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Clay, 1924: Wing half-back play

Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2023-04-11 14:54:48

Data providers: Isaque Argolo.
— Tommy Clay | 09/11/1924 —

The wing half back, although his position is not quite so responsible as that of his colleague in the centre, has nevertheless a very important part to play in his side's success.
There is a lot of truth in the old saying that a team is as strong as its half back line. If there is a weakness here it is more easily discoverable than anywhere else on the field.
The qualities that make for a successful centre half are called for in his right and left hand supporters. Height, weight, speed, stamina and good ball control are all demanded and all must be used. A player's value will be determined by the skill which these assets are employed.
There has been some controversy as to whether the wing half back should mark the inside or outside opposing forward. A good deal can be said for either theory, but believe me, it matters much less which man you take than that you have a complete understanding with your backs on the subject. Let me explain what I mean by an illustration.
In a match that I played for the Professionals against the Amateurs at Highbury, Bob McCracken (Crystal Palace) was the half back in front of me. We had never played together, but I soon found that he was an earnest player who gave a deal of thought to his game. TALKING IT OVER.
Before going on to the field I took the opportunity of asking whether he preferred taking the inside or wing man.
"In my club matches I always go for the outside," he said. That was enough for me. "Play your own game, and leave the rest to me," I replied.
Now my own view is that it is best for the wing half to take the inside man under the present conditions, for reasons I will give later, but the fact that McCracken and I had an understanding was the important thing.
It is said that if the half back marks the winger, leaving the back to take the inside man, there is less likelihood of the back being drawn away from the centre of the field and leaving the goalkeeper largely uncovered.
In most of the Old Boy teams, the Corinthians and a few professional sides, notably West Bromwich Albion, it is the practice to follow the wing-half-wing theory. The Wolves used to do the same.
My view is that this is the more dangerous style because it means that the back generally has to play too far up the field, and his side loses the value of a second back for the doubtful advantage of gaining a fourth half.
Further, with the wing half marking an inside man, I believe he has greater chances of opening up the game for his forwards, and that in these days of one-back play is doubly important.
Often the only way to defeat the one-back game is for the half to cut through on his own. It is dangerous for halves to dribble too much as a rule, but when the offside trick is being exploited to its fullest extent it is the best way of countering. Because it is dangerous the half-back cut through needs to be done very cautiously. It should never be attempted unless there is a complete working understanding between the whole defence.
Suppose the right half decides to cut through. The centre half hastens to fill the gap created on the right, and the left back runs in to cover the centre half's position, the right back meanwhile getting as near the centre of the field as he can, though remaining on that side of it on which the attack is proceeding. Alternatively, when the left half goes through the right back covers the centre half.
It is not very easy to make this as clear as I should like in wrtting, but a few minutes spent in thinking the idea out should be profitable. TRIANGULAR PASSING.
But the half back has to combine with the men in front as well as those behind. He has to help them carry on their attacks. There are few movements in the game that appeal to spectators more than cleverly executed triangular passing, in which two wing forwards are supported by a half-back as they make their way goalwards.
The ball passes easily between the two forwards directly one of them finds his way challenged. When both find their way barred the ball is passed back to the half, who may return it to the forward who happens to have eluded his opponent, or he may elect to effect a surprise move by sending a wide pass to the opposite wing. This often takes a defence off its guard and betrays its weak spot.
Let a half back be always alert for a back pass — it is this little simple touch that makes such a vast difference between a moderate and a really good eleven.
Looking back over a long list of fine wing halves I have known, I am inclined to repeat what I have said many times, Ernest Needham was the greatest half back I had seen until I met Arthur Grimsdell. He is a model for young half backs to study.