Rewind to 1930

Chapman establishes Arsenal legacy

January 27, 2011
By Tom Adams
(Archive)

On Sunday, Arsenal play Huddersfield in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Superficially, very little unites the London Premier League giants and the Yorkshire club from League One, but they have a common denominator in one of football's most influential figures. It was Herbert Chapman who established Huddersfield as football's pre-eminent force in the 1920s, before repeating the feat with Arsenal in the 1930s. He secured Arsenal's first trophy in 1930 with a victory against his former side in the FA Cup final.

The bust of Herbert Chapman stood in Highbury's marbled halls as a reminder of the great man's transformative impact on the club
GettyImagesThe bust of Herbert Chapman stood in Highbury's marbled halls as a reminder of the great man's transformative impact

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The bronze busts of two Arsenal managers adorn the marbled directors' entrance at Emirates Stadium. One depicts Arsene Wenger, a man who transformed the club in 1996, with his new approaches to fitness and professionalism rippling through the Premier League. But for all his revolutionary impact, Wenger is not the man who brought modernity to Arsenal and the wider English game. That honour falls to the man across the hall from him, Herbert Chapman. He was a peerless innovator, a man who oversaw a tactical transformation that would reverberate around the globe, and the iconic figure who constructed Arsenal's first great side in the 1930s. Wenger is a veritable Luddite in comparison.

Chapman was a tactical pacesetter, creating the WM formation in 1925, and changed the way systems and strategies were imparted to players in a time when tactical coaching was rare. According to contemporary reports, "[Chapman] did his sides the inestimable service of making them think about the game and the results of his teachings were obvious on the field of play." He was also a visionary off the pitch, as he pushed for foreign tours and, to no avail, urged the Football Association to adopt shirt numbers and utilise floodlights.

At Arsenal, he introduced the Highbury clock, added white sleeves to the shirt and fought for Gillespie Road tube station to be renamed Arsenal. At Huddersfield and then Highbury, he was the inspiration behind two hat-tricks of title victories, a feat that has been achieved only twice since. Quite simply, Chapman was the man who made Arsenal a force in the English game, and the English game a more modern entity. It is no surprise, then, that his death in 1934 was met with claims that he was "the most notable figure in the football world for at least a decade".

A son of Yorkshire, Chapman, like Wenger, gave no indication as to his genius during an uneventful playing career. At the end of his time playing at the north end of Seven Sisters Road with Tottenham, though, Chapman learned through team-mate Walter Bull of a vacancy at Northampton Town for a player-manager in 1907. Handed responsibility for a team and its systems and processes for the first time, Chapman began to establish his reputation for tactical innovation as he honed an unusual counter-attacking style in an era when patiently drawing out an opponent was virtually anathema to the prevailing style.

After securing the Southern League title and then moving on to Leeds City in 1912, Chapman became embroiled in a scandal regarding alleged illegal payments to players. He refused to hand over Leeds' books to the authorities, so the club was expelled from the league and Chapman was initially banned for life in 1919. But two years later he was back in football with Huddersfield Town. He had been handed a second chance by the authorities, and it was one that he would grasp with both hands.

Having won the FA Cup when beating Preston in the final in 1922, Chapman then went on claim the title in 1924 and 1925. While Huddersfield completed the first ever hat-trick of championship wins following his move to Arsenal, his reign was still hailed in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner with the following passage: "His have been the brains behind the team, his the directing skill that has paved the way to success. Town is on everyone's lips today and for the proud position which it occupies in public esteem it has very largely Mr Chapman to thank."

Herbert Chapman strikes an iconic pose in January 1932, just two years before his death
PA PhotosHerbert Chapman strikes an iconic pose in January 1932, just two years before his death

At Huddersfield, Chapman began to conceptualise the tactics and methods that would elevate him to legendary status at Arsenal. He also began to assume the kind of status within the club that had eluded his contemporaries. As Jonathan Wilson writes in Inverting the Pyramid: "What was significant was not merely that Chapman had a clear conception of how the game should be played, but that he was in a position to implement that vision. He was - at least in Britain - the first modern manager, the first man to have complete control of the running of the club, from signings to selection to tactics to arranging for gramophone records to be played over the public address system."

This unprecedented control would also be in evidence, and be fully expressed, at Arsenal, despite the fact that the man who convinced Chapman to leave the English champions and join a struggling, but ambitious Gunners side was Sir Henry Norris, a man who regularly reduced Leslie Knighton to what Chapman's predecessor described as "fuming, helpless silence" with his autocratic ways. But Norris, himself a key figure in Arsenal's history, proved more pliable in his relationship with Chapman, most notably when agreeing to pay £2,000 for Sunderland's Charlie Buchan, as well as £100 for every goal the inside forward scored in his first season at Arsenal. He scored 21.

Though Buchan would retire in 1928 - before the dawn of Arsenal's golden age but after the FA Cup final defeat to Cardiff in 1927, when Dan Lewis famously knocked the ball over his own line with his arm to ensure the cup would leave England for the first and only time - he, in conjunction with Chapman, would leave his stamp on Arsenal's tactics in era-defining fashion. A change in the offside rule in 1925 convinced the two men that the traditional centre-half, at that point pushed up the pitch, would need to fulfil more of a defensive role, resulting in the 'third back' system. This defensive shift, coupled with a move to enhance the midfield by withdrawing an inside forward, marked a decisive moment in football's tactical evolution. Out of the ashes of 2-3-5 was born the WM system that would become standard in England and beyond.

Initial success with the new formation was patchy, but Chapman persisted and his innovative methods of actually coaching his players in the art of tactics, a rarity at the time, began to bear fruit. Explaining why he issued players with such instructions, Chapman later wrote: "Thirty years ago, men went out with the fullest licence to display their arts and crafts. Today they have to make their contribution to a system." When he found players capable of individual endeavours, yet fully yoked to his tactical approach, Chapman was ready to fulfil his pledge of bringing Arsenal their first piece of silverware within five years.

The addition of Eddie Hapgood in 1927 was key. Cliff Bastin would later claim the full back "bore the stamp of greatness. Eddie had football developed into a meticulously exact science", and after being put, according to Brian Glanville in his The Real Arsenal: From Chapman to Wenger, on a course of beefsteaks by trainer Tom Whittaker to toughen him up, his place at the back of Arsenal's great side was assured. Meanwhile, in more advanced roles, the acquisition of future record goalscorer Bastin, from Exeter City, and Preston North End's gifted passer Alex James in the summer of 1929 would transform Arsenal's attack.

With the side still adapting to the new arrivals, Arsenal struggled to 14th in the league in the 1929-30 season, but they progressed to the FA Cup final where they would meet none other than Chapman's former side, Huddersfield. At the manager' insistence, the two teams, watched over by King George V, set a new tradition by walking out side-by-side for the first time. They were soon separated when, after 17 minutes, the visionary James found Bastin on the left with a quick free kick. Bastin returned the ball to his team-mate who fired into the corner. The goal had been predestined. As Glanville reports, James told Bastin on the coach on the way to Wembley: "If we get a free kick, I'll slip the ball out to you right away. Hold it, then let me have it back, and I'll put it into the net."

The crowd assembled at Wembley looked on as the Graf Zeppelin hovered over the stadium during the 1930 FA Cup final
GettyImagesThe crowd assembled at Wembley were reported to boo and jeer as as the German airship Graf Zeppelin hovered over the stadium during the 1930 FA Cup final

After a memorable interlude in which the huge German airship Graf Zeppelin passed over Wembley, a long clearance from James then found Jack Lambert in the centre circle after 83 minutes, and he darted away from two men before beating the goalkeeper to make it 2-0. Having vanquished his former side, Chapman broke with tradition once more by inviting Huddersfield to dine with Arsenal after the cup final. Opposing chairman Mr Hurst said in response: "A great friendship exists between the Arsenal and Huddersfield, and I hope they will meet again in the cup and that the result will be different."

Huddersfield, though, would never again win a major trophy. Arsenal's first, secured thanks to the genius of Chapman and his modern approach, ushered in a wonderful era for the North London club. The blueprint for success had been set.

What happened next? Arsenal were crowned league champions in 1931 and went on to secure three successive titles in 1933, 1934 and 1935. However, Chapman would not live to see the second after dying suddenly of pneumonia in January 1934 after trips to watch Bury and Sheffield Wednesday. The presence at his funeral of officials from France, Sweden and Austria was testament to his impact on the European game, while his obituary in The Times described how "the full effect of his influence on the game cannot be gauged yet". Nearly 80 years on, Chapman's legacy at Huddersfield, Arsenal and beyond is abundantly clear.