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Herbert Chapman and the left back position

By Tony Attwood

Moving on to the issue of left backs in the Chapman period, we can see two players who moved across from the previous era under Knighton: Andrew Kennedy and Bob John.

Both men joined Arsenal in the 1922/3 season.  Bob John clocked up 78 appearances before Chapman, and went on to a total of 421 league games for Arsenal.  Andrew Kennedy played 93 games, and lasted three more seasons under Chapman, making 122 games in total in the league.

Bob John was perhaps the greatest signing of Knighton, moving from Barry Town to Arsenal, his final club before retirement.  Andrew Kennedy came from Crystal Palace and went on to play for Everton and then Tranmere Rovers after Arsenal.

Here is the table of left backs (number 3) from the Chapman era

Kennedy John Cope Hapgood Baker Male
1925/6 14 28
1926/7 11 17 11
1927/8 1 11 24 3
1928/9 2 23 17
1929/30 1 1 38
1930/1 2 38 1 1
1931/2 1 41
1932/3 4 38
1933/4 2 40

And immediately we see that as with the right back position there was no problem.   Bob John was used in 1927/8 as Horace Cope took over, and then Hapgood made his mark.   Three players who between them took the bulk of the games – aided by Andrew Kennedy from the Knighton era at the start.

Horace Cope came from Notts County and stayed until 1932/3 and the period 1926/7 to 1928/9 were the three seasons he reached double figures.  Eventually he moved on to Bristol Rovers.

George Male’s appearance was one of three games he got in his first season having transferred from Clapton.   He got 9 games the following season playing number 4 and number 6 before settling down into his right back position where he played the vast majority of his 285 league games.

Eddie Hapgood we have already covered several times – he played 393 games for Arsenal his career being ended by the war in 1939.  He played 38 times in that final season, and who knows, but for the war he might have continued, since he was still only 31.

Alf Baker however was in a different position, and what we see here is the final game of a man who clocked up 310 league matches between 1919 and 1931.   He doesn’t figure elsewhere on this chart because he was a right half and right back, not a left back.  Clearly for this one final game Chapman had a crisis on his hands, and drafted in an old head.

Indeed when we add in cup matches Alf played 351 games, including the first ever game at Highbury, the first ever Arsenal Cup Final, and the first ever Cup win.  In addition to this appearance on the wrong side of the field, he even played in goal on one occasion.  He was also captain in 1924/25.

Alf came to Arsenal from Eastwood Rangers but played for no other club – at the end of his playing career he became a scout for Arsenal.

So now we have analysed three positions under Chapman.  Goal, where there was a long struggle to find the right man, right back and left back.

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