How the untrue stories about Charlie Buchan and Arsenal have grown and grown

It is interesting just how much of Arsenal’s history, beyond the strictly factual accounts of who played and what the score was, is down to the testimony of one man.   On this day I am reminded of another such case as Charlie Buchan’s name turns up twice – in 1910 and 1928.

Many know that Buchan was the player brought to Arsenal at the start of Herbert Chapman’s reign, on a deal that required Arsenal to pay Chapman £100 (about £6000 today) for each goal scored.  The story then was that cost Arsenal more than the original fee that was demanded for him.

There is more, for subsequently Knighton claimed that he had tried to sign Buchan, suggesting he offered far more thanh Arsenal eventually paid for him, while going against the express wish of the club’s owner, in one of the most bizarre passages in his autobiography.  You can read that here.

Not only was that not true (something that can be seen simply from looking at the number of goals Buchan scored) but the tale that Buchan invented the WM defensive system after Arsenal had conceded seven against Newcastle was also not true.  Indeed Buchan doesn’t even claim this in his autobiography as you can read here. 

Nor indeed was the new system that did emerge of three central defenders, the key to dealing with the new offside law.  Nor was that approach universally adopted, as one can see from the very high scores that continued to occur during the 1925/6 season and thereafter.

Buchan was not averse to exaggerating his own place in football’s history – but most of the re-writing of this part of football’s history has been done by journalists subsequently, just wanting a quick story, without any recourse to the facts.

Here are the anniversaries…

5 May 1893: Royal Arsenal needed to become a limited company to join the Football League but were forbidden by the rules from registering a company name that associated the club with the royal family.  On this day they chose Woolwich Arsenal FC. For the history of Arsenal’s name changes see here.

5 May 1907: Woolwich Arsenal played a Belgian XI in Brussels, winning 2-1.  It was the first overseas match that Arsenal played, as far as we know, and was the start of an ambitious eight match tour of which Arsenal won seven and drew one game.

5 May 1908: William Garbutt – the Arsenal man who later took football to Italy – was transferred to Blackburn.  He stayed there for four years, but after injury stopped playing in 1912, aged 29 and moved to Genoa.

5 May 1910: Henry Norris and Charlie Buchan entered discussions for Buchan to play for Fulham, but Buchan rejected the offer saying Bury had offered him twice as much.  Norris did however succeed in signing him once Chapman took over.

5 May 1928: Charlie Buchan’s last game.  Everton 3 Arsenal 3. He scored 56 goals in 120 matches for Arsenal and then moved into journalism, and commentary for the BBC.  His autobiography, “A Lifetime in Football” claims he introduced the tactical change to the “WM” style but an analysis of matches in 1925/6 suggests his reporting is little more than self-aggrandizement.

5 May 1930: Northampton Town 0 Arsenal 7.  One of a series of end of season games with Chapman’s first managerial club organised to help raise funds for the local hospital.  

5 May 1934: Arsenal 2 Sheffield U 0.  Arsenal won the league by three points from Huddersfield despite the sudden death of Herbert Chapman earlier in the season.  It was also the last game for David Jack who went on to manage first Southend and then Middlesbrough.

5 May 1936: George Cox transferred to Fulham for £150 to Fulham.  Despite playing for Arsenal’s first team during the glorious 1930s, George Cox remains better known for his career in first-class cricket and he was indeed himself the son of a cricketer who played for Sussex (in cricket he was known as George Cox Junior).

5 May 1945: Last game for Ted Drake.  He went into management and transformed Chelsea, leading them to their one and only championship of the 20th century, before they sacked him.

5 May 1948: Death of Charlie Satterthwaite who scored Arsenal’s first ever goal in the 1st Division.  Charlie played 21 games in 1907/8, 18 the following year and four in 1909/10, ending his career on November 6th in a home defeat to Bradford.  He did not join another club and retired from football aged 32.

5 May 1954: Last game for Lionel Smith (a friendly v Grasshoppers).  He moved to Watford and then became player-manager at Gravesend & Northfleet where he won the 1957-58 Southern League title.

5 May 1961: Racing club de Paris 1 Arsenal 4.  One of the series of games set up by Herbert Chapman, initially to raise funds for men invalided in the first world war.

5 May 1966: Arsenal 0 Leeds Utd 3.  The infamous “4,554” game with Highbury’s lowest ever crowd for a league match.  It was the third successive 0-3 defeat although Arsenal won their final match 1-0 to end up 14th in the league.

5 May 1986: Oxford 3 Arsenal 0.  Last game for Tony Woodcock and last game with Steve Burtenshaw as manager before George Graham took over.  Woodcock moved into business, and later became an ardent supporter of Arsene Wenger’s style of management.

5 May 1990: Last game for Martin Hayes.  He scored 29 league goals in 70 starts, He moved to Celtic but this didn’t work out but had more success at Swansea before moving into non-league club management and commentary on Arsenal Player.  

5 May 1990: Norwich 2 Arsenal 2: David O’Leary beat George Armstrong’s record of 500 games in the final game of the season.  

5 May 1996: A last gasp victory at home against relegated Bolton gave Arsenal fifth place and a European place amidst much celebration within Highbury.  A draw would have let Everton in to the final European slot. A defeat could have made way for Tottenham.

5 May 1999: Tottenham 1 Arsenal 3 as the championship looked possible, however  Arsenal faltered in the next game. Anelka scored his 17th and final league goal to end as top scorer for the season.  Between 20 December and 5 May we didn’t lose a single game.

5 May 2008: Mathieu Flamini agreed to a four-year contract with Italian club Milan, meaning he would leave Arsenal on a free transfer on 1 July.  He had a hard time at Milan in the early days, playing as a late sub in Europa League games and eventually returned to Arsenal on a free, and then moved on a free to Crystal Palace meaning no transfer fee had ever been paid for him.

5 May 2009: Arsenal 1 Man U 3 (Champions League semi final; 1-4 aggregate).  Van Persie scored a 76th minute penalty but with Ronaldo and Park scoring in the first 11 minutes there was no chance of progression.  Fletcher was sent off for Man U on 74.

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