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Herbert Chapman: season 2 and a cup final

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By Tony Attwood

I don’t know of any contemporary commentaries from 77 years ago, but for the regulars at Highbury1926/7 must have started as a season as stupendous promise.   Having never won a single thing of consequence (not the second division, not the first division, not the FA cup) Arsenal had hired the man who delivered unto Huddersfield Town two league titles.   The repayment of Norris’ belief in the man who had once been banned from football for life was the highest ever position of Arsenal – second in the first division.

Surely 1926/27 would be Arsenal’s year.  Huddersfield didn’t have Chapman, Arsenal did.  Arsenal had clearly sorted out the new offside rule, with the second best defence in the league.  Most importantly they had moved from one place from relegation to one place for the championship in one season.  Was this man a genius or what?

Well, what?

In the following season Arsenal didn’t win the league.  But there was a bit of a compensation.

Let’s start with the First Division.

We finished the previous season with a 3-0 victory over Birmingham at home using this line up

Lewis

Parker  Butler John

Young Blyth

Lawson  Buchan  Brain Ramsay Hulme

The next season began with this team for a 2-1 victory over Derby county on 28 August 1926:

Harper

Parker Butler John

Baker Byth

Hulme Buchan Brain Ramsay Haden

Chapman now had his feet under the table and was been lauded as a god.  So his team selection is worth noting.  Three players were changed between the end of his first season and the start of his second: Harper, Baker and Haden being the new comers.  Here’s the what’s and why’s.

  • Harper had in fact played 19 games in goal the previous season, dropping out of the team in April.
  • Baker had played 31 games the previous season dropping out also in April.
  • Haden played 25 games, dropping out in February.

Now I don’t know why these players stopped playing, but in all cases they stopped at the date given and didn’t play again that season.  April might seem to be near season’s end but in fact because of the way the league was arranged in those days, Harper missed the last seven games of the season, Baker missed the last five, and Haden the last 15.

I am sure someone with better records than I will be able to confirm the matter, but to me it looks like a case of injury for each player.

So, we now put this in perspective.  Mr Chapman, having taken us to second in the league used the same players as were available to him at the end of the last season.  He had created his team, and he was happy with it, that must be the general view.

In league terms the season did not deliver.  After those first two victories arsenal won only two out of the next 14, and the season, in terms of building on that wonderful second place was gone.

Arsenal did recover in the league, and ended 11th, thanks not least to a run of five consecutive wins in April.  But it was in the cup that matters progressed:

  • Round 3 Sheffield United
  • Round 4 Port Vale (division 2) (after a 2-2 draw)
  • Round 5: Liverpool
  • Round 6: Wolverhampton (division 2)
  • SF: Southampton (division 2)
  • Final: Cardiff

Arsenal’s progress was helped by having to play three out of the eighth matches against lower league teams and never having to play a top seven club from the first division.  But we lost the final 0-1, and so the first trophy was not to be.

But still Mr Chapman had delivered another unknown for Arsenal – a cup final – and there was still hope, despite the return to mid table for the league.

The cup final team was

Lewis

Parker Butler Kennedy

Baker John

Holme Buchan Brain Blythe Hoar

Two new names were in the team by this time.

Kennedy had been number 3 in the club in the year before Chapman arrived but had been downgraded to reserve, filling in when John either was unfit or was moved into midfield.  He got 11 league games and just one cup game (the final) this season.

Hoar played all the cup games and 16 league games and was again a player who had been on the books and making first team appearances since before Chapman’s time at the club.

So taking our snapshot of the teams, what we find is that Chapman did not revolutionise the playing staff over his first two years.  What he did was use the resources he had plus one new high profile player (Charlie Buchan) at the end of his career.   He also still had that tactical change noted in the previous article.

In the league if we look at our goal scoring it was 77 for, 86 against.

77 goals that season was an average figure.  Derby a place below us got 86, but Huddersfield in second place in the league got 76.  But 86 against was poor, the fifth worse in the league.  Leeds and West Bromwich were relegated with 88 and 86 goals against.  Arsenal avoided relegation by 13 points, which shows how important the six wins in the last seven games were.  Without that run we would have been in real trouble.

But it is worth noting just some of those defeats:

March 7th: West Ham United 7 Arsenal 0

April 6th: Newcastle United 6 Arsenal 1

April 9th: Sunderland 5 Arsenal 1

These three results were part of a series of six consecutive defeats, starting with the West Ham match and ending in the Sunderland game.  So what caused the problem.

As I have noted I don’t have newspaper reports for the era but on March 5th Arsenal beat Wolverhampton 2-1 in the quarter finals of the FA Cup, setting up a semi-final against Southampton on March 26 which Arsenal also won.   So the run of terrible results in the league coincided with our final push into the FA Cup semifinal and then final.  What Chapman did was to start trying out fringe players in the league while keeping his best possible team for the FA Cup.

What, I wonder, would the blogger of the 1920s have made of all this?   Certainly there would have been cries for the removal of Mr Chapman, and demands for new blood.  Two seasons, and one new regular player – and he at the very end of his career.  No trophies, and a defence that was among the worst in the league.  Yes a cup final, but an easy run to the final by any standard and only one of the cup run games was won by more than one goal (2-0 against Liverpool).

Really, he had to deliver next season, or else surely Mr Norris would put up with no more.  The crowds were right down (only 22,000 for the last home game), and they would fall further if something were not done.  If only there had been the fanatically anti-manager blogs then.  What a field day they would have had.  How much we would have learned.

Part one of this series

Untold Arsenal

Making the Arsenal

4 comments to Herbert Chapman: season 2 and a cup final

  • dats

    My old Dad watched them in those days. He used to talk to me about “Doughie” Baker and “Boss-eyed” Billy Blyth. He also remembered vaguely seeing the bald head of Jock Rutherford flying (somewhat slowly) down the wing. Then he told me about the old time centre forward they nicknamed HDR. That was Jack Lambert( HDR – head down and run!) Moving on and there was the fastest player he had ever seen – Joe Hulme. Of course then there was Alex and the other greats of that era.
    He took me to Highbury first in the late 40’s – the Comptons were playing, so was Freddie Cox, George Swindin, Laurie Scott and others.
    So many players have received derision from the terraces over the years – and it has always been so unfair. He could remember HDR. We were both there in the 50’s when Don(or Grannie) Roper as he was known was ridiculed. Later Alan Skirton was booed until he scored the spectacular winning goal against Spurs in -was it- 1962. Jon Sammels – a lovely footballer, what more can I say.
    My old Dad died over 30 years ago and now I really regret not talking more and learning about those old Arsenal days -it just didn’t seem so important when you were so much younger. I wonder what he would have thought about Arsene Wenger? Actually I know – he would have said he was the greatest manager Arsenal has ever had. No question about it.
    Oh dear!,I’m rambling on. That’s enough from me.

  • Tony,

    you probably won’t let me on, but whatever the article, do you have absolutely no shame AT ALL?

    ‘Chapman: genius or just another Wenger?’

    don’t you realise on how many level this is wrong?

  • Goonerman

    ‘Chapman: genius or just another Wenger?’

    Disgusting.

  • ‘Chapman: genius or just another Wenger?’

    I think this is one of the best line’s I’ve ever read. Nice one, Tony.

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