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Arsenal’s history on this day in …. 1919

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27 October 1919

On this day in 1919 Tom Whittaker joined Arsenal from the army.

Not only is 27 October 1919 a date that most Arsenal fans will be utterly aware of, but I suspect it is more than likely that very few Arsenal fans today will be particularly aware of Tom Whittaker’s involvement with the club.  There is no statue to him, no picture of him at the ground (as far as I know – although club level might have something about him tucked away in one of their bars) and nothing to commemorate a man who was phenomenally important to Arsenal.

In short having joined Arsenal on this day 101 years ago Tom Whittaker went on to become a first team player, was the club trainer under Chapman, trainer of the England squad, Arsenal coach and ultimately Arsenal manager in which role he equalled Chapman and Allison’s trophy record of two league titles and one FA Cup triumph.

What’s more, he was involved in revolutionising the medical treatment of players, as well as highlighting the appalling way in which the FA treated players who were injured while playing for their country.

Indeed, his winning of the League for the first time was chosen by the AISA Arsenal History Society of one of the ten great iconic moments in the history of the club.

So how can we possibly do justice to this colossus of a man in one article?   It’s hard but here is the summary…

Having played for Arsenal since 1919 it was during a tour of Australia with an FA side that in a match in Wollongong he broke his knee cap and had to stop playing.  The FA offered miserly compensation, and Arsenal, under Sir Henry Norris, criticised the FA vehemently in the club programme and newspapers.  The vehemence of Norris’ attack shocked the FA – but they did ultimately offer more.

Tom Whittaker moved from Arsenal’s team to the coaching staff, and having learned of physiotherapy during his treatment in hospital, he saw the possibilities of applying it to footballers, and became the first team trainer under Chapman in 1927.  In the years that followed he transformed the training and physio approach of the club.

After Chapman’s death mid-season, Joe Shaw, the reserve team coach took over the first team, with Whittaker at his side, as Arsenal won the League once more.  When George Allison became manager, Whittaker being the liaison between the manager and the players. During the third of the three successive championships under three different managers in the 1930s he was also appointed as the trainer of the England team.

He served his country with honour in the second world war and was rewarded for this service as a Squadron Leader on D Day with an MBE.  I believe he was the first Arsenal player to get such a high honour.

And then upon Allison’s retirement, in 1947, Tom Whittaker became the new manager and won the league in his first season.

In the initial post war season Arsenal were less than average, finishing 13th in the 1946/7 season.  The only rays of light were the two sensational goal scorers – Reg Lewis with 29 from 28 games and the ageing Ronnie Rooke (who came in on an exchange deal with Fulham) getting 21 from 24.

That season, Arsenal were 16 points off the top and 16 points away from relegation: safe but going nowhere.  In the cup we were knocked out by Chelsea in the third round.

Then back came Tom – no management experience but a career at Arsenal as player and trainer, and the man who had worked under Chapman and Allison.

In 1947, his first season as manager, Arsenal went the first 17 games without a defeat, and only suffered three defeats all season.

Arsenal won the league with four matches to go – and only a poor run in those last games  made the league table look like it was more of a close run thing. Indeed after a 7-0 trouncing of Middlesbrough on 26 March we only won one in eight, before rounding off the season rather nicely with an 8-0 home victory over Grimsby.

By the time that the title had been secured only 18 players had been used, at the time the fewest ever required for a title-winning team in the first division.

Overall Reg Lewis scored 14 out of 28 games while Ronnie Rooke scored 33 out of 42.  Ronnie was the league’s top scorer – aged 36.

For Tom Whittaker it must have been a staggering triumph.  An established player whose career came to a sudden halt in a meaningless match in Australia, who rebuilt his world as a physio, gained such a significant honour for his service to the kingdom in the war, and then in his first year as manager, went on to win the league in such a fashion.

In all Whittaker won the League twice and the FA Cup once, exactly the same as Chapman and Allison, but eventually the pressure proved too much for him, and he passed away while still manager, on 24 October 1956 aged just 58.  The next time Arsenal won anything of note was 1971, when the first Double was achieved.

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