1913-1919: Move to Highbury and return to First Division
Henry Norris’ plan to merge Woolwich Arsenal with Fulham was blocked by the Football League and so the club was moved to the more developed location of Highbury, North London. Norris chose this site owing to its proximity to the Gillespie Road underground station. Tottenham and Clapton Orient were naturally against the move as were residents of Woolwich and Highbury, but Norris was a powerful figure in England and the majority owner saw the move through.
The Highbury plot was owned by the Church of England and Norris paid £20,000 for a 21-year lease. Norris reportedly spent £125,000 in the construction of the new stadium and Woolwich Arsenal were rechristened The Arsenal. Arsenal’s first match at Highbury was a 2-1 win over Leicester Fosse on September 6, 1913.
Arsenal needed to negotiate a speedy return to the First Division to profit from Norris’ investment but sadly managed to finish in 3rd place in 1913/14 failing to win promotion, owing to a worse goal average than Bradford Park Avenue.
The First World War broke out in July 1914 and players signed up for armed services or took up work in the munitions factories. Arsenal lost a number of players in the war, including first team regulars James Maxwell, Spencer Bassett and Leigh Roose. This severely affected Arsenal’s chances of promotion and they finished in 5th place in the 1914/15 season.
Competitive football was suspended for four years and after the conclusion of the war in 1919, the Football League decided to expand the number of teams in the first division from 20 to 22. Chelsea, who by virtue of finishing 19th in the previous season, were supposed to be relegated, but were given one of the two bonus spots. The other spot was to be decided between Tottenham Hotspur, who finished 20th in the First Division, and Wolves and Barnsley, who finished in 3rd and 4th in the Second Division respectively. Norris opposed the idea and claimed that Arsenal had a right to promotion owing to their historic significance and longer involvement in the Football League.
The decision was put to a vote and Arsenal won election to the First Division by a heavy margin. Tottenham fans will always point to the fact that the election was rigged with Norris buying his way back to the top, but oh well, Arsenal were back!
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