Date: 8th July 2012 at 4:02pm
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You may remember some weeks ago I pledged to produce a series on some of Arsenal`s longest ever servants. I warmed to the theme with a piece on Arsenal goalkeeper, coach and all round Ambassador Bob Wilson. Wilson permeates a fair few surviving generations of Arsenal fans, whether people in their 50s and above recall him as a player, or those of us in our 20s to 40s knew him as a coach and broadcaster, or even if you`re a more recent fan that has attended a stadium tour or tuned into the club`s internet TV channel. The next servant I will focus on is unlikely to be remembered by readers.

He died in 1963, retired in 1956 and stopped playing in 1922. However, Joe Shaw is the club`s longest ever servant, having given Arsenal just shy of half a century`s service. He managed the club in a caretaker capacity in traumatic circumstances- collecting a league title in doing so, managed the reserves with huge success, and captained the team as a player and full back. He oversaw trauma and tragedy, unparalleled success, a couple of wars and Arsenal`s move from suburban Kent outpost to North London city clickers. His time at the club was nothing if not eventful.

Joseph Ebeneezer Shaw was born in Bury in Lancashire on May 7th, 1883. Little is known about Shaw`s upbringing, save for the fact that, some time around 1900, he joined his local side Bury as a teenager. How long he stayed is not precisely known, but shortly after he joined founding members of the football league Accrington Stanley. (Though at this stage, they had resigned their status in the football league. He had swapped First Division Bury for a club who were no longer league members). He did win silverware with Accrington, winning the Lancashire Combination league in 1907.

Woolwich Arsenal manager Phil Kelso had been supervising a steady rise in the team`s fortunes. Following promotion to the First Division in 1904, they had progressed pleasingly and finished in 7th place in 1906-07- their highest ever league finish. They had also made the last four of the F.A. Cup in consecutive seasons. Kelso wanted a back up left back for Scottish international Jimmy Sharp, so Joe Shaw was persuaded to make the move to South London. Shaw made his debut in September 1907 in a 3-0 defeat at Preston North End. His opportunities were limited in the 1907-08 season, in which Arsenal slipped to 14th.

The vision Shaw would have been sold the club was exposed as fa├žade as the club`s fortunes and their finances began to unravel. In 1908, George Morell, a famously spendthrift man, was appointed as manager. Sharp was sold to Glasgow Rangers, which meant Shaw became the first choice left back. The issue however, was that a good chunk of the first team were also sold to ease the Woolwich club`s deepening fiscal crisis. Bert Freeman, Tim Coleman, star striker Jimmy Ashcroft, Billy Garbutt, Andy Ducat and Bobby Templeton also had to be sold before 1909. The club`s money troubles also saw them let go of promising young Reserve striker Charlie Buchan over an expenses claim, as I documented . last week.

Woolwich Arsenal eventually finished bottom of the league in 1912-13 and were relegated. It was at this point that Norris was convinced to turn Woolwich Arsenal from down on their luck South London also rans to North London`s newest power. Shaw played on with the team in the Second Division in 1913-14, with Woolwich Arsenal finishing 3rd. But then competitive football was suspended as war broke out in Europe. Given his Woolwich vantage point, Shaw served as a munitions worker in the Dial Square armament factory that spawned the club. Shaw would play wartime friendlies for the club when he could. However, in February 1916, Arsenal arranged a friendly against Reading. The factory would not release Shaw to play, so eager reserve striker Bob Benson volunteered to take this place at full back. Benson came over unwell in the first half and had to be substituted, complaining of dizziness. He collapsed and died in the dressing room due to a burst blood vessel in his brain. Benson would be buried in his Arsenal shirt.

By the time hostilities ceased, the club, now having dropped the Woolwich prefix and known simply as “Arsenal” were promoted in a controversial football league election. Arsenal were a First Division club again and Shaw was appointed captain. Having played his career predominantly as a left back, Shaw moved across to right back. In April 1921, Shaw became only the third Arsenal player in history to reach 300 appearances for the club, following Percy Sands and Roddy McEachrane. He retired from playing in 1922, at the age of 38, having played 326 times for the club. He never scored a goal. Had the first world war not interrupted his career, he surely would have hit the 500 mark.

Shaw was a quiet and modest man but commanded huge respect at Arsenal. Upon his retirement, Leslie Knighton immediately added him to his backroom staff as a coach. Shaw showed an instant aptitude for coaching, as a confidante that players felt they could trust. He had a taciturn, yet firm demeanour. He instantly impressed new manager Herbert Chapman, appointed in 1925, and the Yorkshireman promoted him to Reserve team manager. Chapman felt deeply that the Reserve side should play in exactly the same fashion as the first team so that they could be ready for first team duties and slot straight into the system if required. It sounds rather perfunctory nowadays, but in the 20s, managers would take little to no interest in the Reserves and would see training as merely a fitness exercise. That Chapman trusted Shaw to be his shadow manager, as it were, spoke emphatically of Shaw`s qualities as a coach.

Together with Tom Whittaker, Shaw would become the fulcrum of Chapman`s backroom staff and his most trusted lieutenants. In his book, ‘Forward Arsenal`, long serving Arsenal left back Bernard Joy said, “Their (Shaw and Whittaker`s) personalities helped fashion the club and Chapman relied on them for discipline, tone and smooth working of the administrative machinery.” Captain of that 30s side Eddie Hapgood was similarly effusive about Chapman`s allies, “Shaw is cut of the same mould as Whittaker. Kindly, helpful, always ready to lend an ear to a player`s troubles.” Shaw spent a total of 12 years in charge of the Reserves. He won the Reserve league championship on 9 occasions.

However, much as Arsenal`s quiet man had no desire for the spotlight, he would be called into centre stage at the club`s darkest hour. In January 1934, manager Chapman unexpectedly and tragically died of pneumonia. Shaw was appointed Caretaker Manager. To that point, Arsenal had only lost 2 of their 24 league games and seemed to be running away with a second consecutive league title. But the tragedy hit the club and the team hard. Not least Joe himself, who had seen his boss and mentor`s tragic demise. Shaw won his first game in charge, an unmemorable 1-0 F.A. Cup win over Luton, but a side in mourning lost 3 consecutive league games; to Manchester City, Tottenham and Everton respectively. Captain at the time Eddie Hapgood recalled how Shaw nurtured the team at a time of grief. “After the old boss died- and his passing hit Joe hard, if not harder than it did us- he sent each of the players connected with Chapman`s regime a framed tribute containing a grand verse.”

Shaw did steady the ship though. He felt it was of paramount importance to stiffen the defence and get Arsenal over the line. They won 8, drew 2 and lost 1 of their final 11 games, conceding only 47 goals, compared to 61 the season before. Though they registered only 75, well short of the previous season`s total of 118. In March, he and Allison concluded Chapman`s dying wish and signed striker Ted Drake from Southampton. Drake played the last ten games and scored seven goals, it was enough for Shaw to have steered Arsenal through its most grievous ever period to the league title in 1933-34.

However, Shaw, still grieving the death of Chapman himself, did not want the manager`s job on a full time basis. George Allison was appointed with Shaw resuming his role with the Reserves. However, Allison was no football brain and he relied heavily on Whittaker and Shaw for tactics and player liaison. This was a fractious time in the dressing room too; emotions ran high in response to Chapman`s death and it`s said that a few players resented Allison`s exalted role as someone with no football coaching background. Shaw and Whittaker kept the dressing room together and Arsenal went on to win two more league titles and an F.A. Cup prior to war halting league football once again in 1939.

By now 56, Shaw stayed with the club during the war, but Arsenal, like most league clubs, were ravaged by financial difficulties when peace was declared in 1945. This meant the Reserve side simply was not reconstructed when competitive football started again in 1945, so Shaw moved across the capital to Chelsea. 18 months later, with Chapman`s side either retired, ageing or injured in the war effort, Allison retired in 1947 and the club appointed Tom Whittaker as his successor. Whittaker needed an Assistant Manager and he called his old friend Joe Shaw. Joe did not need any convincing. Together, Shaw and Whittaker won the league title in 1947-48 and 1952-53 as well as the F.A. Cup in 1950.

Arsenal struggled to hold on to their 30s legacy thereafter and when captain Joe Mercer retired in 1954, the side began to drift into mediocrity. Whittaker and Shaw were the last links to that glorious decade and the pressure began to tell. At the beginning of 1956, Shaw, by now 73 years old, announced his intention to retire to Whittaker. Tom, his brandy and caffeine habit adding to the pressures on his body, sought a replacement who would, he hoped, eventually succeed him as manager. But he could not forge the same trusted bond he had shared with Shaw. He appointed Alex Stock, Leyton Orient`s manager in February 1956. Stock had a difference of opinion with Whittaker and lasted only 53 days in the job. Whittaker died of a heart attack that November.

Shaw had retired as a coach, but as the last remaining connection to both the Chapman era and the club`s South London roots, Denis Hill Wood appointed him as a club ambassador due to the huge respect he commanded. The role was more ceremonial than anything, Shaw was hardly known as the most socialite flesh pressers. In fact, journalist and Arsenal fan Brian Glanville described interviewing him in 1952 for a book about Arsenal as “like getting blood from a stone.” In 1958, Shaw retired from club duty altogether, having racked up a record breaking 49 years in the club`s employ. He would surely have broken the half century had Arsenal had a Reserve team for him to coach in 1945. Shaw saw relegation, geographical upheaval, seven league titles, three F.A. Cups, 9 Reserve league titles, he saw the club through its ultimate grief in Chapman`s death, he appeared 326 times and lived through two world wars. But his bind with Arsenal remained constant. LD.

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