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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.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Men Who Made Modern Football #4 - Herbert Chapman

At the end of a week when not only Arsene Wenger’s 20 year reign at Arsenal is being celebrated, but also many of his English peers are in the dock for their shortcomings on and off the pitch, it’s a relief to reflect on the life of an Englishman who as well as turning Arsenal into a leading English club, was also an iconoclast who was involved in many innovations which soon became common practice and tradition.
As every fan should know he created not one but two teams at two different clubs which won three English titles in consecutive years. Great enough to compare to Liverpool and Manchester United’s similar feats in modern times, but greater still when you consider Huddersfield Town and Arsenal had won nothing when he arrived at Leeds Road and Highbury respectively.
Tactical innovation was at the heart of this success, which as well as the radical W-M formation, extended to fitness, kit design, marketing and the colour of the ball. All this from a man who despite a modest playing career, created the concept of the manager as we know it today.
The son of a Yorkshire coal miner, Chapman’s intellect gained him a place at Sheffield Technical College studying mining engineering. Aptly for a sporting family, he was one of eleven children, with his younger brother Harry winning the League and Cup for The Wednesday. An inside right, Herbert had a long route to the top, starting out in the Kiveton Park Colliery youth team before moving into the Lancashire League. A brief spell with elder brother Tommy at Grimsby Town was followed by a return to non league football. The precarious balance between developing his career off the pitch and maintaining his progress on it meant he switched between amateur and professional status with Sheffield United and Notts County, and at the age of 29 eventually decided to finish his playing career to pursue his career in engineering, after ending the 1906/07 season with Southern League Tottenham Hotspur.
However before the summer was out he was tempted back into the game as player-manager of Northampton who had finished the previous season bottom of the Southern League. Reflecting that "No attempt was made to organise victory.", and  "a team can attack for too long", Chapman set out about to create a radical counter attacking system, withdrawing half backs (midfielders) to create space for his forwards. Signing players to suit the system, Northampton were Southern League champions in 1909 but could not move up to the two division Football League. Naturally Chapman proposed the Football League expand by two divisions but this did not happen until 1920. In the meantime Chapman returned to his native Yorkshire to manage Leeds City.
Arriving at Elland Road in 1912 with the club facing re-election to Football League Division Two, Chapman took Leeds to fourth place in the final season before World War One. For the duration of hostilities Chapman worked in a munitions factory and following the armistice decided to formally resign from the club and take a job in the mining industry. Unfortunately when the league resumed in 1919, an accusation of financial irregularities by a former player was met with a blunt refusal from Leeds to comply with the resulting investigation and they were expelled from the league, Chapman receiving a life ban along with other club officials.
The ban was eventually overturned, given Chapman was not at the club when the charges were made, and following redundancy, returned to football as assistant manager at Huddersfield Town in 1921. Within a month Chapman took over as manager, introducing his tactics of strong defence and fast counter attack, signing players to fit the system including wingers who were instructed to make passes which split the defensive line, rather than heading for the byline and cutting the ball back. Little more than a year later Huddersfield had won their first major trophy by beating Preston North End at Stamford Bridge to win the 1922 FA Cup.

Using a complex scouting network to further improve his squad, the Terriers won their first league title in 1924 which they successfully defended in 1925 but before they made it three in a row, Chapman had moved to North London.
Arsenal chairman Henry Norris was an ambitious man, having already moved the Gunners from Woolwich to Highbury, and inveigled them into Division One. He doubled Chapman’s salary and allowed him to sign Charlie Buchan, one of the leading strikers of the era. With the offside law changing to the current one in the summer of 1925, Chapman fined tuned his tactics to create the WM formation, a 3-4-3 structure, the centre half now withdrawn into defence along the two full backs, two inside forwards joining the two remaining half backs in midfield. This was in stark contrast to the conventional 2-3-5.
As ever Chapman found himself with the job of transforming a team used to the wrong end of the table and as always he had an instant impact, Arsenal finishing a best ever second to triple title winners Huddersfield. Twelve months later the Gunners reached Wembley only to lose the FA Cup Final to Cardiff. This coincided with the club becoming embroiled in a financial scandal which led to Norris being banned and subsequently allowed Chapman more control at the club. The next two seasons saw Chapman carefully build his team with judicious signings, including David Jack from Bolton at a reduced price after Chapman slowly inebriated the Trotters’ directors whilst he drank alcohol free gin and tonic.

Arsenal reached Wembley again in 1930, and as Huddersfield were the opponents Chapman suggested that both teams walk out together, another first which we will see again today. Arsenal won the Cup and in 1931 added to their first ever trophy with a league title. They won three in a row from 1932-5, another Cup in 1936 and the league again in 1938, so that by the end of the decade they were firmly established with the status they hold today as one of the leading English clubs.
Sadly Chapman did not live to see all of this success, dying of pneumonia in January 1934, having cast the die for the club’s future. As well as creating a strict training regime focused on fitness, using professional physiotherapists and masseurs, he advocated white footballs, numbers on shirts, and changed Arsenal’s kit to a brighter red with white sleeves and blue hooped socks, all to sharpen focus on teammates and the ball. Off the pitch he installed floodlights, the Arsenal clock and scoreboard, designed new turnstiles, and renamed Gillespie Road underground station, all to attract more support.
Whilst at Northampton he had signed black player Walter Tull, and would have signed European players for Arsenal had he not been blocked by the FA. He organised friendlies against teams from the continent and made contact with some of his foremost foreign peers.
Insisting on having sole control of team affairs, unlike the selection committees at other clubs, Chapman introduced a weekly team meeting to facilitate discussion of tactics amongst his players, and team building activities such as golf days. Although his team were knocked as “Lucky” or “Boring” for their economical but ruthless use of possession, they could fairly be described as free scoring with as many as 127 goals in the first title season of 1931, perhaps in the style of Leicester City’s 2015 league winners.
He left the club top of the league despite having already started to rebuild his successful squad to ensure their dominance would remain until it was interrupted by World War Two. The biggest tribute though came in November 1934 when a record breaking seven of his Arsenal team were selected to play for England against world champions Italy at Highbury. Needless to say England won 3-2.

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