The HC Club or the “Pals of Chapman”

No doubt you are aware that today is the anniversary of the tragic early passing of Herbert Chapman. Shortly after the publication of Patrick Barclay’s biography of the great man, we discovered the story of twelve men who paid tribute to Chapman in their own special way. Here is their story.

Ever wondered who commissioned the famous Bust of Herbert Chapman, Arsenal’s greatest ever manager, that sat in the Highbury marble hall?

Bust of Chapman 1

One of the four Herbert Chapman busts

Well wonder no more, because it was a band of supporters collectively called the “Pals of Herbert Chapman”

A not so-secret society of Arsenal fans existed from the 1930s onwards; all twelve, disciples of Herbert Chapman.  In December 1933 thirteen men sat down in a restaurant for a dinner in the West End of London. All thirteen at this meal were Arsenal fans which was not surprising as one was the manager: Herbert Chapman. At the end of the meal one of the company suggested they form a club to exist to honour the architect of Arsenal as a force in not just English, but world football.

Chapman was embarrassed by the fuss and would not allow a club in his honour during his lifetime, and banned them from further discussion at this original meeting. The twelve others yielded to his wishes and held the idea over as he looked healthy, was happy and was in the middle of the defence of the league Championship.

Little did he, or anyone else, have an inkling that only four weeks later on 6 January 1934 Chapman’s sudden illness followed by his premature demise would sadly allow them to get the club going. So, after the funeral the twelve friends were resolved and their strong desire to set up the group to perpetuate Herbert Chapman’s memory had no stopping. As it was, reports at the funeral stated there was a strikingly large cross of red and white flowers with the inscription “to Herbert from his pals.”

Additionally it was these twelve men who commissioned the famous bronze bust of Herbert Chapman. This was unveiled at The Arsenal Stadium, Highbury on 22 October 1936 by the Reverend N R Boyd, vicar of the Hendon church that Chapman frequented. They were present together with Mrs Chapman, their children, Herbert’s brothers, Arsenal directors, players, staff and shareholders. The bust was crafted by Sir Jacob Epstein and this event was a precursor to the official opening of the East Stand which was two days later.

The intention of the bust was to “stand as a permanent memorial of the man by whose genius the Arsenal club was reborn”. Indeed this has stood the test of time and is still today a symbol of the “Arsenal Way” immortalising Herbert Chapman.

They started the club with a set of simple rules as befitted a club set up with one ideal in mind which was to sustain the memory of the great manager.

  • There were to be at least two dinners per year.
  • At each dinner there was to be a collection, and all money or cheques collected were to be given to their nominated charities as gifts from “the Pals of Herbert Chapman”. Each member placing the largesse into a vase on the table.
  • There were not to be anyone else invited to the group apart from those present in December 1933. They would keep themselves to themselves and have no additional members – twelve members and twelve only.
  • On each anniversary of Herbert Chapman’s death a wreath would be placed at his grave in Hendon Parish Churchyard. In the main this was a wreath of red and white carnations.
  • The group would assign one man to be chairman for just one year, and then the next man in line would take the role over for the next year.

This was not to be a supporters club, and did not wish to interfere in the running of the Arsenal in any way at all. As it happens they gave their unreserved support to Joe Shaw, George Allison and to Tom Whittaker but had no say in any of the goings on at the club. All they wished to do was venerate the man who got them into supporting Arsenal.

However it is highly likely that those at least from Northamptonshire or within that area already knew him prior to going to Highbury as he was, earlier in his life, the manager of Northampton Town. It is almost certain that H H Bryant was one such pal.

The Twelve Chapman Pals

  • Harry H Bryant – a Building Society Chairman from Wellingborough. He bequeathed money and it was used to open a sports pavilion in Eastfield Park, Wellingborough in 1954, eight years after his death.
  • John Hope – A boot maker company director from Northampton.
  • William McLean Johnston – The Arsenal programme editor from 1929 to 1939, writing as “Recorder”, and a club director from June 1939 to 1940. He also acted as the HC club secretary.
  • Harry E Joyner – a businessman from St Albans
  • W Kendrick – A banker
  • Joe Levi – Arsenal football club’s honorary press steward, who had been given this role by Chapman at the start of his tenancy as manager. He wrote in the Islington Gazette as “St Ivel”.
  • Mark Mintz – A leather manufacturer and director of a Homerton shoe company who lived in Willesden
  • Hugh D Stewart – Director of a café group. He was born just before Dial Square’s first match and was the last of the Chapman Pals to survive, even witnessing the double triumph of 1971.
  • Major Mark H Swears – A receiver who, between early 1931 and early 1932, worked on the rescue of Clapton Orient, at the request of the High Court. Later in life he was a stockbroker living in Paddington Green.
  • William P Valentine – A Northamptonshire businessman
  • William C Webster – A boot maker company director from Norwich
  • John E Whitehall – A company director in the chemical industry living in Deptford

Every one of these men were successful and wealthy in his own sphere of business and wished unobtrusively to serve Chapman’s memory and assist Arsenal Football Club for no recompense.

However, as time went on members passed on and illness meant that only four were present at the 1949 ceremony. This ceremony differed from the others as they added an extra layer to the event and altered the flowers. The first part was held at Highbury in the famous marble hall as the Chapman bust, they had endowed upon the club, was garlanded with a laurel wreath. All four men present then bowed their heads in a moment’s silence. Later the laurels were removed and placed on his grave in Hendon.

Unfortunately, the grave soon became overgrown following the death of these members, many of which were recorded in the official match day programme, the last of whom died in 1971, and Chapman’s wife in 1958.

The Arsenal programme announced the death of Joe Levi in 1950

The Arsenal programme announced the death of Joe Levi in 1950

The Arsenal programme announced the death of Mark Swears in 1951

The Arsenal programme announced the death of Mark Swears in 1951

But recently it has been cleaned up, with this kind act being another example of a “band of honorary helpers who do so much for the club but of whom so little is heard” like the original guardians of the Chapman ethos.

Herbert Chapman

Herbert Chapman

Background to this article

This season we’ve been asked to write a regular page in the official Arsenal Magazine based on a classic match featuring the opponents for each game we play in. Magazine and Programme editor Andy Exley has kindly given us permission to reproduce the work on our blog. We will also be including additional material that didn’t make the final edit of the Magazine.


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Or have a look at our other site: The Arsenal Collection  for more Arsenal memorabilia.

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2 thoughts on “The Herbert Chapman Club

  1. Emilio Zorlakki on 6 January 2015 at 4:04 pm said:

    A wonderful read!

    • Thanks Emilio, we found the material after Paddy Barclay had published his book, we were following up on some Chapman items, and stumbled across it quite by accident. Obviously from the programme comments they were well known within the club at the time, and many of these chaps were named as being at the funeral in the press.

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