Joe Shaw – the greatest long term servant Arsenal has ever had

By Tony Attwood

Joe Shaw already has several articles about him on this site – and there is an index of these here.

But what the earlier articles don’t do is focus on Joe as a lifelong servant of the club.  He played for Arsenal, managed the reserves, and for half a season managed the first team – and won the league to boot.  He finally left Arsenal in 1956 – the year I saw my first game at Highbury, and died in 1963.

There is a separate article on how he won the league – and there is one on him as a player, and of course he is included in our chart of Arsenal managers – links to all of these from the Joe Shaw index

Pulling it all together we know that he was born in Bury in 1883, and thus was just three when Arsenal was founded.   He joined Bury and then moved to Accrington Stanley.  Unfortunately there seems to be no record from either club as to how many times he played for either.

Woolwich Arsenal by then were a first division side, and when Joe moved it was a significant leap from the Lancashire Combination to the top league in the land.

Joe Shaw played his first game for the first team in September 1907 and went on to play at total of 309 games for the club.   When the great spending cuts started, the following season, after the departure of Jack Humble and the new approach of promoting from within and finding youngsters in other local clubs was introduced, Joe became the first choice left back.

Joe was part of the 1912/13 campaign which saw Woolwich Arsenal relegated with just about the worst ever record, and he was thus one of the players who played under the old club pre-1910 and the new club created by Henry Norris.

He played for the two seasons in the second division in Plumstead and played in every game in the 1914/15 season, and then worked in the Dial Square armament factory during the first world war and would have been a most interested on-looker as the scandal of the Manchester United and Liverpool match fixing episode in 1915 was addressed in 1919, which ended in Chelsea being excused relegation, and The Arsenal being elected to the first division in place of Tottenham who had ended the final pre-war season, bottom of the league.  Joe Shaw was Arsenal’s first captain at Highbury.

He continued to play on until 1922 and then retired, and was immediately appointed as a coach by the first post-war manager, Leslie Knighton.

This was one of the few good moves that Knighton made – and interesting I don’t think there is a mention of Joe Shaw in the Knighton autobiography, as he is too busy making excuses for the team’s poor results in these post-war years.

When Knighton was at last removed from his post, Herbert Chapman was brought him, and he made Joe the reserve team manager.   Chapman argues in his book of articles written for the Express, that the reserves should play in the same tactical format as the first team – which was a fairly revolutionary idea.  Thus Joe Shaw mirrored Chapman’s work week by week, month by month.

In “Forward Arsenal”  Bernard Joy says of Shaw and Whittaker, who ran the club under Chapman, “Their personalities helped fashion the club and Chapman relied on them for discipline, tone and smooth working of the administrative machinery.”

Eddie Hapgood added, in his book, “Shaw is cut of the same mould as Whittaker. Kindly, helpful, always ready to lend an ear to a player`s troubles.”

Joe Shaw was in charge of the reserves for 12 years and they won the Combination nine times.

As you will know from other articles, when Chapman died in January 1934 Joe Shaw was appointed Caretaker Manager.   The story of what happened next is told in the article Joe Shaw wins the league and introduces a genius.

Joe made it clear from the off that he was only there for that half season, and was happy when George Allison took over, leaving the Shaw/Whittaker axis in place.

After the second world war, Joe worked briefly with Chelsea, but when Allison retired in 1947 Tom Whittaker brought his old pal back to the club, and the two old-timers gave Arsenal two league championships and an FA Cup win.

Upon his retirement Joe was appointed club ambassador – although it was not a job that Shaw particularly wanted and in 1958 he retired fully from the club, after 49 years with Woolwich Arsenal, The Arsenal, and Arsenal.  The one man who was with the club in the pre-Norris era, the Norris era, and the post-Norris era.

During this time he was there for seven championships, three F.A. Cup victories, and 9 reserve league titles.

He died in 1963 at the age of 80, the greatest long term servant the club has ever had.

The books…

The sites…


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One Reply to “Joe Shaw – the greatest long term servant Arsenal has ever had”

  1. I would love to have met Joe Shaw. We could learn so much of the past from him and express our appreciation of his service to our club. RIP Joe.

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