George Chaplin – A story of destiny, despair and disgrace

by Ian Hemmens

George Chaplin should have been one of the greats of the Edwardian era of football. In the history of Bradford City FC he should have been one of the 11 immortal names every Bantam fan should be able to remember, the 1911 FA Cup Winners. Despite 10 years service to the club he is hardly known or remembered but for a few die hard historians of the club.

Internationally he could and possibly should have been mentioned in the same breath as other great full backs of the era like Bob Crompton or Jesse Pennington.

As a full back, he had everything, speed, strength, intelligence, instinct and the pure athleticism to overcome most problems wingers of the day could pose him. Indeed, City legend & England International Dickie Bond was quoted as saying he was lucky he didn’t have to face George in matchplay as it was difficult enough in training. So where did it all go wrong and what happened?

BCAFC
George Chaplin pictured back row to the right of Goalkeeper Jock Ewart

We need to go back to the beginning. George Duncan Chaplin was born in Dundee in 1888 to a sporting family. Indeed, 2 of his brothers were also to become professional footballers of repute.
A star in local schools football and then junior football with Dundee Arnott, he was spotted by the Dundee FC club and swiftly found his place in the first team. A speedy full back, his performances soon brought him to the attention
Of the Scottish selectors who rewarded him with a full Cap for the match against Wales on the 7th of March 1908. He was only 19 years old. A report of the match says he was steady if a little overwhelmed by the occasion but he had shown his promise for the future as he saw the season out with Dundee for a 4th place finish.

City and in particular, wily Manager Peter O’Rourke had noticed the young Scot and with the team looking to establish itself at the top of English football following promotion, City took the plunge and laid out a £600 fee for his services in the October of 1908, a large amount at that time for a player so young. Equally adept on either flank, he took time to settle and deputised for both Robert Campbell & Fred Farren, the established pair of full backs before finally ousting Farren for the No. 3 shirt.

Over the next couple of seasons, Campbell & Chaplin, along with City came to be amongst the best in the country, City being renowned for their tough, uncompromising defence and such was Chaplins form that he was called up for Scottish Trials games in both 1910 and 1911. In 1910 he was actually selected to play for Scotland again but had to pull out due to illness. An ominous sign of what was to come. Also the Scots selectors decided to start picking players who only played in the Scottish League much to the detriment of Citys Scottish legion, Frank O’Rourke, Jimmy Speirs, Archie Devine & George Chaplin, all internationals. Bob Torrance and Jock Ewart also suffered until the policy was reversed later on.

As City started the 1910-11 season, Chaplin was at the peak of his career as City embarked on a run of form that saw them both top the table at one point and make a run to the final of the FA Cup. Chaplin played the first 2 rounds of the Cup and had missed only 2 league games when he was struck down by a severe bout of Tuberculosis (TB) which in Edwardian England more than often in working class proved fatal. Probably the fact that George was a healthy and fit athlete saved him. After treatment he was sent to a Sanatorium near Bournemouth on the South Coast as it was thought that the fresh sea air aided recovery.

The illness was severe and laid him low and he missed the rest of the season as well as the biggest day in the clubs history, the 1911 FA Cup Final. He would almost certainly have been selected for the final having been the 1st choice for over 2 years. His misfortune opened the door for Dave Taylor to go down in history as a member of the victorious team.

He missed the whole of the next season as well and although he tried a comeback in the very last game of the 1911-12 season and found his body couldn’t withstand the pressure. For the next 2 seasons, he struggled manfully to regain his fitness and former place in the team and it wasn’t until late 1914 that he finally managed a run in the first team. He had lost a little pace but still kept his place although he was now being challenged by up & coming young full backs Irvine Boocock & Freddie Potts.

1915 saw everyones life turned upside down as the World went to war with his previous health issues, George was deemed unfit for Service but did his bit by being a driver for the Army whilst being able to turn out regularly in Wartime football for both City & Hull City.

At the end of the war, with the years catching up on him and with both Boocock & Potts being preferred to him, he decided to finally leave Valley Parade after over a decade of service to join the fledgling Coventry City who had been elected to the newly formed 3rd Division.

coventry city

He soon became Captain but Coventry struggled to make their mark in League football and flirted regularly with re-election. Certain people who had invested heavily in the club couldn’t afford to see the club relegated from the league. In May 1920 things were looking with Coventry running out of games to save themselves. Bury were sitting 5th with nothing to play for. Against all odds and form, Coventry came from 0-1 down to win 2-1 leaving Lincoln bottom and voted out of the league. So unexpected was the result that there was a national ‘whispering campaign’ which wouldn’t go away. Finally with their usual speed, the Football League said it would investigate, 3 years later!!
The result was that several Coventry directors and club Captain George Chaplin all received life bans along with a couple of Bury players. All denied the charges and George Chaplin never set foot in Highfield Road again going on to be landlord of a public house in the City.

A full 18 years passed before Chaplin finally came forward and admitted that after discussions with Coventry chairman David Cooke, He met a couple of the Bury players privately with ‘£200’ in his pocket and when he left he had a feeling Coventry would gain the points needed for survival. It nearly went wrong as Coventry were so bad that Bury were leading at half time and one of the Bury players mentioned to Chaplin that it was impossible to lose against such a bad side but in the end Coventry managed somehow to score twice.

George Chaplin

For George Chaplin, such a career was brought to an end in disgrace when it had started with so much promise. He should have been an all time great but circumstances such as injury, severe illness, wartime, and finally shame saw him miss out on several Scottish Caps, an FA Cup Winners medal and probable legendary status.

George Chaplin died in Coventry on 14th May 1963

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You will find articles about a broad range of sports on VINCIT with new features published every three to four weeks. We welcome contributions about the sporting history of Bradford and are happy to feature any sport or club provided it has a Bradford heritage.

Planned articles in the next few months include features on the impact of the railways on Bradford sport; the continued story of Keighley AFC; Bradford soccer clubs in the 1880s and 1890s; the origins of cricket in Bradford; the story of Shipley FC; the meltdown of Bradford PA in the 1960s; and the impact of social networks on the early development of Bradford sport.

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