The Woolwich Arsenal player who transformed Italian football

William Garbutt – Arsenal’s original Herbert Chapman

Tony Attwood

Genoa Athletics and Cricket club was formed in 1893 with the football team being added in 1897.

James Spensley, a doctor, goalkeeper and later an active member of the scout movement, took over the club and they became champions in six of the first seven seasons.

And then up stepped the ex-Arsenal winger: William Thomas Garbutt.

William Garbutt was an outside right who was born into a working class home in Stockport, and played for Royal Artillery (while in the army), and Reading (while they were in the Southern League), before coming to Woolwich Arsenal.

He joined in December 1905 and played  19 games in the rest of the 1905/6 season and scored  three goals.  The following year he played 25 games and scored three again.  In 1907/8 he played 8 and scored 2.

He was part of the Arsenal side that reached two FA Cup semi-finals in successive seasons; but was then displaced by Jackie Mordue and played in the reserves before moving to Blackburn at the end of the 1907/08  season.

Garbutt stayed in Blackburn for four years, played in another Cup semi-final, and  played  for the Football League in a representative match.  After a run of  injuries he stopped playing in 1912, aged 29.

He then moved to Genoa, which at the time was seen to be an English town in Italy, seeking work in the docks – but within weeks he was given the  job of being head  coach of Geona, who as noted above, were already a successful club.

Quite how he got the position we don’t know, and there are several theories about links with other footballing ex-patriots in the area at the time.

Garbutt put a heavy emphasis on physical fitness and tactics. The fitness he would have got from the  army, and the tactics he adapted from the way football was moving in the early part of the 20th century in England.

He also introduced the first paid transfers (already commonplace in England), when he signed a player from AC Milan.  Among other things he took Genoa on tour to England, and even had them playing at Reading.

He stayed until 1927 by which time they had won the League in 1915, 1923 and 1924.

In July 1927 AS Roma was formed and such was Garbutt’s prestige that he was brought in as their manager. He stayed there for two years and won the Coppa Coni and came third in the league.

Next up was Napoli and took them up to third in the league for two seasons.

You might think that was enough for a working class ex footballer from Stockport, but no, he decided to move to Spain and become manager of Athletic Bilbao who then duly won the League.  Then back to Italy for a spell as boss of AC Milan before returning to Genoa, whose position in the league he rekindled.

He was exiled in the war, went back to Genoa again after the war, and died aged 67 in 1964 in Warwick.

There are remarkable links with Herbert Chapman. Chapman was not known as a brilliant player, but went into management just four years earlier than Garbutt, and the championships with Genoa in the 1920s coincided with Chapman’s work at Huddersfield Town.

Both men were keen users of the transfer system, and both were tactically very astute, being very willing to try out different approaches.

However while Chapman remains revered in this  country, William Garbutt is little known.  His name however lives on in Italian football.

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3 Replies to “The Woolwich Arsenal player who transformed Italian football”

  1. hi, for his 90 year old grand son, i am trying to find any photos or MORE ABOUT John William Anderson was born in 1875 in Crook, Durham, Anderson started out at non-league Crook Town before turning professional and joining Woolwich Arsenal in December 1896. He soon made his debut, in a Second Division match away to Darwen on 1 January 1897, which Arsenal lost 4–1. He was a mainstay for the rest of the 1896–97 season, playing all three half back positions; his continued versatility meant he remained a regular in the Arsenal side for the next five years.

    Anderson’s best season for Woolwich Arsenal was 1900–01, where he only missed two league fixtures all season, though he was still being used as a utility man across midfield, without making any single position his own. He continued to be a regular for another season but after the arrival of Roddy McEachrane in 1902, he was squeezed out of the Woolwich Arsenal side; he only played eight games in 1902–03 and left the club at the end of that season. In total he played 153 games for Arsenal, scoring eleven goals. He later joined Southern League Portsmouth;

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