2 February 1927: Chapman shows who’s boss

Arsenal historian Sally Davis reported that “At the end of season 1909/10, just before William Hall and Henry Norris were asked to help Woolwich Arsenal FC, the club’s first-team coach resigned.  George Hardy was taken on as his replacement: the first employee appointed by Hall and Norris’ regime at the club.”

Hardy stayed at the club through the early days of financial crisis and it is reported that in 1927/28 he had a benefit match – a game against Corinthians. But also there are reports that in 1927 the relationship between Hardy and Chapman exploded. 

On 2nd February 1927, Arsenal played in an FA Cup 4th round replay against Port Vale having drawn 2-2 four days earlier. According to Tom Whittaker’s account (remembering Whittaker was hardly an unbiased observer in all that followed), “Arsenal were pressing hard, but things were not going just right and old George Hardy’s eyes spotted something he felt could be corrected to help the attack. During the next lull in the game he hopped to the touchline, and cupping his hands, yelled out that one of the forwards was to play a little farther upfield.” Chapman was furious and sent Hardy to the dressing-room.(Arsenal won 1-0 and went on to the Cup Final for the first time that season).

Immediately after the game (it is said in some sources – but not all, as we’ll see below) Hardy was sacked and Whittaker promoted to the trainer in his place.  It is also reported in Whittaker’s autobiography (but could be a myth) that this is when Chapman said to Whittaker, “I’m going to make this the greatest club in the world and I`m going to make you the greatest Trainer in the game.”

But this raises the question: why was Hardy so strongly disciplined for one misdemeanour?  Sally Davis suggests that the event brought into the open something that had been simmering for some time: who ran Arsenal. Davis says that “William Hall was called on to exercise his authority as a director to bring the row to an end; he chose to allow Chapman to deal with Hardy as he saw fit.  

This is important because in 1925 when Chapman was first appointed, Davis says that Chapman wanted to demote or remove Hardy, whose methods he considered dated.  Sir Henry would not allow it.  So allowing Chapman to decide the issue was a direct challenge to Sir Henry.

Chapman demoted Hardy as he had wanted to do all along and appointed Whittaker to succeed him.  Thus in refusing to fight this battle the  vice-chairman acknowledged that Chapman now “had authority over football matters.”

According to Davis, Sir Henry “Norris, however, told Chapman that he had exceeded his authority in making this change of personnel.  He was angry that it had happened to Hardy, obviously [as Hardy was seen as a Norris man – and symbolically was the first Norris appointment], and his view was that only the club’s directors had the authority to hire, raise up and cast down,” which of course was true.

There had not been this sort of argument before – but on the other hand no one had told Chapman how to behave before, save at the very start of his appointment when the argument broke out over the same issue: Hardy. Sir Henry had told Hall to go to Chapman but Hall had felt he was being turned into a messenger boy and resigned from the board of directors.  Sir Henry was now in an exposed position.

In this version of events, Hardy was not sacked at all, but subsequently left of his own volition and thus the episode ended without Norris directly coming in to reinstate him and do what he had not done before: override Chapman.

So Whittaker continued to be the first-team trainer as Chapman wanted, and Chapman’s authority was never again questioned.

But Sir Henry Norris did not forget this moment because in his own letter of resignation to Arsenal’s board in July 1927 he said that “his position as club chairman was now untenable because of the challenges to his authority made by Hall and Chapman.” (Davis)

But whichever way it happened Hardy left in 1927 to work at Tottenham, before moving on to coach Tottenham’s nursery side Northfleet United.  This version says he died preparing for a Tottenham match v West Bromwich Albion in January 1947.