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24 February 1964: William Garbutt – Arsenal’s original Herbert Chapman

The memory of the Woolwich Arsenal player William Garbutt is still revered in Italian football, and you will find his name in most books that tell the history of Italian football from its foundation.

William Garbutt was an outside right who was born into a working-class home in Stockport and played for Royal Artillery (while in the army), and Reading (while they were in the Southern League), before coming to Woolwich Arsenal.

He joined in December 1905 and played 19 games in the rest of the 1905/6 season and scored three goals.  The following year he played 25 games and scored three again.  In 1907/8 he played eight and scored two.

He was part of the Arsenal side that reached two FA Cup semi-finals in successive seasons; but was then displaced by Jackie Mordue and played in the reserves before moving to Blackburn at the end of the 1907/08 season.

Garbutt stayed in Blackburn for four years, played in another Cup semi-final, and played for the Football League in a representative match.  After a run of injuries, he stopped playing in 1912, aged 29.

He then moved to Genoa, which at the time was seen to be an English town in Italy, seeking work in the docks – but within weeks he was given the job of being the head coach of Geona, who were already a successful club.

Quite how he got the position we don’t know, and there are several theories about links with other footballing ex-patriots in the area at the time.  But get the post, he certainly did.  Maybe he just turned up and applied.

Garbutt put a heavy emphasis on physical fitness and tactics. The fitness he would have got from the army, and the tactics he adapted from the way football was moving in the early part of the 20th century in England.

He also introduced the first paid transfers (already commonplace in England), when he signed a player from AC Milan.  Among other things he took Genoa on tour to England, and even had them playing at Reading.

He stayed until 1927 by which time they had won the League in 1915, 1923 and 1924.

In July 1927 AS Roma was formed and such was Garbutt’s prestige that he was brought in as their manager. He stayed there for two years and won the Coppa Coni and came third in the league.

Next up was Napoli and took them up to third in the league for two seasons.

You might think that was enough for a working-class ex-footballer from Stockport, but no, he decided to move to Spain and become manager of Athletic Bilbao who then duly won the League.  Then back to Italy for a spell as boss of AC Milan before returning to Genoa, whose position in the league he rekindled.

He was exiled in the war, went back to Genoa again after the war, and died aged 67 in 1964 in Warwick.

There are remarkable links with Herbert Chapman. Chapman was not known as a brilliant player, but went into management just four years earlier than Garbutt, and the championships with Genoa in the 1920s coincided with Chapman’s work at Huddersfield Town.

Both men were keen users of the transfer system, and both were tactically very astute, being very willing to try out different approaches.

However while Chapman remains revered in this country, William Garbutt is little known.  His name however lives on in Italian football.


For thoughts on Arsenal today please see Untold Arsenal


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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