Date: 13th May 2008 at 9:38pm
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The second of Arsenal’s great innovators will raise absolutely no eyebrows. Following on from Henry Norris is the son of a coalminer from Rotherham. Not only the man who truly put Arsenal on the map, but a man who sped up the evolution of English football, he was so far ahead of his time he let the metronome chase him! Herbert Chapman’s innovations still permeate the beautiful game to this day and the conservatives he fought and overcame still echo throughout modern football. In fact, the biggest compliment I could pay our current manager is that he is genuflecting the ghost of Mr. Chapman. Not only did Chapman reform the mechanics and machinations of the sport, but he imbued it with a philosophy that was truly revolutionary. He was a practical and pragmatic man who understood the power of football as spectacle and the role of the supporters in a way that the suits and bigwigs had never considered.

Chapman led a modest playing career, largely as an amateur footballer (sound familiar?), but came to prominence as manager of Northampton Town, whom he led to the Southern League in 1910. As a result, he attracted the attention of Leeds City, but was controversially banned from football for financial irregularities. He appealed successfully and Huddersfiled Town would reap from the seeds of his genius, winning an F.A. Cup and two First Division titles between 1920 and 1924. But Chapman was attracted to an advertisement placed in the Athletic News for the position of manager of perenially relegation threatened Arsenal. (Doubtless the opportunity to double his salary contributed to his curiosity). Chapman took the Arsenal job in 1925, a modern day equivalent of such a move today would probably necessitate Alex Ferguson taking over at Fulham. Chapman immediately set about signing big stars to get the crowds back to Highbury, signing Charlie Buchan from Sunderland, which made Arsenal fans sit up and take notice. Buchan would be pivotal in one of Chapman’s first masterstrokes.

In June 1925, the offside law was amended. Now two defenders needed to be between attacker and keeper for a forward to be considered offside as opposed to three. Buchan suggested that the Centre Half be moved from a roaming midfield position to a full time stopper, changing the formation from 2-3-5 to a 3-4-3 (commonly known as the WM formation). Other sides had attempted this tactic, but Chapman’s idiosyncracity was to push the full backs wide to cover the wings and adopt a swift counter attacking game, reliant on speedy wingers and ultra fit players. In his maiden season, Chapman took Arsenal to second, finishing behind his old club Huddersfield. Essentially, Chapman’s sides filled the first and second positions in England’s top flight. Chapman was cautious about expectations and spoke of a 5 year plan. The Gunners spent the rest of the 20s in mid table as Chapman setabout moulding his team into his vision. They did reach the 1927 Cup Final to Cardiff City thanks to an error from keeper Dan Lewis. Lewis blamed the sheen on his brand new jersey for the slip and to this day no Arsenal goalie has ever worn a brand new goalkeeper’s shirt in a competitive match.

Herbert set about signing the pawns tailored to his vision, Jack Lambert, Tom Parker and Joe Hulme arriving. But Chapman’s real breakthrough came in 1928 when autocratic Chairman Henry Norris was banned from football. Peter Hill Wood’s Grandfather Samuel took the reigns and Chapman set about taking control of the club. The new board took a laissez faire approach and did not meddle with Chapman’s decision making (sound familiar?). In an age when boards of Directors made team selections and managers were expected to oversee training, Herbert broke the mould. ‘Why interfere when you’ve got experts to do the job?’ he once wrote in his Daily Express column. David Jack, Cliff Bastin and ‘Wee’ Alex James were signed to complete his attacking vision, whilst Eddie Hapgood finished the backline. Five years into his reign, Chapman delivered Arsenal’s first silverware, defeating his old side Huddersfield in the 1930 F.A. Cup Final. The sides walked out side by side for the match in deference to Chapman, the first time this had ever happened in top flight football. The side was a well oiled unit, with Alex James (the first ‘glamour’ footballer, Chapman allowed his questionable habits to go unpunished, such as allowing James to sleep in on matchdays, elucidating his man management acumen) the side’s star turn. James played what is now considered the Number 10 role, roaming behind the strikers and weaving through balls to lightning wingers Bastin and Jack. When Arsenal lost possession, the midfield would drop back, allowing the opposition possession but creating a brick wall effect on the edge of the area. Once the ball had been won back, the ball was given to James, who would usually find one of the wing heeled widemen. (Think Bergkamp feeding Anelka and Overmars).

This led to critics familiar whine of ‘Lucky Arsenal.’ But Chapman delivered a league title in 1930-31 with 127 goals. In 1931-32, Arsenal finsihed second and lost the Cup Final to Newcastle. 1932-33 saw Arsenal regain the title, despite the biggest cup upset in history, losing to Walsall. (Think United losing to a Conference side at home). He began to rebuild his ageing side in 1933-34 as Arsenal won another title, but Chapman succumbed to pneumonia in January 1934 and died. But Chapman had set the foundations that reverberate around the club to this day. He was a strict trainer who believed in immense fitness levels, he was the first British manager to use physios and masseurs. He encouraged players to discuss tactics in weekly meetings and socialise in team building events when the practise was considered strange. Herbert proposed a European Cup competition more than 20 years before it was implemented in the 1950s. This in an age when the F.A. explained England’s withdrawal from the 1930 World Cup with the missive, ‘we’ll learn nothing from playing a bunch of spics and dagos.’ The language may be more bland, but Arsenal’s current manager battles similar parochialism some seventy years on.

Chapman dismissed the F.As insularity and took Arsenal to play foreign sides often. He bought Arsenal’s first black player and the first Dutchman to play in England’s top flight. He was however, blocked from purchasing an Austrian goalkeeper by the Players Union. He founded the liberal values which Arsenal continued throughout the great Irish players in the 70s,the black players in the 80s and today’s cosmopolitan smorgasboard of nationalities. Chapman also understood the power of football as a spectacle. He considered the supporters to be as integral as the players and set about building a roof on the West Stand and the Laundry End to keep the rain off spectators and created extra room in the Laundry End by encouraging local tradesmen to dump rubbish underneath it, making the bank steeper. (This is where the myth of the horse buried under the North Bank emanates from, legend has it that a horse backed up too closeto the steep drop underneath the Laundry End and tumbled in). He installed the infamous Clock End timepiece to add a sense of drama and interaction for the fans. The F.A. took umbrage at his 45 minute clock idea,thinking it might undermine the referee, but backtracked and allowed a conventional timepiece to be installed. Gerge Male would later attest, ‘Herbert knew football was an event and wanted the fans to be part of the game.’ Chapman insisted his players emerge from the tunnel, walk to the centre circle and applaud all four sides of the ground to acknowledge the people who had parted with their money. It is a tradition the Arsenal team has upheld to this day.

Chapman was awash with panoramic ideas. He advocated white footballs, shirt numbers, installed floodlights at Highbury twenty years before they were permitted at football matches. He added hooped socks and white sleeves to the Arsenal kit to make his players more visible to one another. He even designed Highbury’s scoreboard and turnstiles! Famously, he had the name of the Gillespie Road tube station changed to Arsenal to increase the club’s profile. Chapman saw the potential of football to become enormous, in his era, the fascination was principally with Speedway, with engines and motors still new inventions. But Chapman knew this fascination would die down and football had more staying power. He insisted on the renovation of Highbury to be more comfortable for spectators, the addtion of roofing not only kept the elements out, but it kept the noise in. Undertile heating and marble baths appeared in BOTH home and away dressing rooms, away teams were led through the Marble Halls by a concierge who doffed his cap at visiting players. This in an age when footballers were salt of the earth working class men living hard post war lives.

Chapman’s image is famously immortalised by Jacob Epstein’s legendary bust. The teams of the 60s and 70s actually asked for the bust to be removed, along with the pictures of his all conquering team, as they found his immense legacy a burden. Frank McLintock contends that he discussed something similar with Don Howe in the late 60s. Howe thundered back, ‘those pictures bother you? Replace them! Make sure your own pictures go up there!’ Twelve months later Arsenal won the Fairs Cup. So you see, not even the reaper could hold back dear old Herbert. Current Chairman Peter Hill Wood sums it up best, ‘my Grandfather always said that Herbert should have been Prime Minister. He was a great, great man.’LD.