Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday June 28 2009
Last week we looked at Arsenal`s daring move from Woolwich to Highbury as Norris looked to pack up the bindle and escape the eternal mediocrity that loomed large over the club. This week I will be looking at the club`s first major silverware, together with the man who inspired it. The relocation was a financial success from the start, with the average gate at Highbury creeping up to 28,000 compared to the measly 10,000 that crowded into the Manor Ground in South London. But the swelling coffers did little to dispel how painfully average the Arsenal side were, as the post war years saw precious little improvement in Arsenal`s on field fortunes, as a series of uninspired mid table finishes persisted in the 1920s under manager Leslie Knighton. In the 1923-24 season, the Gunners plummeted to 19th place, finishing just one point shy of relegation. Chairman Henry Norris` patience diminished in the summer of 1925, when Arsenal finished in 20th position in 1924-25, just one place above the drop zone. Norris sacked Knighton and chanced his most audacious swoop yet, one that would change the face and the prestige of this football club forever. He made then Huddersfield manager Herbert Chapman a fiscal and footballing offer he could not refuse, a man who had just won two Division One titles and an F.A. Cup with the country`s hottest property- Huddersfield Town- was coming to North London.
Chapman had Arsenal`s support in mind from the beginning, warning fans upon his appointment in the summer of 1925 that it would take him five years to build a winning team. The fans were undoubtedly ebullient at having secured Britain`s finest manager, but the sapient Chapman warned them overtly not "to expect too much in too little time." As it turned out, he would deliver his promise on schedule, securing the club`s first major silverware in the five year timeframe he had exacted. Chapman knew he would need to bring the buzz into a club that had seemingly accepted and expected the mundane; he examined the very minutiae of the club and implored the usually frugal chairman Henry Norris that big investment would be required to execute his master plan. Chapman`s first move was to sign one of the First Division`s finest strikers, Charlie Buchan, from Sunderland. Buchan is still Sunderland`s all time record goal scorer to this day. The deal was unique as, on top of the extortionate £2,000 transfer fee, Arsenal pledged to pay Sunderland £100 for every goal he scored. Buchan was the sort of star player to inject the buoyancy back into the club; he was also the sort of rabble rousing, firebrand the team needed to shake itself from its entropy. His arrival instantly boosted crowds at Highbury, it is difficult to make a canny comparison from the modern era to reflect the significance of the twin swoops for Chapman and Buchan, but if you think along the lines of Blackburn Rovers securing the services of Alex Ferguson and Didier Drogba this summer, you can well imagine that tickets for Ewood Park would become something of a commodity again.
Indeed Buchan`s personality would leave an indelible mark on Arsenal`s history, as well as the game of football as an entity. After a disastrous 7-0 mauling at St. James` Park in 1928, Buchan and Chapman became involved in a tempestuous exchange. Ever one to encourage gregariousness and free thinking from his players, the resulting discussion saw Chapman and Buchan invent the W-M formation, which would be adopted the world over within a few years. The idea was to exploit the relaxation of the offside laws by employing a full time "stopper" at centre half and playing a defensively minded midfielder in front of him to sure up the defence. It was now that Chapman`s team began to take shape. He knew that with a slightly more defensively minded set up than his contemporaries, Arsenal would need to perfect the concept of counter attacking football. He conducted other big money signings which fit the bill of the speedy winger and the attacking midfield magician; so David Jack, Cliff Bastin and Alex James were attained to compliment his vision. The idea was that Arsenal would soak up pressure from the opposition, using the more defensive set up, win the ball back and distribute it quickly to James, who would play just behind the attackers. He would then use his superior footballing intellect and passing range to release the ball quickly to the wing heeled Bastin or Jack, with the opposition over committed. Bastin was right footed but played as an outside left, such a move was unheard of in football at the time, but utilising Bastin in this way encouraged him to cut inside onto his right foot and use his renowned thunderbolt of a right foot to strike on goal. Further marquee signings were afoot as Chapman once again broke the bank to sign England skipper and full back Eddie Hapgood.
But as Chapman had forewarned, his ideas took time to achieve fruition. Despite amazingly dragging Arsenal into second place in the 1925-26 season, the Gunners spent the rest of the decade as mid table also rans. But signs of improvement were conspicuous when Arsenal got to their first showpiece final, playing Cardiff City in the 1927 F.A. Cup Final. However, Cardiff took England`s premier domestic cup out of the country for the only time ever with a 1-0 victory. Hughie Ferguson`s tame shot was fumbled into his own net by Arsenal keeper Dan Lewis. Lewis blamed the sheen on his brand new jersey for the slip. To this day, no Arsenal goalkeeper was ever donned a goalkeeper`s top that had not been previously "broken in." Major defeat has played as significant part in this club`s history as major triumph. Shock League Cup Final defeats to Leeds in 1968 and Swindon in 1969 were the making of the 1971 Double Side. Arsene Wenger`s Double Winning side of 2002 were chastened by successive Cup Final defeats in 2000 to Galatasaray and to Liverpool in 2001. The 1927 Cup Final defeat simply redoubled Chapman`s desire to transform Arsenal into England`s trophy football club. His vision was aided rather ironically by the removal of Norris in 1929, who had become an interfering presence with his pledge of increased financial support. Norris was found guilty of paying under the table expenses to Charlie Buchan to persuade him to join Arsenal. Such bonuses were strictly prohibited in the era of the maximum wage and Norris was banned from football for life. New Chairman Samuel Hill-Wood saw Chapman`s sparkling genius and gave him carte blanche to run the club as he pleased. Chapman was given unprecedented power in the age of the secretary manager, overseeing player transfers, club administration and training techniques. With Norris swept aside by punitive action, Arsenal had a new benevolent dictator.
In 1930, five years after Chapman had predicted that it would take him until 1930 to build a winning team, Arsenal were in the Cup Final again, beating Hull City 1-0 in a Semi Final replay courtesy of a controversial goal. As far as I am aware, then Hull manager Billy McCracken did not articulate his disgust by falsely accusing the Arsenal captain of spitting at his assistant. I guess chivalry was a much more thriving concept in the 1930s. On 26th April, 1930 at the Empire Wembley Stadium, Arsenal were to take on Huddersfield Town. In deference to Chapman`s roles at both clubs, the two teams, captained by Tom Parker for Arsenal and Tom Wilson of Huddersfield Town, walked out together side by side- the first time such a gesture had been executed in the English game. It is now a tradition that lasts to this day. King George V was introduced to the two teams in front of a crowd of 92,488 at Wembley. But the match was infamous for one uninvited spectator, a 776 foot German Graf Zeppelin that hovered over the stadium. At this point, I would love to inform you with any sort of veracity that the Arsenal fans greeted its presence with the chant, "You`ve only come to see the Arsenal!" Even the Germans were interested as Arsenal`s new dictator staged his first coup. Ironically enough, the day Chapman died in January 1934, Hitler and the Nazis signed the German-Polish Non Aggression Pact. Peter Hill Wood today professes that his Grandfather Samuel always attested that, "Chapman should have been Prime Minister." Perhaps Hitler, the antithesis of the benevolent dictator, was glad that he wasn`t.
The Final was only the 5th match ever to be broadcast on television, and Chapman`s successor George Allison looked on from the BBC commentary box. Arsenal lined up as follows: 1.Charlie Preedy 2.Tom Parker(c) 3.Eddie Hapgood 4.Alf Baker 5.Bill Seddon 6.Bob John 7.Joe Hulme 8.David Jack 9.Jack Lambert 10.Alex James 11.Cliff Bastin. Both sides lined up using Chapman`s groundbreaking W-M formation, but Herbert had his Arsenal machinery oiled to perfection, as Arsenal utilised their revolutionary tactics consummately. On 17 minutes, Arsenal won a free kick, James took it quickly, nudging the ball wide to Bastin, Bastin drew the Terriers defender towards him before slipping the ball back to James on the edge of the area and James lashed it in with aplomb. It was a goal which exemplified James` swift football brain and the eptoplasmic relationship between the front three. Huddersfield fell into Arsenal`s trap, attacking relentlessly, but without serendipity as the Gunners repelled the pressure. Until the 83rd minute, James sent a long swerving ball from the edge of his own penalty area to Jack Lambert. Lambert hurdled two challenges as Town had over committed in search for an equaliser, Lambert made a beeline for goal beating Turner with a cool finish. It was an apt of illustration of the kind of counter attacking football which would make Arsenal English football`s dominant force for the next decade.
Arsenal had obtained their first ever piece of major silverware and the belief derived from becoming the first ever decorated Arsenal team enabled Arsenal to dominate the 1930s, winning the First Division Championship in 1930-31, 1932-33, 1933-34, 1934-35 and 1937-38, also winning the F.A. Cup again in 1936. The 1930 Cup Final was the beginning of an era which ushered Arsenal Football Club to the very top table of English football, a reputation that has survived even in mediocre eras such as the 1960s and early 1980s. Chapman gave the club a profile and a panache that was revered the world over. The man himself is credited with a long list of footballing innovations, such as the penalty area semi circle, a second referee, the electronic turnstile, the public address system inside stadiums to communicate team news to supporters, the scoreboard and shirt numbers. A number of his iconic innovations remain immortal and specific to our football club today. The adoption of white sleeves with red shirts, the renaming of Gillespie Road underground station to Arsenal and the players lining up in the centre circle pre kick off and applauding all four sides of the ground. He revolutionised training techniques, becoming the first football manager ever to insist on the warm down, he even changed features of Highbury Stadium, almost entirely redesigning the West Stand to enhance supporter comfort. Chapman`s legacy on the game of football is inestimable and on Arsenal Football Club it is completely indelible. He asked for five years to build a winning side and, much like when Ali predicted in which round he would knock his next opponent out, he delivered right on schedule. The humble Yorkshireman was too modest to say it, but he really was the greatest. His era really began here, on the 26th April, 1930 at Wembley, when the baton was handed from his previous club Huddersfield to his new charges Arsenal. It was a day that not so much stopped traffic, but it created air traffic! Chapman`s juggernaut was launched onto English football. Even the man`s death in 1934 could not stop his creation from taking all before it. It would take the Nazis invasion of Poland in 1938 to halt the era he had ushered in. Football itself literally had to be suspended to usurp the dominance of Chapman`s side, perhaps the overhanging Graf Zeppelin on that day in April 1930 was telling us something we did not know.LD.
Date:Sunday June 28 2009
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