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Born: Saturday 19 January 1878, Kiveton Park, England
Died: Saturday 6 January 1934, Hendon, England (aged 55)
Yorkshireman Herbert Chapman may have had an extremely modest career as a player, but his achievements as a manager rank him as one of the greatest coaches of all time as well as one of the most influential figures in the development of football. A tactical genuis whose ideas were well ahead of his time, he turned around the fortunes of several clubs and introduced a number of innovations to the game.
Chapman was born in the village of Kiveton Park, near Sheffield, on 19 January 1878. Coming from a coal mining family, he pursued a career as a mining engineer, but also had ambitions to make it as a footballer. The early years of his playing career were spent as an amateur, moving around various towns in the north of England as he changed jobs. After spells with Ashton North End, Stalybridge Rovers and Rochdale, he found himself playing in the Football League for the first time in 1898 when he joined Second Division side Grimsby Town. Remaining amateur, Chapman's first experience of the Football League did not last long and he moved on first to Swindon Town, then to Sheppey United and Worksop Town.
By 1901, after many years as a journeyman amateur, Chapman was finally offered a professional contract by Southern League Northampton Town. His time at Northampton attracted the attention of Football League clubs again, and the following year he found himself playing First Division football for the first time at Sheffield United. Although he scored just twice, he played more than 20 games for the Blades as they finished the season in fourth place, just three points behind league champions and city rivals Wednesday.
Having reverted to amateur status again, Chapman struggled to keep his place in the team and moved on to Notts County in 1903, but failed to establish himself at the club and dropped into the Southern League again two years later to play for Tottenham Hotspur. Drifting in and out of the team, Chapman decided that as he approached 30 his playing days were coming to an end, and left the club in 1907. On his retirement, he intended to return full time to his work as a mining engineer but an unexpected offer to become player-manager back at Northampton saw him finally find his true position in the game.
Northampton had finished bottom of the Southern League in 1907, but in an era where few teams used any sort of recognisable 'tactics', Chapman saw an opportunity to bring success to the club. Gradually, he developed a counter-attacking system which proved extremely effective, and after an eighth place finish in his first season, he led the club to the Southern League title in 1909. The lack of opportunity for promotion into the Football League, however, frustrated Chapman and he proposed a more coherent system of promotion and relegation. This was rejected at the time, but would come about in some form in the early 1920s with the addition of the Third Division North and South.
Finishing fourth, second and third over the following three seasons, Northampton were established under Chapman as one of the Southern League's leading clubs, and it was no surprise when he attracted the attention of Football League clubs. In 1912, he moved to Second Division Leeds City with the aim of taking the club into the top division for the first time. Finishing fourth in 1914, just two points off a promotion place, hopes were high for the following season but following the outbreak of the First World War many players were called up for military service and Leeds only finished 15th. When the league closed down for the duration of the war, Chapman became manager of a munitions factory.
When league football resumed in 1919, Leeds were under investigation for illegal payments to players. The club's refusal to produce their financial records was taken as a sign of guilt and the club was expelled from the Football League and closed down, and Chapman along with other officials banned from the game. His ban was overturned when Huddersfield Town, who wished to appoint him as a coach, helped him to argue that having been away from the club during the war he was unaware of what had been going on.
Having joined initially as a coach, he became Huddersfield manager towards the end of the 1920-21 season, the team's first in the First Division. Setting about transforming the club as he had with Northampton, Chapman immediately led the club to a first major trophy in 1922 as they beat Preston North End 1-0 in the FA Cup final at Stamford Bridge. Huddersfield were becoming a real force in the league as well, finishing third in 1923 and then the following year grabbing a first league title by the narrowest of margins. They took the title on goal average ahead of Cardiff City, after their rivals could only manage a draw in their final match.
Huddersfield retained the league title in 1925, but Chapman had attracted the attention of Arsenal, one of the wealthiest clubs in the league but a team who had only just avoided relegation. Arsenal managed to lure him to London, and provided him with the funds to turn their team around. His success was immediate. Chapman responded to a change in the offside law by introducing a revolutionary new 3-2-2-3 formation, with the first centre-back and deeper lying inside forwards, and led Arsenal to second place in the league (behind Huddersfield, who completed the first ever hat-trick of English titles).
Chapman's innovations during his time at Arsenal included advocating the renaming of Gillespie Road tube station to 'Arsenal' and adding the famous white sleeves to the club's kit. His greatest success though was on the pitch. After an FA Cup final defeat in 1927, Arsenal's first major trophy came in the same competition in 1930. Their opponents in the final, of all teams, had been Huddersfield Town. Their first league title followed a year later, but disappointment followed in 1932 with a second place finish and cup final defeat to Newcastle. Arsenal regained the title in 1933, but Chapman was aware that his great team was getting older and switched his focus to finding new young talent.
By the end of 1933, Arsenal were again leading the First Division but Chapman was unwell, suffering from a cold. Still as interested as ever in the club's younger players, he went to watch the third team play but shortly afterwards, his illness worsened and he died suddenly of pneumonia on 6 January 1934, less that two weeks before his 56th birthday. His team nevertheless went on to retain their title and in 1935 equalled Huddersfield's record of three in a row.
Chapman, who is commemorated by a bust at Arsenal's Emirates stadium, is remembered as the man who built both of the first two teams to win a hat-trick of English titles, as well as one of the first coaches to develop proper tactical systems. Many of his ideas, such as shirt numbers and floodlit matches, were initially rejected by the authorities but eventually became integral parts of the game.
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- Published on Saturday, 10 September 2011 10:22