Herbert Chapman

Football's Pioneers: Herbert Chapman

In this week's Football's Pioneers feature, in partnership with De Montfort University, Dr. Neil Carter takes a retrospective look at Herbert Chapman’s influence on the development of the game.
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In 2011, Arsenal unveiled the statues of three ‘club legends’. Together with the more contemporary Tony Adams and Thierry Henry was a figure dressed in plus fours.

Chapman (1878-1934) was the manager of Arsenal between 1925 and 1934 who was chiefly responsible for turning the Highbury club from a mid-table team into one of the biggest football powers in the land.

His importance, though, spread well beyond N5 and, more than anyone else, he invented the role of the modern football manager.

Chapman was initially the secretary-manager at Northampton Town (1907-12) and Leeds City (1912-18). Then, in 1921, he was appointed secretary-manager at Huddersfield Town.

Under him, the Terriers won the FA Cup in 1922 and the First Division championship in 1924 and 1925.

Huddersfield won a third consecutive title the following season, but by then Chapman had been headhunted by Arsenal’s chairman, Henry Norris.

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Herbert Chapman's Arsenal
Herbert Chapman's Arsenal

Chapman transformed Arsenal into a side which regularly competed for - and won - major honours.

It was during his tenure at Highbury that Chapman demonstrated the transformative potential of the football manager.

With Norris’ departure in 1927, Chapman was allowed an almost free-hand in the club’s transfer policy. His two most costly purchases were David Jack from Bolton – the first transfer over £10,000 – and from Preston North End, Alex James.

It was Chapman’s ability to develop a tactical plan, though – ‘to organise victory’ – that set him apart.

In order to counter the change in the offside law in 1925, Arsenal developed the renowned W/M formation with the centre-half withdrawn into a defensive position.

Chapman also saw the players as assets of the club who required careful management and, while he was a disciplinarian, he developed a close and paternalistic relationship with them.

In addition, Chapman embraced football modernity. He had a regular column in the Sunday Express which bestowed a certain legitimacy on him and, by extension, the role of the football manager.

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Herbert Chapman statue
Herbert Chapman statue

A statute of Chapman nowadays looks upon an embodiment of Arsenal's recent progress - the 60,000-capacity Emirates Stadium.

In 1933, he changed Arsenal’s shirts from all-red to a red-with-white-sleeves design to make them more modern. He employed a PR agent to ensure that the name of Arsenal was kept in the news.

Chapman also advocated the use of a white ball and numbered shirts, and pioneered the use of floodlights. A believer in the benefits of coaching, he was an early enthusiast for the FA’s scheme.

Most famously, he was behind the changing of the name of Gillespie Road tube station to Arsenal in 1932, instantly giving the club metropolis-wide publicity.

Chapman’s workaholic tendencies, though, took their toll and, after a bout of pneumonia, he died on 6 January, 1934.

His wider legacy, however, continues to this day in terms of how the role of the manager is perceived.

Over later years, it was said that the directors would often ask: "What would Herbert Chapman have done?"

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