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How long does it take a new manager to win the league at Arsenal?

By Tony Attwood

Below is a list of all the managers in the history of Woolwich Arsenal, The Arsenal and Arsenal FC.   The second column shows when that person (or in the case of the first time around, the committee) took up the job, and what happen in their first season.

The “first season” column shows the position in the league table (the second division eras were 1893 to 1904 and 1913 to 1915), and then the results of the FA Cup, and in later years the Football League Cup (LC).   “Final” means losing finalist.

Where a manager takes over part way through a season, his first complete season is the one recorded.  Managers who are temporary managers, filling in until the next permanent manager is appointed are listed but their achievements not recorded as they mostly took over part way through a season.

For the record Joe Shaw, who took over from Herbert Chapman upon his untimely passing, in the latter part of the season, won the league.

 

Table of managers in date order

Name From First season
The Committee August 1983 9th; FAC 1st round
Thomas Mitchell March 1897 7th; FAC 1st round
William Elcoat April 1898 8th; FAC 3rd qual round
Arthur Kennedy 21 Feb 1899
Harry Bradshaw August 1899 7th; FAC supp. qual round
Phil Kelso July 1904 10th; FA 1st round
George Morrell Feb  1908 6th; FAC 2nd round
Punch McEwen April 1915
Leslie Knighton April 1919 10th; FAC 2nd round
Herbert Chapman June 1925 2nd; FAC 6th round
Joe Shaw January 1934
George Allison May 1934 1st; FAC 6th round
Tom Whittaker June 1947 1st; FAC 3rd round
Jack Crayston October 1956 12th; FAC 3rd round
George Swindin June 1958 3rd; FAC 5th round
Billy Wright May 1962 7th; FAC 5th round
Bertie Mee June 1966 7th; FAC 5th round; LC 3rd
Terry Neill July 1976 8th; FAC 5th round; LC5th
Don Howe Dec 1983 7th; FAC 4th round; LC3rd
Steve Burtenshaw March 1986
George Graham May 1986 4th; FAC 6th round; LC won
Stewart Houston Feb 1995
Bruce Rioch June 1995  5th; FAC 3rd round; LC SF
Stewart Houston August 1996
Pat Rice Sep 1996
Arsène Wenger October 1996  3rd; FAC 4th round; LC 3rd

 

So out of 19 permanent managers, two have won the league first time around, and both of these were people who were at the club with Chapman.

Chapman himself struggled to get his first championship trophy, and as noted elsewhere, offered to resign in 1929 because of his failure across five seasons to deliver the league title that he had promised Sir Henry Norris when appointed.

But having built up the team, his sudden and untimely death did not disrupt the progress.  Shaw won the league in the season Chapman died, as noted above, and Allison won the league (the club’s third successive title) in his first season.

Allison had the unenviable task of managing Arsenal out of a single office at White Hart Lane during the second world war, and although he struggled to pull a team back together in his final season (the first after the second world war) Tom Whittaker (who had been the club’s trainer under Chapman from 1925 and Allison’s second in command) certainly benefitted from Allison’s dedication.

In short that period shows us the benefit of a well planned dynasty – the planning being put in place by Chapman from day one.

So the best performing managers in their first season were these, and I’ve now added  what happened in season two of these manager’s performances, and how long it took to win the league.

Herbert Chapman June 1925 2nd; FAC 6th round
2nd season 11th; FAC Final
First league championship Year 5
George Allison May 1934 1st; FAC 6th round
2nd season 6th; FAC won
First league championship Year 1
Tom Whittaker June 1947 1st; FAC 3rd round
2nd season 5th; FAC 4th round
First league championship Year 1
George Graham May 1986 4th; FAC 6th round; LC won
2nd season 6th; FAC 6th round; LC final
First league championship Year 3

I think from this we can conclude that Arsenal are not always that good at finding a new manager who can deliver trophies and certainly delivering trophies straight off is a tough affair.

The only ones who did it were those within the Chapman Dynasty, and George Graham who won the League Cup in his first season, was League Cup runner up in his second and won the title famously in the last minute of the season in his third.

Of course the matter is harder now, since some of the fan base have decided that the league cup and the FA Cup are not serious trophies.

So as a final analysis let’s have a look at how long it took each manager to win his first trophy/ies.

Name From First trophy
The Committee August 1983
Thomas Mitchell March 1897
William Elcoat April 1898
Arthur Kennedy 21 Feb 1899
Harry Bradshaw August 1899 2nd in Div 2 (promotion), Season 5
Phil Kelso July 1904
George Morrell Feb  1908
Punch McEwen April 1915
Leslie Knighton April 1919
Herbert Chapman June 1925 FA Cup, Season 5
Joe Shaw January 1934
George Allison May 1934 Division 1, Season 1
Tom Whittaker June 1947 Division 1, Season 1
Jack Crayston October 1956
George Swindin June 1958
Billy Wright May 1962
Bertie Mee June 1966 Fairs Cup, Season 3
Terry Neill July 1976 FA Cup, Season 3
Don Howe Dec 1983
Steve Burtenshaw March 1986
George Graham May 1986 League Cup Season 1
Stewart Houston Feb 1995
Bruce Rioch June 1995
Stewart Houston August 1996
Pat Rice Sep 1996
Arsène Wenger October 1996  FA Cup and Division 1, Season 2

And finally, because the FA Cup and League Cup are now not considered trophies by some “supporters” here is the first trophy list of managers excluding those trifles.

Name From First trophy
The Committee August 1983
Thomas Mitchell March 1897
William Elcoat April 1898
Arthur Kennedy 21 Feb 1899
Harry Bradshaw August 1899
Phil Kelso July 1904
George Morrell Feb  1908
Punch McEwen April 1915
Leslie Knighton April 1919
Herbert Chapman June 1925 Division 1, Season 6
Joe Shaw January 1934
George Allison May 1934 Division 1, Season 1
Tom Whittaker June 1947 Division 1, Season 1
Jack Crayston October 1956
George Swindin June 1958
Billy Wright May 1962
Bertie Mee June 1966 Division 1, Season 4
Terry Neill July 1976
Don Howe Dec 1983
Steve Burtenshaw March 1986
George Graham May 1986 Division 1, Season 3
Stewart Houston Feb 1995
Bruce Rioch June 1995
Stewart Houston August 1996
Pat Rice Sep 1996
Arsène Wenger October 1996  Division 1, Season 2

So the table of best shots at winning the league gives us…

  • George Allison* Season 1
  • Tom Whittaker* Season 1
  • Arsène Wenger Season 2
  • George Graham Season 3
  • Bertie Mee Season 4
  • Herbert Chapman Season 6

*Had worked with the club previously.  Allison joined in 1910 writing the programme, and Whittaker joined in 1920 as a player, becoming assistant trainer in 1925.

And that’s it.  Six managers who won the league – plus we absolutely must never forget Joe Shaw, who played for Woolwich Arsenal, The Arsenal and Arsenal, and moved on to be reserve team coach, until he was forced to take over the first team on January 6 1934, following Chapman’s demise.  He won the league that year, but then very willingly returned to running the reserve team.

Recent Posts

Arsenal: the long sleep 1953 – 1970; a view from the terrace.

By John Sowman with an introduction by Bob Wilson

Arsenal: The Long Sleep is the definitive detailed account of the seventeen seasons immediately after the record seventh Football League championship win in 1953.

There are full details of this volume, which is available worldwide as a paperback, and via Amazon on Kindle on the Arsenal Books page where there is also a link to sample pages from the book, and details of the other Arsenal books that we have published.

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