Famous men in football, No. 7: Jack Devey

October 14, 1899
John Devey ranks alongside Ernest Needham as an ideal captain. His masterly marshalling may be traced in the un-equalled series of successes won by far famed Aston Villa. Those who have watched most closely the career of the Villa, studying intelligently the causes which have operated with so good effect, see running through the long list of triumphs the superb, skillful, and judicious generalship of Devey. Under him Aston Villa have built up a record un-rivalled in the history of the game.

True the Birmingham club have never been invincible like the old North Enders, whose counterpart we may no hope to see again. Talent will flow largely in the direction of certain magnetic, moneyed centres, of which Birmingham is chief, but the financial resources of a number of our leading clubs, both inside and outside the League, the transfer system, and other points incidental to team building, make a monopoly such as Deepdale once had practically an impossibility.

But, if Aston Villa have never been able to steal Tom Watson’s historical phrase, and call themselves the “team of all the talents,” the club’s represe ntatives for years have been distinctly classy and capable. These clever servants formed the foundation of the lustrous career which has consistently excited admiration in football circles, and kindled and re-kindled the keen fires of ambition in the camps of companion clubs aspiring to higher honours than ave hitherto fallen to them.

Often a team of brilliants, who were to dazzle, have disappointed. Not so with Aston Villa, except occasionally when staleness, or ill-fortune, may have operated in opposition to their efforts. But when the ability of indvidual Villains has been allowed for, you have not all the elements which have placed the present holders of the League Cup in he proud position of chief club of the day. At this point Devey enters into the argument.

If individual brilliance were the one hallmark of the great footballer, John Devey would figure lower down than a number of men of less repute, clever though he is in dribbling. Passing, and shooting. He excels, however, where few succeed to the full, understanding and practising to perfection the art of captaining – of leading a team. Fitting it si then that such a man should four times have captained the League championship winners, and twice the English Cup winners.

Devey, who is now 32, obtained his earliest knowledge of football with a Birmingham junior club, called Excelsior Ashton Unity, and afterwards became a member of that better known organisation Mitchell St. George’s, from which he graduated into the Villa team. The last named have always been proud of Devey, who is often held up before the football world as an example of what a player should be, not in football alone, but in general conduct.

Always steady and circumspect in his living, a thorough sportsman, a conscientious worker, imbued with intensest loyalty, Devey is the embodiment of almost all the virtues to be looked for even in the captain of the most powerful professional club in Britain. Consequently, incredulity, and then amazement, was associated with the announcement made recently that the Villa skipper had been suspended for using forcible language to one of his directors.

When, however, the incident was brought to light, as it soon was, those knowing Devey thoroughly, and therefore being acquainted with his keen sense of dignity and the imperious touch in his temperament, were not surprised that he should have indignantly resented what appeared to him, in the heat of the moment, and unduly dictatorial observation. Happily the matter was soon satisfactorily settled, but one cannot forbear expressing the opinion that so good and faithful a servant need not have been suspended for a single moment on grounds which, to many people, appeared trifling. Devey is more a club player than a man for representative matches.

International and inter-League honours have been conferred upon him, but his dear desire to appear for England against Scotland has never been gratified, because at centre-forward and inside right – the two positions with which Devey is best acquainted – England has been exceptionally strong.

With Aston Villa Devey has retained a regular place in the eleven in spite of the advent of stars many years his junior, and the latest experience of what his absence means suggests that he is still one of their most valuable forwards, apart altogether from what his generalship is worth.

A clever dribbler and an accurate shot, he is a marvel in combination. He passes with supreme judgment after first drawing the defence away from the colleague for whom he is working an opening. Charles Athersmith, the flyer, knows more than anybody else what a master his partner is in this oft-neglected, yet most important matter.

But beyond all this, he stands on the highest pedestal as a captain. No one is quicker to estimate the strength or weakness of every part of his opponent’s army, or more prompt to so dispose his own forces as to best combat the strength or overcome the weakness. Needham is today probably his only equal as a football strategist and tactican, though John Goodall, who has not turned out this year, would rank in the same class, with Bob Holmes and David Calderhead, of League club captains, not so very fear behind.

There is always a danger of a player of the Devey stamp not getting his due share of appreciation as compared with that accorded with loud acclaim to the Steve Bloomer type of footballer whose coruscations catch every eye. Whether there be still seasons of first class service in the Aston Villa captain, or whether his career finishes at no distant date, Devey’s right to be reckoned one of our most famous footballers is established, and when the day of retirement from pursuit of the big ball comes may he still continue to wield the wilow with as great success as crowned his batting for Warwickshire last season.
(Lancashire Evening Post: October 14, 1899, by ‘Perseus’)

Jack Devey, Aston Villa F.C.


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