While this web site does focus primarily on Arsenal and the football world 100 years ago, we do meander a bit to take in other eras – and in this case I am rushing forward 17 years from our regular 1910 haunt.
Eddie Hapgood was a milkman who was signed by Herbert Chapman from the second nearest club to my home – Kettering Town – in 1927. He went on to play 440 times for Arsenal, and 43 for England – 34 of those as captain.
As such he is sixteenth on Arsenal’s all time appearance list, and was at the very heart of our great team in the 1930s that dominated English football.
Eddie Hapgood’s autobiography “Football Ambassador” was the first ever such book – something that is hard to imagine when players now knock off the history of their lives after a couple of middle of the road seasons in the EPL. So important and ground breaking was this book that Sir Stanley Rous, who went on to become president of FIFA wrote the introduction.
What makes this book so worth reading is the way it dwells on Arsenal. Here is a man plucked out of obscurity to play for what was beyond any dispute the greatest team in the world – the team that dominated all football from 1930 to the outbreak of war in 1939.
And there is so much in this book that makes us realise that while some of football has changed out of all proportion, a lot hasn’t. Eddie signed for Kettering because they offered him the best deal going – £4 a week in the season, £3 a week in the off season, and a willingness to let him carry on working as a milkman in between. That’s the difference.
But the similarity is there is the next sentence – he played his first game for Kettering and got slated by the local press who criticised the manager for buying such a useless player. Remember the first games of Bergkamp, Henry and more recently Alex Song?
According to Eddie Hapgood, his interview for a transfer to Arsenal consisted of two questions from Herbert Chapman (with George Allison standing by his side in the offices at Kettering Town).
First, “Do you smoke or drink?”
On receiving the right answer to both the second question was delivered:
“Would you like to sign for Arsenal?”
And that was it.
It is a great read, and I recommend it, but there is one point that I want to throw in that is highly personal. If you have read some of my ramblings here in the past you will know that I recently published a book about Arsenal’s history – “Making the Arsenal”. In that story the central figure is a journalist at the Daily Chronicle who writes bizarre and eccentric commentaries on football matches.
Some people have told me that “reporting was never like that” – and that it is all too fanciful.
Well I would refer you to the verbatim report of the Kettering v Arsenal friendly that is at the end of the first chapter of Eddie Hapgood’s book. It is wonderfully wild – my man from the Chronicle could not have done better. It is worth buying this book just for that. Oh football reporting, what every happened to you?
“Football Ambassador” has been out of print for many years but is now available again thanks to the pioneering work of GCR Books who are systematically working through the archives of great Arsenal books from the past and bringing them back to life.
The Arsenal Stadium Mystery was the first football-related thriller and enjoys something akin to cult status in football-book circles. It’s of obvious interest to Arsenal supporters but as the story is primarily a murder-mystery it will also be an enjoyable read for lovers of a good, old-fashioned “whodunit”.
Following the success of The Arsenal Stadium Mystery “Forward Arsenal!” by Bernard Joy was re-published – the first history of Arsenal.
You’ll find details of all the books from GCR including “Football Ambassador” at http://www.gcrbooks.co.uk/
You really should read that book.