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.
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.