I raised the issue the other day that there should be a statue of Herbert Chapman somewhere at the stadium that we can all see and enjoy.
As we established in the subsequent correspondence there is not just one bust of the great man, but three busts spread around, but nothing on display so that your average supporter turning up on the day of the match could actually see one.
There’s a lot of space around the stadium, but that is not to say there is an obvious point to put a statue – that would have to be decided by the club and the planning authorities.
In passing I mentioned the Arsenal Wall, which has a picture of every Arsenal player who ever played at Highbury – a great achievement and a site well worth a visit. I think that was a tremendous piece of Arsenalisation – and it is interesting to find in correspondence since the first article that there are many supporters who have been to the Ems but who did not know that the Wall was there.
Clearly what we need to do is direct people to the Wall, and add some other attractions.
One suggestion that has been made is that if we have Chapman we should also have Henry Norris recognised.
This is a much more controversial idea, since Norris ended his career banned from football for life – although the club made it clear to Norris that he would be welcome back in the board room any time he wanted (an offer Norris never took up).
As I think I am just about the only person ever to have written a book about Norris (“Making the Arsenal”) I have a fair amount of knowledge concerning the man, and just to give a quick summary, the key points are…
He took over Woolwich Arsenal in 1910 when the club was bust and liable to go out of business.
He saved the club, and then three years later moved the club to Highbury, a ground that he built entirely with his own money.
Norris was knighted for his services to the state during the first world war and then took us back into the first division in 1919. This act has been vilified by Tottenham supporters who have managed to grab our history and re-write it for their own ends. However as the Woolwich Arsenal analysis of the events show, Arsenal were far from being the villains of the piece. You can read the whole story here.
Norris then brought in Herbert Chapman, gave him free reign and allowed him to create the Arsenal side that swept all before him in the 1930s.
So what’s there to argue against a statue of Norris?
First, Tottenham supporters have been remorseless in their attack on Norris and although we can show that they have simply made up a tale to suit themselves the fact is that they have taken their pals in the media with them, and the story that Norris bought Arsenal a promotion is so well established that it is unlikely that Norris would get a fair hearing.
Second, Norris’ original plan on rescuing Arsenal was either to merge Arsenal with Fulham or take us to Craven Cottage to play there on the same Saturdays as Chelsea were at home at Stamford Bridge. These early drives were not those of a man with Arsenal at heart.
Third, there are many stories that suggest that Norris was a bully and generally not a nice man. He could be immensely generous too – including to local people who had voted him in as a councillor, and then as Mayor of Fulham, but the stories about his personality have a force that suggest ulterior motives were often not far from the surface.
Fourth, there is no escaping the fact that Norris did break the rules when he took some money out of the club in the late 1920s. Now we might well say, the rules were stupid because he had put so many tens of thousands of pounds into the club over time – but the rules were broken in a way that suggests he simply thought he could get away with it.
It was the Daily Mail that broke the story about Norris’ money, and Norris then sued the paper. He lost, and was then thrown out of the club.
My view (and it is nothing but my view as one who has written a book about the man) is that before we put up a statue we need to rehabilitate the man, and have all the facts together on his activities, just as we have done over the 1919 promotion affair. I do hope that in the next year or two I’ll be able to publish a book on the whole of Norris’ life – if no one else does that first. Maybe the statue comes after that.
Which raises the question – if we were to go for three statues who would be go for?
Chapman created the club in its modern style, gave us the name we now have, and was involved in changing the rules of football. Plus he gave us a cup win and a league title – our first of each.
My thinking has taken me forward and back, looking for someone who was earlier than Chapman but did just as much for the club, and someone in the present day who has again be so forward thinking as to transform the club.
A triumvirate of reformers across the years from 1886 to the present day.
Here’s my nominations:
Jack Humble: one of the founders of the club who stayed on and became part of the committee that ran the club. He remained as a director through the Norris era, resigning only when Norris went, on the grounds that he had to accept responsibility for what happened in Norris’ reign.
Herbert Chapman, our pivotal figure
Arsene Wenger, who has transformed the club, giving us our influx of players from around the world, the new training facilities, the incredible youth project whose benefits we are seeing today with the arrival of Wilshere, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and the like, the new stadium, the Unbeaten Season and the trophies.
That would be my choice: Humble, Chapman and Wenger.