Ginger was the man who rose to the challenge to turn Wembley Stadium into the Olympic stadium
PUBLISHED: 12:57 25 July 2012
He rose from selling cigarettes outside to becoming the boss of Wembley and he went on to the presiding genius when it came to organising the 1948 Olympics.
The young Norwich man selling cigarettes from a kiosk outside Wembley in the 1920s had a plan to make money – and streetwise Ginger knew how to make a bob or two.
Within a few years he would own the place.
Arthur Elvin, known to his friends, as Ginger was a boy from Magpie Road, who went out to earn money to help keep the family together after his policeman father died delivering the Evening Nws.
He then went on to work in France after being released as a prisoner in the first world war – breaking down ammunition.
Yesterday, I told of Arthur’s early days in Norwich and how he left for London and France and then back to London where he had run out of cash.
He was selling cigarettes, thousands of them, and then hit on an idea to get an option on nearby shops not doing so well and selling the lease to others who were doing better.
“As I rule I made about £100 on the deal and in one season I earned just under a thousand pounds in that way,” he told the Sunday Chronicle in the 1930s.
He married the girl who ran a shop next door and set about buying and selling properties – making a tidy profit. In the summer of 1927 he bought the Empire Stadium. His drive and ambition, hard work and attention to detail turned a while elephant into the showpiece of English football.
Arthur opened the Empire Pool and Sports Arena on land nearby. An indoor pool could be turned into an ice rink for hockey, skating and shows. This in turn could be covered for boxing, basketball, tennis and other activities.
He was the head of a world famous sporting complex, and in 1948 he took his biggest gamble of all by putting up £100,000 for the Olympic Games to be held in London.
The News of the World declared at the time:
“From cigarette kiosk to a Stadium of Empire.
“Elvin’s flair for staging the spectacular, the original and the unique has brought shows from all four corners of the earth.”
And he was praised as one of the few men suited to the Herculean task of staging the large part of the greatest sporting festival ever staged in Britain.
Staging the Olympics was a challenge Arthur grabbed by the scruff of the neck.
He was not an easy man to work for.
A hard-drinker with a rich vocabulary, one of his workers said: “He’ll work you to death but he’ll give you a lovely funeral.”
People respected, while others feared, the man who never lost his Norwich accent and was proud to have come from the city. He invited members of the Bull Close Boys Brigade to Wembley Stadium as his guests on several occasions.
Although greyhound racing was big at Wembley Arthur was not a betting man and he loved speedway and ice hockey. He was chairman and managing director at Wembley – and very much a hands-on boss.
His home was called Norfolk House and he was one of the first motorists to net a personalised number plate – AJE 1 – translated by his staff as “After Jehovah, Elvin First.
Arthur, who never had children, died while on a cruise to South Africa in 1957. He was 57.
The paper boy from Norwich had been knighted, made an MBE, a Freeman of the Borough of Wembley and a deputy Lieutenant of Middlesex.
As his mother once said: “He was a rare pushin’ lad.”