by Andy Kelly with Mark Andrews and Tony Attwood
Sometimes when you’re digging through old newspapers you come across something that stops you dead in your tracks. This happened to Mark Andrews and myself as we were doing research for the Arsenal History Society just over a year ago. We looked at each other and then re-read what we had just read very carefully to see if it really was what we thought it was. What we were looking at was the possibility of Arsenal’s history over the last 84 years being completely different.
The cutting below comes from the 5th April 1929 edition of the Daily Mail, a year and three weeks before Arsenal won their first ever major trophy.
Now, I’ve never read anything before about Herbert Chapman deciding to leave Arsenal and then changing his mind. I doubt that anyone else has, otherwise it would have featured in any one of the numerous histories written about the club.
Until this point Chapman had steered Arsenal to their highest league position, their first cup final and another semi-final. However, at this stage of 1928-29 they were nowhere near winning the league and had been knocked out of the FA Cup in the sixth round. It looked like Chapman’s “5 year plan” wasn’t going to work.
Can you imagine the implications if, one year before everything clicked into place that Chapman returned north to manage Huddersfield or Leeds? We can, obviously, speculate that if he had left during the summer of 1929 that Cliff Bastin and Alex James would not have joined Arsenal. Would the players that were already at Arsenal have been able to carry off the FA Cup in 1930 and the League title in 1930-31? The team that took over from Chapman when he died were already at the club. It’s possible that the squad of 1929 managed by George Allison, Joe Shaw and Tom Whittaker might have had the maturity it needed and gone on to dominate the 1930s but we will never know.
What we can be certain of, though, is that if Herbert Chapman had left in 1929 there would have been no bust of him on display in the marble halls at Highbury and no statue of him outside the Emirates stadium. Who knows, maybe we would now be talking about the great George Allison or Joe Shaw. Or maybe we would be supporting a team that was renowned for its mid-table mediocrity with occasional trophy every ten years or so.
All I can say is, thank heavens Herbert decided to stay in London.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal – crowd behaviour at the early matches
Other sites from the same team…
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