Herbert Chapman on Football – and on “Clifford Bastin”

Yesterday, I posted three snippets from Herbert Chapman’s Sunday Express columns. (See under “Herbert Chapman” in the category list on the left of the page).

For those of you for whom Chapman isn’t a familiar figure, he was the first “star” football manager in the world, enjoying success at Northampton Town, Leeds City, Huddersfield Town (3 championships in a row and an FA Cup) and Arsenal (where his teams also won an FA Cup and 3 championships in a row). Chapman remains the only English manager to have won the League title 3 times in a row, and the only English manager to have won the league title with two different clubs. He was the first manager to oversee an England match, albeit without picking the team. He is without any doubt the most innovative thinker in football to have been born in England. His early death in 1934 undoubtedly changed the way our game developed, almost certainly very much for the worst.

I posted the excerpts without mentioning that they were Chapman’s or that they dated from seventy-five years ago. I didn’t edit the pieces in any way, so some clues remained – references to a prosperous Newcastle United, for example. In the 1920s and 1930s it was common to think that football had declined since 1914, and common to see the pre-War Newcastle side as the best in history. By stripping the pieces of their context, I wanted to see what power they still had.

I think commenter Dearieme spotted what I was up to…

Chapman was a serial media commentator, both in the newspapers and on radio (all of the latter gone, I fear), and there is much, much more where this comes from. It hasn’t all weathered well, as you might expect. For instance, Chapman gets his rebuttal in first regarding the disgraceful maximum wage set-up, and his articles on that subject remind me all too much of contemporary justifications for sweatshops.

Nonetheless, all of the following points, explicitly raised by Chapman at the start of the 1930s, still struggle for recognition today:

  • Calm and intelligence trumps passion and overemotion on the football field as in every other sport.
  • There’s a mental, psychological side to performance in football, which can’t be escaped by ignoring it or by appeals to tradition or by hiding behind football’s traditional anti-intellectualism.
  • The Golden Age is always 20-30 years ago, and the modern game always favours system over personalities!
  • There are others which I’ll raise at another time. For now,

    Herbert Chapman on Clifford Bastin

    Clifford Bastin signed professional forms on his seventeenth birthday, and I had no hesitation in putting him almost at once into the Arsenal side, for he was a most exceptional boy. I have never known a youth with the same stability as Bastin. Temperamentally, so far as football is concerned, he is like a block of ice, untouched by excitement. He has played in two Cup Finals, and on both occasions one might have thought he was about to take part in a match in the London Combination. Always, too, he is calm and collected on the field. Watch him run into the mouth of goal to seize a scoring chance, and you are sure that he will never fail through over-eagerness, which is the besetting fault of so many players.

    Cliff Bastin is still third in the Arsenal all-time scoring list behind Thierry Henry and, to the scorn of Bastin’s widow, Ian Wright. (Bastin, 178 goals in 395 games: Wright, 185 goals in 288 games: Henry, 226 goals so far in 364 games so far..).


    (Bastin in the middle, between Eddie Hapgood (left) and Alf Kirchen (right).

2 Replies to “Herbert Chapman on Football – and on “Clifford Bastin””

  1. Given that I’m sitting on 30 manuscript pages about the man, you’d think I’d remember that! Thanks..

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