13 October 1928: Arsenal Smash The World Transfer Record – But what REALLY happened?

By Andy Kelly

84 years ago today Arsenal broke the world transfer record by paying a reported £10,890 to Bolton for David Jack. I’m sure that you, dear reader, will have read the story of Jack’s transfer many times. But, did you know that there actually two versions how Arsenal came to sign one of the greatest inside-forwards of all-time?

The story that tends to get told is that which was recounted by Arsenal secretary Bob Wall in his autobiography, “Arsenal From The Heart” which was published in 1969. Bob tells us that he joined Arsenal as an office junior in February 1928 at the age of 15. Eight months later, young Bob, now 16, was summoned to Herbert Chapman’s office and was told by the great man that he was to be shown how to conduct a transfer. And that transfer was to be none other than that of David Jack, a transfer that would shatter the world transfer record. At the time, Jack was playing for Bolton who were strapped for cash and had put it around that they would be willing to listen to offers for any of their players – except Jack. However, Chapman saw Jack as the man to fill the big gap that had been left by the retirement of Charlie Buchan during the summer of 1928. Bolton eventually relented and said they would be willing to sell Jack for £13,000, almost double the current transfer record.

Wall goes on to tell us that the negotiations with the two Bolton representatives took place at the Euston Hotel in London. Chapman and Wall arrived early and instructed the barman that when they ordered drinks, Chapman’s and Wall’s drinks were to contain no alcohol, no matter what they ordered, whereas their guests were to served doubles of whatever they ordered. As the drinks flowed the Bolton directors were in “gay mood”. At this point Chapman started to talk business and he managed to negotiate the fee down to £10,890. Once everything had been agreed, Chapman and Wall took a taxi back to Highbury and Chapman, obviously pleased with himself, told Wall “…that’s your first lesson in football. You now know how to conduct a transfer!”

So there we have it, Chapman and Wall, in a hotel in London hustling the opposition.

But is that what REALLY happened?

Well, Chapman never wrote an autobiography and he didn’t mention the transfer in his column in the Daily Express which was published as a book following his death. However, there are two other senior figures who were at the club at the time that wrote autobiographies: Tom Whittaker and George Allison.

Whittaker’s book was published posthumously. At the time of the signing of David Jack, Whittaker was Arsenal’s trainer and very much Chapman’s right hand man unlike the 16 year old Wall who was an office junior. Whittaker tells us that lengthy negotiations had taken place over the telephone between the two clubs before Chapman was given the go ahead to talk to Jack. Chapman then set off for the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool with Arsenal director George Allison. In Liverpool they met journalist Benny Bennison and Bolton manager Charlie Foweraker. After a meal, a few drinks and a cigar Chapman, Allison and Foweraker set off for Bolton to meet Jack. When they got to Bolton they realised that they had lost the piece of paper with Jack’s address on it and, at one o’clock in the morning, had to ask a local baker if he knew where the famous forward lived. They eventually got to Jack’s house and woke him up. The story is told as if that was the norm back then! Jack said that he wouldn’t make a decision without phoning his father who was manager of Plymouth. Jack senior said that it was too late (or should that be too early?) to do a deal and that they should all meet at Highbury in the morning. Later that day they all met in Chapman’s office and the deal was done.

A completely different story to Bob Wall’s but just as fantastic.

George Allison’s “Allison Calling” was first published in 1948 when he was 65 years old and still alive. Allison tells the story thus. David Jack was playing in a representative game on a Wednesday when Chapman and Allison went to see him empowered with authority to “get him for any reasonable figure”. The following morning Chapman and Allison met with Bolton’s board of directors who were insistent that they would not sell the player. However, cat and mouse tactics then followed when the Bolton directors asked how much Arsenal would be willing to pay if he were for sale. Allison replied with “how much do you want?” Chapman and Allison were shocked to hear the figure £13,000. The Bolton board, however, refused to budge and the two Arsenal men returned to Manchester. Allison then describes the meal that they ate: “a sumptuous meal which included oysters, grouse, a delightful bottle of wine and other delicacies”. They then decided to invite the Bolton chairman and manager to join them at the hotel for tea and another talk. The conversation meandered but every so often returned to how much Bolton were willing to accept for Jack. Following cocktails and an “excellent dinner” they toasted both clubs. The wine flowed and at two o’clock in the morning a fee of £11,500 was agreed. The story then follows that of Whittaker’s where they woke Jack up in the early hours but he wanted to talk to his father. All parties then met at Highbury where the deal was struck.

So, there we have it. Three stories, two that almost corroborate each other and one from an office junior who wrote his story many years after all involved parties had passed away. It’s funny that Bob Wall never questioned Allison’s story in 1948 nor Whittaker’s story in 1956, Allison didn’t die until February 1957.

Methinks Bob may have somewhat embellished his story.

8 Replies to “13 October 1928: Arsenal Smash The World Transfer Record – But what REALLY happened?”

  1. You’re welcome, Andy.
    I always enjoy your posts, and I don’t recall ever disagreeing with you.

    The closest to a disagreement was your rather excellent Charlie Nicholas post. The actual post itself was fine by me; however, I felt it needed a further few lines of text simply to add some ‘fair balance’, that is to say, “a mercurial-moment” player undoubtedly, but sadly with a rather poor scoring record…

    I’m a bit surprised at the differing accounts in your post. It does appear that Bob Wall may possibly have embellished, but then again he would have to be a bit daft to do so having written his side of things after the other two accounts had been written. Therefore, Bob Wall’s version may well be the truth; perhaps he didn’t want to ‘suggest’ the other two parties weren’t being honest as regards the events, thereby leaving it to the likes of you and I to make our own judgement.
    Personally, I would actually be inclined to give Mr. Wall the benefit of the doubt, truth-wise.

  2. Andy,
    A most peculiar story about the signing of an Arsenal legend.
    There are several likely inaccuracies,
    I think.
    I can’t believe Bob Wall’s story that at 16 and a junior he was taken into confidence by Chapman OR was involved in drinking in a London hotel.
    As for Tom Whitaker’s account, George Allison (later to succeed Chapman as Manager) could not have been a Director of the Club at the time of David Jack’s signing.
    As an aside, it is interesting to note the fee of £11,500. Ten years later Arsenal paid a record £14,000 for Bryn Jones… inflation had yet to be been spawned!

  3. Nicky, Allison became a director in the summer of 1927 following the resignation of William Hall, and the the deposing of Norris and Humble.

  4. @ nicky
    I’m well aware of your age, knowledge of football especially Arsenal nicky, so nice to now ‘chat’ with you.

    I personally would not be surprised at hearing any story connected with Herbert Chapman, regarding the David Jack signing or any other story. I think it’s possible that shortly after the event Allison wanted to wisely ‘cover up’ the details regarding young Bob’s presence at the hotel in case of possible negative public opinion/media backlash. So, the story changed that the man with Chapman was Allison. I believe that Wall’s presence at the Jack signing was a good grounding for his near-future close working relationship with Chapman as his personal assistant. At sixteen? Why not; didn’t Chapman sign ‘Boy’ Bastin at just seventeen. Throw ’em in at the deep end…

    @ All
    If any reader on here haven’t done so, simply key “Herbert Chapman” into your search engine, choose the first site: wikipedia, and read… especially the section titled “Legacy”.

    If any reader on here haven’t done so, simply key “Bob Wall” into your search engine… and go reading.
    ‘Young Bob’ became a very important man at the Club.

  5. Andy,
    I bow to your superior knowledge on George Allison and matters of Arsenal.
    It must be a rare case where a paid employee position followed a directorship.

  6. Nicky

    I can’t vouch for other clubs but I know that two Arsenal managers had made the same move at other clubs. William Elcoat was one of Stockton’s first directors when the became incorporated and then went on to manage the team before coming to Arsenal. Harry Bradshaw did the same at Burnley before he came to Arsenal.

    Back then the manager’s job was as much an administrative role as a coaching one.

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