Published on January 14, 2014 | by David Drake


Herbert Chapman: Arsenal’s pioneer

Patrick Barclay’s new book is a must read for all Football fans [Picture: Orion Publishing]

 North London club Arsenal are renowned for their fast-paced counter-attacking football, something that many believe was the brainchild of manager Arsène Wenger, but was actually the notion of Herbert Chapman, arguably one of Arsenal’s finest managers of the 20thcentury.

Chapman’s career as a player was overshadowed by a hugely successful managerial career, which started at Northampton Town and peaked at Arsenal; making them the most dominant team of the 1930s.

He is seen as the ‘father of football managers’ by many, and was certainly very inventive. Sir Matt Busby believed that Chapman was responsible for a change in football.

Some things we take for granted today – shirt numbers, floodlights and the tactical attitude of counter-attacking – were all initiated by Chapman.

Chapman as a player was something of an attacker. Back then when players were amateur, they could play for any team where there was a job close by. The Yorkshire man made the most of this opportunity and played for 13 clubs in 14 years, consisting of Ashton North End, Rochdale, Swindon Town, Worksop Town and Tottenham Hotspur.


In 1925 he took the manager’s desk at Arsenal, the same year that the off-side rule was implemented in the game, and it was this movement that provided Chapman food for thought for a change in tactics.

Sports writer, Patrick Barclay, who has written for some of the UK’s top publications, often guests on Sky Sport’s Sunday Supplement and has written biographies on Alex Ferguson and José Mourinho. With this wealth of knowledge he is exceptionally suited to chronicling such a significant story.

The book begins in Chapman’s hometown of industrial Rotherham in the late 1800s, where he studied mining engineering. It encompasses the calamity of the First World War, the General Strike, and the Great Depression. Aside from the bad however is the good, with names like Arsène Wenger and George Graham offering anecdotes of appreciation of the imprint his legacy left behind, and finishing with his sad and sudden death in 1934.

In recent years some Arsenal fans have become sceptical of their current manager, so this is sure to stoke the fire for some. One Arsenal fan and keen reader of sport books, Alex Mackay said: “Being an Arsenal fan is not essential to appreciate the practical wisdom of such a man. The thoughts and views of Chapman back then are still relevant today.”

The Life and Times of Herbert Chapman: The Story of One of Football’s Most Influential Figures by Patrick Barclay, published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, recommended price £20.

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