Book Review: Football Ambassador - Eddie Hapgood

Where as the most famous full back pairing or their era Eddie Hapgood and George Male appeared in excess of 300 times together for Arsenal and England, primarily in the 1930's. Such was the stature of Eddie Hapgood that his was the very first autobiography of a footballer ever published and unlike the numerous biographies written today it came at the end of a long and illustrious career. This volume then is a reprint of that biography which was first published in 1945 and written with the help of Roy Peskett, a famous football journalist in his day.

The volume covers his entire career at Arsenal which was clearly quite phenomenal in that Eddie is still sitting in 16th place on the all time Arsenal appearances list. Remarkably only he and Bob John amongst all our pre-war legends make the Arsenal appearances top twenty. It also covers his illustrious England career, which saw him win 30 caps prior to the War. But he also played some 13 times in Wartime internationals and captained his country on a then record 34 occasions. His 43 England caps were at the time a national record and one of which he was immensely proud.

Although born in Bristol in 1908 Eddie Hapgood didn't sign for his local team Bristol Rovers when the chance came his way. The reason he didn't sign was because their added incentive was for him to earn extra money driving a coal cart. This he felt wasn't as upmarket as the job he already had driving a milk cart. So instead he signed for Kettering Town, but after only a dozen games Herbert Chapman turned up to sign him for the Arsenal. How Arsenal's scouting network spotted him so early in his career is a mystery but Arsenal paid Kettering £750 and also agreed to play a friendly against his old Club worth a further £200. Some bargain that proved to be, because Eddie went on to captain Arsenal and play a staggering 440 first team matches. In fact between January 1928 and the outbreak of War Eddie missed only 47 of all the 437 matches played by Arsenal. His consistency was however amply rewarded with a magnificent five League Championship titles plus two F A Cup winning medals.

When Eddie arrived at Highbury he was a mere nine stone six pounds and his early days at Arsenal saw the frail nineteen-year-old continually knocked unconscious when he headed the ball. His vegetarian diet however was replaced, on the instructions of our then trainer Tom Whittaker, with one which consisted almost entirely of steak. This seemed to sort him out because within a couple of seasons he was our regular left back. Always renowned as a cultured performer his play has been described as showing shrewd anticipation, being technically exceptional, elegant, polished, unruffled and above all else calm. He was also clearly a very brave individual as can be discerned from his part in the infamous 'Battle of Highbury' where he was one of seven Arsenal men playing for England against, the then, World Champions Italy. A game in which Eddie courageously played on with a broken nose.

The War came at a time, as it did for so many players, when Eddie was at his playing peak. Despite serving as a flying officer in the RAF he went on to make a further 102 Wartime appearances for the Club between 1939 and 1945.

This title includes a number of photographic illustrations, which are not of the best quality but are both interesting and entertaining nether the less. Unlike modern sports biographies there is no dirt dished here. Eddie's story is clearly that of a true gentleman and Arsenal legend and so this volume will be a very welcome addition to anyone interested in Arsenal's history.

Football Ambassador
Eddie Hapgood
Published by GCR Books
Paperback £12.95

Available from any good book store if you quote them the following reference: ISBN 978 0 9559211 2 4. Or of course all the usual online stores or if you have problems then try www.gcrbooks.co.uk themselves.