Herbert Chapman Biography – Interview With Patrick Barclay Part 2

By Daniel Cowan
In Arsenal
Feb 19th, 2014

Last week I brought you part one of my interview with Paddy Barclay about Herbert Chapman and today I bring you the rest of that interview.

The book really struck me, not just as a history of Herbert Chapman but also of the development of the game, the times that shaped it and the emergence of football into the modernity we are accustomed to. Was that your aim?

Yes, all of those things. I had hoped to tell a little bit of the history of football and also of the country in that period – between and before the wars because I think it fascinates all of us, especially those who have always lived in peace time. When you talk about the history of football, the guy who was editing the book thought “why do you have to do that” and I said because it’s very important, when talking about Herbert’s life,  to talk about the game he found and the game he left. And how different they were – when it started, the FA Cup final would be watched by a few thousand people and thought that was a massive crowd and by the time he left it was held in front of 92000 every final and it could have been more; and Chapman, of course, was a frequent visitor. I thought how much had changed in a mere 55 years was a dramatic story – I managed to win my argument and it remained in the book.

That answers the next question I had, which was, was the inclusion of so many interesting details and subtle links between football and its servants, other famous or notorious figures as a narrative of the eras you were describing was designed to accentuate the impression Chapman had on football or indeed football had on Chapman and the manager he became?

I don’t know. The editor had a go about that as well. He said “where does Elgar come from?” *both laugh* but for me, I’m sure show how well it works, but I know it would have broken my heart not to provide such context. For example, the First World War stuff was pertinent because his players were dying, and often heroically, two of his captains died heroic deaths in Northern France and Belgium in the First World War – Spears and Lintott – and these were people he had a huge regard for and had known for several years. He had actually signed Lintott – I think he signed them both actually – and he himself had an interesting role to play in the First World War as a manager but not of a football team but of an armaments factory because the soldiers at the front were being rationed and were sitting ducks for the German artillery.

So from overseeing the management of ammunitions to being the manager of the Gunners –  I guess he was born to manage Arsenal?

*Laughs* Yes, there’s a bit of a parallel, he had a squad of 19000 at the armaments factory, mainly women.

There is a sad irony when I think about something you wrote in the book – I don’t want to give too much away as I think people read it themselves as I think it’s a fantastic history of Chapman – you mentioned the game he came into and the game that he left. I get the impression the game he came into was used as a driving force, inclusive to the social underclass, to steer them away from hooliganism. He then went on to produce two fantastic teams that cemented him in many minds as the foremost football thinker in Europe. And then 50 years later when European football is a reality, something he dreamt of being a part of, but English clubs aren’t allowed to participate because of football hooliganism. That’s a sad irony.

Yes it is. I think it would have broken his heart when that happened. I think hooliganism would have broken his heart, I really do. After all, it almost broke a lot of hearts and drove a lot of people away from the game. I have a lot of wishes that he was still around for many reasons, you rightly mentioned European football, and European football  – have you ever seen the famous photo of the Arsenal/Rangers game under the lights?

I have

It’s the most wonderful football picture imaginable. It’s almost better than a moving picture because you can feel the atmosphere and it reminds you of European nights at Highbury that followed later. That really would have gladdened his heart and I wish, I really wish he could have been around to see that but I’m glad he missed hooliganism because as I say, it probably would have turned him off football as it did many ordinary people.

Indeed, especially as football, in some ways, being designed to draw people away from hooliganism and then become an avenue for it.

Absolutely and he was a great believer in fans being treated with respect. And in return, he asked for respect from fans for players. Perhaps he would be seen as a crazy idealist in some ways now.

*Laughs* For some reason I can’t see the hashtag #ChapmanOut

*Laughs heartily* That’s lovely

There have been many more successful managers than Chapman but do you think anyone has equalled or bettered his overall contribution to the game?

No. I don’t think anybody ever will because he was the first. He founded everything. He created the role that Arsène Wenger now fulfils, that of English style football manager. The man who runs the club. I think probably now, clubs are becoming so big that no one man runs it in the way Chapman did, not even Wenger, but in terms of his influence extending into every corner, every cupboard of the stadium or the training ground I do think there is a big comparison there.

He was certainly a very well respected man. You mentioned Ron Jennings who remembers him from his childhood.

He got his autograph.

He did and I believe the autographs of all the players but unfortunately lost them in the war.

Well it was his dear old mother who through them out *both laugh* having a good old clear up.

I love my mother but I’m not sure I could forgive that.

He also blesses his mums memory but perhaps not that part of it *both laugh again*

Chapman has been well-respected, honoured and revered at Arsenal – he is constantly pointed to by people of my generation, born 50 years after his death as one of Arsenal’s greatest ever managers; people who know very little about him so it’s kind of strange there is so much respect. I think the respect and the esteem people held him in can be succinctly surmised into the exchange between Ken Friar and Keith Edelman over Chapman’s desk.

Oh, I’m so glad you pointed to that because I loved that moment. I’ll never forget that moment for as long as I live when Ken told me. Basically, for those who haven’t read the book, Ken Friar offered his help like everyone at Arsenal did in terms of researching the book. I remember the first thing he said to me was “I’m not that old, I don’t remember Herbert Chapman” – I said Ken, I don’t think it was every said that but maybe you have something that could help. Anyway, we were sitting and talking and Ken, although a man of massive stature in the game is quite small, and he was sitting behind this great carved wood desk. He pointed at it and my stomach started to churn with excitement because I knew what he was going to say and he said “this was Herbert Chapman’s desk”. When my knees had stopped knocking I said  “Ken, so it’s still here” he said “oh, yes – we moved it over here” (to Highbury House near the old stadium – that’s where Ken works) and he said “yes, there was talk [of selling]” – Keith Edelman, who  was Chief Executive at the time, and they were trying to raise money to supplement what was going to be earned from the property deal in terms of balancing the books for the new stadium and Keith Edelman said we can sell all sorts of things, we must be able to sell some of the old stuff – surely the supporters would like to buy something like Chapman’s desk. Ken said “over my dead body” in a tone that suggested he wasn’t being figurative *laughs* and anyway, Keith Edelman to his credit never mentioned the subject again.

I guess that is one of those wonderful anecdotes relating to Chapman that you know for certain is real. Especially when you consider the greatest [and most famous] anecdote, the one about “Our guests will have double of everything, my gin will contain no gin and his whiskey will contain no whiskey” – it’s a bit sketchy whether that was true or not but it’s a lovely story.

People will have to read my alternative version, which came from just as good a source, and decide which they believe. I’m pretty sure I know which one I believe. The myth’s as good as the truth *laughs*

What would say was Chapman’s greatest contribution to the game?

Tactically. From an Arsenal point of view, creating a huge club. A football tactician, someone like Jonathan Wilson – who wrote inverting the pyramid – would probably say it was tactical. He established a balance between attack and defence – which hadn’t really existed in the game before, of course there had been defending. But he saw the flaws in the beautiful game – this business of weaving down to the wings with intricate play and knocking over huge predictable crosses that were headed away and then try again.

He recognised that something cleverer had to be done. I don’t know if you watched the Liverpool counter-attacking display against Everton [28/1/14] – the incredibly drawing and sucking in of Everton and hitting them on the break. I watched that and could imagine Chapman saying “oh yes, I do like that” because he invented counter-attack. There was no counter-attack before him, it was just attack, attack. There wasn’t counter-attack in the sense we now know. There are coaches all over the world now, teaching what Chapman first taught his Northampton players in 1909 – and they are teaching it now as if it were new. He was blamed by a lot of people for ruining the game with his tactics and Arsenal were called “Lucky Arsenal” because no-one could understand how they won 4-0, 5-0 with probably only 40% possession. Well, Liverpool only had 40% possession against Everton and they won 4-0 and they won on merit.

There was nothing there that Chapman would not have said, yeah that’s how it’s done. He was more than a century ahead of him – I’ve never of anyone in football that can be said of.

My last question is how much do you think Chapman shaped football outside of the UK?

His tactical ideas were discussed [outside of the UK]. I don’t think he was an influential outside Britain as inside, on the other hand – if he had his way and if his suggestions, I can never work out when he wrote articles in the Sunday Express talking about a West European league being about to begin and I am sure the winners of it would have played against the East European leagues, this was his vision – I just wish, if there had been that continental competition that he craved  – and he would take teams abroad to play – if that had happened his influence, I am certain, would have spread far and wide. The Arsenal teams that he had could well have become European champions. That’s not empty speculation, there is actually some evidence this could have happened. And if that had happened, of course, he would have been the Mourinho or Guardiola of his day.

There is a chapter in your book – people will have to buy it to find out – where you mentioned the greatest manager England never had, but also they will need to read it to find out about the two matches where effectively he was England manager.

Exactly. And he met a rather infamous man.

Thank you for your time today, Paddy. It has been an absolute pleasure.

Me too, Daniel. Thanks very much indeed.

You can listen to the entire interview on the Goonersphere Podcast. Quotes from the interview can be used if credit is given to www.goonersphere.com and www.northlondonisred.co.uk.

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I am a South London born Gooner now living in Leigh-On-Sea, Essex. I'm a husband, daddy, podcaster, trainer enthusiast and aspiring author. My work is my passion and for that I will always be grateful. Here is where I write my thoughts and views on Arsenal Football Club, the greatest team the world has ever seen.

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