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C. B. Fry, 1938: Old vs. new football

Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2023-02-06 20:53:38

Data providers: Isaque Argolo.
— C. B. Fry | 31/10/1938 —

What would happen were one of the best modern Football League teams to abandon the "one-back" defence and "three-ponged" attack in favour of the old-time plan of five forwards roughly in line, with three half-backs behind them?
Round a table of old internationals at which I sat at the F.A. dinner, this question evoked much argument and some difference of opinion.
No clear vote could be taken, because Gracie Fields, the acrobats, the speeches and Patsy Hendren's irreverence repeatedly interrupted politics.
But the old-timers were pretty unanimous that the older formation would win; with emphasis, however, on the condition — if really well played. A FASTER GAME NOW.
There is not the least doubt that the modern game is in general faster and more open. The prevalent long passing is more effective than any but excellent short passing of the old type. The "spear-head" centre-forward introduces faster running and greater thrust.
There is less chance of stolid blocking of the goal-mouth, and more free space for shooting; though comparison as to shooting-space is obscured by the vast legal protection now given to the goalkeeper.
The result is that a match between two fair average teams is more exciting, due to quicker movement downfield and more frequent danger near goal. But, on the other hand, one misses the accuracy, polish and rhythm of the best old-time teams such as Preston, Aston Villa, Sunderland, and the Corinthians.
The sudden, swift emergence of a centre-forward, of a Drake, a Lawton, or an Astley, the strong dash and heavy shot, did not occur. Your John Goodall or G. O. Smith was mainly a pivot and a distributor; it was only the wingers, and occasionally an inside forward, who sprinted and rushed.
On the other hand, one saw what one never sees now, a rhythmic, wave-like flow of the whole line of forwards down half the length of the field, ending in a clean goal. Preston North End once started with a kick-off by John Goodall, and scored without any one of the opposite side having touched the ball. And the downfield sweep in coherent line of the tall Corinthian forwards, led by slippery Lindley or sleek G. O. Smith, was magnificent. SUPER CENTRE NEEDED.
The weakness of the old forward tactics was that they needed a super centre-forward to actuate them into full effect. Short of that, and with the lesser class of player, there was a tendency to pass and pass, and to manoeuvre round a grass blade (if any) like a skater round an orange on the ice; lots of retention and little progress. And no goals.
John Goodall it was, I think, who argued that the best Corinthian defences, from the brothers Walters down to W. J. Oakley, L. V. Lodge and myself (me for courtesy, thank you, John), played on the same plan as the moderns except that the "one-back" was not a half, but one of the backs. and thus the centre-half was not detached out of range of his forwards.
That is true enough. But many first-class backs used to play as a lonely pair, quite a long way behind their half-backs when their own forwards were attacking.
These questions of relative merit between old and new can never be settled. But they are informative.