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How Tom Whittaker persuaded Chapman to make him a trainer with Arsenal, after his injury

By Tony Attwood

I was writing before about my lack of knowledge of exactly how Tom Whittaker got a job as a trainer with Arsenal, having been an out of favour player, and then getting injured on an FA tour in Australia.  (The article, How did Whittaker get Chapman to believe in him, as the details).

Now I think I have some more information…

When Tom Whittaker got back to England he was fortunate to come under the medical guidance of Sir Robert Jones (who operated on his knee).  Sir Robert was the founding father of orthopaedics, the branch of medicine concerned with injuries and disease of the musculoskeletal system – the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves.

Indeed so eminent was Sir Robert that he became the first president of the International Society of Orthopaedic Surgery.

Having operated on Tom, and got to know him a little in hospital, he became very impressed with Tom’s drive and interest and arranged for him to go on a year long training programme in anatomy massage and electrical treatment.

This wouldn’t have been a full time five days a week course, and we also know from Tom’s own account that before leaving for Australia he was given a new contract by Arsenal, so he was still an employee of the club – although of course now unable to play.

So what did he do?   He certainly already knew Joe Shaw who was running the reserve side, because in his last season as a player (the season before Chapman arrived at Arsenal) he spent almost all of his time in the Reserve side, and so would have got to know Joe Shaw well.  It is more than likely that he spent time discussing training and medical matters with Joe.

But then, as he faced 1925/6 without being able to play at all, two opportunities faced him besides his training programme in massage and electrical treatment.  One was to strengthen his bond with Joe Shaw and others and talk ever more about fitness, relying on his knowledge gained on the course, and perhaps using his newly learned massage skills.  After all, if he could help an injured man recover more quickly, why on earth not.   What manager would not want such a development?

But also in the summer of 1925 the offside law was changed, and this led to a tactical revolution.  We know that Chapman called on Buchan and Parker to help him arrange tactics on the pitch to cope with this, and it seems he also brought in Shaw and Whittaker (Chapman was known for his ability to listen to everyone’s viewpoint).  So it was the opportunity for Tom to shine as a strategist in front of Chapman.

We also know that Chapman didn’t get his revolutionary WM system right straight away, and he was modifying it, and teaching it to his players all the way through the first half of the 1925/6 season, as the extremely variable results show.

Thus out of this chance combination of events – the injury, the course, the association with Shaw and the need for ideas and consultations to deal with the new offside law, that Tom Whittaker came to the fore.

With Tom’s growing interest in physiotherapy Chapman made him assistant trainer in 1926.  Not a very senior role, but a permanent job at Arsenal to replace his playing contract.

The next event that had a major impact on Tom’s life came on 2 February 1927 as Herbert Chapman had his first major fall out with Sir Henry Norris in the trainer George Hardy affair.

Hardy was close to Norris, but Chapman didn’t rate him, and the affair of 2 February (in which in a Cup replay against Port Vale Hardy took it onto himself to shout to the players to change tactics countermanding Chapman’s own pitchside instructions) was his chance to get rid of Hardy.

Chapman sent Hardy to the dressing room perhaps knowing that Sir Henry meanwhile was out of the country, and so couldn’t countermand Chapman.  Sir Henry cabled instructions to his fellow directors to follow his line, but they didn’t.  Power, for the first time, slipped from Norris to Chapman.

On the following Monday morning Herbert Chapman summoned Whittaker to his office and told him that he was now the first-team trainer. Chapman added: “I am going to make this the greatest club ground in the world, and I am going to make you the greatest trainer in the game.”

This caused Tom some difficulties it seems for Hardy was from the same part of the north east as Tom Whittaker and was highly liked at Arsenal being a long term employee of the club.

But Tom had his chance and set about replacing the bucket and sponge with sun ray lamps heating apparatus and other electrical equipment that no one but he understood.

Goodness knows what Norris thought of the bills.  But Tom’s aim was to halve the time it took to get a player back playing, and as he started to deliver, no one could argue with him.   He is also reported to used have psychology very positively, telling the player after treatment and a massage that things were much better even if progress was slow.  Apparently it always worked.

5 comments to How Tom Whittaker persuaded Chapman to make him a trainer with Arsenal, after his injury

  • Nigel

    Tony.

    You must have been reading your ‘Tom Whittaker’s Arsenal Story’ yesterday like I was. Obviously Chapman could see the potential in Whittaker as he had been so useful in helping the trainer once he was injured in Australia and while helping out at the club with all sorts of skilled work while waiting for his compensation from the FA. It seems odd to me that Tom Whittaker was chosen for that FA tour when according to the stats on ‘About the Arsenal History’ he only made one football league appearance the season before the tour, even though it was not the full England international team. The fact Arsenal only retained him so he could go was generous but with hindsight what a wonderful decision that was. He went on to be a wonderful trainer, respected so much that other sports stars came to be treated by him, most notably Fred Perry. He was also the official trainer to the successful Great Britain Davis Cup team of the mid 1930’s and the England football team. Also of course a very successful manager for us.

    I noted that Tom did play twice against Huddersfield Town when Herbert was their manager so the latter would have been aware of him. Strange the twists and turns of life!

  • Nigel – thanks for your comment.

    Actually I haven’t been reading Tom’s Arsenal Story, because I only found out about it last week. I immediately ordered a copy from a second hand dealer, and it hasn’t arrived yet. When I get it, I’ll be polishing the whole account for the AISA Arsenal history booklet – number six in the series.

    No, I’ve put my story together thus far from “Allison Calling” (George Allison’s auto biography), in which the last chapter deals with Tom Whittaker, and which lists many many people that came to demand the help of “The Healer” (as Allison calls Tom), and Forward Arsenal by Bernard Joy. Joy of course knew the era intimately, and the book also has an intro by Tom which is itself very insightful.

    I’m going to post a few more bits about Tom Whittaker, but the whole story, as I say, will be published in the forthcoming Arsenal Independent Supporters Assn annual history review this summer.

  • Nigel

    Tony – I have just ordered ‘Allison Calling’ thanks to you mentioning it here and the review you gave it on Amazon. I have his other book ‘The Inside story of Football’ published in 1938 and look forward to reading his autobiography. A very interesting man.

    I’m sure when you get ‘Tom Whittaker’s Arsenal Story’ you will enjoy it very much. I remember well on my 11th birthday in 1957 I had received enough money (18 shillings and 6 pence, 92.5p nowadays) to buy this book, which had recently been published almost a year after his death. I lived about six miles from Buckingham then so as soon as I could cycled to WH Smith to buy it and carefully rode home again with my precious cargo. I must have read it umpteen times and it really started my love of the history of our great club. Unfortunately after many years must have loaned it out and never got it back. Lesson learned hard way, never lend out your favourite books. However a few years ago I was able to obtain a copy in very good condition from Amazon and still enjoyed as much as all those years ago. I’m sure you will too.

    The other two Arsenal autobiographies out when I was young were ‘Cliff Bastin Remembers’ and ‘Football Ambassador’ by Eddie Hapgood which I never managed to obtain at the time but thanks to GCR Books reproductions now have them. They also have reprinted ‘Forward Arsenal’ by Bernard Joy (I have an original) and several other Arsenal books as well including Jack Kelsey and Walley Barnes. What a great idea to reprint these books and perhaps one day will be able to do Tom Whittaker’s as well.

  • Nigel thanks again. I’ve now got my Tom W auto, and am half way through it. Very interesting, very readable, and a lot of new (for me) items in it.

    Strangely I wrote to GCR only yesterday saying to them, they ought to consider republishing it, in the way they have done others.

  • dieter stenschke

    Herbert Chapman also arranged for George Hardy to get the vacant trainer position at Tottenham Hotspurs after he had dismissed him at Arsenal.

    Source: Stubbs “Herbert Chapman, Emperor of Arsenal”

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