21 July: the birthday of Arsenal’s fourth longest serving manager

21 July 1898: Tom Whittaker born.

Tom Whittaker was born in Aldershot.   His prime interest in his early days was in being a marine engineer, but he was spotted playing football while serving his country, and in 1919 signed for Arsenal.  As Arsenal manager after the second world war, he won the league twice and the Cup once, as did Allison and Chapman before him.  He was indeed the last of the triumvirate of men who had been associated with the club over the decades. 

On 2nd February 1927, Arsenal played in an FA Cup 4th round replay against Port Vale having drawn 2-2 four days earlier. According to Tom Whittaker (and remember Whittaker was hardly an unbiased observer in all that followed), “Arsenal were pressing hard, but things were not going just right and old George Hardy’s eyes spotted something he felt could be corrected to help the attack. During the next lull in the game he hopped to the touchline, and cupping his hands, yelled out that one of the forwards was to play a little farther upfield.” Chapman was furious and sent Hardy to the dressing-room.    (Arsenal won 1-0 and went on to the Cup Final for the first time that season).

Immediately after the game (it is said in some sources – but not all, as we’ll see below) Hardy was immediately sacked and Whittaker promoted to trainer in his place.  It is reported in Whittaker’s autobiography (but could be a myth) that this is when Chapman said to Whittaker, “I’m going to make this the greatest club in the world and I`m going to make you the greatest Trainer in the game.”

But this raises the question: why was Hardy so strongly disciplined for one misdemeanour?

Sally Davis in her review of the situation says that “William Hall was called on to exercise his authority as a director to bring the row to an end; he chose to allow Chapman to deal with Hardy as he saw fit.   This is important because in 1925 when Chapman was first appointed, Davis says that Chapman wanted to demote or remove Hardy, whose methods he considered dated.  Sir Henry Norris who was loyal to a fault, would not allow it.  So allowing Chapman to decide the issue was a direct challenge to Sir Henry – at the time when the Hill-Wood clan was getting ready to mount its coup and take over the club.

So Chapman demoted Hardy as he had wanted to do all along and appointed Whittaker to succeed him.  In refusing to fight this battle the vice-chairman acknowledged that Chapman now “had authority over football matters.”

According to Davis, Sir Henry “Norris, however, told Chapman that he had exceeded his authority in making this change of personnel.  He was angry that it had happened to Hardy, obviously [as Hardy was seen as a Norris man – and symbolically was the first Norris appointment], and his view was that only the club’s directors had the authority to hire, raise up and cast down,” which of course was true.

There had not been this sort of argument before – but on the other hand no one had told Chapman how to behave before, save at the very start of his appointment when the argument broke out over the same issue: Hardy.

Sir Henry had told Hall to go to Chapman but Hall had felt he was being turned into a messenger boy and resigned from the board of directors.  Sir Henry was now in an exposed position.

In this version of events, Hardy was not sacked at all, but subsequently left of his own volition and thus the episode ended without Norris directly coming in to reinstate him and do what he had not done before: override Chapman.

Whatever the finer points of this power game Whittaker continued to be the first-team trainer as Chapman wanted, and Chapman’s authority was never again questioned.

But Sir Henry Norris did not forget this moment because in his own letter of resignation to Arsenal’s board in July 1927 he said that “his position as club chairman was now untenable because of the challenges to his authority made by Hall and Chapman.”

But whichever way it happened Hardy left in 1927 to work at Tottenham, before moving on to coach Tottenham’s nursery side Northfleet United.  This version also reports that he died preparing for a Tottenham match v West Bromwich Albion in January 1947.

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