By Tony Attwood
Although neither the anti-Arsenal-Arsenal of the bloggettas nor the Arrogance, Amnesia and Assumption approach of the mainstream media ever look back to the past with a sense of insight and understanding, history reveals that there was, and still is an Arsenal Way of doing things.
Originally there was the notion that Royal Arsenal was the first ever club run by the workers for the workers to make it into the Football League (as Woolwich Arsenal). Sadly just as this happened, and just as the workers saw off an attempt by the toffs to overthrow the founders and take over the club, the workers solidarity took a severe knock when Arsenal tried to get away with not paying its players when they were not playing. That case that ended up in court, and after Arsenal won it allowed clubs to run the “retain and transfer” system of modern slavery.
So the club changed and started to appoint managers from outside the club, and eventually after a fair bit of trial and error Sir Henry Norris came up with the idea of appointmenting Herbert Chapman.
From that moment on until 1962, all the subsequent managers were Arsenal men, brought up in the Arsenal way of doing things that Chapman initiated. Shaw, Allison, Whittaker, Crayston, Swindin. Only after the failure of Swindin’s period in office did the board decide to break with tradition and appoint the disastrous Billy Wright as manager.
Across four appalling years the club sank, finishing 7th, 8th, 13th and 14th in the league and with crowds at the end as low as 8700 for a game against Stoke and 4,500 for a game against Leicester. That one appointment of Wright seemed to reveal to the board the magnitude of their cock up and they once more appointed from within: this time Bertie Mee. Even when Mee took the club to home defeats against Tranmere and Norwich, and finished consecutive seasons in 16th and 17th, they still waited for Mee to retire before bringing in Terry Neill.
With Neill, three seasons in the top five, and three cup finals were as good as it got, but again an Arsenal man was appointed in Don Howe, followed by George Graham. Even when we sank to being the lowest scoring team in the league it took a clear breach of football rules for Graham to be given the push. We ended up 10th, below QPR and Norwich. But Graham had delivered two league trophies.
And that was when for the second time did the board decide to go outside Arsenal and bring in Rioch, before sacking him after one season to bring in Wenger.
The tradition of the club, dating from the tragically early death of Chapman, has therefore generally been appointing from within. Shaw, Allison, Whittaker, Crayston, Swindin, Mee, Neill, Howe, Graham. Nine managers of Arsenal lineage against Wright, Rioch and Wenger from outside.
Shaw, Allison, Whittaker, Mee and Graham all won the league (five out of nine internal appointments). Indeed Allison, Whittaker and Graham all won the league twice. Only one of the three external men since Chapman in 1925 has won the league. The history of the club therefore seems to favour an internal appointment.
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When the club has broken with this approach of internal appointments the new man has either utterly revolutionised the club or been at best the sort of “top four” success that has been so decried by the aaa and the AAA. Billy Wright was an absolute an utter disaster from start to finish – not only never finishing above seventh but also never taking the club beyond the 4th round of the FA Cup – including a memorable defeat to Peterborough.
The other external appointment at Highbury who has not been mentioned was the appallingly self-serving Leslie Knighton who in six seasons never took us above 10th and whose season ends included a 17th, a 19th and a 20th.
But that leaves the two great revolutionary figures from without: Herbert Chapman and Arsene Wenger. Chapman ran the club for six years before winning the league – his lowest finish was 14th, Wenger won it three times early on but then kept the club in the top four while the stadium was built.
All that history suggests that the Arsenal way, if bringing in a manager from outside, is to bring in a great transformer and reformer, not a Wright or a Knighton with their “steady-as-she-goes” approach. Alternatively, and most commonly, the approach is to promote from within.
But there is one other factor that the new man will have to take on: in terms of the percentage of league matches won, Mr Wenger has the highest of any permanent Arsenal manager. Clearly the new man is going to have to do better than the best, in order to keep the aaa and AAA happy – if that is at all possible.
I have, for some time, been petitioning the club to celebrate the succession of Chapman – Shaw – Allison – Whittaker through a monument at the Emirates Stadium, although thus far without any visible sign of success. Liverpool has made a lot about their line of succession through Shankly, Paisley, Fagan, Dalglish, and it is sad that Arsenal has not done the same for our four great heroes.
But it is interesting that for both clubs, four successive internal appointments was as far as it could go. In more recent years Liverpool has excelled in using external men they have failed to get anywhere near those past glories.
So if history teaches anything in these matters it is that yes, through bringing in a transforming genius like Chapman, Wenger or Shankly a club can be turned around. But after that the solution really should be promotion from within – up to a maximum of four times.
Arsenal History Books on Kindle and as paperbacks.
The novel “Making the Arsenal” by Tony Attwood which describes the events of 1910, which created the modern Arsenal FC, is now available for the first time on Kindle. Full details are here.
Also available on Kindle, “Woolwich Arsenal: the club that changed football” the only comprehensive history of the rise of Arsenal as a league club, and the attempts to destroy the club, from within and without. For full details please see here.
These books are also available as paperbacks. Please see here.