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Rutherford, 1924: Some reminiscences

Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2023-04-14 13:01:56

Data providers: Isaque Argolo.
— Jack Rutherford | 30/08/1924 —

When a man can look back over twenty years of first-class football, he may be excused for indulging in a few reminiscences.
I am going to put aside the temptation of comparing the present with the past, because, it may be, I am prejudiced. Nothing ever seems quite so good as it used to be when you are looking backwards. Football has changed. Some say for the better, others for the worse. All I know is that many of the "old 'uns" are still going strong, and now-a-days a man isn't reckoned to be in his footballing prime until he is well over the thirty mark.
William Meredith's great come back in last season's cup competition was wonderful enough, but not more so than the return to the game of Arthur Bridgett, bearing in mind that whilst Meredith's active connection with football was continuous, Bridgett had been out of it for years.
Bridgett I regard as the greatest left-winger with whom I was associated, and if I were choosing a team from amongst the best of my generation, he would get his place without any hesitation. To watch Bridgett was at once a joy to the eye and a perfect object lesson in the art of wing forward play. Where he perhaps especially excelled was in his willingness to shoot.
The average winger has such a terror of miss. ing that he would infinitely prefer to centre. Bridgett knew all about the value of a well-placed centre to an unmarked colleague, but he also knew the value of a straight drive from the wing. For prompt grasping of a shooting chance on the wing I never saw the equal of Arthur Bridgett.
The finest forward line in which I had the honour to appear had Bridgett for its outside left and Jimmy Windridge as his partner. Windridge in form was a wizard indeed. I don't know anyone in the game I can compare him with exactly. Charlie Buchan and Walker, of the Villa, great dribblers both, are both different types physically. The Sunderland star and the Villa player have both been endowed with a fine pair of shoulders, with which they can give as good as they get when it comes to a shoulder charge. Windridge was of more delicate mould. In style, his nearest approach amongst modern players is, perhaps, Kelly, of Burnley.
Jimmy Windridge never needed much working space. In fact, the more crowded he was the more clear his genius shone.
George Hilsdon was in the centre of this particular England team. Centre-forwards of international class are hard enough to find today, but there were a few good ones about when I was given my first cap (whilst still in my 'teens) in 1904. I place George Hilsdon first because he was not only a magnificent shot, but a great leader. He could send the ball well forward to the wings; was fast enough to get up for the return, and clever enough to keep on-side when doing so. Albert Shepherd was only a shade behind him, however.
My inside right in this team was Vivian Woodward, and no outside right could want a better. Yes, that was a good line of forwards, and we played together as if we had been practising all the season.
The best club attack in which I figured was, of course, the great Newcastle "team of all the talents," which I still think ought to have won both the cup and League in 1904-5. I think we would have done so, in fact, had we not had such a rush of fixtures caused by our playing five games in the first two rounds of the cup.
Just think of the giants that were gathered together under our banner in those days. Jimmy Lawrence represented the last word in intelligent goalkeeping. We had three international full backs in McCombie, McCracken, and Carr; and a wonder half-back line with Colin Veitch, Andy Aitken, Alec Gardner, and Peter McWilliam to choose from.
Allied to this defence was an attack which good judges say was fit to compare with the best ever. Gosnell and Ronald Orr were on the left, James Howie and myself on the right, and Big Bill Appleyard in the centre. Appleyard was as fine a "finisher" as a team could wish to have, and he was, moreover, a better footballer than people gave him credit for. You always knew where to find him.
You can well imagine that a team which contained such thinking footballers as Peter McWilliam, Bill McCracken, Colin Veitch, and Jimmy Lawrence knew something about tactics. We worked according to plan, and something new in tactics was always being thought out.
It is worth noting in these days of high finance that in this great side were seven players who only cost between them £100 in transfers. An untried junior often costs a club £1,000 to-day. Comment is superfluous.
As a matter of fact, McCombie alone of our all-international team had figured in League football before joining Newcastle. Small wonder that the club's balance sheet that season was such a wondrous document. It showed a profit of £5,487 and a total credit balance of £16,379. Remember that these are pre-war figures-I am referring to season 1901-5 — when one pound sterling represented something vastly different than it does to-day. It was the money made during this great season which was the foundation for the scheme whereby St. James's Park — of happy memories — was converted into one of the finest of League enclosures.
High as my admiration is for my colleagues of those days, I believe that the finest centre half-back I ever played against was Alec Raisbeck. Alec was a great man to have on your side.
He played with tremendous energy, but yet never failed to be cool and calculating in an emergency. He gave you the ball to your feet, not to your head, as so many young men in a hurry are inclined to do. He looks as youthful to-day as ever he did, in spite of the cares of managership, but I fancy that, like myself, he would rather have the joys of playing than the worries of managing.
There have been some good centre half-backs since Raisbeck, of course, notably, Billy Wedlock, Charlie Roberts, and Joe McCall. They are not necessarily placed in the order of merit, for Roberts was, in my opinion, a little bit better player all round than the Bristol indiarubber man.
Where Charlie was unlucky so far as international honours were concerned was that Wedlock never played anything but his best when out for England. On the other hand, Roberts pleads guilty to not being able to do himself justice when he had his chance. "I don't think I let the side down exactly, but I know I ought to have done better," he used to say when talking about this match.
Wedlock probably covered more ground than any other centre-half. He never stood still, and his judgment with his head was excellent. Joe McCall is a fine player and a fine captain. They ought to put up a monument to him at Deepdale. Just how much he has meant to Preston North End all through his long career cannot be estimated.
England never had a better defence than Hardy, Crompton, and Pennington. There may have been better individual players, but none that fitted so perfectly. Crompton was so steady, so absolutely reliable. I suppose he did miskick sometimes, but I don't recall seeing him do so. Pennington took risks, but he could afford to with such a partner. He once said to me: "I know that whenever I wander up the field, even if I make a slip, old Bob will be there to cover me." Sam Hardy could be numbered with the best goalkeepers who ever breathed.
There is one present-day player, however, who is in the same flight as the giants of the game I have mentioned. I refer to Charles Buchan, whom any youngster may take as a model. He has been called "the last of the masters," but that is taking a too pessimistic view of the coming generation.