Day 2 of this week where we look at the defenders in our Summer series of articles in search of Arsenal’s greatest ever team. Don’t forget to take the opportunity to choose your personal favourite defender by voting in the poll at the end of the week.
4. Bob John: 1922 – 1937
Bob appeared in 470 games over a 15 year period.
Born in Barry, Wales, Bob played for Barry Town and Caerphilly, before joining Arsenal, who signed him despite stiff competition for his signature. He made his Arsenal first-team debut on 28 October 1922 in a 2-1 home defeat to Newcastle United, and soon became a regular, succeeding Tom Whittaker at left half. He made his debut for Wales against Scotland on 17 March 1923; going on to gain fifteen caps.
He lost his place from the Arsenal side in the 1923-24 season due to stiff competition from Billy Blyth and Andy Young, but after switching to left back, he once again became a first team player. Eventually he was put back to left half, and this time he remained a first-team regular. A prodigious ball-winner and noted passer of the ball, Bob reached (but lost) in the 1926-27 FA Cup Final, after an error by his compatriot and close friend, goalkeeper Dan Lewis whose one mistake led to Arsenal’s loss. It was Bob who consoled Lewis after the final whistle, assuring him he would get another chance to a win a medal, but Lewis never did get the opportunity.
Despite some very strong competition he remained a first team regular, finally winning some silverware in the 1929-30, FA Cup Final. This was followed by three First Division titles in 1930-31, 1932-33, and 1933-34. He also scored Arsenal’s only goal in the 1932 FA Cup Final when Arsenal were controversially beaten by Newcastle United. Newcastle benefited from scoring a goal that was later determined to have been out of play just before the goal was scored. By this time he was one of the senior members of the Arsenal squad, and mentored many of the club’s younger new arrivals, such as Alex James.
He played for Arsenal until he retired in 1938, playing for the final three years of his career mainly as a reserve player, missing out on a medal in the League win of 1934-35.
In all he played in 470 games for Arsenal, the most of any of Arsenal’s pre-WW11 players which places him eighth on the all time list.
After his retirement he had a largely unsuccessful career as a coach, finishing his football career as a scout for Cardiff City.
He passed away in 1982 aged 83 years.
5. Herbie Roberts: 1926-1937
Herbie played in 335 games over an 11 year period.
Born in Oswestry, Shropshire, he first played as an amateur for his local club Oswestry, while also working in the police force. He played as a right half, and was signed by Herbert Chapman in 1926 for £200, then turning professional. He made his debut against Aston Villa in April 1927, but only played in a handful of games during his first two seasons.
Chapman converted him to a centre half replacing Jack Butler in that position. In the revolutionary new “WM” formation pioneered by Chapman and Arsenal captain Charlie Buchan, he became the tall “stopper” centre half in the middle of defence; at that time this was a new tactic, created in response to the relaxation of the offside law in 1925. Herbie was often abused and pilloried by opposition fans for what they saw as his overly negative play.
He now started to feature more regularly for Arsenal but he missed out on the FA Cup Final in 1930 due to an injury. However, from the next season on he was the undisputed first-choice centre-half at the club, making over 30 appearances for each season up until 1936-37, winning four First Division titles, and finally, an FA Cup medal in 1935-36, after also playing in the side that lost the final in 1931-32. In 1931 he also won a cap for England, against Scotland.
He was forced to retire early on in the 1937-38 season, when he broke his leg in a match against Middlesbrough. Arsenal won the First Division title for a fifth time, in 1937-38, but Herbie had only played 13 matches that season, one short of the minimum required for a medal at the time. In all he played 335 matches for Arsenal, scoring 5 goals.
Upon retiring he worked as a trainer for Arsenal’s reserve side. When WW11 broke out, he served as a lieutenant in the Royal Fusiliers; he died from erysipelas, while on duty at the age of 39. Herbie was the most famous of the nine Arsenal players who died during WW11.
6. Eddie Hapgood: 1927-1945.
Eddie appeared in 440 games over an 18 year period, including WW11.
He was born in Bristol. Eddie started his football career in the mid-1920s as an amateur playing in local football (while still employed as a milkman), after which he played for Kettering Town in the Southern League. In 1927 Herbert Chapman signed him for Arsenal at a fee of £950. He was so thin and fragile that Arsenal’s trainer Tom Whittaker forced him to take up weight training and to start eating meat, as he was a vegetarian. This turned to Eddie’s advantage outside of football as his new found muscular physique allowed him to supplement his minimum wage, as a footballer, by fashion modelling and advertising confectionary.
He made his Arsenal debut on 19 November 1927 against Birmingham City; initially he was used as backup for left back Horace Cope. Eddie had to wait until 1929 before he became a first team regular, after that he made the position his own, right up until the outbreak of WW11 in 1939. He played 35 or more matches in every season in that period and went on to succeed Alex James as Arsenal’s captain and he led the side to the League title in 1937-38, while personally winning five League titles and two FA Cups.
He was capped by England on 30 occasions making his debut in1930, and was England’s captain for 21 games including his first match which was the infamous “Battle of Highbury” against Italy in November 1934. Italy was the reigning World Champions at the time and England had declined to take part in the World Cup, so the match was billed as the “true” World Championship match. The match was notoriously dirty, with many players sustaining injuries, including Hapgood who had his nose broken. England beat the Italians (who were reduced to ten men for most of the match) 3-2. He was also captain when the English team played Germany, in Berlin and were forced (under pressure from British diplomats) to give the Nazi salute before the match, England won 6-3.
When WW11 started, Eddie who was only 30 served in the Royal Air Force, while also playing for Arsenal and England in unofficial matches. During the war he fell out of favour with the Arsenal management and he was loaned out to Chelsea, eventually leaving under a dark cloud.
In 1945, he wrote one of the first football autobiographies, entitled “Football Ambassador”. After that he left football completely; he fell on hard times and wrote back to his old club Arsenal asking for financial assistance (as he had never been given a testimonial match) but the club only sent him £30. He spent his later years running YMCA hostels.
His 440 games place him tenth on the all time list.
He passed away on Good Friday 1973 aged 64 years.
Witten by GunnerN5, compiled by Gooner In Exile