Who was the greatest Arsenal visionary? You might be surprised to find out.

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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.

Arsenal’s History

Arsenal in 1910

Arsenal today, tomorrow

14 Replies to “Who was the greatest Arsenal visionary? You might be surprised to find out.”

  1. Thanks for the info on Jack Humble, Tony..

    For me, We’ve had 2 visionaries at Arsenal. Both unique in their own ways: Herbert Chapman and Arsene Wenger. Now I can add another one to the list.

    Please do let us know about the campaign for Jack Humble instated as the founding father of Arsenal FC. I’ll back that one..

  2. gosh! just a side note, I can’t stand Le Grove and looking forward to untold to let them know how stupid they are~~ obviously my comments are never approved there, and their shit articles are quite influence in the blogsphere.. They are now rumbling and gives a list of clubs hugely in debt and still playing on.. this is no wonder the credit card debt has gone up, people gone bankrupt and this is the exact stupid mentality!

    So you are competing with this Millionair for the girl, you borrow money to buy the same car as he, use your savings to have a millionair lifestyle. you buy the same gifts for the girl on what the millionair will spend, and eventually you can get the girl this way.

    But 3 years later, you own the banks lots of money, you can’t pay up, your car sold, you are declare bankrupt, the girl left you. Sure, you are with her for 3 years, but is it all worth it?

    And yes, Arsenal needs to get 25 world class player and spend every cent of profit even when we don’t need it.. legrove authors are just plain stupid..

  3. To be honest, We cant compare any of them. All of them did something important in their era. Its like comparing Roger Federer to Pete Sampras or like comparing Don Bradman to Sachin Tendulkar. Jack Humble, Herbert Chapman, Arsene Wenger all are the most important people to Arsenal in their era.

  4. chapman was arsenal through and through and we can see that with wenger too. I think he will finish his career with us. A lot of credit must be given to Le Boss for keeping us up there consistently or there abouts and with the squad we have. However why is fabregas even captain hes like 22? yes hes our best player but does he ever rally the troops? his last comments in the media about us bottiling it in the big games is most obviously true but why say it what good isit? when we are winning or loosing i never see fabregas spuring on his team mates to go for the jugular. making fabregas captain in my eyes was a mistake. vermaelen is the only suitable captain at arsenal. anyone know whats happeningh with wellington regarding his visa? also why the hell is there reports of nordveit being sold? the guy is a future world class defender. im getting bored of van persie yes hes world class but he isnt consistent 1 goal in 9 games inst good enough he should be sold as well as clichy who gets worse and worse and worse.

  5. One of Jack Humble’s greatest virtues was that he wasn’t pig-headed.

    When the club turned professional, as a socialist, he opposed the motion for the club to become a limited company.

    However, two years later when the club was on the brink of joing the football league he saw that the club had to become a limited company and supported it.

    But as Tony says, Jack Humble doesn’t get a mention even though he was there for the first 43 years, being denied by the FA the opportunity to be a part of the club winning its first major honour in 1930.

  6. My Father, wounded in WW1 and convalescing in London in 1916, starting watching Arsenal and supported them all his life. He always referred to them as The Arsenal.
    I recall Arsenal introducing underfloor heating in the dressing rooms AND undersoil heating on the pitch,(I think) during George Allison’s tenure. And don’t forget the film “The Arsenal Stadium Mystery” in 1939. At that time, there was only one Club in Britain to warrant a film about it. Allison was involved with that.

  7. Thanks for that Tony. Never, ever heard of Jack Humble to be honest and it’s interesting the way odd little encounters and twists lead to outcomes that no one could have predicted at the time. An issue back in those days of whether to go professional or not and a decision taken one way and not the other basically means that we have a club called Arsenal today. It’s kind of humbling when you think of it that way…

  8. Reading this is a bit of an education about Jack Humble…..and speaking of which I saw you in your now infamous Dr Who outfit on .com (pic 17 if anyone is interested)http://www.arsenal.com/news/news-archive/-arsenal-til-i-die-launches-at-stadium

    Tony – do you know how much the books are going to cost? Sorry for going off topic.

  9. Gooner Gal – the books are £10 each. They are nice commentaries with some fun pictures – all very personal stories. My story is about my father being at the Arsenal in the 1930s, for example.

    http://www.tilidie.co.uk/buy.html is the site, although I imagine the book will be in the Arsenal shop.

    Amazed you picked me out on that photo – brilliant eyesight.

  10. Another innovation introduced by Allison in the 1930’s at Arsenal, was midweek football friendlies. Played in the afternoon, the game usually involved Glasgow Rangers and invariably drew a crowd of 60,000 odd. How they got off work I’ll never know!

  11. Mid-week friendlies date back to the nineteenth century. The actual day would vary from club to club dependent upon the local early closing day.

    During Arsenal’s first season in the league (1893/94) they played Doncaster, Sunderland, London Caledonians, Mr Roston Bourke’s XI(!!!), Wolves, Preston, Aston Villa, Blackpool, Luton, Sheffield United, St Mirren & Nottingham Forest. Virtually all of these games were played on Monday.

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