1 February 1921: Herbert Chapman returns to football

For details our Free Video Collection, and the “Arsenal Day by Day” series please see the notes below the article

By Tony Attwood

Herbert Chapman was manager of Leeds City of Division II when the first world war broke out and having taken up a job outside of football for the duration, he returned to Elland Road in 1918 when the war concluded and resumed his work.

But only a few months later (and with football just consisting of a continuation of the war time leagues – the official league not resuming until August 1919), he resigned, moved to Selby and apparently gave up football totally to become a superintendent at an oil and coke works.

Leeds City were subsequently reported by some former professionals of paying “guest” players who had appeared for them in wartime league matches – something that was outlawed.  But the evidence was dubious in the extreme, consisting purely of rumours; there were no written records.

Thus the League had no documentary proof save the say-so of the ex-players  However when charged Leeds City directors would not give the League their detailed financial records, arguing that to do so would set a dangerous precedent since the League’s investigatory committee would contain directors of other clubs, who would become aware of Leeds’ financial state, which would give them an advantage if competing with Leeds for a transfer.

And so in the arbitrary way that it often deals with these things, the Football League removed Leeds City from League membership, and banned five officials of the club, including Herbert Chapman (who wasn’t even at the hearings), from football for life.

Thus with eight matches played in the 1919-20 season Leeds City were expelled from the league, and their fixtures were taken over by Port Vale, who bizarrely were able to count the eight games Leeds City had played  (four wins two draws and two defeats) as their own!

Leeds City was wound up, the players sold, and out of the mists a new club appeared using the same ground, and the same directors, but now calling itself Leeds United.  Without further ado they were admitted to the League for the 1920/21 season, replacing Grimsby in Division 2!

For Herbert Chapman however, matters went from bad to worse since in late December 1920 he was laid off from his job at the coke works.  He was unemployed and banned for life from his other main mode of activity.

Then he was approached by Huddersfield Town to be assistant to Ambrose Langley, who had played with Herbert Chapman’s brother Harry at The Wednesday (where Harry had made over 200 appearances).

Herbert then appealed against his life ban, using the most obvious of cases that since the League had no idea when any illicit activity had taken place (since it hadn’t seen the records) they couldn’t possibly know that there was a case against him.

Even a five-year-old child playing football in a playground could see that the case against Herbert Chapman obviously had no basis, and after just a month’s unemployment, he became an employee of Huddersfield Town on 1 February 1921, subsequently replacing the incumbent manager.  He remained manager of Huddersfield until 11 June 1925 when he was given permission to discuss matters with Arsenal who were now looking for a new manager, having sacked Leslie Knighton.

Perhaps by chance, or perhaps as part of a good PR campaign, on 15 June 1925 Arsenal announced that the club had reached a deal to buy (rather than lease) the Highbury stadium, and some additional land around it and that the lease of the site had ended.  Sir Henry Norris’ huge gamble in 1913 of taking the ground on a limited period full-repairing lease had paid off.  Arsenal had a new manager, and had secured their home for as long as they wanted it.

And so it was that on 22 June 1925, 32 years to the day after Jack Humble chaired the first ever AGM of the newly formed Woolwich Arsenal FC, just ahead of the club’s arrival in the Football League, Herbert Chapman took up the job of Secretary Manager of Arsenal FC.   It was a moment of supreme importance within the club, ranking alongside the move to professionalism in 1891, the launch of Woolwich Arsenal and its application to join the League in 1893, the rescue of the club by Henry Norris in 1910 and indeed the move to Highbury in 1913.

Also it was 22 June: the day of the first AGM of Arsenal as a league club, the day Chapman took over as manager of Arsenal, and by chance, also my birthday.  I rather like that.



For details of the videos sorted by club, and videos in the order we published them, plus our 21 golden great videos please see here.


Just as the videos have been put in date order so we are now doing a day-by-day series of Arsenal events, looking to find one good story a day throughout the year.   This project started on 1 December, and we are adding to it each day.   The index is here.

The Arsenal History Society is part of the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association – a body which gives positive support to the club, and has regular meetings with directors and senior officials of the club to represent the views of its members to the club.  You can read more about AISA on its website.

100 Years in the First Division: the absolute complete story of Arsenal’s promotion in 1919.

Henry Norris at the Arsenal:  There is a full index to the series here.

Arsenal in the 1930s: The most comprehensive series on the decade ever

Arsenal in the 1970s: Every match and every intrigue reviewed in detail.

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