1925: Arsenal’s pre-season. The arrival of Chapman

By Tony Attwood

Before Chapman arrived

Defeat to Liverpool on 3 January 1925 started a run of 6 consecutive defeats during which Arsenal scored 2 goals.   Worse, in utter desperation on 14 January 1925 the Arsenal manager started experimenting by giving drugs to the Arsenal players – as he revealed in his later memoires.

On the same day that Knighton was handing out the pills to players  the International Board experimented with the proposed new offside law – they chose Arsenal v Huddersfield Town.   The fact that this match was chosen was undoubtedly Sir Henry Norris’ doing – prompted probably by the fact that he wanted to have a chat with Chapman (the Huddersfield manager).   It may have secured Chapman’s arrival at Arsenal in the summer, but didn’t do much for their current league position, as Huddersfield won 5-0.  It was Arsenal’s worst home defeat since 28 October 1893 when Arsenal lost to Liverpool by the same score.

The defeats rolled on and 28 February 1925 saw Tottenham 2 Arsenal 0; the sixth consecutive league defeat and Knighton’s final derby

Then on 23 March we had the start of another sequence of six games without a win, and part of a run of four wins in 19, which doomed Leslie Knighton to the sack in the summer, if he wasn’t doomed already.   The attendance of only 10,000 added to Arsenal’s woes.

23 March 1925 saw the last game for Tom Whittaker.  He had played just 64 games for the club but events unfolded subsequently that not only kept him at the club but eventually to him being a manager who emulated Chapman’s record of two league wins and an FA Cup win.

So on 2 May 1925 we had Leslie Knighton’s last match in charge: Bury 2 Arsenal 0.  Arsenal finished the league in 20th position, missing relegation by one place.  It was Arsenal’s worst performance since the resumption of football in 1919.

The arrival of Chapman

Nine days later on 11 May 1925 an advertisement for new Arsenal manager appeared in Athletics News.  The advert ended, Gentlemen whose sole ability to build up a good side depends on the payment of heavy and exhorbitant [sic] transfer fees need not apply.  Herbert Chapman applied.

Curiously however Knighton had not yet formally left the club – it appears he did not go until 16 May, and he certainly left with a grudge – a grudge that came pouring out in just about the most inaccurate book on Arsenal’s history ever – his autobiography published 23 years later.  It is only in the last few years that just how inaccurate the book was has been fully revealed.

Also interesting is the fact that Knighton left before Herbert Chapman returned to England early from a tour with Huddersfield on 4 June, ready for talks with Arsenal about becoming the club’s new manager.  It seems the deal was indeed agreed much earlier.

Meanwhile events moved on elsewhere.   On 8 June 1925 The Football League voted to change the offside rule to two men behind the ball rather than three.  Two days later Herbert Chapman met with directors of Huddersfield prior to agreeing to manage Arsenal, becoming manager on 11 June.

Perhaps by chance, or perhaps part of a good PR campaign, on 15 June Arsenal announced that the club had reached a deal to buy the Highbury stadium, and some additional land around it, and that the lease of the site had ended.  Sir Henry Norris’ huge gamble in taking the ground on a full-repairing lease had paid off.

And then on 22 June 1925, 32 years to the day after Jack Humble chaired the first ever AGM of the newly formed Woolwich Arsenal FC, just ahead of their arrival in the Football League, Herbert Chapman took up the job of Secretary Manager of Arsenal FC.   It was a moment of supreme importance within the club, ranking alongside the move to professionalism in 1891, the application to join the League in 1893, the rescue of the club by Henry Norris in 1910 and the move to Highbury in 1913.

Chapman’s first pre-season

Chapman made one dramatic transfer move that summer for on 3 July 1925 Charles Buchan, the man who subsequently helped develop WM, signed for Arsenal for the second time in what became known as the £100-a-goal deal.  He played 102 games scoring 49 goals before finally retiring in 1928.  

There was a tingle in the air and in the era of no pre-season tours 11,406 came to Highbury for a pre-season practice match between the Arsenal first team and the Reserves: tt was Chapman’s first game at Arsenal.

On 16 August the arrangements to buy Highbury Stadium were finally completed, meaning Arsenal owned its own ground and Sir Henry Norris was no longer under an obligation to return the ground to its previous state at the end of the lease.

On 22 August at the second pre-season game of Chapman’s reign 13,269 turned up for another “practice match” between the first team and the reserves.  

Chapman launches his league career at Arsenal

Then one week later  on 29 August 1925   we finally got to Herbert Chapman’s first match as Arsenal manager, against Tottenham in the first league match under the new offside rule.  Arsenal lost 0-1.  The outgoing manager Leslie Knighton alleged some 20 years later that he was promised the gate money from the game as a benefit payment, but no evidence of such an agreement was ever produced and since all the rest of Knighton’s anti-Norris statements in his autobiography have subsequently been proven to be untrue we may take that with a pinch of salt.  Also on 29 August Charlie Buchan made his debut.  

The second game was the last for Joseph Toner, on 31 August.  Seeing his side lose at home to Tottenham and draw 2-2 at home to Leicester on this day, he started to take dramatic action and the reform of the club that ended with cup and league triumph was underway.

There was huge press interest in the match of 12 September 1925, not so much for the score (a 1-1 draw with Liverpool) but for the fact that Sammy Haden’s cross shot was going in, but Buchan touched it at the last second, and it cost Arsenal £100.  It was Buchan’s first goal for Arsenal.

On 21 September Chapman finally saw Arsenal win at home in the seventh league game of the season as Arsenal beat West Ham 3-2.  Buchan got two and Neil the third.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing.  On 3 October Arsenal lost 0-7 to Newcastle, and Chapman began discussions to transform Arsenal’s tactics.  Buchan in his autobiography claimed that he was the key adviser to Chapman in this, but it seems from other sources that others were involved in the discussion – which was about far more than pulling the centre half deeper down the pitch to play between the two full backs.   

On 5 October a new WM + zonal marking counter attack system was used for the first time in a 4-0 victory over West Ham, and with the results dramatically improving Chapman impressed upon Sir Henry the need for expenditure.  As a result on 9 November 1925 William Harper joins from Hibs for £4000 – a record for a keeper.  

That Chapman got such funding was undoubtedly down to the improvement in results, emphasised by the game on 14 November 1925: Arsenal 6 Bury 1, meaning Arsenal had scored 15 in the last 3 games.   Crowds were on the up, there was excitement in the air.

From the Pre-season files


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *