Eddie Hapgood

Captain of Arsenal and England

A simple headstone in Leamington's Brunswick St. cemetery records the last resting place of a man who was once a household name and whose sporting achievements rank amongst the highest in the history of professional football. Eddie Hapgood was a footballer who played alongside such legendary figures as Alex James and Ted Drake and who was equally famous in the 1930s.  His record indicates that he was an outstanding player and team captain.  He captained both Arsenal and England at a time when Arsenal dominated English football and English football was generally considered to lead the world.


Eddie was a Bristol milkman who went on to play for Kettering Town.  In October 1927 he was transferred to Arsenal for £950. The Arsenal manager at the time was the renowned Herbert Chapman and this astute buy ultimately helped to enhance his reputation as one of the all-time greats of football management.


Eddie Hapgood made 393 league appearances for Arsenal.  He won five championship medals and two FA Cup winners medals. In his position of left back he was widely recognised as one of the few defenders able to cope with the precocious talents of Stanley Matthews.  He played in 30 full international matches for England and was captain 21 times.


His career was not without incident or controversy. He was fortunate to miss the FA Cup giant-killing shock of the 1930s.  It was in the 1932/33 season when Arsenal, heading for the Division One championship, met Walsall in the third round of the Cup.  Eddie Hapgood was one of three first team regulars left out of the Arsenal team.  The excuse was given that this was due to a flu epidemic but there were accusations of deliberately resting the players.  If it was a ploy it was one that backfired, as lowly Walsall humbled the mighty Arsenal by winning 2 - 0. 


Eddie made his first international appearance on May 13, 1933, when England played Italy in Rome.  He marked his debut by tactlessly making a huge clearance into the crowd, the ball landing in the midriff of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.


His first match as captain of England was also against Italy.  It took place at Arsenal's Highbury Stadium.  The England team included seven players from Arsenal and the young Stanley Matthews. 

Italy had won the World Cup in 1934.  England had not joined FIFA and consequently did not compete in the World Cup, considering it to be a trivial little affair of interest only to foreigners. The match was originally labelled  The Unofficial Championship of the World , but, following an ugly, bad-tempered game, it became known as  The Battle of Highbury .  After only 12 minutes of the game Eddie Hapgood had to leave the pitch with blood streaming from his broken nose, the result of a jab in the face from an Italian elbow. His courage and determination can be gauged from the fact that he returned to the field before half-time.  England won the match 3 - 2.


His worst moment as captain of England came on May 14, 1938, when England played Germany in Berlin.  He was later to describe it as the worst moment of his life and one that he would not willingly go through again.  The cause of his anguish was the fact that the England players were pressurised by British diplomats into giving the Nazi salute before the match.  Hitler did not attend the match, which England won 6 - 3.


Eddie played his last international against Yugoslavia on May 18, 1939.  The Second World War brought a premature end to his playing career, as it did with so many footballers.  However, as he had reached his thirties, it could be said that he had been able to devote his best years to the game.


He went on to be the manager of Blackburn and Watford before leaving football and taking up a position as a Hostel Warden, including some time at a hostel in Weymouth for UKAEA apprentices and also at the YMCA Hostel at Harwell in Berkshire.  He retired in 1971 and moved to 44, Heath Terrace, Leamington with his wife Margaret.


Eddie Hapgood collapsed and died during a sports forum on Good Friday, 1973.  After a service at St. Mark's Church on April 27, 1973, he was buried at Brunswick Street Cemetery, Leamington.  He was 64 when he died.  In the modern era he would surely be classed as a superstar.



Copyright Terry Bigley 1996