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The Herbert Chapman statue at the Emirates Ground, London

Herbert Chapman: Arsenal FC And Huddersfield Town Manager

Herbert Chapman is considered one of the greatest English football managers from the pre-war era. He is mainly known for his successful managerial spells with Northampton Town, Huddersfield Town and Arsenal Football Club. He has a special place in footballing history as his considered one of the earliest managers to introduce tactics in the game.

Herbert Chapman Early Years

Chapman was born in Kiveton Park, a small mining village located in the Borough of Rotherham, in South Yorkshire, England. His father was a coal miner. However, the young Chapman was too bright to follow in his father’s footsteps. He earned himself the opportunity to study for a Diploma in Marine Engineering at Sheffield Technical College (later became the University of Sheffield).

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Herbert Chapman head shot

Herbert Chapman did get his love for football from his family. He was one of eleven children, and love for sports ran deep in his family. A couple of his brothers also turned out to be professional footballers. The most notable being his younger brother Harry Chapman, who won multiple trophies with Sheffield Wednesday in the 1900s.

Herbert couldn’t find much success in his career, and he played as an amateur for most of it. Hence, he often had to find a job to supplement his football career.

Chapman played for several amateur sides such as Kiveton Park, Ashton North End, Stalybridge Rovers, and Rochdale before getting his first taste of professional football when he signed for Second Division side Grimsby Town in 1898. Despite playing at a professional level, Herbert Chapman was still an amateur and had to work at a firm of solicitors.

His time at Grimsby Town proved unsuccessful as he found himself out of the side by the end of the season. He once again dropped back to non-league football by signing with Swindon Town. However, this spell also didn’t last long as Chapman could not find a supplement job in the area.

He soon returned to his hometown and resumed his studies at Old Firth College. Simultaneously, he turned out for Worksop Town in the Midland League. First-team opportunities were still hard to come by for Chapman, but he caught the attention of Northampton Town while playing against them in 1901.

As A Professional Soccer Player

He signed a contract with the Cobblers and turned into a professional footballer for the first time in his career. He was the top scorer for his new side with 14 goals in the 1901-02 season. In a FA Cup tie, his performance against Sheffield United led the Blades to sign him ahead of the next season.

However, he found it hard to find a place for himself in the team full of internationals and was sold to Notts County for £300 ahead of the 1903-04 season. In 1904-05, he joined his old side Northampton Town on loan from Notts County, and eventually, in 1905-06, he moved to Tottenham Hotspur for £70.

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The North London side was playing in the Southern League at the time. Harry Chapman scored eleven goals for them in 05-06, but he couldn’t keep his place next season and only scored three goals.

At this point, Chapman had decided to retire from English football, but a series of incidents led to the birth of his legendary managerial career. In 1907, Chapman recommended his former club Northampton Town sign his Tottenham teammate Walter Bull as their new manager. But Walter changed his mind and instead suggested Herbert take the position.

Herbert Chapman Becoming Player-Manager

Chapman, who was planning to draw curtains on his career, took up the position of player-manager at Northampton Town instead. The club was in the dumps when he took the reins as they had finished bottom of the Southern League for two seasons. However, it didn’t take him long to turn around the tide.

He famously introduced tactics into the game. At the time, teams rarely used tactics, and players were expected to think on the pitch. But Chapman introduced pre-game tactics and gave his players specific tasks to perform on the pitch. He also noticed that teams often would put all their players behind the ball to defend in numbers.

So Chapman devised a way of drawing defenders out and hitting the opposition on a counter-attack. During his time with the Cobblers, he developed a highly effective counter-attacking framework, unlike anything the footballing world had seen.

picture of Herbert Chapman when playing for Tottenham Hotspur

Moving Into Full-Time Management

Harry Chapman played his last game as a player against Watford in January 1909 and managed his team to the Southern League title in the same season. Harry wanted to take Northampton Town into the top league, but this was not feasible due to the absence of promotions and relegations.

He rallied to add two more divisions underneath the two divisions of the Football League. Harry’s proposal was turned down (it was eventually implemented in 1920).

While managing Northampton Town, Leeds City started circling. He signed for them in 1912. Chapman’s time at Leeds City was marred by allegations of paying amateur footballers during World War 1. These allegations eventually brought the downfall of Leeds City and the birth of Leeds United.

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Identifying Talent

Herbert Chapman also had a knack for identifying talents. During his managerial career, he discovered several talents who went on to make a name for themselves.

He famously said about finding players: “It is always disappointing for me when a club acts hurriedly in the search for a new player since it can be a tricky business, even under the most favorable conditions.

A player needs to be more than just good.  It is important to keep in mind a variety of other important factors. It will take time. Having worked on the managerial side of football for a long time, I have come to believe that intelligence is one of the highest qualifications of a footballer.”

huddersfield players lining up before a match

Coaching Success

Chapman went on to manage Huddersfield Town and Arsenal Football Club. He won two league titles and one FA Cup final with each of them.

Huddersfield won its first major trophy by beating Preston North End 1–0 in the FA Cup final at Stamford Bridge in 1922. The transformation of Huddersfield was achieved by bringing in new players and implementing Chapman’s system.

Their first title came in 1923–24 after finishing third in 1922–23. Their second title came the following season.  It was the first time that a title-winning club had gone an entire season without conceding more than two goals.

Mr. Chapman applied for Arsenal’s vacant manager position in 1925 despite his success at Huddersfield. He earned double what he earned at Huddersfield Town with a salary of £2,000 and his team played in front of larger crowds. Upon his arrival, he set up a five-year plan to turn the club around. His first success came in 1930 when winning the FA Cup Final.

Read about the Spanish equivalent of Herbert Chapman, who went on to win 3 European Cups as a soccer manager.

Arsenal’s ruthless, counter-attacking strategy had now been perfected by Chapman. He deployed a robust front line led by Jack Lambert, supported by David Jack and Alex James as deep-lying inside forwards. As a result of these signings, he won the league championship in 1931 and 1933.

Many of Arsenal’s successes in the 1930s can be attributed to Herbert Chapman’s time at the club in the 1920s. Arsenal won the FA Cup five times in the 1930s before the suspension of the game due to World War 2.

There is little doubt that Chapman was a visionary of his time, and he played a significant part in the game’s evolution. One can argue that it’s hard to envision modern football without the impact of Champan’s team. He is still considered a legend at  Arsenal and Huddersfield Town, and his success with each club he managed only enforces his reputation.

wm soccer formation written on a chalkboard

His Legacy To Football

Taking full charge of the team rather than letting board members decide how the team would play, Chapman was one of the first modern-day managers. Besides his tactical innovations, he strongly believed in physical fitness in football. He instituted strict training sessions, diets and used physiotherapists for injury and recovery.
Chapman, unlike many of his contemporaries, enjoyed continental football and befriended the coaches of the Austrian “Wunderteam” of the 1930s, Hugo Meisl and Jimmy Hogan. Chapman recommended using white footballs and numbered shirts. Floodlights were his idea for night games and he proposed a European championship twenty years before the European Cup was introduced.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003 at the National Football Museum for his contribution for modernizing the game.

Herbert Chapman Facts And Figures

Birthdate: 19/01/1878
Birthplace: Kiveton Park, Yorkshire
Died: 06/01/1934

Playing Career:

  • Kiveton Park: 1896
  • Ashton North End: 1896–1897
  • Stalybridge Rovers: 1897
  • Rochdale: 1897–1898
  • Grimsby Town: 1898–1899
  • Swindon Town: 1899
  • Sheppey United: 1899–1900
  • Worksop Town: 1900–1901
  • Northampton Town: 1901–1902
  • Sheffield United: 1902–1903
  • Notts County: 1903–1905
  • Northampton Town: 1904–1905
  • Tottenham Hotspur: 1905–1907
  • Northampton Town: 1907–1909

Football Management Career:

  • Northampton Town: 1907–1912
  • Leeds City: 1912–1918
  • Huddersfield Town: 1921–1925
  • Arsenal: 1925–1934

Coaching Honors:

Northampton Town

  • 1908–09: Southern League Title

Huddersfield Town

  • 1921–22: FA Cup Final – Winners
  • 1923–24 and 1924–25: First Division League Title (now known as the English Premier League)

Arsenal

  • 1929–30: FA Cup Final – Winner
  • 1930–31 and 1932–33: First Division Championship (now known as the English Premier League)

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