Football: Chapman's mean streak lives on

Norman Fox compares the styles of two great Arsenal managers
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The Independent Online
UNLIKE GEORGE Graham, who in spite of his present allegiance to Spurs has always been fascinated by Arsenal's history, Arsene Wenger claims that he is not inclined to pause at the bust of Herbert Chapman at Highbury and wonder whether he will ever be compared with the great man who masterminded much of modern football, raised Arsenal to world fame and died while still manager 65 years ago next Wednesday. Or is it that Wenger suspects that his team's disciplinary record might make the old boy frown in dismay?

Despite his bookish appearance and manner, Wenger has some of Chapman's mischievousness and a considerable share of his determination to make Arsenal the best. He likes to tease, notably recently writing off his team's chances of retaining their championship and trying to give the impression of not being over-confident about beating Preston North End in the FA Cup third round tomorrow night.

Chapman loved to start debates by planting provocative remarks into serious discussions and waiting to see what developed. More often than not his ideas were met with astonishment and, in the case of the Football Association, instant disapproval which sooner or later turned to reluctant acceptance that he was right. The defensive centre-half, inside forwards who acted like today's midfield players, floodlighting, commercialisation, the white ball, numbered shirts and the use of publicity all came about as a result of Chapman's enthusiasm.

Curiously, although Arsenal used to be the club that was tightly controlled by the old-school-tie values of the Hill-Wood family and Sir Bracewell Smith, and would teach new players how to use their cutlery as well as their feet, Chapman himself did not approve of the game itself becoming more polite. No doubt he would have come down strongly on a player like Patrick Vieira, whose tetchy lack of self-discipline could be a costly derailment for the club this season, but he probably employed more frighteningly tough tacklers in his 1930s sides than any subsequent Arsenal coach.

The Arsenal player and later journalist Bernard Joy recalled in his history of the club that: "Chapman wanted fighters, as ruthless as you like." Ironically, though, Chapman was one of the few administrators of his day who wanted to have shoulder charging banned because he said it was "taking the art out of the game". He often said that he wanted his hard men to be tough but fair. Opponents were inclined to think of him in much the same way as critics see Wenger today: a dedicated club man who is far too keen to defend a disciplinary record that, since his arrival, has become by far the worst in the club's history. Eighteen sendings off since he came to Highbury in September 1996 takes some defending.

Off the field, Chapman had few of the worries that have beset several of his successors, not least because almost all of the team were teetotal. On it, if they had been forced to play under today's strict interpretation of the laws, their disciplinary record would probably have been on a par with the most regularly reprimanded clubs in today's game.

Even after Chapman's death, Arsenal's reputation for toughness continued. His successor, George Allison, employed Wilf Copping as a destructive half-back. Pre-empting today's stubble-growing players by several decades, Copping never shaved on match days, claiming he lost form if he did but obviously believing it made him appear all the more fearsome. Bill Shankly recalled that when he was playing for Scotland against England in 1938 and was in possession "the next thing I knew, Copping had done me down the front of my right leg. He had burst the stocking - the shin pad was out, and I'd cut my leg. That was after 10 minutes and was my first impression of Copping. He didn't need to be playing at home to kick you - he would have kicked you in your own back yard or in your chair." Unlike Chapman, Copping strongly believed in the hearty shoulder charge.

Between 1925 and his death in 1934, Chapman coached Arsenal to three league championships but, as Wenger surely knows, in January 1933 he also saw his team of seven internationals and four reserves (promoted partly because of illness in the squad but also because Chapman underestimated his opponents) beaten 2-0 in the third round of the FA Cup by Third Division Walsall, a side that cost pounds 69. Arsenal had pounds 89 worth of boots without the players.

The following season Chapman caught pneumonia after insisting on travelling to see a midweek match. He was buried in Hendon where on Wednesday, as they have always done, Arsenal fans will place a wreath on his grave.