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Herbert Chapman: the Northampton Town years

 The club that changed football

Making the Arsenal

Coming very soon: The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal

By Tony Attwood

We have variant stories as to how Herbert Chapman moved from being a footballer to being a football manager.  Not very variant, but slightly different.  But it is still possible to get a fair picture of what happened.

The wikipedia version has it that in 1907, as he was about to leave Tottenham Hotspur (for whom he had played since 1905), Chapman suggested that his fellow Tottenham player Walter Bull should become manager of Northampton Town.  But they say that at the last minute Bull changed his mind, “and in turn recommended that Chapman take the job instead.”  As a result Chapman changed his mind about retiring as a footballer, and agreed to become player-manager of Northampton Town.

A slightly different version appears in “Herbert Chapman on Football”.  This book consists of articles that Chapman wrote for the Daily Express, the first of which is “How I became a football manager”.

Here Chapman says that in his last match for Tottenham against Brighton he scored two, (Wiki has it that he only scored three all season, so it is possible that both are correct), and knew that was the end of his playing career, and was going to be a mining engineer – a sphere in which he had been trained.

Chapman writes that Walter Ball of Tottenham had been appointed player manager of Northampton Town, but as they were leaving the dressing room Ball said to Chapman that he, Ball, had decided to stay at Tottenham, and would Chapman like the job at Northampton.

Quite why Northampton could be messed around in this way we don’t know exactly, but we can piece together a few more bits.

In 1901/2 season Northampton were elected straight into the first division of the Southern League, joining Kettering and Wellingborough from the same county. Quite why they jumped over the second division I have no idea.  Tottenham H were already in the Southern League.

The club never achieved anything above mid-table, and mostly were some way below that.  In 1905/6 they came bottom of the league but there was no automatic relegation so they survived to end 1906/7 in the same place – bottom of the league.

So in 1907 Chapman took them over and they ended his first season as player manager in 8th, on the same number of points as Tottenham H who came 7th on goal average.

Amazingly Tottenham managed to get themselves elected from that 7th position into the Football League Division 2, so did not compete the following season in the Southern League, but Chapman’s Northampton did, and they won the league by six points in 1908/9, for the only time ever.

Now we do know that Chapman was a player at Northampton Town in 1904/5, technically on loan from Notts County, but there is no clear record of how many games he played.  So in returning to Northampton Chapman would have been a known person.  It is also interesting that he was Northampton’s first manager.  Before him no manager is recorded for the club, so presumably they selected the side by committee, as Woolwich Arsenal did.

Chapman’s record as manager at Northampton Town thus was

  • 1907/8 – 8th
  • 1908/9 – Champions
  • 1909/10 – 4th
  • 1911/12 – 2nd

As a result of being Champions of the Southern League Northampton automatically played the Champions of the Football League – Newcastle United in the Charity Shield at the Oval.  Northampton lost 2-0.

Bull (the man who should have been Northampton’s manager according to the stories), did indeed take over as manager upon Chapman’s departure.  He stayed in the job for the single season of 1912/13 and Northampton sank bank to a mid-table finish.

Considering the two finishes bottom of the league before Chapman joined the club it is a remarkable record.

There’s one other story to be told about Chapman at Northampton.   Apparently during the 1904/05 season, (the one when Chapman was on loan to Northampton as a player) Northampton used their first substitute in a friendly game against Port Vale. Len Benbow was injured, and permission was granted for him to be replaced by Chapman.

During all his time as manager at Northampton Town Chapman was listed as player manager, but there is no record of how many games he played.  It is said however that he turned the club around by bringing in some experienced ex-league players and also paid the first ever transfer fee given by Northampton: £400 to Stoke City for Welsh International Edwin Lloyd Davies who was 42 years old!

And that’s all I know.  If you have any more info about Chapman at Northampton, please do tell.

 

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