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GCR Books

Eddie Hapgood, captain of Arsenal and England

Continuing the series about players who played under George Allison, we come to Eddy Hapgood, who was signed by Herbert Chapman from Kettering Town, and played under both Chapman and Allison.

Eddie has been the subject of a piece here before, when I wrote a piece about his autobiography The idea here is to complete the story.

Herbert Chapman had managed Northampton Town in the Southern League.  Although near neighbours Kettering were in a more regional league they were a professional club at the time and there’s no doubt that Chapman kept in touch with the club.  Some writers have stated (without citing any evidence) that Kettering was a nursery club for Arsenal – I am not sure if that is true; for the moment I’m still thinking that Arsenal kept an eye on Kettering because of Chapman’s old connections with the area.

Quite what would have happened to Eddie had Chapman not come along we’ll never know of course, but almost certainly not captaincy of the league champions, captain of England, five championships, two FA Cups, and 30 international caps.

Edris Albert Hapgood was born in Bristol on 24 September 1908, the ninth of the ten children. He left school at 14, and worked in his brother’s milk round business while playing for St Philips Adult School Juniors, in Bristol.   He was then spotted by a director of Bristol Rovers and given a trial.

A few days later he was offered a contract at £8 a week but nothing in the summer.  When Eddie asked what happened in the non-playing season he was told that he would work on the director’s coal business as a truck driver.   He says in Sporting Ambassador that he preferred to stay with milk float as it was more upmarket than the coal truck, so didn’t sign.

He then signed for Kettering Town on £4 a week in winter and £3 in summer. And he could go back to Bristol for the family milk round.  Overall not as good a deal as he would have had with Bristol Rovers

In October 1927, after about a dozen matches for Kettering, the word about the players ability reached Arsenal and Chapman himself travelled to see the player.  He interviewed the man, questioned him about smoking and drinking, and offered the club £750 plus performance bonuses and a friendly match in which Arsenal guaranteed to bring some of their star players.

The friendly took place and this piece from Eddie’s book is repeated below.  I have run it before, but I love this because it was this piece from what is my local paper led to the idea of Jacko Jones in “Making the Arsenal”.

“The next time I go to see a match on the Rockingham Road ground at Kettering, I shall insist on being accompanies by Sherlock Holmes, the Big Four from Scotland Yard and a leading member of the British Magical Society.  Though I have no intention of causing any undue alarm in the camp of the faithful followers of the Poppies I feel it incumbent upon me to warn them, at the close of a thrilling season, that the green patch which covers the playing area conceals a treacherous quicksand wherein players disappear and are never seen again.

“Kettering were entertaining the Arsenal in a friendly fixture and with the exception of a goal or tow that happened along the in the first half all went well (though I believe diminutive Mitchell had some trouble with his shorts – they seemed to fit too tightly round his ankles).  It was after the referee blew the whistle for the refreshment interval that the tragedy happened.  Two strapping Arsenal players – David Jack and “Happy” Hapgood – vanished into thin air.  Presumably, the quicksands had swallowed them up not even a tuft of hair could be traced and the crowd stood aghast when the Arsenal re-started.  No David Jack, no Happy-go-lucky Hapgood.

“In their places appeared two substitutes, mysteriously revealed from some sort of Arsenal “pool” held in reserve (like a battalion in billets) somewhere behind the grandstand.  People wondered, they whispered in queer undertones.  What happened to Jack?  Where was Hapgood?

“If there had been another adjournment before the end of the match, I should not have been surprised to see the Arsenal team re-enter the arena with a brand new forward line, three halves borrowed from the Scottish League, two backs from West Bromwich , and a goalkeeper on loan from Newcastle United!

“I was just beginning to wonder where the police had authorised the issue of the second £500 reward notices when a powerful voice nearby informed the world that Jack and his friend had merely dropped out to gie two other Arsenal men a chance to kick the ball!”

(Football Ambassador by Eddie Hapgood published by GCR books

Kettering is one of those clubs which doesn’t seem to have any history on the internet – neither the club’s official site nor Wiki have anything much about the early club.  But we do know that in 1924 they joined the Southern League which at that time was divided into a western and eastern section.  and they were regularly in the top four, before winning it in the 1927-8 season – the season after Eddie left.   He was signed in 1927 – maybe Kettering used some of that money to improve the squad.

The story goes that Eddie was a thin player whom Tom Whittaker made take up weight training and abandon vegetarianism.  And if that’s so, it certainly worked.  His first game was against Birmingham City on 19 November 1927 away – a 1-1 draw in front of 10,300 people.  It was his first of three appearances that year.  He made 17 appearances the following season, and after that he was first choice all the time.

Hapgood also played for England 30 times, making his debut in 1930.  He then became England captain, and was captain in the match at Highbury on 14 November 1934, against the world champions Italy.  At this time England showed some sense in not participating in Fifa nonsense, and so had not played in the world cup and Fifa corruption.  But England assumed that they would have won the world cup if they had played, so for England, with its seven Arsenal players, this was the real world cup final.  England won 3-2 and Eddie broke his nose.

Sadly, although England’s FA could stand up to Fifa, they were less able to stand up to British appeasement of the Nazis in 1938 and the players were humiliated into giving a Nazi salute in a match in Berlin that year.  England won 6-3.  In his autobiography Eddie calls the event “the worst moment of my life, and one I would not willingly go through again,”

During the war Eddie Hapgood served in the RAF and played in unofficial games.    When professional football resumed for the 1946–7 Eddie was 37, and clearly too old to play for the club.  It is said he expected to be paid a long-service bonus which he was entitled to if the war years were counted (and he had certainly played for the club in the official games during that period).   But the club refused to count the war years as part of club service, and the argument was not resolved, so he left.

He moved into management (with just a short reprise of his playing career at Shrewsbury) managing Blackburn Rovers in Division One (1946-47), Watford in Division 3 (1948-50), and Bath City (1950-56) – a descent in class that suggests he really wasn’t a quarter of the manager that he was as a player.   Times were extremely hard for him and he asked Arsenal for some support – they gave him £30.

Later he worked running a YMCA hostel run by the atomic energy research centre at Harwell.


Despite being in good health for most of his life, aged 60 he developed heart trouble which forced an early retirement to Leamington Spa. He suffered a fatal heart attack while at a sports forum at Honiley Hall, Warwickshire, on 20 April 1973.

A blue plaque commemorating the life of  Eddie Hapgood was unveiled by his son Mike in September 2003 – a recognition of the greatest footballer ever to come from Bristol.  The plaque was moved from its original point when the house where he was brought up was pulled down, and it is now at Barton Hill Primary School where Eddie went to school.

Eddie died in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, on Good Friday 1973. He was 64 years old.

Edris Albert “Eddie” Hapgood (24 September 1908 – 20 April 1973)

14 comments to Eddie Hapgood, captain of Arsenal and England

  • nicky

    Two things I remember about Eddie Hapgood:
    (1)When he first joined Arsenal, whenever he headed a heavy wet ball, he tended to knock himself out. He had to build himself up with food and exercise to overcome the problem.
    (2)I once saw him play for Arsenal vs an RAF XI during WW2 in a charity game. Opposing him was the dazzling England right-winger and favourite of the fans, Stanley Matthews. Eddie never gave him a kick all match and every tackle that went in and interception made was met by a storm of booing. The large crowd felt cheated by not being able to see their hero perform his usual trickery against the opposing left back!

  • nicky

    Eddie’s son Mike may recall a 3 or 4 page article in (I think) Picture Post, all about his father and his sporting and home life. There were photos of his home and one in particular of Mr and Mrs Hapgood at their garden gate bidding farewell to Mike, off to school on his cycle. Remember that Eddie was Arsenal and England skipper at the time and a role model for all young sporting fans. This would have been about 1937/8.

  • nicky

    On second thoughts, the Picture Post article might have involved Tony Hapgood (if he was Eddie’s eldest).

  • Andy Kelly

    Let us not forget Eddie’s ability between the sticks. As was mentioned in the Frank Moss article, Eddie took over in goal when Frank dislocated his shoulder.

    He also played a whole game in goal during the second world war. On 12 April 1941 Arsenal’s goalkeeper couldn’t make the game so Eddie stood in. He let just 1 goal in a 1-1 draw against Tottenham.

    There are a couple of stories that tickled me in Football Ambassador. One was about a holiday that his family shared with the Bastins. The exotic location? Clacton!

    The other was when he got homesick having been at Arsenal for a year or so. He seriously considered quitting football altogether to go back to his milk round.

    How times have changed.

  • I had read — I think it was in “Arsenal: The Football Facts,” a book I sadly lost when a power outage in a storm caused my basement to get flooded and my bookcase collapsed — that Hapgood was destitute in his final, heart-troubled years, and that Arsenal (whether due to the Hill-Woods, the Bracewell-Smiths, or Bertie Mee, I don’t know) wouldn’t lift a finger to help the man who, then and possibly still now, stood as their greatest-ever left back.

    What I know about how North American sports franchises treat their players, including retired greats, is outrageous. It’s sad to see that the same management philosophy has all too often applied in English football as well. Arsenal should have publicly and officially thanked Hapgood and offered him a share of ownership. Considering how well Arsenal were doing on the pitch in his last years, it could have made things a lot easier for him.

  • nicky

    The way Eddie Hapgood was treated in his later life is a blot on the otherwise golden history of our Club. Here was a man, Club and national captain, a role model to all the youth of the country in the 1930’s leading up to WW2. I repeat, a disgraceful way to treat a loyal servant of the Club.

  • gunner31

    Very interesting Nicky. Are you referring soley to the issue of the payment he requested and Arsenal refused him? Or do you have other information? Brian Glanville is very interesting on the possible rivalry that may have existed between Hapgood and Tom Whittaker, a hugely influential figure not just in the history of Arsenal but in Hapgood’s career.

  • David Batt-Rawden

    I worked at what was originally called the Atomic Energy Research Establishment (AERE) at Harwell Oxfordshire between 1995-2011 -the place where Eddie Hapgood was a warden. Although most records say it was a YMCA hostel, retired staff who knew Eddie seem to think it was an Apprentice hostel for AERE science type Apprentices. Although there were extensive football facilities at Harwell it is also reported that Eddie never wanted to get involved in any football at all during his time at AERE. Apparently he moved from that site to another one, most probably Winfrith in Dorset. I once spent the afternoon with a friend searching for his grave in the cementry where he is is buried without success. I think for his service to England Eddie should have a statue put up at the other end of Wembley to Bobby Moore.

  • Paul Fuller

    I came across this blog while searching for information on Harwell apprentices – I was one from 1963 to 1968 (ouch). I knew Eddie Hapgood well in 1963 / 64 when he was the warden of our apprentices hostel in Lynch Lane, Weymouth. He was mostly a nice man who put up with a lot from a bunch (30 or so) of “know it all” youths. But I challenge the statement above that he wanted nothing to do with football by then. In fact he coached our hostel team and once we realised just who we were dealing with, he had our utter respect. He also had our ball – in training if Eddie chose to keep the ball, he just kept it – no amount of tackling by 3 or even 4 of us together could get it from him. Fantastic skill even at the age he was then – around 55 or so. He was also a good tennis player as some of us found to our cost. It is a great shame that he was not more highly valued by his ex club when times got hard.

  • Jerry

    “Later he worked running a YMCA hostel run by the atomic energy research centre at Harwell”

    In fact, Eddie was Hostel Manager for UKAEA’s Apprentice Hostel in Lynch Lane, Weymouth. The Hostel was home to young apprentices from Harwell and Risley, who received their first year of training at the Winfrith Apprentice Training School.

  • John Harris

    Hi, while I confess to not being an avid football fan I feel it might be of interest to fans of the Arsenal team (my step son certainly is)but in his retirement Eddie was the warden of a youth hostel in Weymouth Dorset called Egdon Hall. It was located in Lynch Lane opposite the Blumells factory that produced slide rules (young folk these days would not know what these were) and other instruments. Interestingly the building is still there. as is what was the Blumells factory opposite. While I suspect that this if of no interest to footy fans it might be to those wishing to know a little more about Eddie after his footy career.

  • John, all of this is of great interest. A lot of what we do on the site is try to put together a full life history of the players both within and outside of football.

  • Ray Hutt

    Hi Tony. Ray Hutt from Australia. I was an apprentice with UKAEA 1963 – 1969 and resided for one year at the Weymouth Hostel. Eddie was the manager and we had a great time – particularly in the football team that Eddie encouraged us into. I can still picture him in my mind at the Christmas party that year. Cheers. Ray Hutt

  • Paul White

    Ray Hutt this is Paul White from Swindon .How are you?My email address is whitepaul10@sky.com

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