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Harry Chapman

Managed: Hull City

Words: Paul Brown

Harry Chapman was a better footballer than older brother Herbert. Had his career not been cut tragically short, he may have become a better manager, too.

Harry’s playing career began to outshine Herbert’s, to the extent that Herbert was routinely referred to in press reports as “the brother of Harry Chapman, the Sheffield Wednesday player”

Born in 1879 in the colliery village of Kiveton Park near Rotherham, Harry worked in the mine while Herbert was an office clerk. Both played for Kiveton Park and were two of 11 siblings, with his brothers Tom and Matt also footballers.

Harry signed for Sheffield Wednesday, while Herbert joined Northampton before moving to Sheffield United. The brothers first faced each other in a Sheffield derby on Herbert’s Blades debut, in September 1902, with Harry’s Wednesday winning 3-2. The following month, they played alongside each other for a Sheffield team in an exhibition match against Glasgow, before Harry’s playing career began to outshine Herbert’s – to the extent that Herbert was routinely referred to in press reports as “the brother of Harry Chapman, the Sheffield Wednesday player”.

In 1902/03 Harry scored 12 goals to help fire Wednesday to their first league title, and netted another 17 as they won it again in 1903/04. He went on to register 99 goals in 298 appearances for Wednesday, and was “a popular and clever player” according to the Sheffield Telegraph and, added the Sheffield Independent, “a hard worker and well-respected”. His career highlight was the 1907 FA Cup Final, during which he showed “outstanding brilliance” as Wednesday beat holders Everton 2-1.

A few days after Harry won the cup, Herbert took a post as player-manager 
of Northampton (“He is the brother of the popular Sheffield Wednesday player,” newspapers helpfully explained). Harry continued to play for Wednesday until 1911, when he moved to Second Division Hull City. At 32, and regarded as having “a thorough knowledge of the game”, he was brought in to help pass on his experience to Hull’s youngsters.

The brothers’ teams met three times during the season: Harry’s Hull won both league games, as well as knocking Herbert’s Leeds out of the West Riding Cup

Unfortunately, during the first match of his second season in September 1912, Harry shattered a kneecap and was carried to the infirmary “calmly smoking a cigarette en route”. Harry had studied anatomy, and knew his playing career 
was over. Without him, Hull slumped towards the bottom of the table. Things looked bleak, but in March 1913, Harry stepped in as manager. According to the Yorkshire Post: “The old footballer revealed considerable aptitude for his new duties” as he steered the Tigers to a mid-table finish.

Ahead of the 1913/14 campaign, Harry spoke of leading Hull to promotion. Also thinking of stepping up was Herbert, now manager at Leeds City. The brothers’ teams met three times during the season: Harry’s Hull won both league games, as well as knocking Herbert’s Leeds out of the West Riding Cup. “[Hull’s] tactics were either putting the Leeds men off their game, or exposing inherent weaknesses in their play,” noted the Post. Hull’s style of play was considered much more effective than the “slow and closer passing game” attempted by Herbert’s Leeds. Could Harry have been as tactically astute as his more famous brother, or perhaps even more so? Football never got the chance to find out.

In July 1914, Harry became seriously ill and, after a single full season as a manager, he was forced to resign and confined to a sanatorium, suffering from then-incurable tuberculosis.

After two years, during which his wife Miranda passed away, the ailing Harry went to stay with Herbert in Leeds. He died at Herbert’s home in April 1916, aged 36. He left three sons, the oldest of whom, Harry Jr, would later follow his father and uncle into football management with a spell at Shrewsbury Town.

While Harry is largely forgotten, Herbert is remembered as a great moderniser. He revolutionised football tactics and training, and championed innovations such as floodlights and shirt numbers. He won two league titles and the FA Cup with Huddersfield, then repeated the feat with Arsenal. But after nine years at Highbury, Herbert would also succumb to illness. “The brother of Harry Chapman” died from pneumonia in January 1934, aged 55.

Next: The Shankly trailblazer