(Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20)

Review: 'The Life & Times of Herbert Chapman', by Patrick Barclay

Portrait of a trailblazing manager who took Arsenal, and football, to new heights

On 11 may 1925, an advertisement appeared for a job vacancy. It stated: “Arsenal Football Club is open to receive applications for the position of Team Manager. He must be fully experienced and possess the highest qualifications for the post, both as to ability and personal character. Gentlemen whose sole ability to build up a good side depends on the payment of heavy and exhorbitant [sic] transfer fees need not apply.”

They don’t write them like that any more, sadly. The gentleman who got the job was Herbert Chapman. As it happens he did spend quite freely, but he also became a football legend, setting the hitherto mediocre Arsenal on the road to a hat trick of consecutive league championships (though he died too early to see all of them). 

Chapman was already famous. He had won a hat trick of championships managing Huddersfield, and one boyhood fan, Harold Wilson, carried a picture of Chapman’s Huddersfield team in his wallet through all his years in Downing Street. Chapman was decades rather than years ahead of his time. He used an on-field formation with an extra centre back which influenced the game in Brazil, he started the counter-attack game, he was the first to use numbers on shirts at the top level, the first to play competitive matches against European teams, the first to pick a foreign player (also one of the earliest to pick a black player), the first to argue for floodlights and regular evening matches, the first to insist that the manager not the chairman and directors be in sole charge of team selection and tactics. Ferguson, Shankly, Clough and the rest owed him a lot.

The son of a miner from a  Yorkshire pit village virtually invented the modern game. At the same time he managed to get the name of the Tube station outside the ground changed from Gillespie Road to Arsenal.

Why was it, though, that his fame stretched so far beyond the sport, that the streets at his 1934 funeral (he died at the age of 55 after contracting pneumonia) were lined with crowds four deep? What prompted the Jewish Chronicle to write an obituary saying “he was a great friend of the Jewish people” and the clergyman at his funeral to note that Chapman was “the man all England seemed to be mourning”? A biography was overdue.

Patrick Barclay, the Evening Standard’s football columnist, and football correspondent of The Independent in its early days, has approached the subject with a mixture of passion and assiduous research. He has the sportswriter’s unfailing tendency to crave the widest possible context (I’m not sure I need to know that when Chapman was a toddler in Sheffield, Billy the Kid and Jesse James were being shot in America) but when he applies the wider context to the evolution of football and to how the Britain of the time shaped the Chapman family, the results are extraordinarily rewarding. Barclay traces the first half century of the game so evocatively that one can almost believe he was at some of those early matches, and reminds us of the oddities of those days. I hadn’t realised that even as late as the 1927 Arsenal vs Cardiff Wembley cup final, the referee wore a bow-tie.

He is fascinating on football and the First World War, the Footballers’ Battalion (surely worth a book in itself) and the poignant last words of one fallen soldier to his comrade: “Goodbye, Mac. Best of luck, special love to my sweetheart Mary Jane and best regards to the lads at Orient.” 

Such vignettes put this book above the normal sports biography. Barclay does indeed trace Chapman’s life from would-be mining engineer to footballer, then visionary manager with a penchant for plus-fours, at the same time an official in his church, a strange mixture of elitist and collectivist. He loved signing supreme talents but insisted no player be paid more than another. He improved life for the fans, modernising the Arsenal ground, and commissioning the famous art deco design for the stands, encouraging Jewish supporters and giving to Jewish charities. There remains an element of mystery as to what drove him (just as there does with today’s managers) but this book succeeds in being about more than Chapman. Barclay vividly and brilliantly conjures up a forgotten sporting age.

Order at the discounted price of£16 inc. p&p from independent.co.uk/bookshop or call 0843 0600 030

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried