The truth about Chapman’s centre half revolution

It is interesting how the commentaries of writers in past years are so often taken as being documentary proof of what happened, when in fact those who write about football in the past, often end up taking just one writer as their source of evidence.

In other historical contexts this doesn’t happen, as researchers seek to find reports from several sources – but with football, often one commentator is enough for everyone to copy.

I’ve often noted how this approach has misled many who have looked at Arsenal’s past through the misleading writings in Knighton’s autobiography, in which he justifies his own failings by blaming Henry Norris throughout.   Also checking the facts against the tales told in Bernard Joy’s book reveals that this was a book written straight from the memory without any checking.

A third dubious source arise with Charlie Buchan, who on leaving his playing days behind became a professional journalist.  He too, makes light of the facts, often placing himself at the centre of tales which, when checked against the reality of results, simply don’t add up.   This is certainly the case with his most famous story of being the man who invented the notion of having the centre half drop back to play between the two full backs.

It seems most likely that at half time in the infamous defeat to Newcastle in October 1925, where Arsenal let in six in the first half, Chapman did shuffle the team around, pulling the centre half back to play between the full backs, in order to reduce further damage.   But as our review of the 1925/6 season on this site shows, all sorts of strange scores happened through the season to a multiplicity of clubs, as each tried to find the system that would work.

Chapman’s actual answer to the issue of the change in the offside rule at the start of the 1925/6 season was in fact much more complex, and involved not only having a stopper at the heart of the defence, but also a deep lying half back who would take the short pass from the central defender and instantly, and with precision pass the ball to the advanced half back, who instantly moved it out to the wing.  It was the birth of Chapman’s famous counter attacking style.

It was a slightly more complex procedure, and one that most journalists considered too difficult for the average reader to grasp.

Here are the anniversaries.

25 June 1904: Fred Coles transferred to Grimsby.  He later became a cricket and football coach in Sweden and was also trainer of Hague in Holland between 1910 and 1911. 

25 June 1910: Sidney Cartwright born.  He signed for Arsenal as an amateur in April 1931 and as a professional on 9 May.    He made his debut on 22 Feb 1936 against Portsmouth.

25 June 1914: Henry Norris was adopted as one of two Conservative Party candidates to contest the parliamentary seats in Stockport both strongly held by the Liberals.  He did not fight the seat however as he was subsequently offered the chance to fight the seat in Fulham where he was Mayor.

25 June 1960: Death of Charlie Buchan aged 68. After retiring from playing he became a football journalist, wrote a coaching manual and was a commentator for the BBC.  He co-founded the Football Writers’ Association, and edited Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly.   See also Buchan’s first period at Arsenal.

25 June 1975: Steve Gatting signed as apprentice professional.  He became a professional two years later and played his first game with the first team as a sub versus Lokomotiv Leipzig on September 13, 1978 which Arsenal won 3-0. 

25 June 1978: Paul Davis joined Arsenal as a professional.  He had signed for Arsenal in 1977, and played for the first team for the first time against Tottenham on April 7 1980 at Tottenham.  We won 2-1.

25 June 1982: Pat Jennings played as N Ireland beat the hosts Spain in the World Cup 1-0.  In all he played 119 games for the Province.

25 June 1997: Arsene Wenger signed Manu Petit for the second time.  He had signed him originally in 1988 from ES Arques-la-Bataille and now, this time from Monaco for £2.5m.  Luis Boa Morte also signed on this day.  In June 2019 Boa Morte became assistant coach at Everton.

25 June 2007: After 254 league games and 174 goals Thierry Henry transferred to Barcelona for €24 million in a deal that ultimately cost the Catalan club over £250,000 per match.  Also quoted as 23 June in some quarters.  On 24 Jan 2019 Henry was dismissed as manager of Monaco who were 19th in the league.   He subsequently became manager of Montreal Impact.

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