Herbert Chapman is one of the most influential figureheads in the soccer community. Therefore, in this blog post we are going to explore the outstanding career on and off the pitch of this successful footballer and manager. Since his retirement and death, he has left a considerably large legacy which has helped shaped football into the modern game we know and love today. So if you want to find out more about Herbert and his career in soccer, then keep on reading.

Starting in the Soccer World

Herbert started his football career off by playing as an amateur for his local club – Kiveton Park at 18 years old. At the end of his first season with them in 1896 they won the Hatchard Cup. Chapman had a variety of short stints with football clubs across the UK with teams such as Ashton North End, Stalybridge Rovers and Rochdale in the amateur leagues before stepping up to a Second Division team – Grimsby Town in 1898.

Despite being in a professional league, Chapman was still a novice when it came to playing soccer. Therefore, his time with Grimsby in the Second Division was short lived after the club finished 10th.   After this loss, Herbert was dropped from the squad after him displaying his best efforts to cope with an unfamiliar position on the pitch as he was posted as centre forward, whereas he used to play inside right with the amateur clubs. 

After leaving Grimsby, Chapman moved to the non-league team – Swindon Town and after playing three times he managed to score twice. However, he was not able to remain at the club for long as he was unsuccessful at finding work in the area to fund him in the meantime. This was the same situation for him when he moved to Sheppey United, which left him feeling defeated and saw him return home.

Upon returning home he signed with Worksop Town where he was able to continue his studies at Sheffield University. Due to his attendance at the University, he mainly played with the club’s reserves which meant he had ample time to finish his studies and still take part in soccer matches. However, during his first match with Worksop he was recruited by Northampton Town after catching their eye in the game. This new contract meant that he was returning to the professional league.

In his time with Northampton Town he was named top scorer after successfully completing 14 goals out of 22 games. And due to his impressive turn around with this club, he gathered the attention of Sheffield United after they saw him in the FA Cup match. This, therefore led the team to presenting him with a contract at the end of the season to move to them. However, after joining Sheffield United he was moved down to the amateur league after he showed interest into pursuing his engineering qualifications in the area by obtaining a job now his studies were complete.

Unfortunately at the end of the season he was sold to Notts County for £300 in1903. He only played with Notts County for a year before joining Northampton Town again on loan and then finishing off his playing career with Tottenham Hotspur.

  • Kiveton Park – 1896
  • Ashton North End – 1896 to 1897
  • Stalybridge Rovers – 1897
  • Rochdale – 1897 to 1898 (10 appearances, 4 goals)
  • Grimsby Town – 1898 to 1899 (3 appearances, 2 goals)
  • Swindon Town – 1899
  • Sheppey United – 1899 to 1900
  • Worksop Town – 1900 to 1901
  • Northampton Town – 1901 to 1902 (22 appearances, 14 goals)
  • Sheffield United – 1902 to 1903 (7 appearances, 1 goal)
  • Notts County – 1903 to 1905
  • Tottenham Hotspur – 1905 to 1907
  • Northampton Town – 1907 to 1909

Becoming a Football Manager

After playing with Tottenham Hotspur, he signed back with Northampton Town and became their player-manager. At the time he joined the team they were at the bottom of the league and as a manager Herbert wanted for the team to turn around and climb up the ranks. As a result of this, Chapman put together a well thought out plan of tactics to improve the team’s performance.

Some of the changes he presented the squad were that the mid fielders were to ‘fall back’ in formation which meant that the forwards were allowed more space. This space therefore would ensure that the opposition’s defenders could be drawn further up the field out of the penalty zone. With these changes in place, Herbert was able to devise a highly organized; counter attacking approach to football for his team which he believed would give them the upper hand in the matches ahead.

Despite him having this genius plan in place, he needed players of a high level who could execute his tactics perfectly. Therefore he urged the chairman of Northampton Town to provide him with a budget to spend on recruiting new players. With this money they were able to sign Lloyd Davies, Fred McDiarmid and David McCartney. And with these new players in tow Northampton was able to finish the upcoming season in eighth place.

After his impressive turn around with Northampton he was signed by Leeds City as manager after they had finished in 19th place. In his first season with Leeds he recruited new players such as Jimmy Speirs. And with the new attacking approach to the game, they were able to net 70 goals, thus scoring them the second highest in the division.

During the following years with Leeds, he struggled to put together an adequate first team as the World War meant that a number of men signed up to fight. Plus the league itself was suspended for a duration of the war. With the decline in demand for football, Herbert sought to help the war effort by becoming a manager of the munitions factory in Barnbow in 1916. When the war ended Chapman returned to Leeds City but resigned instantaneously to join Selby as a superintended at the oil and coke works.

In 1921 he was approached by Huddersfield Town and recruited as their assistant manager. Implementing his new attacking system to the club proved effective as Huddersfield were transformed in his first season with them, where they finished third. However, as time went on the consistency of the squad worsened to a point where they went through a whole season without scoring more than two goals in a match. As a result of this Chapman chose to move to Arsenal in 1925.

When he started with Arsenal a new rule was introduced which modified the offside law. This change meant that the number of players from the opposition had to have between them and the goal line went from three to two. This subsequently meant that the pitch formation was altered slightly to see the inside forwards moved back to assist the midfielders and the fullbacks were moved wider to cover the wings of the pitch.

This rule change inspired Chapman to modify his attacking tactics. He was able to fine tune the plan of action on the pitch to become a more substantial game play than their rivals. With his ideas in place Arsenal went on to finish in second place and throughout his time with the club, he was able to increase the performance of the players so that they were consistently successful. However in 1934 he returned from a trip to Yorkshire with a cold which evolved into pneumonia and ultimately lead to his shocking death.

  • Northampton Town – 1907 to 1912
  • Leeds City – 1912 to 1918
  • Huddersfield Town – 1921 to 1925
  • Arsenal – 1925 to 1934

Honours and Achievements

Within this section of the article we are going to take a look at the achievements and awards acquired by Herbert Chapman. Across his long standing career, Chapman was awarded a number of trophies for his contribution to soccer as a player and manager. Therefore below we have listed the awards achieved by Chapman along with the team and year they were presented to him:

  • Southern League (Northampton Town) – 1908/09
  • FA Cup (Huddersfield Town) – 1921/22
  • First Division (Huddersfield Town) – 1923/24, 1924/25
  • FA Cup (Arsenal) – 1929/30
  • First Division (Arsenal) – 1930/31, 1932/33

Herbert Chapman’s Legacy

When he died in 1934 he left a large legacy behind him. He was one of the first managers who were able to take full control of their team rather than letting the board rule the decisions. He was most known for his initiative and tactical innovations when it came to structuring a strong side.

He also was one of the early advocates for the use of floodlights on the football pitch which allowed players to have well-lit games in the darker nights. He also started the tradition at the FA Cup final where both sides would walk out onto the pitch together and still is a solid practice till this day.

Chapman was also a great influence over the new Highbury stadium construction in the 1930s. The London Underground’s Gillespie Road was changed to Arsenal as a credit to him. Along with this he also helped design the scoreboard and turnstiles at the stadium.

Throughout his career he was a great influence on the aesthetics of soccer as well as the tactics and on pitch performance. He was the pioneer behind the usage of white footballs during matches which enabled players to see the ball clearer against the green pitch. He also was the reason behind the introduction of numbers printed on the rear of soccer jerseys as this allowed players, fans and scouts to tell each member of the team apart easily. It also went on to inspire fans to purchase football shirts with their favourite player’s number on the back to showcase their support for their number one idols as well as their beloved team. This therefore introduced the supporters of football clubs to a closer look at the technique of their idols by keeping an eye out for their number rather than guessing their appearance.

Herbert Chapman also made a number of changes to the Arsenal home kit during his time with the squad before his death. He introduced the notion of having hoops around the football socks which meant that players could pick out their team-mates easily on the pitch when their focus was on the ball. And this design trait went on to inspire a number of clubs in the UK and worldwide to adapt their socks and kits to improve their on-pitch visibility.

Arsenal used to play in a plain red soccer shirt when Chapman first started with the club, but he wanted to adapt their uniform to make them stand out against other clubs who also wore red shirts. This is where Chapman introduced the white sleeve and red torso combination of the Arsenal soccer jerseys we know and love today.

Was Chapman an Influential Manager?

In this blog post we have looked through the outstanding career of Herbert Chapman and how he revolutionized the football world. From his influence as a player and innovative manager, to the legacy he left behind after his death, he is most certainly one of the most significant figureheads of all time.

Want to share your opinions on the lifetime of Chapman? Find us over on our social media pages and let us know! You can also shop a variety of Arsenal football shirts and clothing inspired by the great Herbert Chapman over on our online store – Soccer Box.

This article was written exclusively for Soccer Box by Loren Astbury