Football Ambassador by Eddie Hapgood
Published by GCR Books
“It is rather hard to try and get over to you readers what I mean about Arsenal, because, of course, I was one of them, and, in some way, it sounds like personal boasting. But we were proud of ourselves, as I suppose we were entitled to be.“
Signed by Herbert Chapman in 1927, Eddie Hapgood was arguably the first in a long tradition of outstanding left backs in Arsenal’s history.
The first encounter with the manager is recounted, Hapgood suitably impressed. Chapman’s question for the future England captain was similar to that which you can imagine Wenger asking, “Do you drink or smoke?“. Hapgood did neither and before arriving at the club was a vegetarian, something that the club were keen to end, eventually the player being more than happy to devour steaks “the size of Whittaker’s Alamanac“.
Born in Bristol, he worked as a dairyman, driving a milk cart for his brother-in-law. It was a job that he considered important enough to decline the overtures of Bristol Rovers, “there was a social distinction between driving a milk cart and a coal cart.”
The book recalls in vivid detail football of that era. The words of those of an honest man, hard-working and should be read by all players today. Hapgood gives an insiders view of the club and brings to life the histories of Arsenal which abound, offering a key insight into personnel on and off the pitch.
Hapgood would become a key member of the successful side of the 1930s, captaining club and country duing his career. During his time at the club, he won 5 league titles and 2 FA Cups, the club’s most decorated captain. At this point, Arsenal were the pinnacle of English football, illustrating how exceptional a player Hapgood was. Hard to believe that this was a man who was conned out of his £10 signing-on fee during a train journey into London to join Arsenal for the first time.
Hapgood’s international career often goes remarkably unnoticed. It was far from that. Forged in the decade before and during World War II, his debut came in Rome under the gaze of Mussolini. The Italians were prominent in his career, the opposition for his first match as England captain in the Battle of Highbury in 1934. Most controversial was the fixture in Berlin, 1938 against Germany.
The 6-3 victory for England is forgotten amid the ‘Nazi salutes‘ proferred by the team at the behest of the weak-spined politicians of the day, carried out to ‘keep the crowd in good temper‘. Hapgood and the rest of the squad were uncomfortable with the whole scenario, the captain noting that “Personally, I felt a fool heiling Hitler“.
Hapgood would go on to become the most capped England player at that time, 43 in total, 21 as captain, a record recognised by the Football Association who awarded him a £100 testimonial in recognition of his services.
Every Arsenal fan should read Hapgood’s story and so should the players. The opening quote shows what it meant, and should still mean, to play for Arsenal Football Club. Click on the titles to buy Football Ambassador: The Autobiography of an Arsenal Legend, along with The Arsenal Stadium Mystery and Forward, Arsenal!, the other GCR reprints, keeping the history alive.