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Alex James, 1931: "Class" full-backs

Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2023-02-07 14:41:00

Data providers: Isaque Argolo.
Alex James | 11/04/1931 —

Though Blenkinsop, the Sheffield Wednesday back, and I are usually on the opposite sides of the field, I have twice been up against him. The first occasion was last season when the Arsenal met the champions at Highbury and I was at inside-right.
Shortly afterwards I was put into the same position in the Scottish team, which met England at Wembley, and again Blenkinsop was the back opposed to me.
But I remember the first of these two matches the better. In fact, it left a very definite impression on me. The left-half was Marsden and he and Blenkinsop shut the field against me in a way that I had never previously experienced.
Frankly I felt helpless. I tried every move, every trick I could think of, in the attempt to fool them, but one or the other always put up a counter to it. On that day, as it seemed to me, their understanding was perfect. They were the greatest combination of half and back I have encountered. I confess that they had me beaten. BALL ARTIST.
There is "class" written over everything Blenkinsop does. It is not easy to explain exactly what this means, but it denotes the artist as distinct from the workman.
Since I have been in London, where I have found a wonderful appreciation of real craft, I have heard a great deal about Tommy Clay, the old Tottenham Hotspur back, who is described as the finest defensive player in the game during the past 25 years.
He played football, it is said, as if it were a game of chess, seeing three moves ahead and walking into a position where he was certain that the ball would arrive. Tommy Clay, they say, could not run, and it was rarely necessary that he should do so, for through his remarkable discernment and power of anticipation he had a very wonderful knack of keeping the ball in front of him.
I should have liked to have played with Clay.
I cannot, of course, make any comparison between Clay and Blenkinsop, but it is apparent to me that the Wednesday man is the same type of player. I would put Cresswell and Osborne, of Leicester City, in the same category of finished defenders. NOT MERELY KICK BALL.
One view of back play, and I am afraid it is an all too common one, may be summed up in the phrase, "Get it away." By this one understands that the player should kick hard without troubling a great deal where it does; his primary object is to get it as far away from his goal as possible. But this is only right if football is to be merely kick ball.
My view of defensive play is that it is up to a back to try within his defined limits to use the ball to the advantage of his side just in the same way as a forward. Blenkinsop is a player who does this. You do not see him rush at the ball and try to burst it every time.
On the other hand, you are bound to be impressed by the care which he exercises first to get it under control and then to play it in a measured style. He realises that if he kicks too hard and beyond his colleagues it is more or less certain to come back and in all probability his difficulties will be greater than ever.
I agree, of course, that there are times when a back must kick first time and when the principle "Get it away" must be strictly observed unless serious and unjustifiable risks are to be run. But if a back is what I call a ball player there will be few occasions when he is driven to adopt these desperate measures.
As a back Blenkinsop has every qualification. He is a beautiful kicker, he has the sense of time and he judges his tackles splendidly and he has fine speed. He is not to be beaten in an ordinary way. Indeed he is one of the best backs I have ever seen and his play appeals to me all the more because he depends entirely on his science and craft for his success.