October 28, 1899
Before the present season is over I hope to see the modest head of Jack Sharp decorated with an international cap. To the keen supporters of Charlie Athersmith, the winged winger of the Villa club, such a wish may be distasteful. Why should it? For eight successive years Billy Bassett, admittedly the greatest outside right ever seen, appeared against Scotland, but although unapproachable he only once took triple honours.
Evidently the selectors worked on the principle of distributing distinction in some degree. Athersmith stepped into Bassett’s shoes in 1897, and had a trio of caps that yeat and again in ’98 and ’99, although he only bagged the full number last season owing to Gilbert Claude Vassall, the Oxford captain, preferring rather to lead his forces in the inter-‘Varsity match than to figure in the English eleven against Ireland.
Everybody knows that Bassett was in a class alone, yet most people will agree that it would have been hard lines on other outside right aspirants if all the honours had gone to the Albion crack; Athersmith, while not a second Bassett, may be a good first among present day extreme rights, but if there are other men in the position up to international standard they might at least have a show against Ireland or Wales. Jack Sharp, as he is playing to-day, would grace a representative English eleven, and deserves recognition.
Perhaps when the far-famed, fleet-footed Villain loses some of his speed, spring, and smartness, Sharp may have trained on into an equally good man. The decline, however, gradual, of a great player is always a matter of regret, and, therefore, the hope that Athersmith may long continue to dash along England’s right at breakneck pace, swinging centres across with characteristic accuracy, will be echoed throughout football corcles. But youth will be served, and Athersmith is much Sharp’s senior.
The latter, born in 1878 at Hereford, is only 21, and the Hereford Thistle club with which he played, must already be proud of having sent out so skilful an exponent of our national games – I say games because Sharp, as many know, is a capbale all-round cricketer. In his Hereford days the Thistle won the Bristol League, and then advancing into the Birmingham and District League gained championship laurels there. As centre-forward Sharp’s share in the triumphs was a large one. Aston Villa spotted the sturdy lad.
Sharp was introduced to first-class football in 1897-8 as a centre-forward. Johnny Campbell had set a standard of centre play not easy of attainment, and it would be idle to pretend that Sharp adequately filled the place assigned him; yet he was very often entrusted with the berth. The mark of the footballer was upon his play; the keen, practised eye saw in the sturdy youth of 19 possibilities of high character.
Good men – men who have afterwards been stars, almost, of the first magnitude – have many times been kept comparatively in the background through occupying a position for which they were not fitted. So it was with Sharp; he was not a success in the centre, despite the qualities he undoubtedly possessed. In a friendly match with Sunderland he went outside right, and created a surprise by brilliance such as is associated only with the top sawyers.
The prolonged absence of Athersmith from the Villa team early last season gave Sharp an extended trial, which he bore so well as to establish himself as one of the four finest outside rights in the country; indeed, some supporters made comparisons, placing Sharp above Athersmith, and a great deal of unnecessary heat was introduced into discussions on the relative merits of the two players. During the time that Sharp was deputsing for Athersmith, I witnessed one of the matches at the Lower Grounds, and more dashing, clever and finished football than Sharp displayed it has not been my pleasure to witness.
When Athersmith re-appeared, Sharp, who was reckoned too good to be left out, partnered him on the inside. Only qualified success attended the experiment, and Sharp had by no means a busy season so far as football was concerned. Cramped by the peculiar circumstances in which e found himself, Sharp decided to transfer his services to some club where, with more scope, he might show his real value and have opprtunity of enlarging his experience. Brother Bert and he intimated they would only be content to stay with the Villa if regular places in the first eleven were guaranteed, and the result was that a few days before last season closed Everton came to terms with the Birmingham Club for the pair. Derby County were near securing them; Jack had a fancy for partnering Steve Bloomer.
Cricket consideration, however, operated in favour of a movement to Liverpool. Our subject was about to commence his fourth season as professional at Leyland, and in his ambitious breast he was nursing a strong desire to represent Lancashire. How wise he was to weigh this matter was susbequently shown. But for the present, football. Judged from a football standpoint Sharp never did a better d’s work than when he left Aston Villa; and Everton, too, can congratulate themselves on the business. So far this season Sharp’s play has been all that his Everton employers could have expected.
“A grand little player, who is going better every match,” was the unasked testimony of his colleague Wilf Toman, to whom I happened to be speaking recently. He takes the eye as he steps on the sward, looking sprightly, fit and eager for exertion. On the small side, he is a thickset muscular player, able to take the rough with the smooth, and his play is as attractive as his appearance is neat and firm.
Possessing rare speed, he comes very close behind Athersmith, and his fiercy flashes along the touch line are capped by centres scarcely less accurate and useful than those of his old colleague; if not a Bassett in dribbling he nevertheless rises to brilliance in the art, and the deft touches which mark his footwork are those of a finished artiste; his shooting has the double virtue of good direction and pace. He is, withal, a player who puts his abilities to fullest use, and one could never associate Jack Sharp with anything inert; it is not in his nature to do anything less than his best.
Personally, good-natured, kindly-dispositioned, a model in steadiness and respectability, Sharp is just the servant in which a club delights. His cricke connection with Leyland had made him well known in the Preston part of the country, and all that is said will be recognised as nothing but mere justice. In cricket as in football, vistas of increasing promise are opening to the view of Sharp. Playing for Lancashire on a birth qualification, he last season made a successful entry into the domain of cirst-class cricket.
For 21 completed innings – he was only once no out – he had the useful average of 19,47; in bowling he was fourth to J.L. Ainsworth, Arthur Mold, and Briggs, with 29 wickets at a cist of 21,93. This his foot is planted on the ladder, and his friends confidently loo for his ascent. With bat and ball, as with the football, he seems destined to win a name, and already he counts as one of the small band of those who have filled the dual role of League footballer and first-class county cricketer.
(Lancashire Evening Post: October 28, 1899, by ‘Perseus’)
** Johnny Campbell is John Middleton Campbell.
Jack Sharp, Everton F.C.