A demand for Justice: How did Barnsley fail to earn promotion in 1919?

In 1919, with the First World War over, expansion of First Division was on the agenda. Fans had been starved of football throughout the war years and the game's popularity was rising rapidly.

It was felt there were two logical approaches. Either the two clubs due to be relegated from the first division should stay up, or the clubs that ended third and fourth in the second division should go up. Or there could be a combination – one of the two relegated clubs staying up and the third team coming up.

The top five in division 2 in 1915 were Derby, Preston, Barnsley, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Arsenal. The two teams due for relegation from the 1st division were Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea - both London teams.

To further complicate matters, in the final pre-war season, Manchester United had beaten Liverpool 2-0 in a match that was alleged to have been fixed. This was the first case of it's kind to appear in court and was never properly resolved before war had broke out. The simple truth is, Chelsea existed in a relegation spot because of this "fixed" result, in a position that should have been occupied by Manchester United.

Are you with me so far..?

Enter Sir Henry Norris of Woolwich Arsenal, a boardroom bully, a master tactician, a knight of the realm, occupying a safe Conservative seat in Parliament.

Election, rather than promotion to a league was not uncommon and had been practiced many times before by the league's AGM. Norris knew that if he were to get Arsenal into the top league it would only be as the final club added to the mix – there were many others with bigger claims than the Gunners.

He therefore went about the task of supporting other clubs in their demand for first division status. First, he argued Chelsea’s case. A match proven to have been fixed had cost Chelsea their place in the league. That needed to be put right. If it wasn’t, he argued, Chelsea could well disrupt the whole process of getting the league going again, by asking for a judicial review of the procedures of the league. Chelsea it must be, said Norris, and Chelsea it was.

Next Norris supported the applications of Derby and Preston. They had played in a league in which the prize for their positions was clearly promotion – to change that rule now would be contrary to all natural justice he said. It was agreed – and with Chelsea’s place secured it now remained to decide exactly which club would be the final member of the enlarged league.

Two teams had an obvious claim. Tottenham Hotspur, who could argue that as Chelsea had survived relegation so should they, and Barnsley who came third in the old second division.

At this point Norris pulled his masterstroke. Having led the meetings and gained agreement on three issues he suddenly took a back seat and let the Liverpool delegation suggest that the final member should be…. Norris’ Arsenal.

Surprised? Maybe you shouldn't be. Remember, it was easier for the clubs i.e. Manchester United and Liverpool to play the game and support Sir Norris and his desire to get Arsenal elected. The alternative was clear. Norris would have been able to build a case against both, potentially having them catapulted in to Division Two on account of their "unresolved" pre-war match fixing. It was check-mate.

Exactly how Sir Henry Norris nobbled the Football League Management Committee has never been revealed but it is suspected that some of them were bribed in some way. Certainly in later life Sir Henry Norris was caught out in some unsavoury business and disappeared from public life.

Surely, 90 years is long enough for the football league to allow all supporters access to the information, relating to that day in 1919?

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Please help by distributing this link to other supporters. OnThePontyEnd will demand a response from the Football League by presenting this petition to them on 1st June 2009. With your help, this request will make these records available to the public, in full - for the first time ever.

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Ian Wilkinson

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