Sir Henry George Norris (July 23, 1865 – July 30, 1934)

June 25, 2015

An Arsenal Blast from the Past No. 21


Born in Kennington, to a working class family he left school at fourteen to join a solicitor’s firm. Eighteen years later he left to pursue a career in property development, partnering W.G. Allen in the firm Allen & Norris. He made his fortune building houses in south and west London, Fulham in particular. He was commissioned into the 2nd Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteers in 1896, but resigned the following year. From 1909 to 1919 he served as Mayor of the Metropolitan Borough of Fulham, a member of the London County Council from 1916 to 1919, and as a Conservative MP for Fulham East from 1918 to 1922.

During World War I Norris was a military recruitment officer for the British Army. He served in the 3rd Middlesex Artillery Volunteers and in 1917 he was knighted and given the honorary rank of colonel for services to his country. He was also a prominent Freemason, rising to become Grand Deacon of the United Grand Lodge of England, and a well-known local philanthropist with close connections to the Church of England; he counted the Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Thomas Davidson as a personal friend.

He purchased Woolwich Arsenal in 1910 and controlled his club like a dictator. Unlike other club directors and chairmen of his era Sir Henry never served on boards to raise his standing in the community, he did things his own way. He made numerous powerful enemies both in and out of football due to his questionable tactics and bullying nature. His company, Allen & Norris, was responsible for transforming Fulham from a semi-rural outpost into an urban jungle. In the process of constructing, renovating and selling houses, he made a large network of contacts in building and banking, many of whom owed him favours. Photographs and written accounts suggest that his physical stature, actions and mannerism’s made him a man to be feared.

The Woolwich Arsenal board welcomed Norris with open arms, having heard of his political ‘prowess’ when he was a director of Fulham. He had negotiated their rapid rise from the Southern League right up to Division Two. Fulham’s rise in divisions took place in only four years and that led directors of other clubs to suggest that the Football League had received substantial backhanders, but no firm evidence was ever found. Sir Henry was already the undisputed master of subterfuge. On buying his majority stake in Woolwich Arsenal, he proposed a merger with Fulham and a permanent move to Craven Cottage to create a London ‘super-club’ but he was blocked by the Football League. Unable to merge the two clubs he set about rejuvenating Woolwich Arsenal and proposed that the club should be moved to North London enabling them to benefit from a local population of 500,000 in the districts of Finsbury, Hackney, Islington and Holborn. Chelsea, Orient and Spurs protested the proposal over concern for the erosion of their fan bases. The Tottenham Herald described Norris as an “interloper”, and a cartoon portrayed him as being the equivalent of the Hound of the Baskervilles, prowling around farmyards in an enormous spiked collar, ready to rip apart the Tottenham cockerel and steal its food.

An FA enquiry was set up to investigate the move but, once again, Sir Henry used his “influence” to stack the deck by appointing many personal friends to the committee and giving them information that would be favourable to Woolwich Arsenal. The committee ruled that the opposition had “no right to interfere”. The Tottenham Herald placed an advertisement begging its readers not to go and support Norris’s Woolwich interlopers stating that “They have no right to be here.”

A group of Highbury residents were equally indignant about the possibility of the undesirable elements of professional football creating a vulgar presence on their doorstep. But true to form Sir Henry launched a charm offensive on the group, assuring them that they’d barely notice a football club in their midst, and in any case, that 30,000-plus fans in the district every other Saturday would be excellent for local business. The next hurdle to cross turned out to be the Church of England, many on the ecclesiastical committee believed football to be ‘ungodly’ and local residents believed that the thought of the Church of England agreeing to a football club buying the land was inconceivable. But Sir Henry went right to the top and offered the church a donation of £20,000, the church committee accepted the offer and the Archbishop of Canterbury personally signed the deed to Highbury.

Highbury construction

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.

Arsenal 1920

By 1925 Sir Henry had owned Arsenal for close to 15 years and they had still not won any trophies – he was convinced that the problem was his manager Lesley Knighton who he dismissed, shortly before he was due to receive a £4,000 bonus.  Huddersfield Town’s triple Championship-winning boss Herbert Chapman was appointed manager in 1925 but Sir Henry found the 5ft 6in Chapman, dubbed ‘Yorkshire’s Napoleon’ to be a real handful to manage. Chapman informed Norris that if he really wanted to see Arsenal win a trophy in his lifetime, he’d have to spend his cash: his main target, Sunderland’s brilliant striker, Charlie Buchan, was officially worth £5,000, but Sir Henry worked out a deal where he would pay £2,000 to Sunderland up front and £100 for every goal Buchan scored during the season.

Charlie Buchan

In 1927, the Daily Mail ran a series of articles alleging that Norris was guilty of making illegal payments to Charlie Buchan. Norris, they claimed, had given under-the-counter sums to Buchan to compensate for the loss of income he would incur from his move south – the player had to give up his business interests and buy an expensive house in London. The FA was strict about payments made to players, even though everyone in football knew that sweeteners regularly lured players to big clubs. Sir Henry had also personally ‘overseen’ the sale of the team bus in 1927 for £125, which somehow found its way into his wife’s bank account. The revelations were sensational how could such a high-profile member of the Conservative Party indulge in such financial malpractice? Norris challenged the Daily Mail’s allegations in court two years later, but the charges were upheld by the judge. An investigation by the Football Association followed, which uncovered that he had also used Arsenal’s expense accounts for his personal use to, namely to pay for his chauffeur. He sued the Daily Mail and the FA for libel, but in February 1929, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Hewart, ruled in favour of the FA and the Daily Mail. As a result, Sir Henry Norris was banned from Football – forever.

Knighton, Blyth and Dunn at Norris hearing

After his death in 1934 from a massive heart attack, a kinder, gentler Sir Henry Norris could be glimpsed. His estate was valued at over £71,000 – the equivalent of over £4m today and not only were his widow, three daughters and two sisters taken care of, but Norris also looked after many of the Arsenal staff he used to terrify. Former manager Leslie Knighton was staggered to receive a cheque for £100 from the Norris estate, enabling him to take early retirement. Trainer George Hardy and groundsman Alec Rae received £50 each – over a year’s wages. Rae was likewise dumbfounded, as Norris was “always on to me if the pitch wasn’t quite like the croquet lawn he wanted”. The Fulham chapel where his funeral took place overflowed with friends and well-wishers. The vicar who conducted the service summed up: “Of the dead, speak nothing but good.” To this day, the regulars over at White Hart Lane might beg to differ.

Although Sir Henry Norris died nearly 80 years ago, his name continues to provoke controversy.



An Arsenal Blast from the Past ……. No. 1

January 8, 2014

Let’s all take a sad walk back down memory lane.

The year is 1925 and Arsenal were looking for a replacement for the sacked manager Leslie Knighton, Arsenal chairman Sir Henry Norris placed this advertisement in the Athletic News:

“Arsenal football club is open to receive applications for the position of TEAM MANAGER. He must be experienced and possess the highest qualifications for the post, both as to ability and personal character. Gentlemen whose sole ability to build up a good side depends on the payment of heavy and exorbitant transfer fees need not apply”

In response to this advertisement along came Herbert Chapman – who was to know that almost a century later he would be the manager responsible for our very own “TMHT” reminding us all that the “Ghosts of the Thirties were Stirring”

So let’s find out just a little bit about one of those “Ghosts”
Did you know that on April 23rd 1927 it was Herbert Chapman that led us out at Wembley Stadium for our first ever FA Cup Final?

The 1927 final was also the very first time that community singing was introduced in a final and it produced one of the biggest (91,206) organised choirs of the time. There was some doubt as to whether the crowd would join in but the response was so enthusiastic that it immediately became part of the FA Cup Final’s ritual. T.P. Ratcliff, who became famous as”The Man in White” was the song leader and the Northern Command Tattoos were conducted by Aldershot Tidworth. The tradition of signing “Abide with me” continues to this day but supporters also sign their own clubs war songs. The song sheet in 1927 included, Pack up Your Troubles, All Through the Night, Tipperary and Drink to Me Only.
Chapman led out the Arsenal to play Cardiff City, his team that day consisted of – Dan Lewis, Tom Parker, Andy Kennedy, Alf Baker, Jack Butler, Bob John, Joe Hulme, Charlie Buchan, Jimmy Brain, Billy Blyth and Sid Hoar.

Ratcliff 001

Unfortunately Arsenal became the first and only club to let England’s most celebrated trophy to be spirited away to another country. Hugh Freguson Cardiff’s centre-forward scored the only goal of the game in the seventy third minute – in a game that was largely dominated by Arsenal – huh! does that have a familiar ring to it?

In was a sad moment for our goalkeeper Dan Lewis (who was also a Welsh international) as the shot by Hughie Ferguson was straight at him – he dived down to make what should have been a comfortable save, however he fumbled the ball as he gathered it, and it slipped between his body and the crook of his elbow. He turned around and tried in vain to reclaim the ball but only succeeded in knocking it with his elbow into the back of the net.

On receiving his losers’ medal from King George V, a disgusted Lewis reportedly cried “This is not for me,” before flinging it as far as he could into the Wembley crowd.

Lewis blamed his brand new jersey for the error, saying the wool was too greasy for him to grip the ball properly; since then, according to club legend, no Arsenal goalkeeper has played in a new jersey before it is washed first.

Breaking News!!

Fast forward 91 years it’s now January 2014 and we have just chased the “Tiny Totts” back down the Seven Sisters Road to their very own “Chicken Coop” where they were greeted by a mute cockerel.


The Ideal Arsenal Owner

April 4, 2013

Barely a day passes in the comments section without mention of our owner, Stan Kroenke.

Arsenal began life as a Mutually Owned Club under the name of Royal Arsenal. Our first sole owner was Henry Norris who engineered the move to Highbury in 1913. As we know, the poor fella had to quit to “spend more time with his family” as a result of some minor financial irregularities.

Then, along came the Hill-Woods (Samuel) and Bracewell Smiths (Sir, MP and Lord Mayor). In short, Samuel passed his stake down to Denis and then, he in turn, passed these on down to our current Chairman, Peter. Things got to their present state after Peter flogged his lot to the likes of Dein and Fiszman, and we end up where we are now with Kroenke on 66.76% and Usmanov on 29.9%.

So that’s a little history. So, what would we like right now from an owner?

It seems to me that there are two ways of going about this. The pie in sky fantasy approach, or the let’s face it, this is the real world we are talking about, and therefore the most likely. I can do both.

Being honest, that snake Norris did us proud didn’t he. Then again, the Hill-Wood Dynasty is what really turned the Club into the institution that it is today. They added The Marble Halls and gave us that aristocratic edge that has enabled us to look down our noses at absolutely everyone ever since. This may not sit comfortably with communists and revolutionaries, but it is a fact.

Alas, here we are in the modern era with The Kroenke “Sort”. I have to say, that I like the non-interfering type of owner, and whenever I hear the “couldn’t he just buy us two or three world class players”, I think, well where do you stop, why not sell out to someone you know will plough ego money into the place and be done with it.

Then, I think back to our roots and remember that we started out as a Mutually Owned Club, and think….Barca’ish? Fantasy. Naughty, but nice.

Doesn’t our present Chairman, Peter Hill-Wood, have a squillionaire Grandson? That’ll do me. Best of both worlds.

Written by MickyDidIt89

In The Spirit of Sir Henry

December 15, 2011

Picture this. Its 18th Century London and crime is rife in the capital. Muggers and looters stalk the wealthy Streets and Avenues of the City Centre. The biggest killer? Not the small pointy blades of the outer city Hoodies. No. It was the Gentlemen who still sported the longer reaching swords, and could thus pick off their chosen Hoody from a safe distance. The Cads. Or were they?

This is the same merry bunch who thought up the worlds’ greatest games and sports, and then enshrined those in Codes and Rules ensuring fair play and gentlemanly conduct. It is also from these roots that the English developed their sense of justice in the sporting arena. The idea that it was in the taking part that the sport was to be found, and from here we developed our affinity with the underdog.

I like to think that everything about The Arsenal encompasses these principles. Or do I?

You know what, I don’t really. There’s nothing I like better than a touch of underhand dealing. A little skullduggery. We know there is underfloor heating beneath the pampered feet of the home dugout, but not so for our guests. We know about the shrewd dealings of one Sir Henry Norris. So what’s next?

At this point I need to fess up that the inspiration for this post came from a quite brilliant comment yesterday by GiE (7:43 am). We all know that City pay for Adebeyor to play for that lot. Well, GiE’s masterplan was for us to get the bloke on the same terms, then effectively short weekly loan him out to play for whoever is taking on the Spuds that week. Genius, simple and effective I thought. For me, this is Sir Henry Norris level thinking, and frankly, I’d like The Arsenal to start thinking more laterally.

It appears to me that there are two pressing areas in which we should direct our plans. The first is, quite obviously, to ensure home advantage to the max. To this end, we have to optimize the effects of Winter. We all know how darkness descends the over the land as the first half draws to an end, and the cold easterlies explore our exposed extremities. Perhaps we need to exaggerate the effect with thermal control over the visiting dressing room, while pumping in relaxation sound effects to weaken their resolve.

The second is to land the striker that we cannot afford. Now bungs seem a little old hat, so perhaps there are “extras” we could be offering our selected targets. The Leveson Inquiry would appear to offer some inspiration here in ways that may make “persuading” agents, managers and players to believe that the right thing to do would be to jump ship to The Arsenal at vastly reduced expense. A rigged photo here, an incriminating phone call there.  Just thinking aloud here.

So come on. Think up lads. I know I’m not squeaky clean in this department. The lighting in the Wiff Waff Club is heavily rigged to favour one end, and I know where to start the “eeny meeny miny moing” to win the toss, and as back up I also own a double headed coin. There is room for some shrewd thinking here. I happen to know there are many fish eaters on this site, with correspondingly enormous brains. So let’s put it to good use. Any ideas?

Written by MickyDitIt89