Arsenal’s Greatest Manager pt 2 – Tom Whittaker or Bertie Mee

Continuing our exploration of Great Managers, see yesterdays post for part one in this series.

3. Tom Whittaker. 1947-1956

He was born at East Cavalry Barracks, Aldershot, Hampshire, but grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne. As a youth he spent his early football career in the North of England and at the same time he was training as a marine engineer. When he was called up to the British Army, he signed up for the Royal Garrison Artillery but later switched to the Royal Navy. He was demobilised in 1919.

In 1919, after serving his country in World War I, he joined Arsenal, under manager Leslie Knighton. He first played as centre-forward then as wing-half, signing as a professional in January 1920 and making his debut in a 1–0 defeat away to West Bromwich Albion.

whitakerHe toured Australia as part of the FA side in 1925, but during the tour, in a match in Wollongong he broke his knee cap and was forced to retire from playing. Following his injury he joined Arsenal’s coaching staff and also studied to become a physiotherapist. He became Arsenal’s first team trainer under Herbert Chapman in 1927, at the time, he was younger than many of the players. He assisted Chapman in transforming the training and physiotherapy regime at the club, and played a major part in the club’s successes during the 1930s.

After Herbert Chapman passed away in 1934, he continued to serve under his successor, George Allison while also becoming a trainer for the English National Team. With the advent of WW11 he began to work as an ARP warden, before becoming a pilot in the Royal Air Force where he achieved the rank of Squadron Leader. For his service in missions on D-Day, he was awarded an MBE.

When George Allison retired in 1947, he became the club’s new manager; after winning the League in 1947-48 and 1952-53 and the FA Cup in 1949-50, the club’s success waned. He tried, in vain, to attract major stars to the club, one being Stanley Matthews who said later – “I felt there was nothing to be gained by moving south, however I was very happy and politely turned down the offer”. “Such an approach was against the rules at the time and, consequently, I couldn’t tell anyone about it, and I never have until now.”

Sadly Tom passed away from a heart attack in 1956, aged 58.

Tom Whittaker’s league record –

Games 378, Won 171, Drawn 101, Lost 106,

Goals for 677, Goals against 509,

Goals for per game 1.79, Goals against per game 1.35

Points won 58.6%.

Average League Position 5.22

Total # of trophies won – 2 League titles, 1 FA Cup, 2 Charity Shields.

4. Bertie Mee: 1966-1976

He was born in Bulwell, Nottinghamshire and played for both Derby County and Mansfield Town before his playing career was cut short by injury. Bertie joined the Royal Army Medical Corps where he trained as a physiotherapist and in six years he rose to the rank of Sergeant. After leaving, he worked for various football clubs as a physiotherapist, before joining Arsenal in 1960, succeeding Billy Milne.

Billy Wright was sacked in 1966 and the club asked Bertie to become manager, surprising a lot of people, including Bertie himself. He asked for a get-out clause in his contract allowing him to return to be the club physiotherapist, if it didn’t work out after twelve months. To make up for his own tactical deficiencies he recruited Dave Sexton and Don Howe as his assistants.

In 1970 he led Arsenal to the Fairs Cup Final against Anderlecht. After losing the first leg 3-1, Arsenal won the return match at Highbury 3-0, to claim a 4-3 aggregate victory. It ended a seventeen-year drought since the last major honour – the 1953 league title.

bmThe following season Arsenal won the league and cup double, only the second time this had been accomplished in the twentieth century. Arsenal won the League Championship with a victory over Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane, then went on to beat Liverpool in extra time to seal the FA Cup at Wembley. Shortly afterwards one of his assistants, Don Howe, left Arsenal to manage West Bromwich Albion.

Arsenal had ambitions to retain their title the following season and signed Alan Ball from Everton but their league campaign faltered and their hopes of a trophy depended on the FA Cup, Arsenal reached the final again, where we lost 1-0 to Leeds. In the 1972-73 season Arsenal managed a serious championship challenge, at one point topping the table, but eventually finished runners-up. A run in the FA Cup was brought to an end by a semi final defeat to eventual winners Sunderland.

The Arsenal side than began to break up with first George Graham then Charlie George and Frank McLintock all leaving the club. A number of less impressive seasons saw Bertie being replaced in 1976, by Terry Neill.

He was made an OBE in 1984 for services to football.

He passed away in London in 2001, at the age of 82.

Bertie Mee’s league record –

Games 420, Won 181, Drawn 115, Lost 124,

Goals for 554, Goals against 444,

Goals for per game 1.32, Goals against per game 1.06

Points won 56.8%.

Average League Position 8.30

Total #of trophies won – 1 League titles, 1 FA Cup, 1 European Fairs Cup.

Written by GunnerN5 and compiled by Gooner in Exile

67 Responses to Arsenal’s Greatest Manager pt 2 – Tom Whittaker or Bertie Mee

  1. LB says:

    I am enjoying these posts.

  2. Manthan says:

    Me too LB…

  3. Gooner In Exile says:

    Tom Whittaker the first of a long line of Arsenal players crocked whilst representing the national side.

    Given his and Bertie Mee’s physio experience and success perhaps we should line up Gary Lewin as next Arsenal manager?

  4. sai says:

    It is interesting to know the Club’s History. It tells us how we have been in similar situations before and recovered after stars leaving all at a time.

    Impressed with the ambition showed by the managers at that time. From being an Engineer, becoming a Physo, Ariforce Pilot et all and carrying the success to Arsenal is very impressive. Hence Tom Whittaker clearly stands out!

  5. Norfolk Gooner says:

    Good morning to you all,

    This series of articles by GN5 is turning out to be every bit as gripping as Fifty Shades of Grey, not that I have read that book of course, oh dear me no! Ha ha, (embarrassed laugh).

    It’s becoming obvious that there is nothing new in the world of football. We have seen a wheeler dealer, hands on manager, Herbert Chapman. We have seen a Director of Football, hands off manager George Allinson, now we are seeing the apprentice makes good manager Tom Whittaker and the more collegiate style manager in Bertie Mee who relied quite heavily on his assistants the excellent defensive coach Don Howe and the brilliant tactician Dave Sexton.

    At the time that Bertie Mee was replaced I, along with a lot of Arsenal supporters, felt strongly that we should have appointed Dave Sexton manager and not Terry Neil. Instead Dave went to Manchester United. Shame!

  6. GunnerN5 says:


    You’ve hit on an important part of our history, many of our players and managers were involved in both WW1 & WW11. Great teams were broken up due to the wars and in both cases League play was suspended for many years.

    Some of the players were lost in action while others were so badly injured that that could no longer play. But in most cases we will never know just how good either the players or the teams could have been because of the interruptions.

    I guess today’s players would spend so much time rolling around the recruiters office floor, feigning injuries, that they would never be selected for duty……………,

  7. GunnerN5 says:


    Tomorrow we have a manager who was born into poverty and then a professor who can speak seven languages.

  8. RockyLives says:

    Excellent Gn5
    I didn’t know a lot about Tom W – what a fascinating life and career!

    And then we get to Bertie – the first manager I can actually remember…

    What’s interesting is how all four featured so far achieved a lot for the club, often in difficult circumstances. The final decision is going to be harder than I was expecting.

  9. RockyLives says:

    One small observation: might it be worth reminding people that there will be a vote on Saturday?

    We could add a few words to that effect at the end of the opening introductory sentence and might be helpful for any casual reader who drops in and might not appreciate the scale and ambition of this undertaking.

  10. I may have told this story before (?)…

    In 1966, on a train to Aston Villa I asked Bertie Mee (physio at the time) for his autograph. He wouldn’t sign saying he wasn’t important.

    A few weeks later, at Highbury, on our final home game of the season vs Leicester City, he walked up the steps of the East Stand Upper Tier (before kickoff) to say “hello” to me (again). I was sitting with my dad. Nice touch from a nice man.

    A few months later, unknown to me at the time, my parents sent a book of illustrations that I’d completed (of all the players and manager) to the club… it was returned with a personal letter from Bertie Mee (on Arsenal letter headed paper), and rather ironically, SIGNED by the “important” man himself!

    I was 12 years old at the time.

  11. Rasp says:

    Thanks GN5 – another great trip down memory lane with he added bonus of attracting more great reminiscences like Big Al’s from the era. The overriding difference I see between then and now is the humility of these great servants to the club …. but there wasn’t the big money in those days.

  12. GunnerN5 says:

    Big Al,

    Did either you or your parents keep the book? It would make a great piece of memorabilia – and a great future AA article, along with your illustrations – I would really enjoy that..

  13. GunnerN5 says:


    Bertie Mee’s response to Big Al, stating the he was “unimportant” shows just how humble a man he was.

  14. GunnerN5 says:

    Personally I would like to read some of the recollections from Kelsey and dandan, who like myself lived through an earlier part of our history than a lot of our younger bloggers.

  15. chas says:

    Another belter, GN5.

    I hope Big Al still has his book but seem to remember on a previous telling (√) that it had disappeared with the mists of time.

  16. chas says:

    I made my older bro a birthday card with this photo on the front.

    He sent it to Arsene asking if he could sign it.
    He declined the request, citing it might not be quite appropriate. 😦

  17. Norfolk Gooner says:

    GN5 has asked to hear some memories of bygone years, here’s one from the early fifties….

    It was a North London Derby at Highbury, my father had managed to obtain three tickets for seats in the stand, near the back and almost opposite the dugout. I sat with mum and dad, my two older brothers had queued and got in to the right of the North Bank. The younger of the two had a pair of distinctive green trousers and I recall seeing him being passed over the heads of the crowd down to the front, where he was lifted over the fence by a policeman and given a seat on the bench provided for the police.

    Being quite small, I was only eight or nine years old, I didn’t see much of the game as I could only see the far side of the pitch, the goal mouth at the clock end and nothing much else.

    I think we must have won as my two brothers were jubilant when we met them after the game at the tea stall on the corner of Gillespie Road before getting the train home from Arsenal Station.

  18. Gunner N5

    Unfortunately, I don’t think I have the book anymore. Or the letter.
    I ‘lost’ a lot of memorabilia in a house move. I used to move quite regularly, and I lost the book, and letter I think, along with autographs, at least a dozen big scrapbooks, and I think all my ticket ‘stubs’ are lost, too… doesn’t seem possible does it?

    Luckily I still have my footy programmes, Arsenal handbooks, footy annuals, footy books collections, all at my brother’s house in Banbury, England. And now he’s giving me grief… so looks like I’ll have to sell the whole lot soon-ish.

    If, or when, I sell, maybe I’ll give my great mates on AA first refusal 🙂

  19. GunnerN5 says:

    Norfolk, just the mention of the food stalls brings back memories of the wonderful aroma of fried onions.

    When I was a youngster, I used to bunk into the ground and hide behind the crowd at the clock end. I was so small that I couldn’t see a thing so I pretended to faint and got passed over the top of the crowd, they always sat me in the corner for the rest of the game. After a while the stewards caught on to my ruse, but they just turned a blind eye.


  20. I remember now I’m in totally relaxed mode after cooking and eating that the expression used by Bertie Mee on the train was “I’m nobody special”.

    Referring to himself, not me of course 🙂

  21. GunnerN5 says:


    Re your 2:32.

    What a fantastic video , It makes soooooooooo happy, thank you.

    Many of those great players will be profiled later on in this adventure.

  22. GunnerN5 says:


    Re your 2:54.

    I was there for that game and five members of that team will be featured in the profiles.

  23. Norfolk Gooner says:


    Thank you, I think probably the earlier one, by 1954 my older brother would most likely have been doing his National Service in the RAF.

    Even then we had foriegn players in the side, two Welshman and two Scots. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. As Arsene might say. 😀

  24. GunnerN5 says:


    Re your 2:57.

    I was also there for that game, and five players from that team will be featured.

    Keep em coming………..

  25. Norfolk Gooner says:


    That tea stall was always our familie’s meeting place after the game, a cuppa and a cheese roll while waiting for the crush in the tube station to subside.

    As you say memories………

  26. GunnerN5 says:

    Big Al,

    Still mid morning here in London, Ontario.

    I also lost a lot of my early Arsenal treasures, including my wooden rattle with the canon insignia on each side.

    I’ve kept a lot of old programs, including every home game during our double winning season of 1970/71. On the Man U program I have the autographs of George Best, Jon Sammels, and Charlie George.

  27. GunnerN5 says:


    Both my Mum and Dad’s family were Arsenal nuts. My maternal Grandfather lived at the bottom of Stavordale Road and both family’s would meet at the Drayton Arms pub at the top of the street.

    My Grandfather had his own table, which was unreserved, but nobody dared to take it, you see, he was a 6’5″ tall coalman, with arms of steel and looks to kill.

  28. GunnerN5 says:


    That one is a lot fancier than mine, which had unpainted wood and the canon stamped on each side, but it sure was noisy, maybe that’s why it disappeared. My Mum always claimed that she had no idea where it went.

  29. Red Arse says:


    Once again you deserve great credit for this epic trawl through Arsenal’s great managers and players. Kudos! 🙂

    I cannot match any of the stories mentioned above, but I have researched quite a lot of Arsenal’s history, and your picking out fine individuals helps me to put them into perspective a little.

    Without wishing to sound maudlin, the pride that goes with being associated as a fan to a great club and its great managers, is also touched with the certain knowledge that time is all too short for all of us, and perhaps explains some fans impatience with the status quo.

    The news that Denis Hill-Wood is ill and is stepping down as Arsenal Chairman highlights the relatively short careers of all these great men, and also, for many of us with family and friends who all supported Arsenal during their lives and knew them, and who themselves have moved on, perhaps an old song sums up this up very well.

    — ” This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.
    My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
    The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door
    And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore…

    They’re all expecting me and that’s one thing I do know.
    My Savior pardoned me and now I onward go.
    I know He’ll take me through,
    because I gave Arsenal my all.
    And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore…”

    As Gooners, Arsenal is part of our lives now, and was part of their lives then, and will be part of the lives of future generations ……..

    No more need be said. 🙂

  30. GunnerN5 says:


    That makes me feel very melancholy and brings to mind many of the WW11 songs.

    Especially Vera Lynn songs like …..

    We’ll meet again,
    Don’t know where,
    Don’t know when
    But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day
    Keep smiling through,
    Just like you always do
    Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away

    So will you please say “Hello”
    To the folks that I know
    Tell them I won’t be long
    They’ll be happy to know
    That as you saw me go
    I was singing this song

    We’ll meet again,
    Don’t know where,
    Don’t know when
    But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day

    We’ll meet again,
    Don’t know where
    Don’t know when.
    But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.
    Keep smiling through
    Just like you always do,
    ‘Til the blue skies
    Drive the dark clouds far away
    So will you please say “Hello”
    To the folks that I know.
    Tell them I won’t be long.
    They’ll be happy to know
    That as you saw me go,
    I was singing’ this song.

    We’ll meet again,
    Don’t know where,
    Don’t know when
    But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day


    I can visualize my parents singing the song – and it brings a tear to my eye.

  31. Red Arse says:


    Sorry if I caused you any distress.

    I am not surprised at your reaction, certain songs/music can do that, as they are very evocative, especially when associated with important events and especially as regards family and friends who are the most special to us.

    What I was driving at in my earlier comment was that for all the bickering and complaining that some fans are prone to do, life as a footballer or as a manager of a great club, as for all of us, is very transient and should be appreciated while we have it.

    We are fortunate to be Gooners. We should enjoy that good fortune, as we respect the great players and managers of the past, as well as those of the present.

    Enough from me. Keep up the good work — it’s very impressive! 🙂

  32. kelsey says:

    I wish I had more time to comment and as others have said the research and time that you GN5 have put into this mini series is most admirable but I know it is a labour of love.(and well done GIE as well)

    My memory is pretty vague from 1958 to 1970 maybe because there weren’t that many stand out moments and of course no trophies and amongst all that our neighbours were celebrating and are still living on that memory.

    I met Bertie Mee the night we won the Cup Final in 71 at the private party and out of all the managers in my lifetime he was the least ovious person one would ever imagine to be an Arsenal Manager.
    At that time our local boy was the hero…Charlie George but Charlie revealed years later that Mee just didn’t like him, his appearance and especially his hair, as mee was old school but 17 years without a trophy going religiously to every home game and many away games, Mee became a hero, perhaps by mistake.

    if i remember correctly in those days the talk was nearly always about the players not the manager and it would be interesting to know the proportion of managers who got sacked as opposed to nowadays.

  33. GunnerN5 says:


    Don’t be concerned, it was more tears brought about by happy memories rather than distress. I happen to be on a hormone drug that can bring on sad feelings very easily – which is not all bad as it’s made me more mellow.

    I wish that more people could be as understanding and wise, as yourself, and could temper their rhetoric with some sound reasoning, rather than spur of the moment, knee jerk reactions.

  34. PEACHES – The Stranglers, 1977

    strolling along minding my own bubiness
    well there goes a girl and a half
    she’s got me going up and down
    she’s got me going up and down

    walking on the beaches looking at the peaches

    well i got the notion girl that you got some suntan lotion in that bottle of yours
    spread it all over my peelin’ skin baby
    that feels real good
    all this skirt lappin’ up the sun
    lap me up
    why don’t you come on and
    lap me up

    walking on the beaches looking at the peaches

    well there goes another one just lying down on the sand dunes
    I’d better go take a swim and see if i can cool down a little bit
    coz you and me woman
    we got a lotta things on our minds (you know what i mean)

    walking on the beaches looking at the peaches

    will you just take a look over there (where?) there
    is she tryin’ to get outta that clitares?
    liberation for women
    that’s what i preach
    preacher man

    walking on the beaches looking at the peaches

    oh shit
    there goes the charabang
    looks like I’m gonna be stuck here the whole summer
    well what a bummer
    i can think of a lot worse places to be
    like down in the streets
    or down in the sewer
    or even on the end of a skewer

  35. evonne says:

    Very good point Kelsey

    Excellent posts and many fine comments today and yesterday. Very well done GGs!

    It is difficult to judge a manager, especially one that was in charge long before I was born! How can I? Not only that but I am probably blinded by AW’s brilliance and cannot be objective. I’m biased, biased, biased…

    I am going to go scientific and create a little spreadsheet with data provided by GiE. Then I will allocate points for scores in each category (8 for highest, 1 for lowest), add, divide and chose the winner. Sorted 🙂

  36. GunnerN5 says:


    I appreciate your response and comments. You are so right from 1954 through to 1969 were dire years in the history of Arsenal and maybe one had to live through them in order to rationalise todays shortcomings.

    Yes has been a labour of love, I’ve only got to create two more player profiles and it will be complete. I thought I knew a lot about our history but this exercise has shown me just how little I really knew.

    Take care, and I hope you, your wife and the dogs are settling into your new digs.

  37. evonne says:

    Real Madrid will buy either Suarez for £30-40mil or Bale for £60-80mil. Is Bale twice as good as Suarez?? I think not

  38. Gunner N5

    I have the autographs of The Kinks (3 out of 4 members) on a programme before kick-off. We were seated very close.
    Then I got the autographs again, possibly all four members on another programme at a different game. Again, seated very close.
    Both times either 1970-71, or/and 1971-72.
    East Stand upper tier (my favourite stand).

    I got Rod Stewart’s autograph at Arsenal vs Liverpool, at half-time. He was having a drink with a tall leggy blonde.
    1970-71, or 1971-72.
    East Stand upper tier, again.

    Autographs can be quite valuable. The beauty of ours is that we can date the autograph literally to the day. At the very time they signed they were very successful footballers/musicians, and that can affect price.

  39. RockyLives says:

    Big Al
    Were the Kinks Arsenal supporters then?

  40. kelsey says:

    Yes they were,RL from highgate.

    Al, Rod Stewart attended many of our games and i sat behind Pete Murray in the West Stand

  41. GunnerN5 says:


    That reminds we of a Monty Python news skit.

    It went — Breaking news: we have a partial score in from Highbury …

    Arsenal 1,

  42. evonne says:

    Arshavin is going to Baku, Azerbaijan

  43. Gooner In Exile says:

    Evonne…..Bale might not be twice as good but Suarez is twice as eager to leave. Spain seems a suitable home for him….

    Hughes at Stoke…..I have to wonder how that is progression, interesting the chairman criticising Pulis’s transfer policy, the likes of Crouch aged 30 with no sell on fee…..especially when they have invested heavily in an academy…..the only player of note to progress…..Shotton….nothing to do with his long throw….

    Youth Coach: Tony these are the players we think you can use…
    Pulis : ok lads over here on this line ball each… throw it in


    Pulis: all those that threw to feet, you’re released….Shotton you are in.

  44. evonne says:

    ha ha ha GiE, you are going to miss Tony P 🙂 Whom will you hate now, a few to chose from …..

  45. Gooner in Exile says:

    He is already there Evonne…..Hughes, he is as loathsome as Pulis, if not more so, because he rates himself so very highly despite having achieved very little, wasted millions at QPR, was not allowed to waste at Fulham so left, and wasted plenty at City (although might not have been all his own choice). I think he annoyed me most when he was manager of Shitty, he peacocked around the touchline as if he was the new messiah when they beat us at their place…..he was strutting around in his expensive suit and i sat there thinking….”you are a twat and no one is going to like you on the way down as you are making too many enemies”… right was I.

  46. evonne says:

    you were spot on GiE 🙂

  47. evonne says:

    I like the clip about Bertie Mee Chas, except for that guy smoking a joint at 1:41, who was he?

  48. Gooner in Exile says:

    Today should gain a few more comments as GG and AW stand side by side in GN5’s review of the managers. For me there is no comparison, but at least GG stood with club traditions of a few dodgy transactions.

  49. evonne says:

    my points for results ‘scientific’ calculations indicate so far Chapman a clear winner followed by Whittaker, Mee and Allison in that order. I expect AW to overtake them all today, go on Arsene!!

  50. Big Raddy says:

    Late to the party on this excellent post.

    Both fascinatng men. Like many, Mee was the first manager I can really remember. Cannot say he was to my taste – he reminded me of our Maths teacher.

    But his coaches were the stuff of dreams – both Howe and Sexton were the best of their generation.

    And to have a Squadron Leader as manager of AFC! Proper club

  51. evonne says:

    oh yeah Raddy, I am going to add/deduct points for extracurricular activities of our managers. Chapman gets hit with -2 for dodgy dealings and getting players pissed, Mee gets 2 points for reaching the ranks of a squadron leader.

  52. Big Raddy says:

    evonne. It was Whittaker who became a SL…..

  53. Rasp says:

    Morning GiE, I understand you want me to put the poll in today’s post to vote for Arsenal’s greatest manager?

  54. evonne says:

    yes Raddy, my bad

  55. Rasp says:

    Morning all ……

    …. New post ……

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  62. Bruce Whittaker says:

    My paternal Grandad! Tom Whittaker!! A real gent and a warm and kind human being who was totally dedicated to the club!!

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