Herbert Chapman: Beyond the legend


The Admiral Nelson of Football?

A man of firsts. His influence on the game is profound as was his influence on the two teams that he guided to success. He is one of four managers who have won the top-flight prize with two clubs. His influence goes beyond that as both teams went on to win that prize without him at the helm. Herbert Chapman was as controversial as he was influential which is why his legacy is still felt today.

He may have been responsible for the rise of both Huddersfield Town and Arsenal but this was at the expense of Leeds City. Yes, before Leeds United there was a team called Leeds City. In 1912 Herbert Chapman took over as manager and nearly got them promoted to the First Division. During the Great War they kept their hand in and participated in the wartime league. Things were looking up at the resumption of the league in 1919.

He nearly didn’t make it

They did not complete that season. Money issues can make you bitter and Charlie Copeland decided to make allegations about illegal payments made to the guest players during wartime. Even though this practice was widespread when an allegation was made the FA had to act and Leeds City had to present their books to a commission. Their refusal to do so was seen as an admission of guilt and they were kicked out of the league. Chapman was suspended indefinitely from football.

The war years were tumultuous at best and Chapmans wartime activities meant he wasn’t really involved in Leeds’s financial affairs and his ban was subsequently overturned. According to the Athletic News “, he was after all merely the servant of the directors, and the decision to withhold all the records did not rest with him,” Chapman was still working for the coke factory in Shelby when the ban was lifted and he had been approached by Huddersfield Town who fought his corner. He officially became Ambrose Langley’s assistant at the aforementioned club in February 1921. He took sole charge a month later.

A will to survive

I promised you a tale of intrigue and innovation. Well being in charge of Huddersfield Town doesn’t conjure images of grandeur and in the wake of the demise of Leeds City, things didn’t seem very hopeful. They weren’t exactly popular and were struggling financially. Gate money was the main source of income for a club and Huddersfield didn’t have huge attendance. Local cloth mogul Hilton Crowther ploughed some of his personal fortune into the club which didn’t seem to improve matters as he wasn’t a popular figure so the only way to ensure survival was promotion to the First Division.

He didn’t really have the best interest of the club at heart as their star striker, Jack Cock, was sent to Chelsea. The following week The Huddersfield fans protested by not turning up. Ever the businessman Crowther thought Huddersfield should be merged with the newly created Leeds United. The Leeds fans were an enthusiastic crowd and so were the FA. The Huddersfield fans and directors were so impressed and the subsequent protests proved it. The FA said that they had to raise £25,000 in a month or merge with Leeds.

The will of the masses

A mixture of people power and good luck saved them. The locals raised some £9,000 selling shares. The town council added £3000.  Joseph Barlow, Alderman Wilfred Dawson and Rowland Mitchell paid £17,500 for the remaining shares and Crowther was gone. This tenacity earned Huddersfield Town the name The Terriers even though it wasn’t given until 1969. Things were picking up on the pitch for them as they scored 97 goals and were in the FA cup final. They did struggle in the early part of the 1920 season until the man from Kiveton Park came on the scene.

A new kind of manager

Enter Herbert Chapman (stage left). Like some Shakespearean hero, he took control. He had a plan and that was a first for football. Most clubs trained hard to keep their players fit. Chapman had other ideas. He wanted new players and to implement his style and tactics. With Huddersfield safe from relegation, he went to the board with his plans, the first of which was to ask for £4000mto spend on Clem Stephenson. He needed to assemble any army formed out of demobbed soldiers. A team to launch his assault on the tactics of football. WM.

A man of ideas

This inside forward was “expert schemer”. Clem may have been past his prime but he was brought in as a captain as he has the vision to lead this. You also need a defensive expert who can break down the opponent’s attacks. This was Tom Wilson’s forte and with Billy Watson, as a deep-lying centre half he also had Sam Wadsworth because “Wadsworth could take the ball from an opposing forward and send it to the forward he thinks will make the best use of the pass”. This defensive trio was an early incarnation of the famed WM formation. They controlled the game with quick short passes, a tactic Chapman first encountered in his playing days at Tottenham. The coach then was the legendary Jimmy Hogan.

Winning Ways

Huddersfield won the FA Cup in 1922, which was Chapmans first full season in charge. With anything new, there are glitches on the way and Chapman was perfecting his ideas so league form was not consistent. What was consistent was Chapman’s control of his players. He demanded professionalism as well as skill. He would always watch a player several times before buying him. According to the Huddersfield Examiner, “his scouting showcased  “his ability to discover players who will earn laurels for themselves and their club; indeed, his discrimination in the capture of budding stars has been described as uncanny.” Whether it was 17-year-old coalminer George Brown or Tottenham’s Charles Wilson he had the vision to capture players.

With all these new and developing ideas, the follow-up season ended trophyless and the 1923 campaign started badly. Huddersfield met Notts County and it was a nasty match and players were sent off from both sides. Chapman insisted the FA investigate resulting in Ernie Islip and Billy Flint being suspended for a month. He also issued a statement saying that   “If what we served up on Saturday is football, well, the sooner its death knell is sounded the better; may we go further and say that never do we wish to see anything like it again.” Chapman was using the media to promote his vision of football.

After the poor start, Huddersfield clawed their way to winning the First Division title. They were the first team to do so on goal difference. The local paper exalted Chapman, “his the directing skill that has paved the way to success. Town is on everyone’s lips today and for the proud position which it occupies in public esteem it has very largely Mr Chapman to thank.” Not bad for a team that was mooted for a merger.

The following season they kept the title. The Sporting Chronicle said, “No club in the country develops the get-together spirit more deliberately than the Champions, and the records show how the policy pays.” The Huddersfield Daily Examiner proudly asserted that Chapman was the “Napoleon of football”. He loved the game and wanted everyone else too. He wanted football to be a place for family entertainment.  “Bad language, gambling and barracking are the chief evils of the game.”. He wanted people to enjoy the beauty of the game and recognised that “Professional players, like artists, are highly strung and affected by ill-considered criticism from the crowd”. He really believed it was a beautiful game.

His time at Huddersfield was over and like many a Yorkshireman he set out to see if the streets of London were paved with gold. Well, Arsenal were a wealthy club and that prospect of being in the capital meant Chapman was tempted. His legacy at Huddersfield is beyond legend. One journalist summed it up by saying  “low passing and the long-field play of Huddersfield Town has become famous in the football world.” He had such an impact on the playing skills of the team that they kept the first Division title even though he jumped ship.