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Chapman and the issue of the right back

By Tony Attwood

In my last piece I looked at the number of goal keepers that Herbert Chapman used and drew the conclusion that he was, for many years, unable to find himself the keeper in whom he could have total trust.

We have stories of keepers being blamed for specific goals, dropped from the side, suddenly appearing from non-league and then vanishing again… hardly the behaviour we would expect from a great manager.

So it is interesting to see how Chapman worked with the outfield positions.  In this piece I am looking at the number 2 position – the right back.

One issue that is difficult to tabulate is that of players changing position – something that was perhaps more common in the 1930s than in 21st century games.   Some decision has to be made about this – and I have done so by only counting the number of games played in the designated number 2 position.

But we have to remember that on occasion a player might have been moved to accommodate an injury elsewhere, as the manager sought to patch up a problem, where he felt he did not have a good reserve to bring in.

Here is the table of right backs from the Chapman era

Mackie Parker Baker Cope Compton
1925/6 35 7
1926/7 42
1927/8 42
1928/9 42
1929/30 41 1
1930/1 41 1
1931/2 38 4

And immediately we see there was no problem at all.  We had a right full back throughout the era.

John Mackie played in the three seasons before Chapman came, making 73 appearances in the league.  Chapman gave him one season before selling him on to Portsmouth at the age of 29.

Tom Parker has already been given full coverage in an earlier article – he came from Southampton and holds the record for the number of consecutive games: 172.  A clear case of Chapman seeing the man he wanted, buying him near the end of the 1925/6 season, and keeping him.

Being understudy to such a consistent player can have been no fun.

Alf Baker however was no understudy – although forgotten now he played 310 league games for Arsenal, generally as a Right half (number 4).  He joined Arsenal after the war and was playing 20 or more games a season right up to 1930/1 when he clocked up his one game of the season as a right back.  After this season he retired from football, Arsenal being his only senior club.

Horace Cope shows the effect of moving a player out of position.  He was in fact a left back and he had played 58 games between 1926 and 1929, but then fell out of favour.  He got one game in 1929/30, this one in 1930/31, one the following sesason and four in his final season before trasferring to Bristol Rovers.

But in 1931/2 we saw the arrival on the pitch of the replacement – Leslie Compton.  He didn’t become a regular in the Arsenal team until 1946/7, but he made occasional forays into the team in the pre-war years.

So, there we have Chapman at his definitive best.  He found his man and sent him out to do the job.

The club that changed football

Making the Arsenal

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