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by Tony Attwood
Who made Arsenal the club of world-wide renown and stature that we now have the privilege to watch? Who was the visionary who transformed us from being an ordinary club into being one of the great clubs?
Of course many answers are possible, but one, which I often hear, is open to question.
That one is Herbert Chapman. Of course I am not saying he did not do brilliant things for Arsenal. He won us our first trophies, and set up the team which dominated the 30s, plus the traditions that gave us medals after the second world war.
Off the pitch Chapman is credited with much – from getting Gillespie Road underground changed to Arsenal, to changing the team’s colours to incorporate the white sleeves. From changing the team formation to the M-W approach to changing the club name from The Arsenal to Arsenal. From introducing shirt numbers to playing under floodlights.
Of course whether he did actually do all these things or not is irrelevant in the sense that his real achievement was the cup and league titles, but for those of us interested in such things, in many of these issues of historical detail there is doubt.
He may well have forwarded a request for the local underground station to be renamed. But this was hardly big news. By the 1930s six of the Picadilly Line stations had been renamed – some (like Oakwood) within a year of being opened, some (like Kings Cross) more than once. Indeed some stations on other lines (Charing Cross and Archway for example) were renamed four times before things settled down.
In other words changing a station’s name was no big deal – and for it to be seen as a Chapman masterstroke is probably over playing the issue. I suspect he did an interview for the Standard on the topic, nothing more.
As for the red sleeves, there is a suspicion that this was a Norris thing – since the new colours were the same as Fulham had when he took over that club in 1903.
The MW formation was Chapman’s, I believe, but the changing of the club’s name to Arsenal (from The Arsenal) was certainly not – although that most unreliable of documents (Arsenal: The Official History) makes this claim for Chapman. In fact the name was changed in 1914 – long before Chapman came along.
On shirt numbers Arsenal did play on 25 August 1928 against The Wednesday with numbers on their backs, but then so did Chelsea apparently, on the same day against Swansea. And as for floodlights, there were experiments with gas lighting of grounds as early as 1910. So over much of this detail I have my doubts.
But like I say, it is all a bit trivial compared to the results.
However I would like to nominate one other person who did make two huge decisions, without which we would not have a club at all – or at least not a club that anyone outside of the local area would ever have heard of.
The man in question is Jack Humble. He was there at the start of the Dial Square club, along with several others. But what makes him stand out is two things.
First he proposed that we became a professional team, when no other team in the south was professional, and at a time when Arsenal did not have a league to play in. This was a huge step forward for Arsenal, in an era when London and Kent were totally amateur in footballing matters. Indeed some of the Arsenal committee of the time left the club on this issue, and went off to form a new amateur club of their own: Royal Ordnance Factories.
Without professionalism Arsenal would today be where Royal Ordnance Factories FC are today – a tiny byline in the history of 19th century football.
Second, when Arsenal went into liquidation in 1910 Jack Humble stayed with the club (the one other survivor from the original Dial Square FC resigned at this point). Jack had been a director from the start, and he stayed on the board until 1929 with Arsenal on the edge of their first ever trophy. He saw the need for financial reform, and when the plan was launched for moving Woolwich Arsenal to Highbury he accepted it totally as the only way to keep the club that he had helped create, going.
Jack Humble was thus truly our founding father, taking the club from Dial Square to Highbury, and into the Chapman era.
And yet he is seemingly forgotten by the club and the fans. There’s no pictures, no statue, no nothing. There isn’t even one of those entrances for club level members named after him. There’s a Royal Oak, and a Dial Square, not to mention a Woolwich Arsenal – but where’s Jack Humble?
I am slowly putting together a campaign to have Jack Humble instated as the founding father of Arsenal FC in time for the 125th anniversary of the founding of the club next year. If you would like to read more about the early work of this man there’s an article on the Woolwich Arsenal site which gives a lot more detail.
I’ll bring more thoughts on the 125th birthday in the near future.
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