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Leslie Knighton

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Leslie Knighton

Leslie Knighton
Personal information
Full name Albert Leslie Knighton
Date of birth (1887-03-15)15 March 1887
Place of birth Church Gresley, Derbyshire, England
Date of death 10 May 1959(1959-05-10) (aged 72)
Place of death Bournemouth, England
Teams managed
Years Team
1912 Huddersfield Town (caretaker)
1919-1925 Arsenal
1925-1928 Bournemouth
1928-1933 Birmingham
1933-1939 Chelsea
1945-1948 Shrewsbury Town

Albert Leslie Knighton (15 March 1887 – 10 May 1959) was an English football manager.

Knighton was born in Church Gresley, Swadlincote, Derbyshire. His own playing career was cut short by injury, after which he moved into coaching and management. He first had spells as an assistant manager at Manchester City (1909–12) and Huddersfield Town (1912–19) – and was briefly caretaker manager of the latter in 1912. In 1919 Knighton was appointed secretary-manager of Arsenal, shortly after the club had been promoted to the First Division.[1]

He oversaw the club for six years, but Arsenal never finished higher than mid-table, their best finish during his tenure being ninth in 1920-21.[2] Neither did Arsenal do well in the FA Cup under Knighton - in only one season, 1921-22, did Arsenal get beyond the second round of the competition, eventually losing to Preston North End in a quarter-final replay.[2]

During his time at Arsenal, Knighton had numerous fallings-out with Arsenal chairman Sir Henry Norris; Norris put a strict cap of £1,000 on transfer fees and refused to sign any player under 5'8" tall or eleven stone.[1] When Knighton signed the 5' tall Hugh "Midget" Moffatt from Workington in 1923, Norris was furious when he found out; he overruled his manager and promptly sold the player to Luton Town before he'd played a League game.[3] To get round Norris's rules, Knighton used his guile to sign some unusual transfers, such as the amateurs Reg Boreham and Jimmy Paterson - the latter was the Arsenal club doctor's brother-in-law, and went on to play nearly 80 games for Arsenal.[4]

Despite Norris's interfering, Knighton, thanks to an informal scouting system of his friends and former colleagues in the North, signed several high-quality players for Arsenal; these included Bob John, Jimmy Brain and Alf Baker, all of whom would be part of Arsenal's trophy-winning side of the early 1930s. However, he could never knit together a solid winning side and Arsenal's performances gradually declined towards the end of his tenure; they finished 19th in 1923-24 and 20th in 1924-25.[2]

During his final season at Arsenal, Knighton was involved in one of the first recorded cases of doping; before a January 1925 FA Cup first round tie against West Ham United, Knighton gave the players what he described as "little silver pills", given to him by a Harley Street doctor who was a fan of the club; although the pills were successful in increasing the players' energy, the side-effects caused them to have raging thirst. Arsenal drew the match 0-0 and before the replay they rebelled and refused to take them; Arsenal eventually lost 1-0 in the second replay after the first finished 2-2.[1] Knighton's activities, entirely legal under the rules at the time, were not made public until he recounted the episode in his memoirs.

Norris dismissed Knighton in the summer of 1925 and replaced him with Herbert Chapman. Knighton later alleged that Norris has only sacked him to avoid paying him a bonus (estimated at up to £4,000) from a benefit match that he was due.[5] Norris denied this and instead cited Arsenal's poor record that season (having finished 20th and knocked out of the FA Cup first round), but later regretted his dismissal, stating it was the one mistake in his career[6] and in his will left Knighton £100.

After leaving the Gunners, Knighton went on to manage Bournemouth (1925–28), Birmingham (1928–33), whom he led to the 1931 FA Cup Final, Chelsea (1933–39) taking over from the long serving David Calderhead, and Shrewsbury Town (1945–48), before their election to the Football League. Knighton retired to Bournemouth after suffering ill health and took on the less pressurised job of a golf club secretary, during which he found time to write an autobiography, Behind the Scenes in Big Football (1948). He died in 1959, aged 72.

It should be noted that the above account of Knighton's work, particularly his time at Arsenal FC has been strongly challenged by Tony Attwood, chair of the Arsenal History Society.

Attwood's central point is that Knighton's autobiography was published 23 years after he left Arsenal, and was written for serialisation in a Sunday newspaper. Knighton, Attwood alleges, makes many factual mistakes which suggests he had no recourse to documentation from the era, and was seeking to raise money for his retirement.

Among other issues Attwood challenges the issue of no players being transferred for over £1000 with the case of Fred Pagnam who transferred to Arsenal in October 1919 (one of Knighton's first transfers) for £1500

Attwood also cites the case of Dr James Paterson. Knighton claims he was reduced to using the brother in law of the club doctor as a player because Norris would not let him have the funds to sign anyone. But Paterson had won the league with Rangers, was a highly regarded player in Scotland who had moved to London to work, and who subsequently played for the English League. After he retired for playing Herbert Chapman persuaded to return to continue playing for Arsenal.

Attwood further cites the case of Sidney Hoar who on 22 November 1924 was purchased from Luton for £3000 in the era of “no transfer over “£1000″

In a further example Attwood cites the case of Hugh Moffatt. Attwood states that what Knighton does not reveal is that Moffatt came in 1923 from Workington at the time were in the North Eastern League - the 7th tier of English football, and that there was no chance of Moffatt moving into Arsenal's first team, at least for several years. Attwood argues that the player simply did not look up to standard and went to a 3rd Division South simply because he was not developing into a decent player If he had been a decent player then he would have been sold surely to a team higher up the league.

Through these and similar points of detail Attwood constructs the argument that the autobiography has been treated as prime evidence on the activity of Sir Henry Norris when it fact it is evidence only of Knighton's poor memory and need for money, and that none of its statements about Norris can be considered valid.


  1. ^ a b c Soar, Phil & Tyler, Martin (2005). The Official Illustrated History of Arsenal. Hamlyn. p. 41.  
  2. ^ a b c "Arsenal". Football Club History Database. 
  3. ^ Soar & Tyler (2005), pp.42-43
  4. ^ Soar & Tyler (2005), p.42
  5. ^ Soar & Tyler (2005), p.43
  6. ^ Soar & Tyler (2005), p.46

External links

  • Church Gresley's Most Famous Resident?
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