An Arsenal Blast from the Past Charles Buchan (1891-1960)

July 2, 2015


Reading back on my post about Sir Henry Norris it made me realise that I knew very little about the life and career of Charles Buchan – so here goes…………

Charles Buchan 1

Charles was born in 1891 in Plumstead, London. In 1909 he joined a local club, Woolwich Arsenal playing as an amateur. He was impressive in reserve games but he fell out with manager George Morrell over his expenses, and refused to sign to a professional contract. He then moved to Northfleet United as an amateur for the remainder of the 1909/10 season. At Northfleet he helped the team win the Kent Senior Cup, Kent League and Thames and Medway Combination medals. After the 1909/10 season he signed for Southern League Leyton and was spotted and signed by Sunderland in March 1911.

Charles was extremely successful with Sunderland they won the 1912/13 First Division title, and narrowly missed out on the double, losing the FA Cup final 1–0 to Aston Villa. He was considered to be the best footballer in the country and was Sunderland’s leading scorer for seven of the eight seasons from 1912/13 to 1923/24 (excluding the WW1 seasons, when no football was played). His appearances for England were limited due to the war therefore he only earned six full caps, scoring four goals.

(The following is an excerpt from the book “Fields of Glory by Gavin Mortimer)
Charlie enlisted in the Grenadier Guards in April 1915, the moment the season ended. He was sent to Caterham barracks to train and was told by the sergeant “We don’t tame lions here, we eat them!” Buchan spent a year at the Guards depot and was promoted to acting lance-corporal in March 1916. In May that year he was sent to France and he arrived on the front line of the Western Front in mid July, two weeks after the Battle of the Somme commenced. He was in the 3rd Battalion, stationed at the village of Mericourt, and was soon promoted to lance-sergeant. He was also put in charge of the battalion’s football XI! In the early hours of the morning of September 14 Charlie went into action for the first time in a big push on the Somme. It was a slaughter and 380 men and 18 officers (from 21) were killed or wounded from Charlie’s battalion. Charlie remained on the front line throughout 1917, fighting in the Ypres offensive of July 1917 and at the battle of Bourlon Wood in November 1917, part of the offensive when the British used tanks for the first time. It was a bitter battle that degenerated into bloody hand to hand fighting. The battalion diary noted that they “killed 40 of the enemy with the bayonet”. In December 1917 his named was put forward for a commission and he returned to England in early 1918 for officer training. He was also decorated with the Military Medal for courage shown during the battle for Bourlon Wood.

In 1925 at the age of 34 his place in the Sunderland team went to Dave Halliday who went on to score at least 35 league goals in each of his four full seasons with the club becoming the most prolific goals to games goal scorer in their history.

Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman was interested in buying Buchan however Sir Henry Norris was reluctant to spend the £5,000 he was reputed to be worth. Sunderland manager Bob Kyle started off by asking for only £4,000 but eventually Chapman bargained him down to £2,000 up front plus £100 for every goal he scored during his first season; he went on to score twenty-one forcing Arsenal to pay £100 more than Kyle’s original demand. Charles made his debut for the Gunners in a North London derby against Tottenham Hotspur on August 29th 1925 (This was also Chapman`s 1st game as the new Arsenal manager). Much of Arsenal’s success in the 1930’s was due not only to his goals but also to his contribution to Arsenal’s tactics it was he, along with Chapman, who thought of changing Arsenal’s formation to the famous “WM“, in order to fully exploit the revised offside law. His idea was to move the centre half from a roaming position in midfield to a “stopper” position in defence, with one forward brought back into midfield. This meant the offside trap was no longer the responsibility of the two full-backs, but the single central defender, while the full backs were pushed wider to cover the wings.

Despite his age he was a regular at Arsenal for three seasons. He captained Arsenal to their first-ever Cup final in 1927, but again was on the losing side, as Cardiff City beat the Gunners 1–0, thanks to a freak mistake by Arsenal keeper Dan Lewis. He finally retired at the end of 1927–28, having scored 16 league goals that season despite being 36 years of age. In all he scored 56 goals in 120 matches for Arsenal; his count of 257 goals in the League would have been more had the First World War not intervened.

After retiring, Buchan became a football journalist with the Daily News (later renamed the News Chronicle), he wrote one of the first coaching manuals, and also commentated for the BBC. In 1947, he co-founded the Football Writers’ Association. The decision to form the FWA was made by Charles Buchan and 3 other journalists – Coles, Roy Peskett and Archie Quick on board a ship in the middle of the English Channel on September 22 1947. The four were returning from Brussels, where they had seen England beat Belgium 5-2 in a friendly international. Within a month they had formalised some of the rules and regulations for the fledgling association; membership would be by invitation only, to “working journalists who are accredited football correspondents for newspapers and agencies”. Headquarters were to be in London, with the initial membership fee set at five guineas for the first year, and two guineas annually thereafter – with an FWA tie included. It was Charles Buchan who suggested that an award should be given “to the professional player who by precept and example is considered by a ballot of members to be the footballer of the year.” That was back in 1947 and since then the Footballer of the Year Award has become the most prestigious award in the British game. Voted for year-on-year by the FWA members, the first recipient was Sir Stanley Matthews. From September 1951 until his death, he edited his own football magazine, Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly” which continued to be published until June 1974, 14 years after his death.

He published his autobiography, “A Lifetime in Football” in 1955.

Charles Buchan died in 1960, at the age of 68, whilst holidaying in Monte Carlo.