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Pennington, 1909: Great pairs of full-backs

Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2023-04-12 20:31:08

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Jessie Pennington | 08/10/1909 —

Although I think it will be generally agreed that back-play is in the main, as good to-day as ever it was, indeed, every thoughtful footballer and evert thoughtful follower of football must admit that the great improvement there has been in regard to combination in defence has tended to subdue the brilliancy of forward play, it is remarkable that there should have been of late such a dearth of good club pairs. We have had some very fine full-back partnerships in connection with the game, but of late years backs do not seem to have run in pairs, so to speak. There are many good individual backs to-day, but it would be difficult to say that there is a really great pair in either the First or the Second Division, or in the Southern League. Yet looking back upon the history of the game, one is struck with the remarkable way in which the names of famous backs are always linked together. ALWAYS GOOD.
Going back, of course, far longer than I can go from my own personal experience, we always find the names of Howarth and Nick Ross, and Howarth and Holmes spoken of together. It is true that Nick Ross's name is generally accepted as that of the greatest back of all time, although in Scotland they say that this honour belongs to Walter Arnott, but when Howarth's name is mentioned it is always joined to that of Ross or Holmes. Old forwards say that Howarth and Ross, in the early days of North End, made a wonderful combination. I understand that the back play of Watson and Arnott was very fine, although that is not a point I can speak of personally. It used to be said of "Wattie" Arnott that he never played a bad game. THE BROTHERS WALTERS.
The pair whose names will always be recalled as suggesting perfection of combination are the brothers A. M. and P. M. Walters. That blunt, plain-speaking footballer, Nick Ross, once said to A. M. Walters, in his caustic way, "Your brother is a fine back; there is only one better back in England." "And who might that one be?" asked A. M. innocently. "Why, me, of course," said the great North End footballer. The reply does not constitute the essence of modesty, it is true, but Ross was one of those men who really looked at things as they were, and I do not suppose he for a moment meant the reply to be egotistical. But the brothers Walters were, by common consent, a great pair, and the famous old professional forwards of their time agree that it was no light thing to oppose them. What the modern referee would think of their methods I won't say, for they were always noted for their aggressive tactics, and they took tremendous risks. OFF-SIDE TACTICS.
They played further up the field than any pair of backs we have ever known, and I have heard talk of the wrath they excited in Scotland by their tactics in throwing the Scottish International forwards off-side. They brought this method of play to a fine art, but Scottish spectators and Scottish critics, more especially the spectators, would have it that it was not the game, and the Walters were by no means popular idols on the other side of the Tweed. But they were men possessing tremendous speed, and this speed enabled them to repair mistakes which would have been fatal in a less gifted pair of defenders. Their names will always be recalled as a pair of the very best men, who played the game in their own way, and were in every sense acquisitions to football. They were players of the robust type, but, after all, mere vigour is not to be denounced. A man may be vigorous, and yet fair; the footballer who descends to unsportsman-like methods is to be feared far more than the merely vigorous individual. POWERFUL, BUT FAIR.
Coming to my own time, I do not remember a better pair of backs than Howard Spencer and Albert Evans, of Aston Villa. There you saw a couple of men of magnificent build, for we have rarely had two backs of finer physique engaged in the game. Howard Spencer was a very strong fellow, with immense power about the hips and loins. He took a good deal of moving, and when he came up against an opponent, that opponent knew he was playing with a man and not with a boy. But Howard Spencer will always be remembered as the Bayard of footballers. He never did a mean action; he was always the embodiment of courtesy and consideration. He never took an unfair advantage of an opponent throughout his career, and he left the game beloved by players and onlookers alike. Albert Evans was a far more vigorous player. Evans gloried in his physique, as a man has a perfect right to do, and forwards did not at all relish his charges. But he was always exceptionally popular. There is no man more honoured in professional football circles to-day than Albert Evans, and it was a great sorrow to us all, whilst being a great blow to the club directors and the public, when he broke his leg. But with Aston Villa, Evans was at his very best, and many people think that a mistake was made by the Selection Committee when they failed to avail themselves of the Villa backs as a pair for their International engagements. Many consider that Spencer and Evans constitute the finest club pair that we purely modern footballers can recall. ENGLAND'S BACK.
Crompton and Burgess played in various International games together, and were an exceptionally able couple. At their best they were, undoubtedly, the two finest backs in the country. They played well to each other, for Crompton is a fine exponent of the vigorous school of football. He fears no one, and although he gives hard knocks, he always gives them in a perfectly sportsman-like way. I have seen comments in regard to Crompton's play in International games, comments culled from Scottish sources, in which it was hinted that occasionally he was apt to be unduly vigorous; but, as I say, I am no believer in anything which tends to produce a fabby school of footballers. Abolish the duty little tricks which one sometimes does, and no harm will come from purely vigorous play. Crompton is a man who has done splendid service for England, and he is held in deservedly high esteem by the English Selection Committee. Morris and Methven, of Derby County, were a sound and consistent pair. Perhaps Methven was more sound than brilliant, but he was a very fine back, and as he played for about nineteen seasons, I doubt if any full back has shown more consistent football than he did. He, too, was much respected in football circles. The Scottish officials had a high opinion of him, but he was contemporaneous with some remarkably skilful men, and scarcely obtained the full share of honorous which were due to him. A PAIR OF SCOTS.
Another pair of backs of the essentially vigorous school were McCombie and Watson, of Sunderland. As I remember Andrew McCombie, there was no better back in football. When he went for the ball he meant to get it, and Watson was a man of the same type. They did magnificent service for Sunderland, and McCombie's reputation stood very high, both in England and Scotland; in fact, the Scottish Selection Committee were very partial to the pair. They, too, aroused the ire of some critics. At the end of one International with Wales they came in for rather rough treatment at the hands of certain writers; but they had their own methods, and it is not for me to criticise those methods. It seems to me that the most successful backs are sure to arouse hostile criticism. You see, it is their function in football to beat men, and men do not always like being beaten, and sometimes the admirers of the beaten forwards themselves relish it. The full back, I find, is peculiarly hable to criticism, just as he is peculiarly hable to applause when he makes a brilliant clearance. You see, there are compensations for everything in football as in other things. But there is a disposition to unduly praise and blame the full-back, because, if he makes a mistake, it is usually a palpable one. The half-back may make a slip, but there is the full-back to repair his error. But when the full-back makes a slip a goal may easily follow. On the other hand, what a roar of applause the back gets when he does make a brilliant save! But I can assure you that the full-back gets his fair share of the responsibility of the game.