Albert Edward Humpish: Herbert Chapman’s mystery signing for Arsenal in 1929.

By Tony Attwood

Albert Humpish  was born on 3 March 1902, and was one of eight players to make his debut for Arsenal in the 1929/30 season as Chapman gave the squad his final shuffle in order to win the illusive first trophy, which of course he did.

Bert, as he was usually known, (although one reference to him, gives his name as Teddy) was born in Bury (according to some sources) and Heaton, Newcastle (according to Wiki) on 3 April 1902 and is recorded as playing for Halifax Town, Walker Celtic, Bury, Wigan Borough, Arsenal, Bristol City, Stockport County, Rochdale, Wigan Athletic and Ashton National.  Ashton were a very prominent non-league team who were known for paying players more than the maximum wage allowed by the Football League.  They played at Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire in the Cheshire County League.  I don’t have data for the club (which as with all other sides, stopped playing formal league matches upon the outbreak of war in 1939) as they did not reform in the post-war era.   But I suspect Bert played for them in the 1937-39 season.  He would by then have been 36/37 years old and very much at the end of his career.

Not all those teams have information for him but these are the generally agreed totals

Years Team Games Goals
1921–1924 Halifax Town 8 1
1924–1925 Bury 2 0
1925–1929 Wigan Borough 161 15
1929–1930 Arsenal 3 0
1930–1932 Bristol City 36 1
1932–1934 Stockport County 58 11
1934–1936 Rochdale 31 2
1936–1937 Wigan Athletic 35 10
Total 334 40

We have a picture of him in relation to the Wigan Borough team 1925/26, the player on the left of the front row.

The picture is taken from the Wigan Borough site which records the people in the picture as…

Wigan Borough team 1925/1926
Back row: Bob Scorer (reserve), Tom Helsby, Jack Moran, Peter Pursell (trainer), Billy Winter, Jimmy Barrington, a director, Arthur Welsby, a director
Front row: Bert Humpish, Tom Fenner, George Yates, Billy Dickinson, Herbert Simpson, Jim Riddell
Photograph colourised by me, George Chilvers

The site also notes Bert Humpish as playing in Borough’s biggest match of the era against the then current Football League Division One leaders Sheffield Wednesday at home on 12th January 1929.  The match attracted the all time record crowd at Springfield Park of 30,443 although Borough ended up 1-3 losers. The team that lined up in that game is recorded by the site as…

Charlie Preedy, Jack Moran, Billy Dennis, Bert ‘Teddy’ Humpish, Tom Wilson, Bert Potter, Bobby Hughes, Billy Welsh, Wilf Lievesley, Ernie Cockle and Tommy Lindsay.

Arsenal had already played their two league games against Sheffield Wednesday for the 1928/29 season by the time Borough had their game against the league leaders, but of course football scouts know each other and talk to each other, and the game at Springfield Park came just two weeks after the Arsenal v Sheffield Wednesday match which ended 2-2 on 29 December 1928.

Whether this was the source of the interest of course we can’t say, and maybe it is one of my more far fetched ideas, but certainly it is true that players from non-league teams who play against top opposition are often spotted in just such situations.

As it was Humpish stayed at Wigan Borough for another year, playing his last game for them on New Year’s Day 1930 in a 2-2 draw with Crewe Alexandra – a game in which he scored one of the Wigan goals.  The crowd was 3,450.

By a strange coincidence Arsenal were again playing Sheffield Wednesday on 4 January 1930 (we lost 2-3 at Highbury) while Wigan were playing Stockport County, but without Humpish in the team.

Then on January 8 (according to the Arsenal handbook for the 1930/31 season) Teddy or Bert joined Arsenal aged 28 – rather old for a non-league player to come to Arsenal.  The handbook makes no mention of the fee, but it appears that Wigan were in serious trouble at the time and it is reported that “all the money from the transfer was swallowed up as the club decided to pay the accumulated arrears owed to players.  Furthermore the chairman revealed that the sale was made to enable the situation to be rectified and was at pains to disclose that all the players would now be paid in full and the matter resolved” although it also seems that the club still had some outstanding transfer fees of their own to settle.

In short they had the problems that have beset local non-league clubs across the years – a locality that likes the notion of having its own team, but without enough support to keep them going.  According to the Wigan site, at the time “the average weekly income from games was £48 whilst the break even figure was one £108.” Arsenal didn’t solve Wigan’s problems, but they certainly helped get the players paid.

Humpish made just three first team appearances for Arsenal, all at right half – a position in which Baker, Seddon, and Haynes were also employed in.  Baker played 16 times in that position, Seddon 12 times (he then moved to centre half) Haynes 10 (he also played left half and centre half).

Added to which Arsenal had Charlie Jones who was in the middle of a career that brought him 176 league games.  True in 1929/30 he didn’t play in Humpish’s position, spending his time as outside left, inside left and right half (Chapman often explored the notion of a left footed player at right half as part of the WM technique of passing the ball out of defence very quickly in a way that the opposition could not out guess), but in the 1930/31 title winning season Jones put in 24 league games at right half, and won a league winners’ medal.

So it seems a strange transfer – Baker and Seddon were Chapman’s first choices in the position, Jones was always available.  Of these three only Alf Baker, who had played over 300 games for the club was coming to the end of his career (he retired at the end of the 1930/31 season).   So why sign a 28 year old from a non-league side?

Maybe Chapman saw something else in Humpish, for he was famous for moving players to unexpected positions – or maybe he was just trying to cover every possible option.  But either way Humpish spent most of his time in the reserves, playing 17 Combination games.

His first team games were

  • 19 February 1930: Derby 4 Arsenal 1
  • 22 February 1930: Grimsby 1 Arsenal 1
  • 5 April 1930: Newcastle 1 Arsenal 1

And so sadly he never was on the winning side in a first team game, nor did he get to play a first team game at Highbury.

The only note I have of his sale was that it was in December 1930 to Bristol City for £450.   Now given the information above concerning Wigan’s financial plight in which it is said that Wigan were losing £60 a week, then if we assume that they had accumulated just two years’ debt (and allowing for the fact that players were paid a lesser wage in the summer) they would have £5000 debts.   No matter what Arsenal paid for the player it must have been more than they got for him.   So we might guess that the player came to Arsenal for maybe £1000.

The rest of Bert’s playing career is shown in the table above, and I have a note that after retiring, Humpish became a trainer at Rochdale.  He died aged 84 in Chester on 26 September 1986.

His time at Arsenal was very short, but he had a fulsome playing career of 334 league games, and as always with these players for whom we have little more than the basic facts of their playing career, I am left saddened not to be able to record more. If you know anything more about Bert Humpish please do write in.

The Arsenal History Society has undertaken research into many areas of Arsenal’s history, including presenting the most detailed ever history of the club in the 1930s.  You can see details of our various areas of research on the Society’s home page.

There is an index to the full series on Arsenal in the 1930s here.


One Reply to “Albert Edward Humpish: Herbert Chapman’s mystery signing for Arsenal in 1929.”

  1. I’m working on Ted Humpish’s profile as Halifax Town historian. He made his debut with us back in 1922, started well, then faded and moved on. Arrived as an inside-forward, then converted to half-back at Wigan Borough.

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