Book Review: Herbert Chapman on Football - Reflections of Arsenal's greatest manager

Last updated : 15 November 2010 By Brian Dawes

But for any unaware individuals it should be pointed out that very many of Chapman's ideas became accepted conventions at a later date, and not just those Arsenal related concepts such as white sleeves, the centre half and the Underground station. This title, originally published in 1934 following his death, is an accumulation of the many articles he wrote originally for the Sunday Express.

I calculate that this book covers some 119 topics which, somewhat randomly, include the following: Championships are won away from home. Importance of the first goal. Cup luck. Captaincy. Understudies. Football at night. Is the league system wrong? How to build an England team. New plans for the Arsenal Stadium. Dangers of criticism. How to stop the barrackers. Young players are a gamble. Spendthrifts. A common cause of failure. Goal judges. Ten yard semi-circle. Better refereeing. Coaching for all schoolboys. Close passing game. Off-side tactics. Transfer prices. Signing on the stars. Demands of the modern game. There are of course loads more but as you can see what was topical in the 1930's is still doing the rounds today.

I've never clapped eyes on an original copy of this title so I'm delighted it has been republished. Had I previously found a copy and wanted to purchase it it's original binding then I'm advised that it might well have set me back the best part of £100. As an avid collector of Arsenal related titles then this is a very welcome addition to my library.

For today's Arsenal fan this book is probably as close as they'll ever get to understanding what Herbert Chapman was all about and provides clues as to why he was such a great manager and indeed great man. But unless you've read very old sports books previously you might find the style of writing rather strained and the random topics perhaps difficult to put into immediate context, but such is the nature of a collection of articles. Anyone conversant with pre-war football will realise however what a goldmine of insider information this work must have been when it was first published some seventy-six years ago. One of Chapman's many goals was clearly the overall improvement of the game and to that end he clearly believed in shared knowledge rather than retaining trade secrets. It has to be borne in mind throughout that there are many things Herbert Chapman considered to be obvious to a sensible football manager were anything but to the vast majority in his day.

Reading through the veritable myriad of Herbert Chapman's thoughts on almost the entire gambit of football sometimes requires a stretch of the imagination unless you know your history in order to place it in context. But soccer historians and those who've studied their Arsenal history in depth should feel right at home. What at first perhaps sounds quite obvious to the modern fan by way of one of Chapman's missives was often a quite outlandish break through on his part and very much against the grain of the standard thinking or practices in his day. His was an era in which it was still common, at some clubs, for the board to pick the team. Elsewhere tactics were rarely discussed other than by players who happened to play in related areas of the pitch and the concept of teamwork was still not entirely common practice. But because Chapman was one of the prime driving forces in modernising the game it makes this little gem containing his opinions and thoughts on football all the more interesting and entertaining.

There are many parallel thoughts contained within these pages which could equally relate to today's game. That Chapman, for example, perceived the game as being much quicker than it was previously is amusing when you consider the almost static play seen in old film clips. So speed is obviously just part of the continued progression of the 'beautiful game' and seemingly ups a gear every generation, not just in recent decades. At times he sounds almost defensive about Arsenal's style, which I found surprising, but obviously his melding a team ethic and his objective of a balanced side is not a lesson that's been lost on many winning managers since the 1930's.

Herbert Chapman on Football
Published by GCR Books
Paperback - published price £11.95

Available from any good book store if you quote them the following reference: ISBN 978 0 9559211 3 1. Or direct from the publisher or of course all the usual online stores.