About Me

My photo
Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Eddie Hapgood - Footballing Ambassador

Tuning in for the Apprentice final, I caught the inevitably over running overblown pomposity of the BBC's sports personality of the year programme.  This of course featured David Beckham's lifetime achievement award which prompted immediate connections with his forebears in terms of caps and captaincy.  How many steps could you go back?  Peter Shilton, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton probably, Billy Wright possibly, but how about Wright's predecessor Eddie Hapgood? A pleasing benefit of the Arsenalisation programme, which is seeking to imbue the Gunners' new home with a sense of history and tradition befitting the club, was the very much nostalgic tone of the annual members pack.  Included inside was a copy of Eddie Hapgood's autobiography "Footballing Ambassador". In this era of ill fated FIFA schmoozing by the likes of modern day ambassador Beckham, it was a joy to read this account of  a real ambassador who in the role of representing his country in the 1930s came face to face with the forces which sought to shape the world in the most appalling way.  
Hailed as the first football autobiography, the book is no literary classic and in essence is actually a memoir due to the lack of any real narrative.  However as it has been reproduced without revision since it was originally published in 1945 it gives a rare window on the era without any attempt to filter it through the kaleidoscope of historical perspective.
Hapgood's football career in itself is the stuff of boy's own fantasy from an early memory of being find 2/6 at the age of ten for breaking a window playing football to setting records for the most England caps won and most as captain.  He was born in Bristol, and earned a living driving a milk cart before opting to join Kettering in preference to local club Rovers on the basis that the latter would have forced him to forego his milk cart for one carrying coal to earn money in the close season.  Quickly snapped up by Arsenal, despite losing his £10 signing on fee to a gang of card sharks on the train up to London, he quickly settled in as a full back in the Gunners 1930s side which swept all before them.  This produces many tales of life at Highbury and the likes of former Maidenhead resident George Allison, and "The Old Boss" Herbert Chapman, but the focus of the book is quite rightly his time spent in an England shirt, most of it as captain alongside pioneering administrator Stanley Rous.
International football really began to take off in the 1930s, with the institution of the World Cup which was contested three times in the decade.  England declined to take part, leaving one to wonder how they measured up against the top teams of the day, although the succession of friendlies described by Hapgood gives us a few clues, particularly the clash against Italy in the midst of their successive World Cup wins, which became known as the battle of Highbury.
The venue proved to be appropriate as the England team contained seven Arsenal players (pictured left) in a contest so vicious that one report in the press was scribed by "our war correspondent". England won 3-2 but this seemed secondary to the violent conduct on the pitch which saw Hapgood depart with a broken nose early on.  With no substitutes, he was patched up and returned to action finding it "a bit hard to play like a gentleman when somebody closely resembling an enthusiastic member of the Mafia is wiping his studs down your legs or kicking you up in the air from behind".
England though responded in kind as Hapgood recalled: "Wilf Copping enjoyed himself that afternoon. For the first time in their lives the Italians were given a sample of real honest shoulder charging and Wilf's famous double footed tackle.".
In a return game in Italy England came face to face with fascism, Hapgood doing his best to rile leader Mussolini with an ill directed clearance which hit Il Duce.  Matters took a more controversial turn when England visited Berlin and were requested to "Heil Hitler".  As captain Hapgood told the FA that the players would not co-operate but was eventually forced to do so in the name of diplomacy.Other destinations produced more mundane complaints such as the amount of garlic in the food in "Skodaland", and some old fashioned tomfoolery when Ken Willingham accepted a dare to go into a Ladieswear shop and ask to see a set of what are described as "unmentionables".  However throughout the tales of European tours the overriding impression is of a pioneering team, playing an important role in international relations.
Back on home turf, Hapgood conceded the first ever penalty awarded at Wembley.  With the opponents being Scotland, the importance of this foul led to him receiving abusive letters.  With the onset of World War Two, Hapgood joined the RAF, describing his joy at discovering he would be serving with Bill Shankly.  Active service did lead to another brush with the law though when Hapgood went AWOL in order to play in a North London derby.
The end of the war brought with it the end of Hapgood's football career and thus the end of the tale of this teetotal vegetarian who led his country with distinction for the princely sum of £8 per game.  Unlike Beckham he therefore lived a modest life following his retirement having played a much more politically important one in his career due to the exigencies of the time.

No comments: