August 30, 1924
The centre half who was good in both attack and defence
When Football opens this season there will be a number of old time enthusiasts at both Goodison and Anfield who will recall with a sigh the years that have passed since their football fever began, and will be reminded thereby of the keenest with which at each of the season’s opening, the faces – and the faces – and paces – of new players were early scanned, to judge of their promise in the field of play.
It always appears that the players and personalities of the latter days can never quite reach the intimacy of relationship that existed between the players of a previous generation, and their particular “public” of those days. Nowadays, they have become “supporters,” and form themselves into regular constituted bodies with rules and agendas, and what not. It may be that present day directors welcome such support or on the contrary, they may find it at times an embarrassment. Which is the case, I wonder.
However, to return to our theme, it may be only the halo of the youthful enthusiasm that seems to make as believe that the “old” players were best and that the game was more skilful, if not so fast, as the present day.
Certainly, there did seem a more intimate bond of “association,” shall we say between the personality of the players and the “man in the crowd.” It was known, say, that the popular right winger worked at his trade at Rollo’s or at some other engineering shop – especially if he came from the Clyde; or the left back might be is trade as a newsagent or cycle maker, and so the personal link of association off the field of play was formed, to mutual advantage and many enduring friendship thus made.
It is pleasant to recall some of the players –names made at Anfield and Goodison –that will endure in the annuals of the game. Their prowess was exceptional in days when talent of an exceptional order was not so scarce as it is today. As an example of type that was akin to genius –outstanding genius as that, let me recall Johnny Holt, the Everton centre half-back.
Johnny Holt, Everton F.C.
John Lewis (who writes football articles today as brilliantly as he ruled the game equalled since the football association game was introduced. Many of the present day followers of the game have no idea in what degree exactly Holt excelled. They have seen and applauded more of the brilliant half-backs of today, whose names are household words. They have seen and admired their varied styles of excellence. One man will be exceptionally good in defence; he will have the happy knack of breaking up attack, or he speedy in falling back to cover his co-defenders.
Another man will perhaps be an admirable leader in attack; forceful in carrying the ball to his forwards, and in backing up their assault, making as it were an extra centre forward. He may be a positive genius in “sizing up” the weakness of the opposing side – in crystallizing, as it were, their one weak spot – and then like a master strategist – autantly vitalizing his whole team with that discovery, and leading foray after foray on the weakened link, until victory is assured.
These are but the individual brilliance by which the great centre halves are made “great.” Some are speedy – some are born tacticians – others are untiring, or have that sure and born instinct for being at the right spot at the precisely accurate moment. We label that grit and call it “judgement.”
Now, if you ask in which of these degrees Johnny Holt excelled, I answer at once – “in all” – and in twice as many!”
To give a faint picture of his style. Remember he was not tall. “Little” Johnny Holt was his pet name –he was four or five inches below the average height, and he often played against exceptionally tall centre forwards. He enjoyed that.
Almost invariably when the opposite side got a “goal-kick“, Johnny got the ball.
He generally stood a few yards from the centre forward, who, conscious of his own height – waited for the goal kick to “come” to him. Holt made no movement until the ball was in the air – and dropping; them like a flash his body shot up into the air. Most often his hands rested on the startled “centres” shoulders for an instant of time – getting an “impetus” of a “poise” whichever he needed. And his head headed the ball; often two feet higher in the air than the six-foot “centres” below him.
Holt’s “heading” was miraculously exact – he seldom headed a pinpoint out of direction, but he headed to his own forwards, and straight away his side were attacking again! This, mine you, from the opposing goal-kick. When this incident had been repeated a dozen times in the game the centre forward began to feel foolish, and play foolish accordingly.
If he was a very stupid centre forward as well he got vexed, and then Holt scored off him more easily. Then Holt broke up every attack he played against. This is no figure of speech; he shattered every attack – robbed it, plundered it, battered it, and ridiculed it, until it became limp and paralyzed, and generally gave up trying to get past this magician, who seemed to know just where you were going to “try” to put the ball, and to get in the way of it, and take it away with him. Even if you changed your mind, and didn’t get it there – he changed his mind too, and got to the other place first.
Once he got the ball it was no use trying to take it from him. Very few people ever saw Johnny Holt robbed of the ball – he took it along with him – not fast, mind you – just whenever he wanted to take it – while his forwards sorted themselves into their proper positions – and then he “gave” it to them.
He kicked it, of course, if they were free and “unbothered,” but if there was any interference, he dribbled it up said, as it were, put it on your toe, with an air of “Now! Go on, while I go back and play in the centre.” And withal, Jack Holt was a humourist – and at times I am afraid he was a bit of a rogue too!
When an unsuspecting referee, who was new to Jack’s play, saw a little foot getting suspiciously imitating a trip, and “blew” accordingly to investigate, he would find to his amazement, when he got to the spot, that it was Holt who was on the ground, writhing probably, in apparent anguish, while an indignant and bewildered forward was volubly protesting that he was the injured party, and giving a pictorial representation of Holt’s apparent “foul.”
Most forwards forgave Holt’s jokes when the game was over because he was of a sunny disposition, and looked so profoundly innocent of say ill intent that it was easy to accept his version of “a pure accident.” But all of them admired him as a player.
He worthily served his club and his country, and was never out of form. He took care of himself and always kept himself in good training condition, although through living out of Liverpool a lot, he could not train with the team on the ground as regularly as did his comrades.
He was a great believe in Turkish baths for keeping his weight down and himself fit. During the greater part of his career, and certainly during the height of it with Everton, he played behind Fred Geary as centre and Alex Brady and Edgar Chadwick as inside forwards. The combination of these four players in the centre – in the opinion of many keen judges had never since been equalled.
Johnny Holt made many enduring friendships while with Everton, and he certainly made a name as English centre halfback that the passing of the years has only enhanced.
(Liverpool Echo: August 30, 1924)