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GCR Books

Herbert Chapman – just how great were his achievements

If you think you know your Arsenal history – it is time to think again.  Never before has one book so transformed what we know about a football club.  Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football.

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Herbert Chapman – an overview of his achievements

By Tony Attwood

When Herbert Chapman became manager he took over a club that was by any definition of the phrase “in crisis”.  According to the subsequent biography of the previous manager, Leslie Knighton, there was a constant dispute between himself and Sir Henry Norris, with Norris insisting that all that mattered was the buying of centre forwards and the reduction of the club’s debt which had built up during the war time years.

With Chapman we know of no such dispute.  Quite what made Sir Henry take on the most expensive and most successful manager in the country at this time isn’t known since Sir Henry doesn’t seem to have told us, but the impact of his decision was dramatic as can be seen here.:

 

Season Manager League position FA Cup* Opponent’s league
1923/4 Knighton 19th ** 2nd  (Luton) 3rd division S
1924/5 Knighton 20th 2nd (West Ham) 1st division
1925/6 Chapman 2nd 6th (Swansea) 3rd division S
1926/7 Chapman 11th Final (Cardiff) 1st division
1927/8 Chapman 10th S-F (Blackburn) 1st division
1928/9 Chapman 9th 6th (Aston V) 1st division
1929/30 Chapman 14th Won (Huddersfield) 1st division
1930/1 Chapman 1st 4th Chelsea 1st division

* Until 1924/5 all First Division sides entered at the First Round.  In 1925 this was changed so that the First Division entered at the Third Round stage

** The 21st and 22nd clubs in the League were relegated.

Clearly we can see that it took Chapman six years to win the league, but he had an immediate impact, taking the club to an unprecedented 2nd in the league in his first season, and the first ever cup final in the second.  The previous highest position was 6th in the First Division under George Morrell in 1908/9 (although with two fewer teams in the league).  The previous best performance in the cup were the two semi-finals in 1906 and 1907.   The FA Cup triumph of 1930 was the first ever major trophy for the club since it was formed in 1886 – it had taken 54 years.

Even more remarkably at the start Chapman used much the same team as he inherited from Knighton – even bringing one player back whom Knighton had let go into retirement.

One other point of note: neither manager was able automatically to see off lower placed clubs in the FA Cup.  Swansea and Luton beat Arsenal in the early period and as we shall see below Walsall did much the same later.

If we continued Chapman’s career we see both this point and the rest of his achievements:

 

Season Manager League position FA Cup* Opponent’s league
1925/6 Chapman 2nd 6th (Swansea) 3rd division S
1926/7 Chapman 11th Final (Cardiff) 1st division
1927/8 Chapman 10th S-F (Blackburn) 1st division
1928/9 Chapman 9th 6th (Aston V) 1st division
1929/30 Chapman 14th Won (Huddersfield) 1st division
1930/1 Chapman 1st 4th Chelsea 1st division
1931/2 Chapman 2nd Final ( Newcastle) 1st division
1932/3 Chapman 1st 3rd (Walsall) 3rd division N
1933/4 Chapman/Shaw 1st 6th (Aston Villa) 1st division
1934/5 Allison 1st 6th (Sheff W) 1st division

 

If we include 1933/4 – the season in which he so tragically died – we would have a total of 3 championships, two runners-up, one FA Cup, and two runner’s up.  Three trophies in nine years might not seem a lot by 21st century standards but of course times were different, there were only two competitions, and as we have seen at the top of the article, Arsenal prior to Chapman were relegation fodder, not championship contenders.

A year by year account of Herbert Chapman is being developed on his Home Page within this site: http://www.blog.woolwicharsenal.co.uk/herbert-chapman/

 

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