September 30, 1899
One of the best known of our wire-pullers in football once remarked to me: “Stoke have done more to put up wages than any other team in the country. They can’t get fellows to go and live in their beastly district unless they give them princes’ pay.” And then he went on to cite an instance where the Stoke club had beaten him in the race for a player, and was wrathfully indignant at having been out-bidden.
Which was diverting to one who saw the two sides of the question, and not only the one of him who failed. For I could have given answer most unkind had I chosen to mention a case between the same two clubs where the facts correpondend, except that my friend had more completely outdistanced the offer of the opposition. But it did not matter to me, and does not to you except that it interests and tickles us both.
Why I mention it is because of my good friend’s description of the Potteries. In that district, in the Black Country, in some parts of Cumberland, and on Tyneside, are some of the most melancholy stretches of country in England – acres where not enough grass grows to make a meal for the meekes of mokes. And yet from those black, bleak area spring brilliant athletes; men who, in Rugby and Association football have earned impersihable reputations. “The beauty Potteries,” as my enthusiastically irate friend designates that region, has given us many really great players of the Association game. There is no doubt that the indigenous product flourishes there better than the imported.
All the long-service men of great repute at Stoke have been locally born men. William Dickinson and Willie Maxwell have been the few – and as to the latter, the terribly costly the Rowleys, Clares, Underwoods, Proctors, Schofields, and others of honourable name, and standing in the club’s history, the many. In the eleven, today, are eight Pottery-reared players.
With the bulk of last season’s all too highly paid eleven gone, and rationally remunerated, clever Staffordshire lads substituted, they are,up to the present, doing better than ever they did with all their “cracks.” I do not undertake to write an appreciation of their play, because I can remember the day when they showed prettier football. That, however, is a remark as truly applicable to every team in the League today. Save and except only Aston Villa. It does not, however, detract from the merit of individuals.
Two of the Stoke players today are as good as any they have ever had, and it is not their fault that the side does not play a purely scientific game. These men are, as indicated in my head-line, Joe Turner and Fred Johnson, respectively the outside left and the outside right of the League team. Those two, with Maxwell, play the football of the Stoke attack – Jack Kennedy and Sam Higginson do the hustling and bustling. They play just such a game as all outside wingmen should practice.
North Enders kindly note.
Both have the dual faculty for either exclusive individualism, or happy combination, sequelled almost invariably by what the occasion most favours – a shot or a centre.
It is not nearly so extragavant as it may sound to say that the two combine, each with the other. They do it by always following in line with the play, and being every ready to meet a ball that comes too far from the inside men, or is ineffectually put back by goalkeeper or backs. The extremes of opposite wings can co-operate just as ready wittedly as can the centre and wings if they will be but careful to take the necessary steps.
How was it that North End scored so heavily during the first half of the 1896-7 season? The reason was that either Adam Henderson or David Boyd was always in position in anticipation of Tom Smith’s centres or crosses. And Charles Athersmith to Jimmy Cowan, Steve Smith, or Fred Wheldon earlier, and Billy Bassett to Alf Geddes still further back, these, and many other instances of wing to wing play will recur to the mind are exemplation of the saying.
What I always like abou the play of Turner and Johnson is that no matter where the ball may come from to them, you may always rely upon their taking it well along in the direction of the enemy’s goal; by passing and re-passing if necessary, or by a sharp clean sprint, which leads to a “middle” delivered not too deep into the corner, but far enough out for the ball to go with a fair speed. If forwards were all Jack Gordon’s or Billy Merediths, and could take the ball dead on to the line and bring it back a foot in centring, then they might adventure as close up to the flag as they chose. But they are not, and hence should not.
The history in football of my famous ones this week is soon told. Fred Johnson, though he is such a big, muscular fellow, is but 22 years of age. He commenced football in his school eleven – the St. Peter’s Club, which, by the by, beat that North End v Hyde record by scoring in one match 44 goals to nothing.
He had three seasons afterwards with that was practially the St. Peter’s Old Boys, and joined Stoke’s premier club four years ago. He was included in the first eleven after four months’ probation with the Reserves. I remember him as a big, gawky, growing lad, and have seen him improve every season until today he is the third best outside right in England. I place Athersmith and Walter Bennett before him, and I am certain only about the former.
I do not forget Jack Sharp either, a man for whose play I have very high admiration. I prefer Johnson because of his superior weight and strength, which make him supremely difficult to dislodge wen settled on the ball. Personally, Johnson ranks with the very smartest men playing. He is an artist in one of the most famous china factories in Staffordshire, and is as skilful with his brush as with his football.
Joe Turner is a Burslem man, and played his junior football with the Swifts of Newcastle-under-Lyme and Dresden United. Afterwards he went to Southampen, and there in three seasons made a splendid reputation; the which he has enhanced since oming into League football at the commencement of the 1897-8 season.
He had a most difficult man to follow in succeeding his renowned namesake Joe Schofield, a man who has won great fame for Stoke football, and retired from the game far before he should have done, and does so regretted by all save the half-backs and backs whom he used to lead such merciless dances with his brilliant and speedy dribbles.
Turner has not a little of his old captain’s style, for he dribbles very fast and close, and is a splendid middler or shot. He is a little more toughly built than his predecssor, and can take a lot of punishment from big opponents with a quite cheerful countenance. Without being in aany sense a “bashing” forward, he is a most courageous little chap, and by his gameness and unwavering pertinacity “gets home” where many a bigger but less gingery, sprightful forward would fail.
He knows all the tricks that are to be learned, and that he is not lacking in versatility was demonstrated by the great game he played at Celtic Park last season in the inter-League match with Scotland, when, upon Prescott’s injury, he dropped into the half-back line, and played a magnificent game, which was materially relfected in the splendid victory won by England on that memorable day. That was his first representative match, but I fancy that it but preludes a succession of other honours.
The position of outside left in the internationals will be filled by either him or Alf Spouncer, of the Forest. Which of the two it will be, the play of the coming months will prove. Both are splendid men, and should both be sound and in good condition when the time comes it will be a great honour for either to be chosen in preference to the other. I should hope to see Turner successful, for though he is only 26 and made of enduring fibre, the flying Forester is younger still, and should have longer to play. It is a comfort to feel that we shall not be so hard put to for a man for this position as we were last year.
(Lancashire Evening Post: September 30, 1899, by ‘Abaris’)
Joe Turner, Stoke F.C.
Fred Johnson, Stoke F.C.