September 12, 1914
Why Villa lost the Cup
A Liverpool story
By Ephraim Longworth (Liverpool F.C.).
I think it may be fairly claimed for the Liverpool side that, whatever they have or have not done in other directions, they have created one or two surprises. Last season we got to the Cup Final, and I think I might safely say that at the commencement there were not many people who even gave a thought of our chances.
It has been suggested more than once that we won against odds because we had all the luck that was going; that it was not our football which pulled us through, but some kind of fate who looked after us – because we were good boys, I suppose.
I shall have something to say under that heading of luck in a moment, but meantime let me remark here that I am firmly convinced that no team ever got to the Final without a slice of luck.
On the other hand, I am just on certain that luck never won the FA Cup yet, unless the very most was made of the gifts the gods gave – unless the winning side had the skill and the ability to make the most of the bit of luck that happened their way.
With regard to luck, and the Cup. Remember that before now a team have won the Cup without playing a single game away from their own ground prior to the semi-final. That is luck, if you like; but that was certainly not the sort of luck which came the way of Liverpool.
In the first round we had to play Barnsley at home, and the reader will not need to be told that before now the men of the Yorkshire town have upset the calculations of more than one side with aspirations towards the Crystal Palace. And when we failed to beat them at our own ground, and had to travel to Barnsley for a replay, everybody was very dumpy about our prospects; but there was never a man dismayed, and we pulled through.
Our opponents in the second round were Gillingham away from home, and this game we won, despite misgivings among various people.
We had to go to West Ham in the third round, and that was a stiff fight if you like. The West Ham ground is on the small side – after Liverpool the spectators seem almost to be on the top of the players, and history had told us that such famous clubs as Manchester United, Middlesbrough, and one or two others had found the task at West Ham too great.
There are few clubs in England with as consistent a record in the Cup in recent years as the possessed by the club in the East End of London. But we managed to draw – very luckily, so it was said, though I do not agree – and in the reply we put up our very best game and beat them by a good margin.
Against Queen’s Park Rangers in round four we had a bit of luck – that I willingly grant, because our opponents missed a penalty late in the game, and lost by a goal. But, after all, we could hardly be responsible for their sins of omission, could we?
It was against Aston Villa, however, that we recorded our greatest triumph – that we won against the greatest odds. There is no need for me to recall the details; they will be well remembered. The amazing form of the Aston Villa side for the few months previous was discussed on every hand. They were the favourites. It was merely a question of how many goals we should lose by. The odds were against us, but we won against the odds. How did we do it?
In the first place, the side who hope to win against odds must be fit as fiddles – every man trained up to a nicety to last the whole of the game, and every man ready and willing to put forth that bit of extra effort necessary if a better team is to be beaten. And it is no good trying to win against odds if your men go on the field with the fear of defeat in their hearts.
When we had to meet Aston Villa we realised that we were up against a big proposition; but, with the knowledge of previous successes to encourage us, we did not finch. We set ourselves very seriously to train up to the hilt; every man determined that if we were to be beaten it would not be for lack of trying, and it would not be because we went on the field with the fear of defeat in our hearts.
After all, in these days it is easy to make a lot of the position of clubs in the League table; but, when you come to think of it, the difference in ability between the sides near the top and those near the bottom is not so very wide. If it were, we should see fewer unexpected results; we would see less of those games in which the supposedly weaker side jumps up and smites the presumably stronger one.
To win against odds you must think about the game, too – consider the strongest points about the opposition; how to nullify them, and how to magnify any weakness which it is possible to detect.
We knew from experience that it was the method of Aston Villa to go off with a bang; to try and get one or two goals up before their opponents had really settled down. We were prepared for their opening rushes – and to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
During the first twenty minutes or so at Tottenham against the Villa, we went through as hard a time of trial as I can remember in the course of my football career. The whole strength of the Villa side was put into their attacks. But, partly because such tactics were anticipated, we were enabled to withstand the attack; and, once the ferocity of it began to waver over so little, we bent to the attack in turn, and got that first goal which is so all-important in a Cup-tie.
It has been said that we won against odds because we had a really good goalkeeper. What a charge to lay against a team! We have a good goalkeeper – I know of none better than my colleague Campbell, in fact; but, as he himself will tell you readily enough, he is a part of the team. He did his duty, as every man in the side tried to do. It is only when each player does a little bit extra that a team can hope to win against odds. A long pull, a strong pull, and a pull together must be the motto.
The charge is often made against the footballer of to-day that he brings no thought to bear upon his game; but it is not always a true charge. The brain work of a side is not always absent because it is not obvious. Tactics play a larger part in football than many people imagine, and when playing against odds it is to superior tactics that the weaker side must look for success.
(Sport Angus: September 12, 1914; via http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)
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