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Iconic moment 6: the appointment of Chapman
By Tony Attwood
Spring 1925. It is almost Easter and Arsenal are in a bad way.
Having slid down the table through a set of six consecutive defeats across January and February in which we scored two and let in 14, Arsenal needed a really good Easter. But defeats to West Ham, Sunderland and Villa in late March in which one goal was scored and eight let in, meant the pressure was really on. Relegation was likely.
A 1-1 draw with Cardiff on the Saturday before Easter offered a fraction of hope, but a defeat 2-0 to Preston who were already relegated followed by a 2-0 loss to WBA on Easter Monday made life in the first division next season look unlikely.
Two wins and two defeats in the last four matches however left Arsenal in 20th place – just one place above the relegation zone. Crowds had sunk (just 10,000 turned up to the West Ham home game) and it was clear this could not go on.
Tom Ratcliff, the club’s trainer for 13 years, left the club of his own accord. The club started to advertise for players, and then the manager, Leslie Knighton, was sacked or resigned (sometime between 4 May and 9 May 1925.)
Knighton is the source of a lot of the commonplace chit-chat about Lt Colonel Sir Henry Norris, and for some reason Knighton’s comments (mostly in his autobiography) have been taken as the gospel truth about Sir Henry. But much of what Knighton said can be shown to be wrong (as with, for example, his comment about never being able to buy a player for over £1000 – when in fact he signed a number of players for more than this). In his last four years with the club Knighton had taken Arsenal to 17th, 11th, 19th and 20th. He was an abject failure.
On 11 May Arsenal advertised for a manager. Herbert Chapman, who had just won the league with Huddersfield, and whose team had smashed Arsenal 5-0 at Highbury on February 14, applied. We don’t know for sure why he applied – maybe he had talked with Sir Henry on February 14, or maybe he fancied London, or maybe he wanted to prove himself again, or…
Knighton worked out his notice and left on 16 May 1925. Chapman’s Huddersfield were on a tour of Scandinavia, and returned on 4 June, and there was clearly then some talk between Chapman and Arsenal even if there had not been earlier.
At this moment the ludicrous and ultimately fruitless enquiry into the Voysey contract by the FA happened (I have covered this in an article in the Arsenal Uncovered series in the club programme), and on 8 June the Football League voted to change the offside law to two defenders behind the ball, rather than three. (A couple of matches experimenting with this had been tried at Highbury in recent weeks).
Sir Henry Norris then opened discussions about the transfer of Charlie Buchan. This was before Chapman signed for Arsenal – but Buchan claimed later that he was told about the transfer possibility by Chapman, which suggests the discussions started before the Scandinavian tour, and included the option of buying Buchan. Maybe Chapman made signing Buchan one of his demands for taking the job.
On 10 June Hudersfield’s directors met with Chapman to discuss the move to Arsenal, and on 10th or 11th June 1925 Chapman called Sir Henry to accept a job offer. Arsenal then bought a house in Hendon for Chapman and his family and they moved in the following year.
Around June 15 Arsenal announced that they had bought Highbury and some extra land from the College that was leasing it to the club. Yet another new era was starting.
On Monday 22 June 1925, exactly 32 years to the day after Jack Humble took the chair for the first ever AGM of the newly formed Woolwich Arsenal Football and Athletic Club Ltd, Herbert Chapman took up the job of Secretary Manager of Arsenal FC. An iconic moment if ever there was one.
On 15 August 1925 a crowd of 11,406 came to Highbury for a pre-season practice match. On 22 August at the second such game 13,269 turned up. Interest was growing.
But then on 29 August the season kicked off with…. a 1-0 home defeat to Tottenham. Using much the same team as collapsed last season Chapman then produced four wins and two draws, ultimately taking Arsenal to its highest ever position in the league thus far: 2nd. It was also the season that saw the dramatic change to the way in which Arsenal lined up – but that perhaps is best level for another occasion.
For now it is fair to say that the new era had begun.
Current Series: The 10 iconic moments that defined Arsenal’s history
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