Anybody interested in Arsenal`s 126 year history has a rich seam to mine. From their creation in the "sinister factory" in Woolwich, so called because of the high walls that enveloped Dial Square, to Henry Norris` epoch making decision to move Arsenal from South to North London, right through to Arsene Wenger`s Invincibles. Arsenal is a veritable library of dusty volumes, each of which snakes down into a corridor of fascinating innovation and often controversy.
But by far the most satisfying shelf to plunder for the Arsenal historian would be the club`s sepia toned golden age of the 1930s. (At the foot of this article I have catalogued the various pieces I have written on this decade in Arsenal`s life). Following the appointment of Chapman in 1925, we know that the club nabbed its first ever major silverware in 1930 and totalled an impressive five league titles and 2 F.A. Cups in this age. Cliff Bastin held the club goalscoring record for 60 years from this decade despite the notable handicaps of not actually being a striker and losing six years of his career to war.
The fascination with this period lives on as those that recall it first hand begin to reduce in number. The odd pathe news reel aside, little cinematic evidence of this great, all conquering side, with its WM formation, its ruthless counter attacking, its genius manager and baggy shorted playmaker Alex James, actually exists. Fortunately, the likes of Bernard Joy and Bob Wall documented the period first hand in book form. Cliff Bastin and Eddie Hapgood penned autobiographies and Herbert Chapman`s memoirs from his Daily Express column have recorded the workings of a genius football mind for posterity. Arsenal writers such as Tony Attwood, Jon Spurling and Andy Kelly have feverishly researched Arsenal`s history, bringing vibrancy and colour to it.
As a result I`ve been able to produce the articles at the foot of the page on some of the characters that drove this decade of unparalleled success. Cliff Bastin , Alex James, Tom Whittaker, Joe Shaw, Ted Drake and of course, the great Herbert Chapman have all had the individual treatment on this site. Whilst the attacking qualities of the side of the 30s have been addressed through Bastin, Drake and James, as well as the coaching they were subject to from Chapman, Whittaker and Shaw, I fear I have hitherto neglected the defensive and leadership qualities that elevated Arsenal F.C to globally renowned status.
That being the case, there` no better individual to bridge that biographical gap than Edris Albert Hapgood. Hapgood was Arsenal`s Mr. Dependable at full back spanning three decades, captaining his club and country in that time too. In a colourful career, he lifted 2 F.A. Cups, 5 League titles, was capped 41 times by England, became embroiled in a diplomatic incident with the nazis and ditched his vegetarianism for the Arsenal cause. He left the club under a cloud which became even more noxious in his retirement from football and withdrawal from public life. But served the club with a dignity that is revered to this day. His is one of the 32 images projected onto the side of Arsenal`s Emirates Stadium as a permanent reminder of his legacy to the club.
Eddie Hapgood was born in Bristol on 8th September, 1908. Hapgood took interest in football as a schoolboy, often spending his evenings kicking a ball in the quiet streets of Bristol with friends. In fact, in his autobiography, he details an episode from when he was ten years old. The young Hapgood ended up in front of a local magistrate when a stray clearance ("Yes, I was a full back even then!" he quips) smashed a neighbour`s window. Perhaps it was this early life lesson that helped form the calm, nerveless defender that turned out for Arsenal for 18 years. As a professional in Arsenal`s colours, Hapgood would never have dreamed of smashing a ball aimlessly clear.
Hapgood showed an early aptitude as a defender, but was not picked up at any sort of senior level in youth football. He was playing for local amateur club St. Phillips at the age of 18 when he was spotted by Bristol Rovers. They gave him a trial in a reserve match against Taunton United and impressed sufficiently enough to be offered £6 a week to play for them. But Hapgood was no starry eyed teenager. He always had a quiet self confidence and an estimation of his own worth. In the days of the maximum wage, he would earn extra cash in fashion modelling and advertising chocolate whilst an England international. Hapgood turned down Bristol Rovers` offer, confident he could get a better deal elsewhere.
Hapgood would later assert in his memoirs that, "I always knew that, all things being equal, I would become a great footballer." In the especially genteel 1920s, his confidence was often mistaken for arrogance. But his long time coach and best friend Tom Whittaker explained, "Some people found him insufferable at times. But it was his supreme confidence in his own ability that made him such a great player." Ultimately, Hapgood always wanted his dues and this would eventually lead to him falling out with the club. His decision to turn down Bristol Rovers turned out to be a judicious one. Soon after, Kettering Town offered him a contract on a much improved £8 a week, which he accepted.
The 18 year old Hapgood played for Kettering for less than twelve months until Herbert Chapman, a man quite content to look into the lower reaches of the Football League for diamonds in the rough, signed him after a solitary viewing. He came to Arsenal for a sum of £950 in the summer of 1927. Hapgood began as a back up to Horace Cope. Ironically, Cope would end up moving to Bristol Rovers in 1933 when it became clear that he wouldn`t be dislodging Hapgood from the left back slot, which Eddie assumed on a permanent basis in the 1929-30 season. Hapgood made his debut against Birmingham City at Highbury on 19th November, 1927.
The young Hapgood immediately impressed with his professionalism. Upon signing for Arsenal, he was asked by Chapman whether he smoked or drank, to which Hapgood honestly answered that he did not. In his autobiography Eddie would say, "Your whole life has to be regulated and purged of excess. Soccer is a hard task master and grants very few second chances." Bernard Joy described Hapgood`s dedication to his own fitness as "a fetish." By 1929, he had ousted Cope from the first team as Arsenal`s starting left back.
It wasn`t just his professionalism that impressed, but Hapgood had the air of leadership even from a young age. He was a composed, unruffled defender that read the game like a novel. Cliff Bastin wasn`t a character easily given to praise (he said that he never rated Ted Drake), but in his autobiography, Cliff seemed to concur that Hapgood had a quality that made him stand out in the days of the kick and rush defender. "Eddie is the finest full back I have ever seen. Even when I first came to Highbury, when Eddie was but 20 years old, he bore the stamp of greatness. He had developed football into a meticulously exact science."
In 'Arsenal`s Who`s Who` Jeff Harris described Hapgood`s style, "Hapgood`s many splendid attributes included being technically exceptional, elegant, polished, unruffled and calm." (Close your eyes and you can almost imagine Arsene Wenger purring those words). Bernard Joy went into even greater detail, "He would force the opposing winger to go the way he wanted and time his tackle to take the ball the split second when it was out of the opponent`s control." This in an age where the rushing shoulder charge was considered a sophisticated weapon in the full back`s armoury. Hapgood read the game so well that he was famed for last minute goal line clearances, as well as the more cultured, controlled elements of his game.
In fact, Eddie even fancied himself as a goalkeeper. When Frank Boulton was concussed in a league encounter at Anfield in September 1933 Hapgood took the gloves. He kept a clean sheet too as Arsenal held onto a 1-1 draw. He appeared in goal for a wartime friendly with Spurs in 1941 too as the Gunners ran out 2-1 winners. (Bernard Joy described that appearance as Eddie`s "lifelong dream" so one imagines he was quite vocal about his goalkeeping abilities in the dressing room). Hapgood adapted to a new way of playing full back under Chapman`s guidance too. Previously, full backs had been considered more akin to midfielders, but in Chapman`s WM formation, they dropped back to block out the advances of opposing wingers.
In effect, Hapgood had to be a centre half and full back all rolled into one in a 3 man backline, with Herbie Roberts dropped back into centre half. Captain Tom Parker played at right back. Hapgood`s first season as a first choice left back saw the club earn its first silverware as they won the 1930 F.A. Cup. (This despite the fact that Hapgood`s own goal had put Arsenal 2-0 down in the semi final with 3rd division Hull City). Arsenal`s counter attacking style relied on quick transitions of play and on some very offensive wingers in the shape of Cliff Bastin and David Jack. But the formation needed a keen defence to work. Arsenal invited pressure because they relied on counter attack to score goals. Hapgood`s calm, authoritative defending meant that they could soak up that pressure without being breached.
This is where self belief allied itself to Hapgood`s temperament so beautifully. "He refused to imagine that he could be beaten by any winger" as Bernard Joy would have it. But it also meant that, once he had dispossessed an unsuspecting opponent, Hapgood needed to be efficient with the ball and recycle it well. He would play in the 1930 Final against Chapman`s old side Huddersfield Town at Wembley and marked The Terriers` Alex Jackson out of the game. He had showed that he had the big game temperament. However, there was still one thing that troubled the coaching staff with regards to Eddie.
Eddie was very slight physically, weighing just 9 stone and 6 pounds. His trainer and best friend Tom Whittaker had some advice for Hapgood. "He used to cause a lot of worry by frequently being knocked out when heading the ball. At that time he was vegetarian, so I decided he should eat meat." Hapgood compromised his principles and ate a steak a week in order to bulk up his frail frame. He also responded with extra training. In the 1930s, players would typically train three mornings a week and then it would be left up to them whether they wanted to come back for an afternoon session. Hapgood always turned up after lunch.
His fitness would be a laudable ally throughout his career. Despite having suffered breaks to both ankles, 3 times having had his nose broken and suffering constant concussions, Hapgood played at least 35 times in each season between 1929 and 1939. In 1930-31, Hapgood was a regular as Arsenal swept to their first ever league title. However, in 1931-32, Arsenal had a double bypass, narrowly losing the league and falling to a 2-1 defeat to Newcastle United in the 1932 F.A. Cup Final. Hapgood blamed himself for the Wembley defeat. Famously, the Magpies caused great controversy when the ball looked to have drifted out of play in the penalty area. Hapgood stopped, believing (correctly, as video evidence would later show) that the ball had gone out of play. But Richardson hooked it back into the six yard area for Allen to head home. The goal was given and Hapgood lamented his moment of entropy.
But it was testament to his unerring self confidence that he didn`t allow the incident to compromise him. At the beginning of the 1932-33 season, in which Arsenal regained the league title, Hapgood`s defensive acumen was given a new lease of life. Chapman reluctantly decided to pension off his captain, right back Tom Parker, in favour of a young central midfielder who had taken his fancy in the Reserves, by the name George Male. Male was the ideal foil for Hapgood. Eddie was the calm, untroubled type that intercepted passes and read the game. Male was the scurrying recoverer, with legs as swift as Hapgood`s brain. Bernard Joy would describe their tandem, "Hapgood was born captain; Male the ideal first mate. Their qualities knitted together like chainmail." Fittingly enough, when Hapgood was dropped for a solitary England international in 1937, it was Male that kept his armband warm. Though Alex James was appointed club captain as Tom Parker bade farewell, Hapgood wouldn`t have to wait long till he was appointed to the position.
England soon recognised Hapgood`s acumen and he collected his first cap in May 1933, in a friendly against Italy in Rome. He would captain his country eighteen months later against the same opponents. The game, now christened "The Battle of Highbury" was significant as seven Arsenal players made up England`s starting XI, with Hapgood captain and the game staged at Highbury. England won 3-2 and Hapgood suffered a broken nose. He was by no means the only player bloodied and broken in this notoriously filthy encounter. (Arsenal`s Wilf Copping is known to have claimed two Italian ankles as "trophies" himself).
Arsenal won the league again in 1933-34 but did so beneath a wave of tragedy, as Herbert Chapman died in January 1934. Chapman died of pneumonia contracted whilst watching a Reserve game. Joe Shaw and Hapgood's great mentor ("Not only my coach but my best friend" as Hapgood would reverentially describe him) Tom Whittaker took the team over and managed to see them over the line to another title. Hapgood was a pallbearer at Chapman`s funeral and his death had a profound effect on the players. In the summer of 1934, George Allison was appointed to take over Chapman`s position as manager. In reality, Allison, with his background as a journalist and broadcaster, was merely the front man. Succeeding Chapman was a mighty cross to bear and though superior coaches, Whittaker and Shaw were screened from that limelight. In reality, they coached and managed a team that needed little direction at this point anyway, so slick was Chapman`s machinery.
The first seeds of Hapgood`s discontent with Arsenal were sown herein. He did not quite reconcile the sense of glamour and public attention Allison injected into Arsenal, culminating in the 1938 film "The Arsenal Stadium Mystery." Hapgood privately confided in teammates, "The Chapman tradition has been broken under Allison." But having just been appointed England captain, Hapgood stayed at Arsenal. He had forged a reputation as a leader in the dressing room and got along well with his teammates. Trainer Tom Whittaker`s presence was also enough to sate Hapgood, along with the inevitable trophy rush playing at Arsenal still invited. "I have met hundreds of different personalities from all walks of life in my time in football. For none of them did I have greater respect and admiration than Tom Whittaker."
Hapgood was a regular as Arsenal bagged the 1934-35 championship, their third in a row. The only time in the club`s history that they have retained a title. They were unable to repeat the trick in 1936, but they did win the F.A. Cup. Hapgood only made the decision to play in the Final against Sheffield United in the early hours on the morning of the game. His mother had fallen gravely ill and he manned her hospital bedside in Bristol in the week leading up to the showpiece. But Arsenal were enduring an injury crisis (Alex James, by now 35 years old, only passed a last minute fitness test, along with Ted Drake who played with a heavily bandaged knee) and civic duty drove Hapgood to play. Arsenal stumbled to an unconvincing, but ultimately successful 1-0 win over the second division side.
By now the remnants of Chapman`s side were beginning to age and decay. Teams had also begun to adopt the WM formation for themselves and were more adept at configuring solutions to counter it. In 1936-37, Alex James, Herbie Roberts and Bob John were all within reaching distance of retirement. Ted Drake`s knees were failing him. Hapgood himself, uncharacteristically, lost form and temporarily lost his place to young Leslie Compton at left back during the season. This also meant ceding his England place as the captaincy of the national side briefly transferred to his club mate George Male. But Hapgood fought his way back into the Arsenal and England teams.
When Alex James retired in 1937, Hapgood was the natural choice for club captain. He had long been considered one of the many leaders in the side of the 30s anyway, but his experience of captaining England stood him in good stead for the appointment. Bob Wall would later say of Hapgood, "Eddie set the highest possible example in technical skill and behaviour." He was a captain that led by example, completely unafraid to speak his mind too. He had learned the diplomacy of a leader in his early days alongside Tom Parker. But the rest came naturally to him. He captained Arsenal to another league title in 1937-38 .
His diplomacy skills would be tested to the maximum in May 1938 in Berlin. England played a friendly against Germany and Hapgood was to captain the side. As the England team prepared for kickoff in the dressing room, F.A. Chairman Wreford Brown came into the dressing room to reveal some uncomfortable news. He asked that the players execute the Nazi salute before the anthems were to be sung, as the German players would do. Stanley Matthews recalls, "Eddie, normally a respectful and devoted captain, wagged his finger at the official and told him what he could do with the Nazi salute. Which involved him sticking it where the sun didn`t shine."
But Brown called Hapgood into the corridor, away from his teammates and explained the complexity of the situation. The order had come from England`s Berlin ambassador Sir Neville Henderson in respect of the tense situation in Europe, "It would only take a spark to set Europe alight." Failure to execute the salute could be taken as a sign of war by the hosts. Hapgood had to hone his diplomatic skills and inform the players that they would have to relent. But crucially, Hapgood used it to fire up his troops and demand that they give their all on the pitch to defeat their opponents. Despite Hapgood later recanting, "We were pretty miserable about it, I felt a fool heiling Hitler," England would go on to win 4-2.
Come 1939, war did break out and the league football programme ceased. Hapgood, now at the age of 30, served in the Royal Airforce for the duration of the conflict. Though he did manage to play in over 100 wartime friendlies and played 11 wartime games for England too. Appearances in wartime internationals were not awarded with official caps. Hapgood was on 30 in 1939. Nevertheless, after his 11th wartime international took him to 41 England appearances, breaking the previous record of 40, the Football Association granted him a testimonial and gave him £100 cash for his service. It was a gesture he greatly appreciated, but one that he bristled with in his autobiography given that Arsenal were not as forthcoming.
At the end of World War 2, Hapgood, along with Jack Crayston and Ted Drake, was due £750 from Arsenal in wartime salary. However, seven years without any gate receipts to speak of and left with the cost of rebuilding the North Bank roof, which was bombed by the Luftwaffe, the club maintained that they could not afford the payment and would have to delay. Crayston and Drake reluctantly accepted this but Hapgood did not. He appealed to the Football League to intervene, but they ruled in favour of Arsenal deferring the payment until their finances had improved. Hapgood immediately left the club on a matter of principle. It was a bitter and tragic end to what had been a distinguished affiliation.
He retired as a player and took a job as Blackburn Rovers manager, he also managed Watford and Bath City but he didn`t really cut it as a coach and soon drifted out of the game altogether. In fact, he became so reclusive, that Arsenal could not even track him down to invite him to their jubilee banquet in 1966. He would run YMCA hostels in Weymouth and Harwell in Berkshire. Later in life, he fell on hard times financially and, as a last resort, he asked Arsenal for the money he had been due in 1945. They refused, but did send him a cheque for £30. Hapgood`s insistence that footballers be paid their worth would prove to be sagacious. He lived his later years in poverty and died in Leamington Spa of heart failure in 1973. He was 64 years old.
That Hapgood was a mainstay throughout the whole of the club`s 1930s heyday should be enough to fasten his name to club legend. But Hapgood was more than just a pawn in Chapman`s chess game. Chapman claims to have only watched Hapgood once before signing him. He was considered a natural leader by all that saw him. Eddie was a quiet and dignified player, but he did not conform to social norms. In the polite, genteel 1920s, he had the nerve to be self confident. In the midst of shoulder charging, kick and rush football, he had the wherewithal to be calm and cultured. In the days when most players could get away with a beer and a smoke, Hapgood ritualistically treated his body as a temple.
He compromised his beliefs only for the greater good of the team he was playing for. Be it in reluctantly executing a Nazi salute or chowing down on a sirloin steak. In an age where players were happy to be serfs, Hapgood was defiant and recognised his own worth. He took no prisoners when Bristol came calling as a teenager and he was just as comfortable flipping the bird at the Arsenal board in his 30s after nearly 20 years of sterling service. He was the steady base upon which the likes of James and Bastin took flight. His contribution to Arsenal Football Club echoes through the ages. LD.
If you're interested in reading more about Arsenal in the 1930s, do please check the articles below:
The Marble Halls.
Herbert Chapman from Huddersfield to Arsenal.
1930 F.A. Cup
1936 F.A. Cup
The Halfway House.
Walsall cup defeat.