Crowds in urban areas flocked to football grounds on a Saturday afternoon in high numbers in the 1920s and 1930s, sharing a collective identity through support of the local club. One man was at the forefront in shaping the game, on and off the pitch, for the modern age. He was Herbert Chapman. He was the first great football manager.
After managing Huddersfield to the Division One title on two occasions, Chapman left, in 1925, for Arsenal – if full of potential, a relatively poor and unsuccessful club. At Arsenal, his tactics on the pitch transformed the team’s success. He developed the strategy of a ‘stopper’ centre‑half, pushing the full-backs wider to cover the wings and bringing a forward back into midfield.
Football became a game of fluidity and thought. League title triumphs for Arsenal followed in 1931 and 1933 – the first London side to win the Division One title and, for Chapman, the first manager to win the league title with two different clubs. Arsenal became the most feared side in the land. Chapman’s vision also inspired or supported other important changes to the game: numbered shirts, matches under floodlights, white footballs.
Shock was felt around the country when, in January 1934, Chapman died aged 55. The club, in tribute to their great manager, commissioned a portrait bust from one of the country’s leading sculptors, Jacob Epstein. It became a central point for decades as visitors entered the famous marble halls at Highbury. In the entrance foyer to smart new apartments that now stand on the ground of the famous stadium, still prominent is a shining bronze head-and-shoulders bust of Herbert Chapman. Outside the Emirates Stadium, a full-size statue was unveiled in 2010 as part of the club’s 125th anniversary celebrations. A mighty figure in football’s history, Herbert Chapman still conveys a formidable sense of authority.