The Arsenal Promotion Mystery: Spurs Fans – You Can Win £100!

A number of Spurs fans have left comments on this blog at various times (like here and here), and often they point out that, yes, Arsenal may have won 13 titles to Spurs’ 2, Arsenal may have won more FA Cups than Spurs, Arsenal may have been in the Champions League for the last 17 years, Arsenal may have done the Double three times to Spurs’ one, Arsenal may have gone a whole season unbeaten, Arsenal may have been voted Team of the Century for the period 1900-2000, Arsenal may have won the League three years in a row, Arsenal may hold the record for longest unbeaten run in the top flight, Arsenal may have gone a century without being relegated, Arsenal may be the only club to have a tube station named after them, Arsenal may have scored in a record number of consecutive top flight matches, Arsenal may – well, you get the picture. But never mind all that, say the Totts, the fact is this: ARSENAL SHOULD NOT BE IN THE TOP DIVISION AT ALL! Why not? Because THEY BRIBED THEIR WAY IN! That’s right – they were voted in at Spurs’ expense back in 1919, and (say the Totts) MONEY CHANGED HANDS and it was all JOLLY UNFAIR! There’s even a story that the Spurs parrot died of shock at the decision, which is where the phrase ‘sick as a parrot’ comes from, but that’s a bigger load of tosh than the bribery story.

It’s true Arsenal were voted into the old First Division when football restarted after World War 1, and it’s also true that Spurs were relegated at the same time. But bribery? No. And here’s where the £100 of the blog title comes in: if anyone has any proof of bribery, anything at all, then there is £100 on offer from Arsenal historian Andy Kelly for showing the proof. Andy made this offer when he wrote about these events some months ago. The money is so far unclaimed.

The situation of Arsenal’s promotion was this (warning for Spurs fans: you may need to concentrate here, as some detail is necessary): in the last season before the Football League closed down for the war the League had two divisions, both with 20 teams. When football restarted, it was decided to expand both divisions to 22 teams. Automatic promotion and relegation had been in place since 1898 for the top two of the Second Division and the bottom two of the First Division (this replaced a round-robin play-off system between the four involved clubs that had been ‘fixed’ the previous season when Stoke and Burnley colluded in the final game to make sure they both ended up in the top division).

In the last season before football was abandoned, the bottom three in the First Division were:

Man Utd       30 pts

Chelsea       29 pts

Tottenham    28 pts

Normally Chelsea and Spurs would be relegated, but Man Utd and Liverpool had fixed a match to ensure Utd finished above Chelsea. The war had prevented this being resolved, but after some public discussion in the sports press – and naturally complaints from Chelsea – the club chairmen decided without even a formal vote that Chelsea would stay up.

In the second division, the top finishing positions had been:

Derby             53

Preston          50

Barnsley         47

Wolves           45

Birmingham    43

Arsenal           43

Hull                 43

In fact Arsenal should have been above Birmingham on goal average, having won their last game 7-0, but the calculation error was not noticed until 1975! Either way, Derby and Preston went up automatically, as the top two had done since 1898, and with Chelsea staying up there was room for one more club in the expanded First Division.  

So the chairmen all voted on who the additional club should be. The result was:

Arsenal             18

Tottenham          8

Barnsley             5

Wolves               4

Notts Forest       3

Birmingham        2

Hull                      1

Note that Forest had finished 18th in the Second Division before the War, and had more chance of being voted out of the League altogether than getting into Division One! Why they were in the vote at all and why they got two votes other than their own is anyone’s guess.

That aside, it’s clear that Arsenal chairman Sir Henry Norris had been campaigning, but so had some of the other clubs. There had been newspaper articles on the subject and it was a matter of public debate for months before the vote was actually taken.

So why did Arsenal win the vote so apparently easily, with more than twice as many votes as Spurs? The suggestion from some quarters is clear: money changed hands. But no evidence of this has ever come to light. Norris was later banned from football for financial irregularities, leading some to think that as he wasn’t always squeaky clean the events of 1919 must have been suspicious. But being guilty of one offence doesn’t automatically make you guilty of another, and however many times people (ie Spurs fans usually) say bribery must have happened in 1919, there’s no evidence.

So what other explanation is there? It was no doubt a combination of factors, and a matter of opinion as to which carried the most weight, but here are a few:

  • firstly it’s very likely that many or even most of the chairmen believed Spurs should go down as they’d finished bottom; there was no precedent for the bottom club to stay up since automatic relegation had begun, and Chelsea in second-bottom only escaped without a vote because of the match fixing above them. If that is the case, and a majority decided immediately they were not voting for Spurs, then what Norris would need to do would be to come up with reasons why Arsenal should be elected ahead of their Second Division rivals
  • there was a desire to raise the number of southern clubs in the First Division, so Arsenal may have been preferred to the clubs who finished above them in the Second Division
  • Arsenal had – as Norris argued – long been supporters of the Football League, through a period when the Southern League (where Spurs had remained until 1908) was still a serious rival to it
  • Arsenal drew relatively large crowds, and with a new rule that away teams were only to get 20 per cent of the gate money rather than 50 per cent as previously, this became more important (it’s true that Spurs also drew large crowds, but this may have meant Arsenal were preferred to others)
  • Arsenal was well-served by transport links, making it easy for teams from the north to visit, and they enjoyed the chance to come to London in an era when national travel was uncommon
  • related to that last point is that London wasn’t as big in 1919 as it is now, and Tottenham was at that time in Middlesex, not the County of London. It wasn’t officially in London until 1965. Now Spurs fans can bang on as long as they like about “Woolwich” and never moving home, but if people 100 years ago didn’t consider Tottenham to be part of London then it wasn’t going to be such a draw for clubs from the provinces, that is a simple fact. Arsenal was officially in London and easy to get to; Tottenham wasn’t either of those things.

In my opinion by far the most important reason for Arsenal winning the vote was simply Norris himself. He was extremely influential inside and outside football; he was knighted in 1917 and became a Tory MP in 1918, and this was at a time when football was still decidedly working class and northern-centric. No one else in football had the influence that Norris had outside the game, and this may well have swayed quite a few towards Arsenal.

There is some evidence that Norris was threatening to blow the league apart by insisting the match fixers of Man Utd and Liverpool were both relegated, but the other chairmen weren’t in favour of this as it had been the players who did the fixing rather than the clubs. However, to appease Norris enough of them were prepared to vote Arsenal in to Division One. There may well be truth in this, but there don’t appear to be any written records to verify it.

Norris was certainly not squeaky clean, and you can argue that Arsenal had little right to be voted in to the First Division when they were. But that doesn’t mean bribery was involved, it just means Norris was cleverer and bolder than his rivals.

Here’s a description of the events from Arsenal historians Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews from the Arsenal History booklet sent to members of AISA, and reproduced here with the permission of Andy and Mark.

Arsenal promotion 1919001Arsenal promotion 1919002Arsenal promotion 1919003

Andy’s article on the subject for the Arsenal History Society website, complete with offer of £100, is here:

In the interests of fairness, what with me publicising the offer, in the unlikely event that someone does come up evidence of bribery by Norris, I’ll pay half the money for Andy. Generous to a fault, me. Though I think I’m probably safe.

Follow me on Twitter: @AngryOfN5



53 thoughts on “The Arsenal Promotion Mystery: Spurs Fans – You Can Win £100!

      • yawn, nearly fell asleep again. Need some coffee i think, i would ask you to lend me a cup but i guess they’re all a bit old and rusty. Did you enjoy writing that first paragraph by the way? Or did it depress you how far you have fallen since all that success? Still, at least you have replaced the joy of that success with the joy of writing sad, obsessive articles about your rivals.

  1. Hahaha, the scum wont like this, they dont like the truth, it hurts them too much. Just wait for the yids tears to come pouring in, they’re such a hate filled, angry bunch of fans, full of jealousy and bitterness, good work Phil. Up the Arsenal !!

  2. Look I’d prefer it if we bribed our way in. It annoys the little retards even more.

    Like when we lost a game to get them relegated.

    All classic Arsenal stories.

    • Retards? Ironic comment from someone unable to write a complete sentence as opposed to several words followed by a full stop.

  3. Is this genuinelly an Arsenal blog? This seems to publish more features on Tottenham than most of the spurs regulars. Angry? More like obsessed. Glorious history by the way, very impressive…almost as impressive as Liverpool but what’s ten titles more here, half a dozen cups and a champions league trophy there.

    Keep holding the past up like a candle. You have been trophyless for nearly a decade and all your best players have left you for your competitors. You are like a bloke who has been repeatedly cuckolded by your richer and classier mates but it’s ok because once upon a time she was your girlfriend right? Every year your ‘little’ brother down the Seven Sisters road gets that little bit taller and stronger, can’t be nice and clear to see your (and the vast majority of your fan base) are extremely rattled.

    Most teams build for the future. You stick with your history society.

    • Arsenal fans are so obsessed by Sp*rs that they go reading Sp*rs’ fans sites fretting over what they might be saying and then crying on the Sp*rs fan’s comments section. Oh no, hold on, it’s actually the other way round. No change there then. Ha ha ha.

      • you really are a child! maybe if you did your research you would know that these articles are picked up on Spurs media watch. So stop writing articles about the ‘proper’ north london club and you wont have spurs fans reading the articles. simples!

      • Yeah, it was all an accident, didn’t have a clue that you were clicking on an Arsenal website. Such a mistake you’re still on it! Keep peering over the fence, it’s good over here, we get to laugh at tools like you! Tool.

      • of course i knew what i was clicking on!
        …………you do realise that this is a page on a website and not actually another actual place???

        dont mind being called a ‘tool’ matey! …… are useful 😉

      • Have to admit, I thought Spurs blogged using a fax machine. Who would have thought the Spuds had internet access.
        I have never visited rival club’s website, I visit Walsall, Brentford Fleetwood, Wimbledon and suchlike, interesting clubs, not dross like Manure and Spurs

  4. the fact that someone wasted so much there time researching the above in desperation to cover up the fact that their club is scum! shows just how insecure and pathetic you goons really are, the phrase ‘clutching at straws’ comes to mind. You lot could win every trophy every season, but you will always be a club with no heart or atmosphere, and the most miseable and moaning fans on the planet. COYS

    • How insecure might be someone that wastes so much time going on to Arsenal websites worried about what their fans might think of them? That really is pathetic. Then again, I guess things are a bit quiet for you until Thursdays come around…

      • the headline comes up on our newsnow page and mentions our club. Your fans do exactly the same when one of ours comes up on yours. The real question you should be asking is: how insecure must someone be to waste so much time writing petty articles like this about their arch rivals? THAT is pathetic.

      • Firstly, a piece addressing a bit of Arsenal’s history on an Arsenal website isn’t pathetic – every club’s fans write about the history of their own club. Secondly, just because the word Sp*rs is in an article doesn’t make the article about them – don’t be so paranoid. Thirdly, I don’t go looking on Sp*rs websites to read what you tw*ts say about us, I just don’t care, you’re of no relevance to us. And anyone that uses Newsnow is obviously a completely tw*t.

        The fact that you’ve spent 5 hours of your day on an Arsenal fan’s site says it all really. Jeaously and paranoia.

  5. So first off…so why aren’t Wolves and Barnsley fans twisted and bitter about it?….its been nearly 100 years years…get over it.In fact if you look at the following 3 seasons, not only did s*urs win promotion they also went to finish above Arsenal 2 season running.

    Now here comes the best part…when they were “elected” into the football league in 1908 it was at the expense of Lincoln City. 3 rounds of voting produce an equal amount of votes for s*urs and Lincoln. Voting was suspended. A few days later it was announced that s*urs would gain entry to the football league. Up until 1985 all league matters were sorted by secret voting. Teams would have to lobby for votes for things like league entry, losing their league status and often for promotion and against relation. So Arsenal only done what s*urs had done a few years earlier.

    Its not a secret that Sir Henry Norris lobbied well on behalf of Arsenal. Nobody actually knows what went on behind closed doors., but a lot went against s*urs. Even before their entry into the Football League they were already very unpopular with many of the powerful Northern Clubs.Arsenal were the first London club to be voted into the Football league because the Northern teams liked the idea of coming down to London What s*urs tried in 1919 was expose the match fixing between Man U and Liverpool,this made them even more unpopular. One can only guess that Sir Henry took full advantage of this.

    Even the most deluded s*urs liker can see they were relegated for finishing bottom, but in reality it should be Wolves and Barnsley fans that should be aggrieved. 1. Because Chelsea should of been replaced by Wolves and 2 Barnsley missed out on extra places in Division 1 to Arsenal. Going back to when s*urs gained league status…people in glass houses………

    What is it with s*urs likers?…they are still bitter over Arsenal moving from Plumstead to Highbury..its been 100 years. They they finished bottom in 1915 and were relegated for the start of the 1919 season when football finally restarted..its been 94 years…and your club have achieved some firsts. had you not been relegated would you had become a bigger club?…In a simple word… get over it….it must be a great burden carrying the anger of your grandfathers and great grandfathers, Are they also still bitter than one of their players who played them between 1905-07 went on to become the greatest Arsenal manager helping them to become the 1st London club to win the league?

  6. Good article, but still leaves a huge whiff around Norris. Still no convincing explanation as to why Arsenal after finishing 5th were given the promotion ahead of the 4th and 3rd placed sides. Given Norris’s later revealed ‘financial irregularities’ I believe any sane person would at least suspect foul play.

    May I also take this opportunity to point out that Spurs is a religion. This means that statistical analysis demonstrating Arsenal to be more successful is the equivalent of disproving the existence of God with scientific analysis.

    • The events surrounding Norris being banned from football actually strengthen the case against him bribing anyone in 1919.

      In 1927 his closest football partner, William Hall, turned against him as did a number of other people that had worked for him in the past.

      This would have been a perfect opportunity for anyone who knew if any foul play in 1919 to come forward.

      Norris gained votes from 17 other clubs. No one came out and said they had been offered any inducement by Norris, no deathbed confessions, nothing after Norris’ death.

      Check out this website:

      Sally Davis has gone into every part of his life, warts and all. Look at the detail of the events of 1927. Incredible detail.

      Then look at 1919. She couldn’t find anything.


      Because there was nothing untoward.

    • How bored must a Sp*rs fan be to go read Arsenal sites? Bit jealous are we? Popping over to see how the better half live? Did you bring your tissues?

      • how bored must gooners be to constantly be writing bollox about Spurs all the time. (you can write about your own club from time to time!) I only popped over to have a laugh and a dump somewhere thats already full of shit!

      • Ha ha. There’s always a Spud around to bite when you need one – keep it going, a few more hours on the site and Phil will have enough advertising revenue to pump back into The Arsenal.

      • I used to write a blog. I very much doubt all these ‘trolling’ spurs fans are coming on here to rightly whinge at your provocative article before purchasing football related goods and doing some early Christmas shopping. Plus Analytics will target the adverts at the content, and whilst this piece is about tottenham it refers to them as spurs/spuds/totts. Unless Tottenham fans have an insatiable apetite for potatoe products I doubt they’ll be clicking throughand filling up your coffers with the generous handouts of Google ads (what is it these days, 5 – 10p a click).

        Oh and then there’s the other small point, you don’t have any adverts. Slightly silly argument from you I’m afraid

      • Evidently you missed the adverts on the front page of this site! Fool. Hits = advertising money. For every idiotic Sp*rs fan that clicks on the Arsenal link, there’s more revenue. Cheers!

  7. I woke up next to an ugly pig of a bird in Cyprus when i was younger. It was wrong and i shouldnt have done it, but im not gonna waste my time investigating into how it happened and hope that the explanation will make it less ‘wrong’ and embarassing! It was a disgraceful thing to do and made me feel dirty! but fortunately very few people knew and judged me for it. However, it stays in my history and not dug up in a poor attempt to make something so wrong look so right! coz it’ll never happen!

    • That’s your wife your taking about, the night in question was your honeymoon and the reason it never happened again (waking up next to you) is because after you failed to make the good lady orgasm, trying all night to erect your floppy cock, (you do support floppy-cock spur after all) she left you for a cypriot (that was able to achieve an erection) who worked in the hotel. The last time you saw your wife all she was wearing was stavros’s arsenal shirt (after a night of unbridled sexual fulfilment) and the last thing she said to you was “f### off you floppy cocked spud.” I would like to echo her sentiments.

  8. A response to Andy Kelly from a Tottenham fan.
    Henry Norris (he is not fit to be called Sir Henry) was the main shareholder and chairman of “The Arsenal”. He was also a Conservative MP, Mayor of Fulham and 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.
    The President of the Football League at that time was John McKenna. He was also the Liverpool chairman, a staunch Conservative and a Freemason.
    At that time, the most prominent sports newspaper was the Athletic News. They published an article on 13 January 1919 that demanded to know what the Football League Management Committee were going to do about Chelsea and that there was “a grievous wrong to remedy”. The article suggested the easiest way was to enlarge the 1st division to 22 clubs. It was also stated that people were arguing that Spurs ought to go back up with Chelsea if Division One was going to be bigger – but the writer didn’t agree on that point. Instead he stated that, “The Arsenal have a case for consideration as the oldest League club in London”. The article did not state the name of the writer but it was undoubtedly James Catton, who was the editor. Henry Norris and his fellow director, William Hall (also a Freemason) knew Catton very well because he was a regular visitor to Highbury throughout World War I. During January and February 1919, the Athletic News published a number of articles pushing the case on behalf of “The Arsenal”. One article even suggested that “there was a lot of support for them, on the grounds that they had originally been a works team” (but that hadn’t been true since the 1890s).
    The vote was made at a Football League meeting on 10 March 1919 and was certainly influenced by a speech made by the President, John McKenna who said “he recommended Arsenal’s promotion ahead of Spurs due to their longer spell in the League” (Arsenal joined in 1893 and Spurs in 1908. In spite of the fact that Wolves, who finished higher in division two, had been members of the league since its inception in 1888). Who knows what the history of Barnsley, Wolves, Birmingham or Hull may have been, if they had been given the promotion ?
    You Gooner fans will no doubt argue that the Freemason connection does not prove any improper action to influence the vote. Any decent person would not need it explained that McKenna was a Freemason and Norris was a more senior Freemason. You can research these facts for yourselves, so that you understand they are correct.
    Personally, I have no interest in Andy Kelly’s money. If you have even the smallest shred of decency, your club should double the £100 and donate the money to Children in Need. Sorry Gooner fans, whatever you achieve in football, your club is not worthy of your place in the league.

    • Tony

      Thanks for replying.

      You’ve made some good points but there are counter-arguments to these.

      Firstly you mention the freemason connection between Norris & McKenna. Well, it seems that just about everyone was a freemason back then, including Tottenham’s chairman Charles Roberts.

      If they were all freemasons then that can’t be the reason.

      If you read the Athletic News article on 13 January you will see that it was Blackpool who proposed extending the 1st Division not Catton.

      As you say, Catton put forward Arsenal’s case but The Sportsman were campaigning on Tottenham’s behalf. If you were to see Catton’s legacy (which I have) you will see that he was “in” with everyone not just in football but all major British sports. He knew all of the movers and shakers, it wasn’t just Arsenal.

      As for McKenna’s speech, there is no contemporary evidence of this. This first appeared in the late 1940s. Contemporary reports show that Charles Sutcliffe stood and spoke in favour of Chelsea.

      Following the meeting the Tottenham directors were reported to be dismayed but would abide by the decision. There were no reports of them crying foul or looking to appeal. Why? Because the meeting was held in a fair manner and no one showed favouritism to any club.

    • What you seem to be saying is that Norris used his Freemason’s rank to get McKenna to support Arsenal’s promotion bid. Whoop. It doesn’t explain why 18 clubs voted for Arsenal, does it? Unless 18 of them were Masons, ALL having to bow to Norris, and only plucky Tottenham, the little Middlesex outsiders, stood against this treachery! Brave noble Tottenham! They wuz robbed!

  9. I tried to make the explanation clear enough. Norris only needed to have an influence over McKenna. “The vote… was certainly influenced by a speech made by the President, John McKenna”. You still cannot face the truth about your club or is it that you do not have the money to donate to charity ?

    • Yes it is very sad but then hardly unexpected from the team that brought us the off side trap, the 0-0 subbuteo game and the manager who never sees an incident involving one of his players and never has good word to say about the opposing team.

  10. the worst is your fans say man utd spurs have been in the second division as recent as 1975 1978 man utd have had only 1 season outside top flight since 1938 and totenham 1950

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