The end of Knighton, Herbert Chapman’s arrival, the truth about “WM” and a new club high

I have recently been writing about Arsenal’s summers – simply because no one seems to have gathered the summer pre and post season campaigns and signings together before.  But I have had several comments to the effect that it would be even better if a similar style could be used but for the whole season in each case.

I thought I would try this out with Chapman’s first season, just to see how it goes.   What I have done here is taken the existing article on the summer in which Chapman arrived and one or two other pieces from the site and extended these into one article which covers the whole of the first season that Chapman was at the club plus the details of his arrival and Knighton’s departure, while extending the existing commentary somewhat as I’ve gone along.  I hope you find it interesting.

It was certainly interesting to write, and I think it does pull together the interesting issues of the year such as the Dr Paterson affair, WM, the cost of Buchan, and so on.

Tony Attwood

Before Chapman arrived: the end of Knighton

Arsenal’s 1-2 away defeat to Liverpool on 3 January 1925 started a run of 6 consecutive defeats during which Arsenal scored just two goals in total.   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.  Knighton was quite open about this – and indeed suggests that he was so lost as to know what to do, he actually accepted the pills (which had terrible side effects and didn’t work as stimulants) from a person he didn’t actually know.

However on the same day that Knighton was handing out the pills to players something rather more positive was happening as 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 – for although no longer an MP his selfless work during the war (recognised through the award of his knighthood and then the rank of Lt Col in the army) meant he was most certainly one of the most prominent of club owners.  He also became the most prominent critic of the FA not least of the subsequent issue of compensation for Tom Whittaker’s injury, which gave him a huge level of publicity and a strong affinity with many supporters.

That this match was chosen was prompted also probably by the fact that Sir Henry wanted to have a chat with Chapman (the Huddersfield manager) on whose future he had designs.   Indeed the build up to the event and the meetings and agreements that had to be arranged may have secured Chapman’s arrival at Arsenal in the summer, for it certainly showed that where tactical changes were required, Chapman was the man.

Huddersfield won 5-0 which did little for Arsenal’s precarious league position but a lot for the future of the club.  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.  Arsenal were 19th and sinking, and were only kept out of the relegation mire by the awful form of Nottingham Forest and Preston North End.

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 undoubtedly was the final nail that 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.   Sir Henry needed a significantly higher income to pay for his great Highbury experiment.

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 although the advert had appeared Knighton had not yet formally left Arsenal – it seems 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.  However it is only in the last few years that just how inaccurate the book was has been fully revealed – and in the meanwhile his wild accusations and endless half-truths have been used to paint a wholly erroneous picture of Arsenal’s early years at Highbury.

That this vision portrayed by Knighton was taken as the truth for so long is down to the fact that the revelations were serialised in the sunday press – as scurrilous a weekly outpouring then as they are now.   For there was no need just to take Knighton’s word for the events of the era, as George Allison’s own, much more balanced autobiography appeared at the same time.   (I have no evidence but I rather think that this was not a coincidence, my suspicion being that Arsenal directors asked Mr Allison to publish something that might take the sting out of the Knighton tale).

But to return to 1925 eventually the scurrilous Knighton did leave Arsenal, and he left before Herbert Chapman returned to England from a tour with Huddersfield on 4 June, (leaving his players with a couple of overseas games still to play) ready for talks with Arsenal about becoming the club’s new manager.  It seems the deal was pretty much already agreed.

Meanwhile events moved on elsewhere.   Following the experiment by the International Board, 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, and presumably obtained their permission to end his contract and leave the club.

I have no knowledge of how such discussions went, but although Huddersfield owed a lot to Chapman for what he had done, Chapman owed his continuing life in football to Huddersfield.

When the first world war broke out, Herbert Chapman had been manager of Leeds City In 1918 when the war concluded Herbert returned to Leeds City and resumed his work, but only a few months later (and with football just consisting of friendly games – the league not resuming until August 1919) he resigned, moved to Selby and apparently gave up football to become a superintendent at an oil and coke works.

Leeds City were subsequently reported by some former player of paying “guest” players who had appeared for them in war time friendlies – something that was outlawed.  But the evidence was dubious in the extreme.

The League had no documentary proof save the say-so of the ex-players  – but then there was not likely to be any, as “guest” players who had been paid (if there were any) would have been paid cash and no records kept.   However when charged Leeds City would not give the League their detailed financial records, and so in the arbitrary way that it often deals with these things, the Football League removed Leeds City from membership, and suspended five officials, including Herbert Chapman, for life.  With eight matches played in the 1919-20 season Leeds City were expelled from the league, and their fixtures were taken over by Port Vale, who bizarrely were able to count the eight games Leeds City had played  (four wins two draws and two defeats) as their own!

Leeds City was wound up, the players sold, and out of the mists a new club appeared using the same ground: Leeds United.  They were admitted to the league for the 1920/21 season, replacing Grimsby in Division 2!  Hardly a victory against corruption.

For Herbert Chapman however matters went from bad to worse since in late December 1920 he was laid off from his job at the coke works.  He was unemployed, and banned for life from his main mode of activity.

Then he was approached by Huddersfield Town to be assistant to Ambrose Langley, who had played with Herbert Chapman’s brother Harry at The Wednesday (where Harry had made over 200 appearances).

Working with the support of Huddersfield, Herbert then appealed against his life ban, using the most obvious of cases that since he had been helping the nation’s war effort during much of the war, and had not been involved with the club, and since the League had no idea when any illicit activity had taken place (since it hadn’t seen the records) they couldn’t possibly know that there was a case against him.

Even a five year old child could see that the case against Herbert Chapman obviously had no basis, and after just a month’s unemployment he became an employee of Huddersfield Town on 1 February 1921, soon replacing the incumbent manager.  He remained manager of Huddersfield until 11 June 1925 when he was given permission to discuss matters with  Arsenal.

Perhaps by chance, or perhaps as part of a good PR campaign, on 15 June Arsenal announced that the club had reached a deal to buy (rather than lease) the Highbury stadium, and some additional land around it, and that the lease of the site had ended.  Sir Henry Norris’ huge gamble in 1913 or taking the ground on a limited period full-repairing lease had paid off.  Arsenal had a new manager, and had secured their home.

And so it was that 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 the club’s 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 launch of Woolwich Arsenal and its application to join the League in 1893, the rescue of the club by Henry Norris in 1910 and indeed the move to Highbury in 1913.

Chapman’s first pre-season

Chapman made one dramatic transfer move that summer for on 3 July 1925 as Charles Buchan, the man who subsequently helped develop the WM defensive system, 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.  The deal was expensive, but was a stunning publicity stunt, keeping up the public interest in Arsenal which had already reached fever pitch the previous month with Chapman’s arrival.

There was indeed a palpable tingle in the air, supported by the endless coverage of football in the local daily press, who since 1913 had had three local clubs to talk about, and with Arsenal having no pre-season tour arranged, it was not surprising that 11,406 came to Highbury for the traditional pre-season practice match between the Arsenal first team and the Reserves: it was Chapman’s first game at Arsenal.

On 16 August the arrangements to buy Highbury Stadium were finally completed, meaning Arsenal once again owned its own ground (as it had after moving to the Manor Ground in 1893) and Sir Henry Norris was no longer under an obligation to return the ground to the religious foundation that had owned it, in the state it was provided in, at the end of the lease.

Six days later, 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 after that on 29 August 1925 Arsenal supporters were finally able  to see Herbert Chapman’s first match as Arsenal manager, against of all teams, Tottenham, in the first league match under the new offside rule, with the £100-a-goal man Charlie Buchan made his debut.  It was every publicity angle possible all rolled into one.

And what a let down it was: Arsenal lost 0-1.  The outgoing manager Leslie Knighton alleged in its autobiography that he was promised the gate money from this game as a benefit payment, but no evidence of such an agreement was ever produced and since virtually all the rest of Knighton’s anti-Norris statements in his autobiography have subsequently been proven to be untrue, we may also take that with a pinch of salt.

Very quickly Chapman was making changes – he had seen enough in the practice matches and the Tottenham defeat, and the second game (a 2-2 draw at home to Leicester) was enough to spell the end for Joseph Toner.  It was clear that (despite the terms of the advert suggesting that simply buying players was not what Sir Henry wanted) changes would be afoot.

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 although Sammy Haden’s cross shot was going in, Buchan moved forwards and touched it at the last second, thus costing Arsenal £100.  It was Buchan’s first goal for Arsenal and the first £100 that Sir Henry had to pay on the goals-scored agreement.

That sum – £100 – does not calculate as very much in today’s terms – probably about £5,500 – but it must be remembered that in 1925 football was dependent for its income totally on gate receipts.  There was no broadcast money of course, no sponsorship, nothing… except gate receipts, and the home club had to give 40% of their take to the away club in each game.   Given that Arsenal’s gates were very much at the top end of the range, that gave the club no benefit.  Six of Arsenal’s away games drew in under 20,000, while only one home game had such an attendance.

Thus it wasn’t all plain sailing at first, but 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 (another £200 for Norris to fork out) and Neil the third.   Arsenal had won three, drawn three and lost one.  The previous season, which had ended so badly, had started with four wins, one draw and two defeats in the first seven.  Looked at this way, not much had improved.

Transforming WM

Indeed there was worse to come.  On 3 October Arsenal lost 0-7 to Newcastle, and Chapman immediately 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.  Certainly it seems that there is good reason to believe that Joe Shaw, ex-Arsenal player and now Reserve team coach, and Tom Whittaker, ex-player and now recovering from the career-ending injury sustained playing for an FA XI in Australia, were both involved in consultations – although perhaps not in the final decision making.

The “WM” system is often considered to be a simple move to pull the centre half of the old approach (who carried the number 5 and played in the middle of the midfield) back into the middle of the defence.

Thus the old system of

2                        3

4           5           6

7      8     9     10    11

is seen in this analysis to have become …

2           5            3

4                       6

7      8     9     10    11

And if this is all there was, then one might wonder what the fuss was about.

In fact there are two things wrong with this view.  First there is clear evidence that some teams were already pulling the centre half deeper into the back line before 1925.  And second the front five had not been playing as a straight line of attackers for many years.  Instead the general approach was

2                        3

4           5           6

   8        10

7           9         11

A 2-3-2-3 approach in modern parlance, morphing into 3 2 2 3 when the centre half moved into the back line.

However Buchan says (page 95 of his autobiography) that “New methods were required and Arsenal were the first to exploit them”.

It is probably this phrase that has led to commentators believing that Buchan was talking about the WM tactical formation – but it turns out he wasn’t, for he subsequently says,

“It has many times been said that the change in law brought into operation the ‘stopper’ centre half, but there were many such ‘stoppers’ long before that eventful day.”  He then proceeds to mention four of the most famous centre halves who played in the final line of defence between the two full backs before the 1925 law change.

On page 97 Chapman moves on to the post-match meeting after the 7-0 defeat on 3 October 1925, held in the Newcastle hotel.  Buchan reports that he had been pressing for a change to the way Arsenal lined up since he was transferred to the club in the summer of 1925 and says that finally, after this game, Chapman asked him to explain his views more fully.

Buchan’s first point was not to have a centre half playing between the full backs, and marking the opposition’s number 9, but rather to have him guarding the edge of the penalty area.   Buchan was, in fact, inventing zonal marking for this player, leaving the others free to cover the flow of the play.

Now that notion of the centre half patrolling zonally does give us a “W” defence.  Moving across the W from left to right we have the left top of the W as the left half, the left bottom as the left back, the midpoint neither as high as the left half nor as low as the left back – that is the new “centre half position”, and then the right side of the the W – the right back and the right half.

So here is the invention of WM, and it was (it seems) the invention of Buchan not Chapman.  But we must be clear, WM does not mean pulling the centre half back to play between the two full backs, because other clubs were doing that already.  Instead it means playing the centre half further away from the goal line he is defending than the full backs.

But that was not all.  What Buchan also wanted was that the centre half should be a “dominating personality around his own goal.  And he should not be content just to get the ball away anywhere, but to send it, with head or feet, to the roving inside-forward”.

So, an end to the big man hoofing it up the field.

Thus now comes the next part of the equation: the “roving inside forward” – part of the “M” in the equation.  Buchan nominated Andy Neil – a man who could receive the ball with either foot and pass it on quickly to get the counter attack going, resulting in a goal from three or four touches out of defence.

This is much more than WM – this is zonal marking with a centre half who would always find one particular player who had the skill to move the ball on at once for the counter attack.  It was a system ultimately perfected with Herbie Roberts at centre half, passing to Alex James who moved the ball instantly on to Joe Hulme or Cliff Bastin.

The new tactics were tried just two days later in an away game at West Ham on 1 October 1925, and the new Arsenal system was born.  Arsenal won 4-0 and as Buchan says, “the novelty of Arsenal’s new methods took the other League clubs by surprise,” and by Christmas Arsenal were top of the league.  Indeed but for illness and injury Arsenal would probably have won the league in Chapman’s first season.  As it was they had to settle for second.

Top five, after the games on Christmas Day 1925

But let’s return to 5 October when the new WM + zonal marking counter attack system was used for the first time.  With the results dramatically improving Chapman impressed upon Sir Henry the need for expenditure.

On 7 November 1925 John (Jock) Robson played his final game – against Man City.  He was the shortest ever Arsenal keeper at 5 feet 8 inches.  He played 101 times for Arsenal, including 9 games in 1925/6.

Immediately after on 9 November 1925 William Harper joins from Hibs for £4000 – a world record for a goal keeper.  So much for Norris’ injunction about expenditure!  And the money was paid while Buchan was still knocking in the goals (he scored another in the 5-2 victory over Man City two days earlier and two more in the next game on 14 November 1925 as Arsenal beat Bury 6-1.  Indeed this victory meant Arsenal had scored 15 in the last 3 games.  Considering the club had only scored 46 goals in the entire 42 games of the previous season it was a remarkable turnaround.

On 28 November 1925 the result was Arsenal 2 Sunderland 0.  It was Arsenal 5th consecutive win – a sequence which included 10 goals in those five games for Jimmy Brain who scored 34 goals in 41 games in total in the season.  The sequence also included five goals from Charlie Buchan.  (Another £500 for Sir Henry to pay out).

13 January 1926 saw the final match for Harry Woods – the holder of the world record transfer fee for a short while.  He had finished as the club’s top goalscorer in 1923-24 with ten, and scored 12 in 1924/5 but was then replaced by Jimmy Brain as the key goal scorer.

And the signings continued.   On 5 February 1926 Joe Hulme signed.  He went on to play 333 league games across a 13 year spell (a sort of pre-war version of Thierry Henry).    He made his debut on 6 February 1926 in the game Leeds United 4 Arsenal 2 and the press at the time noted the player as “the fastest man in English football.”

As a result of the changes it must have seemed as if no jobs were safe for the old guard, and indeed on 6 February 1926 Clem Voysey played his last game.   Clem’s transfer to Arsenal had been investigated by the FA in 1925 and was again investigated in 1927 as the enemies of Sir Henry worked hard to bring him into disrepute, but no charge was ever brought against the player, the club or Sir Henry Norris.

The late winter was a difficult time for the club but on 13 February 1926 after 1 win in 6, Arsenal beat Newcastle 3-0 to start run of just one defeat in nine as Arsenal headed to its highest first division finish to date: second.

And of course the crowds responded.  On 24 February 1926 Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat of Aston Villa (the most famous FA Cup team of the day) was witnessed by 71446.  It was the biggest crowd thus far at Highbury.

27 February 1926 (a 0-0 away draw with Cardiff) saw the first senior game for Andrew Neil.  He had joined from Brighton for £3000 two years earlier – a sign that Chapman was most certainly willing to give a try out to anyone who had been signed by Knighton and how seemed to have promise.   On the same day William Harper made his Scottish international debut (internationals being played at the same time as league games in this era).

And seemingly with hardly a week passing by without another transfer arrival, on 2 March 1926 Tom Parker joined from Southampton.  He had played 246 league games for Southampton and went on to play 258 league games for Arsenal.  He was the captain when Arsenal won the FA Cup for the first time, and when Arsenal won the league for the first time.

Dr James Paterson, and how his story gives the lie to the Knighton interpretation of history

Four days later, on 6 March 1926 Arsenal went out of the FA Cup in a 2-1 away defeat to Swansea Town.  It was of course a disappointment but still it was the first time Arsenal had progressed this far since 1922.   This game was also the last game for Dr James Paterson and this is particularly interesting as it was the statement by manager Leslie Knighton that he had been forced into playing “the brother-in-law of the club doctor” so short of players was he because of Sir Henry’s miserliness, that finally helped unravel the truth about Sir Henry Norris’ running of the club during the Knighton era.  It also helps explains how it could be that Sir Henry allegedly didn’t spend any money with Knighton, but then let Chapman spend all he wanted.  

Commentators and historians of Arsenal have repeated this tale of Knighton’s for years and years without checking the facts, and indeed even the oft-quoted Bernard Joy autobiography swallows Knighton’s misleading reporting as fact.   So it is worth pausing at this moment in March 1926 to consider the full story.

Dr Paterson was educated in Glasgow, and started his league career playing for Queen’s Park before moving on to Rangers in 1910 where initially he played in the reserves for the most part while studying to be a doctor at the University of Glasgow.  However he quickly graduated to the first team playing at outside right as Rangers won the Scottish League in 1911 for the sixth time.

The next season he changed wings, winning the league again in 1912 and 1913, and continued to play until he graduated in 1916 – Scottish league football, unlike that in England, not being suspended for the first world war.

Having signed up to help his country, he was appointed Medical Officer to the 14th Battalion the London Regiment, the London Scottish with the rank of Major, and served on the front line.

There was formal recognition of his heroism in 1917 as he was awarded the Military Cross – the award granted for an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land, to members of the armed forces.

His citation stated, “Under an intense hostile bombardment, he dressed the wounded and cleared them from the road, personally seeing to their removal to the aid post. He then returned and cleared the dead from the road, setting a fine example of coolness and disregard of danger.”

When the war ended he returned to Glasgow and worked in a local hospital. Without any warning to the local media he then turned out again for Rangers, in September 1919 playing against Raith.  In fact he played without having gone back into training – an incredibly dangerous thing to do in terms of injuries that could be sustained, and is reported to have been very overweight, but he still won over the crowd, and scored.

Rangers won the title again that year but Dr Paterson then decided to move on.  His brother-in-law, John Scott, who worked in London was made Arsenal’s club doctor and Jimmy moved to England to join him in his house in Clapton, and was soon persuaded by John to sign as an amateur for Arsenal in September 1920.

Although an amateur it seems that like other amateurs of the time he received expenses and “gifts” which were reputed to have included a “baby grand piano from Harrods, a diamond-studded tie-pin and a fine Venetian vase.”   A baby grand, I should add, is not a “baby” in the conventional sense, but still a fairly large musical instrument, just a little smaller than the full size concert grand – the type of piano which is normally only seen in concert halls for the performance of concertos.  (Sorry – I’m a pianist so thought I would throw in a bit of specialist knowledge).

Paterson made his debut for Arsenal on the left wing against Derby on 30 October 1920 and played 20 league matches that season.

Thus it was that subsequently Knighton claimed in his self-serving autobiography that he was so short of players that he was at one stage even forced to bring in the brother in law of the club’s physio, to make up the numbers.  That brother in law was Dr Jimmy Paterson.  Knighton totally played down the quality of Paterson as a player, and this image has been heightened by Bernard Joy in Forward Arsenal! in which is reports only that Paterson had played for Queens’ Park in Glasgow, ignoring the fact that Paterson won the league twice as an integral part of the Rangers team.  Apart from the disrespect of the man as a player it is an appalling sleight on one of the nation’s war heroes.

So rather than the man that Knighton in his autobiography claims to have been “reduced” to playing – the brother-in-law of the physio, who had once played for Queens Park, this man was one of the great heroes of Scottish football and the nation.

What Knighton also omits to say is that in 1920/1 under his management, Arsenal won only two of their first 11 games.  Paterson then made his Arsenal début against Derby on 30 October 1920 and with Paterson in the side the club went unbeaten in the next seven, winning five.

Then in March 1921 Paterson was selected to play for the Football League against the Scottish League, coincidentally played at Highbury.

Before the match, he is reported to have gone into the Scottish dressing room to shake hands with all the players, many of whom he had played with before the war.  In the game, rather interestingly, it was Paterson’s cross that led to the only goal scored by Charlie Buchan.

It is also said in some reports that Dr Paterson was given a bunch of flowers during the match and played on with them in his hand, but the true story seems to be that he was handed them before the game started, and still had them in his hand as the whistle went.  It seems he played with them in his hand for a few moments before finding someone to hand them to.

Paterson’s career with Arsenal under Knighton was erratic, although so far I have not been able to find out if this was due to injury, or medical duties elsewhere, or the foibles of Knighton.

After his 20 games in 1920/1 he only played two league games the following season, but played 26 in 1922/3 and 21 in 1923/4, at which point he retired, although was still technically on the books of Arsenal.

But then on 13 February 1926 (and this is a measure of Dr Paterson’s prowess) he was persuaded by Herbert Chapman to play once again, helping the drive towards second place in the league.

Chapman needed someone to fill in at outside left as Arsenal were by this stage using their sixth right winger of the season and simply run out of anyone to play on the left wing.   Clem Voysey, as noted above, had filled in for the previous match on the left for one game but now dropped out being clearly thought unsuitable for Chapman, and in came Dr Paterson.  Thus it was that on 13 February 1926, he scored his only ever league goal, in a 3-0 win against Newcastle United in front of 48346 spectators.

Dr Paterson kept his place for the 20 February 1926 FA Cup game against Aston Villa away, not least because Joe Hulme who Chapman had signed from Blackburn was cup tied, and he played again on 24 February for the replay at Highbury in front of an amazing 71,446 which Arsenal won 2-0, with Paterson scoring the first goal.

Dr Paterson then left London and moved to a country practice at Bramley in Surrey, and finally retired to Ayrshire in the 1950s – by which time the appalling slur on his career would have appeared in the Knighton memoirs.  One can only hope he was able to laugh it off.

He died of a heart attack on 31 August 1959 aged 68, and is a man who memory as a hero of his country, and as a part of the history of Arsenal, should, in my view, always be remembered.   The slur against him by Knighton, calling him simply “the brother in law of the club doctor” was and remains unforgivable, and Bernard Joy really should have done better than to repeat it.

The season draws to a close

Now, moving back to our story, on 13 March 1926 Chapman used Andrew Neil (who had started the season at number 10 but had recently been dropped) for one last time (as inside right) but the move was not satisfactory, and that became Neil’s final game for the club.  He was sold to Brighton and Hove Albion when Alex James joined Arsenal.

On 20 March 1926 Jack Rutherford played his final game for Arsenal (against Man City) aged 41 years 159 days – the oldest player to play a league match in the history of Arsenal.  Arsenal won 1-0.   

And so we come to Easter.  On 2 April 1926 Clem Voysey played his last game for the club, in the reserves.  He was one of the most controversial figures in Arsenal’s history but quite what happened is forever shrouded in mystery.  But it was not Chapman’s problem – he simply didn’t see a future for the player, and so moved him on.

On 2 April 1926 a 3-0 away defeat to Aston Villa resulted in Bill Harper being dropped.  He was the third keeper Chapman had tried out in the season, and clearly the boss was still not satisfied, although Harper did come back for another 23 league games in the following season.  

The following day on 3 April 1926 Tom Parker played his first game.  It was the start of a continuous 172 game sequence.  Arsenal 4 Blackburn 2.  Baker, Blyth, Lawson and Buchan got the goals, and if there is any one moment in which we might say the birth of the new Arsenal occurred it was this.  Parker was the rock at right back on which the new team was secured.

The mark of Arsenal’s rise in terms of power and tactical ability was noted by all commentators on 17 April 1926 with the score Arsenal 3 Huddersfield 1.  Huddersfield still went on to win the league but Chapman was edging Arsenal towards the unthinkable: second in the league.

A friendly match on 26 April 1926 saw Arsenal beat Hibernian 5-0. It was the last game for John Alex Mackie.  He played 108 league games for the club, 119 overall, before moving to Portsmouth, and later Northampton, concluding his career at the outbreak of war.

And so, on 1 May 1926 Herbert Chapman ended his first season with Arsenal 3 Birmingham 0 and Arsenal and the achievement of that unprecedented 2nd place in the league, after just missing relegation one year earlier.  Jimmy Brain scored two to make it 34 goals in 41 games, beating the previous record of Harry King (26 in 37 games in 1914/5).  Here’s the table…

But even now the transferring of players was not over for on 4 May 1926 John “Jack” Lee signed as an amateur by Arsenal from Horden Athletic.  It appears that three weeks later he then became a professional with the club and then went on to play in the 1926/7 season.

The end-of-season tour of Europe

The 1924/5 had ended with no friendlies at all – perhaps because Knighton knew that he would be off, and the board were more concerned with his successor.  (The previous season – 1923/4 had ended with a six match tour of Germany, so end of season tours were certainly not unknown, and indeed Arsenal had been engaged in them since the 19th century).

But 1925/6 returned to the end of season tradition and Chapman and his team organised a continental tour to round off the year with six games played in Czechoslovakia, Austria and Hungary:

  • 13 May 1926: MTK Vörös Meteor (Budapest) 2 Arsenal 2 (28,000) (Brain, Lee)
  • 15 May 1926: SK Slavia Ips Praha (Prague) 1 Arsenal 5 (Buchan, Brain 2, Ramsey, Lee)
  • 18 May 1926: Rapid Vienna 3 Arsenal 3 (11,000) (Seddon, Buchan, Bowen)
  • 20 May 1926: Amateure FK Austria 3 Arsenal 5 (Parker. Butler, Buchan, Brain, Ramsey)
  • 26 May 1926: Rapid/Amateure All Stars 0 Arsenal 1 (15,000) (Parker)
  • 27 May 1926: Innsbruck Select XI 2 Arsenal 4 (scorers not recorded).

We have no details of that tour beyond those scores and some scorers above, but it certainly looks like a success.

And with Tottenham having finished 15th in the league, just four points off relegation, the red end of north London must have been rather happy with itself.  There seemed to be an awful lot to look forward to.  Buchan had scored 19 league goals and one in the FA Cup, leading to a £2000 bill for Sir Henry Norris – about £11,000,000 in present money.  I am not sure Sir Henry was that amused.

The Arsenal History Society


6 Replies to “The end of Knighton, Herbert Chapman’s arrival, the truth about “WM” and a new club high”

  1. Very good historical piece on Chapman. However Tony, it would have been even more enjoyable had you split it into two parts to make it easy on the eye.

    Thank you for continually correcting the inaccuracies in the Arsenal History.

  2. Tony, very interesting.


    Sally Davis has done a lot of research on Henry Norris.

    I would suggest that Secretary/Manager, did not happen until Henry Norris resigned from the Board.

    My scope, is the advert for a Team Manager, and not a Secretary/Manager?

    Henry Norris and Harry John Peters were very close (freemasons). Also in the mix is Henry Norris’s younger brother.

    I suspect that Norris major and Peters, acted as the Secretaries? Certainly as far as Leslie Knighton is concerned.

    There is no proof, as far as I can find, but I am a novice on the history of the Arsenal.

    My belief is that Harry John Peters, certainly ran the payroll and the office. Harry John Peters knew what happened to the skeletons!


Leave a Reply

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