By Tony Attwood
Today is quite an important day in Arsenal’s history, and although I normally confine my Arsenal history comments to the website of the AISA Arsenal History Society I thought I’d stray into Untold just for a moment to correct some of the stories that often crop up around this time.
And indeed no sooner had I thought of that than an article popped up on my screen from The Sportsman celebrating the anniversary today, of the day on which Herbert Chapman joined Arsenal on 11 June 1925.
You’ll know about Chapman; he was brought to the club by Sir Henry Norris, the chairman of the club at the time, with the job of transforming a club that had flirted with relegation regularly in the six years it had been managed by Leslie Knighton.
Sir Henry allowed those six years to pass for one simple reason: he wanted to bring in the top manager, which meant the top wages, and the inevitable transfers that such a man would want. That all took money, and Arsenal had been carrying massive debts since moving to Highbury in 1913. But year on year, through good management, the club’s debts reduced while the crowds increased, and so by 1925 the moment was right.
All that is well known, but unfortunately people will keep on firing off articles about Chapman which contain errors. Not simple errors that don’t really mean too much, but errors that tend to be repeated and then become embedded in the narrative as facts. A bit like the notion that Henry Norris bribed or otherwise fixed Arsenal’s entry into the first division in 1919.
Indeed with that story, so prevalent is it, the index to our series Henry Norris at the Arsenal, has a whole section proving beyond any doubt that there was nothing wrong with the election at all, and showing that the person of dubious integrity was not the owner, but the man who wrote the story of the owner: the manager Leslie Knighton. You can read all the details through the articles via the link above.
Anyway, back to today’s article in the Sportsman, this includes what may seem the rather alarming statement that Chapman’s “playing days had ended in controversy when he received a lifetime ban following wartime financial irregularities while at Leeds City which involved a number of illegal payments and at least two attempts at blackmail.”
That sounds a bit shocking, and I’ve no doubt it will soon be used to blacken the name of Arsenal and Chapman, along with so many other tales. The reality is that Chapman was manager of Leeds from 1912 to 1918, but of course after the league was wound up in April 1915, his role as manager was honorary – no salaries were paid. He had a permanent job elsewhere and simply picked the team from those players available on saturdays.
Chapman returned to Leeds after the war, but resigned soon after; I suspect because he realised that while he had been operating as part time manager, some of the players who played on loan for his team (a practice that all clubs used during the war) were being paid by the Leeds directors, (which was against League rules). So he gave up football totally and became a manager of the local coke works.
Leeds City were subsequently reported by some former players of paying their “guest” players and over the corruption accusations mentioned above but there was no proof save the say-so of the ex-players who were not paid. You can find more on the story here.
However when Leeds City were charged by the League the club refused to give up their detailed financial records, and so in the arbitrary way that it often deals with these things, the Football League removed Leeds City from membership, and suspended five officials, including Herbert Chapman, for life. With eight matches played in the 1919-20 season Leeds City were expelled from the league, and their fixtures were taken over by Port Vale, who bizarrely were able to count the eight games Leeds City had played (four wins two draws and two defeats) as their own!
Leeds City was wound up, the players sold, and out of the mists a new club appeared using the same ground: Leeds United and with the same board of directors They were admitted to the league for the 1920/21 season, replacing Grimsby in Division 2! Hardly a victory against corruption.
For Herbert Chapman however matters went from bad to worse since in late December 1920 he was laid off from his job at the coke works. He was unemployed, and banned for life from his main mode of activity.
Then he was approached by Huddersfield Town to be assistant to Ambrose Langley, who had played with Herbert Chapman’s brother Harry at The Wednesday (where Harry had made over 200 appearances).
Working with the support of Huddersfield, Herbert then appealed against his life ban, using the most obvious of cases that since he had been helping the nation’s war effort during much of the war, and had not been involved with the club apart from managing the team on saturdays, and since the League had no idea when any illicit activity had taken place (since it hadn’t seen the records) they couldn’t possibly know that there was a case against him. The ban was overturned and he became manager of Huddersfield.
One might say of course that in the report which suggests Chapman was involved in illicit activities it is just the detail that is wrong. But to me details matter, and yes I know I make mistakes over details in my writings. But these errors get corrected and constantly a more accurate version of the past emerges. Details matter because in this account Chapman was a crook, just as in the accounts of Henry Norris in 1919, he is portrayed as a crook. You might see a pattern emerging.
The article I am criticising on Chapman also suggests he won the League three times running with Huddersfield; he didn’t, although the club won the League three times running. There is the suggestion that Arsenal poached Chapman; maybe but I’ve never seen any evidence. What we do know is that Arsenal put an advert for a new manager in the relevant magazine, and Chapman applied.
The article also mentions Chapman’s “revolutionary WM formation” which is not quite right either, as other clubs were using WM before Chapman. What Chapman did was amend the lineup to make the movement out of defence into attack much, much faster so WM became a formation that allowed much quicker football. He also reversed the normal pattern of the time of playing in defensive mode away from home and attacking mode at home, and instead played counter attacking football based on WM home and away.
These are details of course, but details are what make football interesting. Along with the anniversaries of important events.
The Arsenal History Society publishes a list of anniversaries for the day each morning on its site, as well as having on line an index of over 6000 key events at the club in date order. And we have published a whole range of series of which Henry Norris at the Arsenal is just the latest. It runs from 1910 to 1927 – we are currently at 1923.
I don’t ever claim that we don’t get things wrong – but when we do we try and correct the site. And more to the point, on a number of issues we have corrected many other errors that had become part of the telling of Arsenal’s story: including a number that have appeared in the club’s official publications.
I do hope you might take a look sometime at the Arsenal History Society website. Meanwhile below are today’s anniversaries. Of course in the summer there are far fewer than at other times of year, but we still manage to find half a dozen or so on most days.
The anniversaries for 11 June…
11 June 1920: The third reading in Parliament of Sir Henry Norris’ anti-gambling legislation. Bookmakers would hand out coupons for punters to complete. At one Liverpool match in 1915 138,500 coupons were handed out and 79,000 were returned with money. With Liverpool players found guilty of match fixing it was felt it was time to act.
11 June 1925: Herbert Chapman became the manager of Arsenal, replacing Leslie Knighton who had been manager since the resumption of football after the first world war. Chapman went on to become the manager who gave Arsenal its first Championships, and its first FA Cup triumph before his untimely death.
11 June 2002: Despite Vieira and Wiltord playing, World Cup holders France went out of the competition to Denmark in South Korea.
11 June 2009: Arsenal opened an Arsenal shop in Bahrain as part of the deal with Emirates Airlines.
11 June 2012: Sylvain Wiltord retired from football. In 2015, he competed on the reality show Dropped, which puts sportspeople in inhospitable environments. The day after his elimination from the programme, three contestants died in a helicopter collision. Wiltord played 104 league games for Arsenal and 526 league games all told.