After winning the Hatchard League with Kiveton in 1894, Herbert Chapman was to embark on a nomadic playing career that just about paid the bills. Though he did play for the likes of Grimsby, Northampton, Sheffield United and Tottenham, he also wasn’t averse to dropping to the non-league game to pay his way. But while his career as a player might be best described as that of a journeyman, his move into coaching and management proved a masterstroke.
His first job came with his old club, Northampton Town, who he led to the Southern League title in 1909. Increasingly agitated that his club weren’t allowed into the Football League, he had his first taste of league management during a war-interrupted spell at Leeds City, before moving on to Huddersfield Town in 1921.
A year after taking over, he led the Terriers to their first ever major honour – the FA Cup – and he didn’t stop there. Transforming the club from one at the foot of the Division 1 table, Chapman led Huddersfield to two successive league titles, as well as laying the foundations for a third, before leaving for Arsenal in 1925.
Lured by bright lights of London, Herbert was determined to prove wrong those who thought his stint at Huddersfield had been a flash in the pan. Arsenal’s league form during his first five years at Highbury was somewhat ordinary, a runners-up spot in his first year being followed up by four mid-table finishes. But he did make strides in the FA Cup, and after losing a final in 1927, he secured Arsenal’s first cup win in 1930.
And that was just the beginning – over the next five years, Chapman transformed Arsenal into the greatest side the game had ever seen, winning an unprecedented four league titles.
And his record wasn’t just one of winning trophies – his overall legacy still impacts on the game today.
He was among the first to make use of physiotherapists and masseurs, and encouraged his players to socialise in extra-curricular activities such as golf.
Unlike many of his contemporaries in Britain, Herbert was a fan of the continental game and counted among his friends Hugo Meisl and Jimmy Hogan, coaches of the Austrian “Wunderteam” of the 1930s. Chapman had proposed a Europe-wide club competition more than twenty years before the European Cup was instituted, and regularly took his teams abroad to play foreign sides. He was also one of the first managers to consider signing foreign players.
After attending a night-time match in Belgium in 1930, Chapman became an early advocate of floodlights – installing a set on Highbury’s new West Stand when it was constructed in 1932. He is also credited with being behind the renaming of London Underground’s Gillespie Road station to Arsenal, as well as advocating the use of white footballs and numbered shirts, as well as adding hoops to Arsenal’s socks to make it easier for players to pick each other out.
He later made a further change to Arsenal’s kit, adding white sleeves to the previously all-red shirt and brightening the colour, before a match against Liverpool on 4 March 1933; the same kit theme of red with white sleeves or trim survives to this day. The tradition of both teams walking out together at the FA Cup Final was started in 1930 due to Herbert’s involvement with both clubs, and has continued since.