September 25, 1930
Accounts for my “sticking it” for fourteen years.
The question of whether football is getting harder – that is more and more difficult – is one which is often discussed.
There is a school of thought which is very decidedly of opinion that the game has become harder to play as the years have rolled by: that it makes a greater call on the physical resources of the players than used to be the case.
To put the matter in another way, the argument is that football to-day is essentially a game for young men and for strong men.
I am not going to argue heatedly with the people who hold these views, but I do not think that a lot of evidence can be produced to prove that the game is harder than it used to be.
PRE-WAR PLAYERS LEFT
There is some evidence which can be brought forward on the other side. We divide most things in these times by the war.
It is now sixteen years since the war started, but if you look through the names of players turning out for first-class sides you will find quite a number of men playing to-day who were with first-class teams even prior to the war.
I happen to be one of them, and as the result of my long experience I am prepared to argue that the game has not become more difficult from the point of view of the defenders – that is particularly the full-backs.
In the first place, one does not often come up against, in these days, teams which rely on the close-passing as a method of attack, and it always seemed to me that the fellows who made progress by slipping the ball backwards and forwards caused the defenders the maximum amount of running about.
Take, as a typical example, the Newcastle United team of pre-war days. They were very scientific, and the wing men to whom the back was opposed would pass and repass the ball in a bewildering way.
This meant for the full-back quite a lot of twisting and turning, especially as these teams which played the scientific game also indulged to a large extent in what was called the triangular wing game.
MAKING FULL-BACKS TIRED
I think the watchers of football in these days are robbed of much sheer joy because this triangular wing game is so little played.
It used to be one of the prettiest movements in football – the half-backs up in support of his wing partners, and getting the ball back from them when they were in any sort of difficulty. This game was not only pretty to watch – it often sent the full-backs home very much in need of a rest.
To a very large extent the close-passing game and the triangular wing game have been substituted for the first-time pass right across the field.
I am not sitting in condemnation of this type of pass, because if well done it can be most effective. But the full-backs can get into position to combat this type of game at a more or less leisurely pace, and he is not called upon to twist and turn so much.
And it is the twisting and turning; the quick starting and the sudden stopping, which take it out of a player.
EVERY MAN IN HIS PLACE
Then it also seems to me that we full-backs used to do much more moving up the field with a view to throwing our opponents offside, and this often involved us in some very fast running to overcome forwards who somehow or other managed to escape the trap.
There is not so much of the offside dodge tried in these days since the change in the rule, and consequently we do not advance so far up the field as we used to do.
Perhaps through sheer necessity positional play has become a fetish. We have our positions and we keep to them.
The spectator who is comparatively new to the game would probably have a fit in these days if he saw a full-back dashing up among the forwards and even having a “pop” at goal. Yes we saw this done in the old days. You will remember Mackinlay, for so long a colleague of mine at Liverpool.
The change in the offside rule has also “eased” full-back play in another respect. It had the effect of giving us more help than we used to get in the days when the half-backs were much more half-forwards than they are in these times.
Getting this assistance from the half-backs makes the work of the full-backs easier than it used to be.
MISTAKEN FOR ABILITY
Of course there are plenty of young men in football to-day, and perhaps on the whole it is not an exaggeration to describe the whole affair as a young man’s sport. These young fellows certainly do dash about, and they also put their weight into it when the occasion arises.
It sometimes strikes me, however, that they would achieve their purpose at least equally well if they were not so quite so keen on the full-blooded, straight-ahead stuff.
The search for footballers in them days is so intense, and the demand so many young men are rushed into the top class game before they have had time to mature, to pick up the experience which is so valuable.
These young players run about at top speed, but this running is frequently a waste of energy, and its effect can, to a large extent, be nullified by defenders who “watch their step.”
The game would probably be all the better if we resisted, to a greater extent than at present, the temptation to judge the merits of a footballer by the amount of running which he does in the course of a match.
The summary then, seems to me to run something like this: that there is still room in the game, certainly for defenders, who had had sufficient experience, and who bring sufficient thought to hear on their play to enable them to save their legs with their heads.
(Lincolnshire Echo: September 25, 1930)