March 14, 1925
Outstanding events of the current season.
Perhaps nothing more clearly demonstrates one of the big needs of English football at the present moment than all the talk about the man who ought to wear the country’s colours. On every side there were differences of opinion, and amid all the possible teams which were put forward by the “amateur” team selectors, the absence of anything like unanimity was most marked. Clearly, behind all this there is a lesson which cannot be ignored. One of the needs of football at the moment is for outstanding players – for men who are so good that they choose themselves when the question of representative teams arises. I should imagine that the selectors do indeed sigh for a return of the days when there was unanimity over about half the England team. There was, by way of example that good old stalwart defence – Sam Hardy, Bob Crompton and Jesse Pennington. Everybody felt that we couldn’t go wrong with this trio, and consequently they were chosen again and again. Nor did they fail to do their work well.
Yet even on this matter of the absence of outstanding players it is possible to jump to wrong conclusions, and I am certainly not going to agree that current football is hopeless because of the absence of the outstanding personalities. Indeed, I am convinced that the general level is as high to-day as it has ever been in my time. The equality among the clubs in the various sections is remarkable, and though it might be difficult to choose one England team which would meet with general approval, it is nevertheless a fact that we might also choose half-a-dozen different teams, any one of which would give our International competitors a jolly good game. To my way of thinking, the team has become more and more the thing. Managers concentrate on getting the blend which makes up an effective whole, and it may well be that in this effort the player who might become the outstanding personality is discouraged to a certain extent.
It is perfectly obvious that if, at any time during the current season, your had asked the whole of the managers of the big clubs what they were most in need of you would have received this reply more than any other – “A complete centre-forward.” Note all the activity which has been shown even during the last few weeks by clubs hunting for the ideal leader of the attack. Transfers in plenty have taken place, and in one recent week four or five centre-forwards changed their clubs.
My own personal opinion is that we have rather asked for this dearth of centre-forwards by mistaken methods during the past few years. Some time ago it became the habit of many clubs to put in as leader of the attack, not a leader in the real sense of the term, but a mere sharp-shooter. His job was to get goals, and the job of the other forwards was to provide him with goal-getting opportunities. In a way this idea might be said to have been comparatively successful for a time, but it did not have a lasting effect for good, for the simple reason that we began to produce a centre-forward who was a mere goal-getting machine, instead of a leader of the attack. And, of course, the minute the goal-getting machine was produced, managers forthwith proceeded to put in opposition a player business it was to stop the “official goal-scorer,” as we might call him.
Wen you have only one player in a team capable of getting goals it follows that it is the easiest thing in the world to appoint a policeman who will see to it that he goal-scorer gets few chances. One of the needs of football then, as I see it, is to get back to the idea that the centre-forward must essentially be the complete footballers, the leader of the line, the man who “manages” the attack.
This seeming necessity for putting in the field men who could stop the centre-forward from carrying out his appointed task of getting goals has led inevitably to another big need being demonstrated this season – the need for attacking half-backs. During the present term there have been many complaints about the comparative scarcity of goals, and, of course, the blame has been put on the shoulders of the forwards. Well, perhaps we are not so capable in front of the target as we might be. But though half-backs generally may not agree, I think the average forward line in these days is lacking the support which it really ought to receive. There are stopping half-backs in plenty – stoppers wholly legitimate in their methods, I mean – but it certainly seems to me that many are so much concerned in preventing the other fellows from getting goals that we are in danger of overlooking the fact that attack is still the best defence.
It seems to have been generally agreed that the season up to now has demonstrated the need for a revision of certain fundamental rules of the game, and in this respect offside comes first and foremost. Indeed, the cry for a change in the offside rule has been so consistent and so loud that there is more than a probability that a change will be made before the start of another season. Yet, strangely enough, my own view is that offside was losing some of its terrors. More and more clubs have resorted to the offside trick in recent years, and to my view more and more forwards – helped by their half-backs – were showing how to dodge the trap. Moreover, it would be a mistake to assume that just because a few experimental friendly games have resulted in less stoppages for offside, the game will necessarily be better for a change. It requires the hard school of real football – of vital League contests and important Cup-ties – to demonstrate convincingly the effect of big changes.
Every year there is discussion of the relative merits of clubs in the various divisions so far as match-winning qualities are concerned. Surely the Cup-ties of the present season have shown that the premier league still contains the best match-winning teams. Not one club from the Northern or Southern Third lived through the third round, and ere that stage was reached the First Division sides, had established a very definite superiority so far as numbers are concerned.
I wonder if I may touch on a delicate point in regard to the lessons of the season? It is the idea that some of our big football grounds are not so thoroughly drained as they might be. A wet winter has tried our big pitches to the very limit, and, judging from the state of some of the grounds, it appears that there is room for improvement in the drainage. We don’t want football – in its own interests – to develop into a cine weather sport.
(Source: Lincolnshire Echo: March 14, 1925)
Harry Chambers, Liverpool F.C.