

Thus began Arsenal’s glorious and long-enduring run in the top flight of English football.

Long may it continue.

29 Responses to Arsenal – England’s Longest Top Flight Team

  1. mickydidit89 says:

    Ok, that’s brilliant.

    Thank you Chas, It’s always good to get facts correctly in place 🙂

  2. VP of Oz says:

    long may it continue😁
    Very regal Chas
    Nice post

  3. GunnerN5 says:

    From my post in June.2015

    With several members of the team killed in the Great War and no football having been played since 1915 Sir Henry’s hopes of transforming Arsenal into a super-club appeared to be in tatters. Having invested over £125,000 into the club, he faced the almost impossible task of rebuilding Arsenal from mid-table in Division Two to his dream “Super Club”. But he was about to pull another rabbit out of his hat. When the FA reconvened in 1919, Norris was full of confidence having just been knighted for his work as a recruitment officer during the war. He was also granted the honorary title of colonel and in the 1918 General Election had been voted Tory MP for Fulham East on a platform of “common decency”, “family values” and “moral strength”.

    An FA management committee, anxious to get football back on its feet, proposed that Division One be expanded from 20 to 22 clubs. This wouldn’t seem to benefit Arsenal, who’d finished fifth in Division Two in the 1914/15 season, Birmingham and Wolves finishing third and fourth. It was widely believed that Division One’s relegated clubs, Chelsea and Spurs, would obtain a reprieve but Norris got to work his magic tricks on the committee. He secretly ‘canvassed’ every single member of the FA committee, with the proposal that Arsenal deserved promotion – however Spurs directors were kept completely in the dark throughout and suspected nothing. He also maintained that the Gunners should be rewarded “for their long service to league football”, neglecting to mention that Wolves had actually been league members for longer.

    As for relegation-threatened Chelsea, Norris assured the Stamford Bridge chairman that his club would be reprieved as long as Arsenal got promotion. When the vote was taken, Chelsea got their reprieve, and Arsenal received their promotion. White Hart Lane was stunned. Even Tottenham’s parrot, presented to the club on the voyage home from their 1908 South American tour, was unable to cope with the news. It dropped dead, thus giving rise to the football cliché “sick as a parrot”. ‘Lucky Arsenal’ and ‘Cheating Arsenal’ were two of the more complimentary titles bestowed upon the club at the time.

  4. Red Arnie says:

    ha ha , Chas. 🙂

    Yes, this authoritative statement of history, on the basis of facts rather than idle and ignorant speculation, is most timely and welcome.

    Class reigns supreme. 🙂

  5. Red Arnie says:

    How sad it must have been for prim and proper footballers to wade through the marshes just to play a game of mud-slingers against the scums! A great pity. 🙂

    And a very apt description of the respectable late Sir Norris. Class! 🙂

  6. Who wrote this nonsense then?
    No name on it.

  7. Bogabadha says:

    Plain rubbish. Cheaters Arsenal!

  8. GunnerN5 says:

    Oh dear someone left the coop open…………………

  9. chas says:

    Fuknose, Big Al.

    Whoever it was, I’d like to thank them.

  10. jjgsol says:

    1919 was nearly 100 years ago and yet that seems to be the only situation that our north London neighbours can try to use to beat us with.

    Even that is shown not to be as they suggest.

    So sad.

  11. Big Raddy says:

    Superb. At last the truth is revealed.

  12. chas says:

    Taxi for Petit?!!!

  13. GoonerB says:

    Excellent piece of work and brings more genuine perspective to what actually happened rather than just this acceptance from Spurs fans that we directly cheated them. In many senses Chelsea cheated them out of a position as much as anything.

    Anyway when you consider that today the bottom 3 get relegated but the team as low as 6th in the championship has the opportunity to get promoted it doesn’t seem as harsh as they would make out.

    Don’t end in the relegation zone if you don’t want to get relegated! I doubt many Spurs fans will be magnanimous enough to recognise their on self failings in the result of this process.

    There were obviously a few more influencing factors around this time than they would like to admit but obviously that admission would deny them almost 100 years of misinformed hateful beliefs.

    I particularly like the old map that once and for all settles who the real London club is. “South Middlesex Marshes is white” has a nice ring to it.

  14. Big Raddy says:

    I used to play on Hackny Marshes. Was a totally rubbish right winger. Spent most of the time avoiding dog poo..

    Interesting pic. I never knew it was really a marsh

  15. Rasp says:

    Great work mystery author, and a definitive end to the ‘dirty dealing’ debate.

  16. chas says:

  17. mickydidit89 says:

    Damn, I’m knackered and it’s only Wednesday


    I could really do with an Arsenal game tonight. Cannot wait to see Auba, Mesut und Miki in action again. Still can’t believe they’re ours

  18. chas says:

  19. chas says:

    From the horse’s mouth…….

    “Mauricio Pochettino fears that English football’s tendency towards over-analysis, and its fixation on minor issues like diving, is slowly “killing the game”.”

    “Likewise, he argued that simulation on the pitch, while an offence rightly punishable under the laws of the game, was simply a sporting tactic rather than anything more sinister, insisting: “Football is about trying to trick your opponent.””

  20. mickydidit89 says:

    Elon Musk eh?

    No objections, but strange choice. Mind you, apart from having a cool name, and doing cool stuff, he come across as a weird fellow in an uncool but cool way

  21. mickydidit89 says:

    I think one of his recent rocket launches was a bit suspicious and I can’t remember why

  22. chas says:

    I just like the footage of the starman driving around the Earth even if it was filmed in a TV studio in Houston.

  23. mickydidit89 says:

    Yip, get that. Space Oddityesque

    Mind you, being Musk, it was probably not filmed in Houston but orbit 🙂

  24. chas says:

    This is in response to the Poch quotes…..

    Journalists these days have to say something even more bizarre than the previous cretin to get the attention they seek.

  25. chas says:

    Right, no-one seems to be about at the moment so I’ll put up a GN5 ‘prem league run-in’ post up at 8.30.
    Unless I hear any objections?

  26. chas says:


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