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Arnott, 1908: Reminiscences of international football

Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2023-04-19 09:45:44

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Walter Arnott | 24/10/1908 —

In considering international football I have often thought that one is apt to judge by the mere result, and condemn, or eulogise, the team as a whole without giving due credit, or it may be discredit, to the com- ponent parts. In my experience of international football, more particularly the games between Scotland and England, the greatest responsibility, and therefore the greatest blame or praise, rested on the half-back line. The three were at one and the same time contracted to reliable defence and constructive offence, and on them depended the ultimate success of the side. ENGLAND v. SCOTLAND MATCHES.
Merely to illustrate how valuable effective half-back play was to the success of the national game, I intend to review in the brief space at my command the half-backs I have been associated with since 1884, and shew, if possible, the influence they had on the issue from a Scottish point of view.
For many reasons my first international match against England, in Cathkin Park, in 1884, was a very memorable one to me. Not the least important of these reasons is the fact that England for the first time in these matches played three half-backs and five forwards, instead of the old placing of two half-backs and six forwards. THE OLD HALF-BACK LINE.
Prior to that match, as may be imagined, there was great diversity of opinion among the followers of our game in both countries as to how this innovation would work. England that day had three grand half-backs in C. P. Wilson, N. C. Bailey, and Stewart Macrae, the burly Notts County gentleman; and there is no doubt about it, they completely mastered our six forwards. When I mention that Scotland's front rank comprised Frankie Shaw, Billy Anderson, Dr. Smith, Joe Lindsay, R. M. Christie, and the late Willie McKinnon (Dumbarton), judges of our pastime will, I am sure, at once agree with me that the play of England's middle line that day must have been brilliant. True it is that Scotland won by one goal to nothing; but I have always thought that the fates were kind indeed to us on the occasion. THE VALUE OF THE CHANCE.
Certain it is that the new method adopted by England that day almost turned the corner in the long lane of English defeats. Yet in spite of that obvious fact Scotland — conservative as ever — the following year again played two half-backs, as against England's three, and as hard a game as ever I took part in on Kennington Oval ended in a draw of one goal each. There is, again, no doubt that the play of the English half-backs, Amos, Bailey, and Forrest, was the main factor in the Englishmen having a larger slice of the play than the men of Caledonia. Incidentally, let me remark that it was in this match in 1885 that those two superlative forwards, Cobbold and Bambridge, played for the first time against Scotland. Of all the great wings it has been my joy to play against, the one made up of those two players was by far the greatest. In every game I ever played against them I was always sorry when I heard the referee sound his whistle to end the game. Playing against such footballers, and the nearest approach to them, was what made the Association game such a source of delight to me, and so filled my soul with all the glories of it. VERY CONSERVATIVE.
It will be seen that Scotland was hard put to avoid defeat, both in 1884 and 1885, and it was generally anticipated for the match at Hampden Park in 1885 that Scotland would follow England's lead and play three half-backs; but alas and alack! a majority of those responsible for the selection of the team were still unconvinced that the new method was best, and they again adhered to the now antiquated style of two half-backs. England included Squire, Bailey, and Forrest, and those three played magnificently, and seemed to have no trouble in holding our forwards, and they also rendered great help to their own forward line. The game ended in a draw of one goal each, but only cruel hard luck and McAuley's brilliance in goal prevented an overwhelming Scotch defeat. Briefly, we were never in the game, and again I say the superlative half-back play of Eng- land, both in defence and attack, was responsible for the Englishmen having so much of the outfield play. Those on the Selecting Committee who so persistently stuck to the two half-back system had their eyes opened that afternoon, and the prejudice in their minds against the newer and more successful placing was overcome. A BRILLIANT VICTORY.
For the following year at Blackburn they at last decided to follow England's lead and play three half-backs. It was a fortunate thing they did this, and also that they had three such half-backs as Kelso, Auld, and Keir at their service. In reality, the game that day was a battle of half-backs. Those of England — George Howarth, Bailey, and Forrest — easily held our forwards. Our own middle line had a much stiffer job, but each man played brilliantly, and none had more to do with the splendid three goals to two victory for Scotland than they had. With weaker half-backs in front of us neither McAuley, Forbes. nor myself would have been able to do half what we did that day. It may be interesting here to mention that for that 1887 match Charlie Campbell, who had played at half-back on ten occasions occasions for Scotland against England, was dropped, and his compeer on the English side, N. C. Bailey, also played his tenth match in the series, and, as events turned out, it was the last occasion on which he was chosen to fight for the Rose. A BAD YEAR.
The year 1888 was a black one for Scotland, as far as international football was concerned, for England simply smothered her by five goals to nothing. On paper we had a splendid team, but not one player on the home side played in anything like his usual club form, and it was more the weakness of the home players than any extraordinary brilliance on the part of the Englishmen that gave them such a runaway victory. It is strange, but true, that the year before at Blackburn the English team not only shewed better players, but actually had more of the game than the victorious 1888 team, yet they lost. THE POWER OF THE HALF-BACK.
The game at Kennington Oval next year 18 as good an illustration as I can cite as to what good or bad half-back play means to a side. For the first thirty minutes England were all over us, and at the end of that time were leading by two goals to nothing. Weak half-back play was undoubtedly the reason of our partial collapse. We had two centre-halves in George Dewar and Kelly, the latter being chosen to play on the wing and Dewar in the centre. When we found our team doing so badly we, with fifteen minutes of the first half still to go, put Kelly in the centre and Dewar on the wing. The change had an almost magical effect. To the end of the game we had most of the play-scored three goals and prevented England adding anything further to theirs, and thus we won one of the most exciting games On record. Mediocre half-back play seriously threatened another woeful defeat to Scotland, but the brilliant rally in that department gained us the victory. A FINE PAIR.
Incidentally, let me say it was in that 1889 team that Goodall and Bassett played for the first time together, and what these two players did for England, both that day and for years afterwards, will ever remain among the most interesting in the many pages of football history. The next year, 1890, Scotland was grandly served by her half-backs, Tom Robertson, Kelly, and McLaren, and most credit is due to them for the undoubted superiority of the Scotch play. We were unlucky not to win — on play we deserved to. We had, however, to rest content with a one-goal draw. In 1891, the year the Scottish League boycotted the parent body, we had Begbie, McPherson, and Hill, all of the Heart of Midlothian Club, playing in our half-back line, and I am safe in saying that none of these players ever played so poorly for their club as they did that day for Scotland. We lost, but only by the odd goal in three, and I am certain that had these half-backs shewn anything like their club form Scotland could easily have beaten England. The famous forward combination from Everton Club, Geary, Chadwick, and Millward, assisted England that year; but, taking into consideration the weak half-back play opposed to them, their performance will certainly not rank among the brilliant features of international matches. SCOTLAND'S LEAN YEARS.
From 1889 to 1896 Scotland never gained a victory over England, and in most of the matches during that period England's greatest strength lay in her half-back line, and particularly so when Reynolds, Holt, and Needham made up that division. Up to 1896 Scotland turned a deaf ear to the cry of some of her sons as to the advisability of getting assistance from "brither Scots" across the Border to help to lay the Sassenach low. So, in the year just stated, it was decided to play some of our ain countrymen, who were playing for English clubs, in the team against England. I do not remember all who were chosen from ayont the Tweed," but I know Doig was taken for goal, Tom Brandon at full back, and Jimmy Cowan at centre-half, and he had Hogg and Gibson on either side of him. Who will ever forget the brilliant play of Cowan that day, and the inspiring effect his brilliance had on the others on his side? Scotland that afternoon gained her first victory over England since 1889. The following year Scotland's half-backs at the Crystal Palace were undoubtedly. By their brilliant all-round play, mainly responsible for the second successive victory. THE CAUSE OF ENGLAND'S WIN.
The year 1898 saw England once more in the ascendant. They had a somewhat easy victory, but the reason for that was not far to seek. Many will remember that Cowan, at centre-half, was completely off his form, and the opinion of all fair-minded sportsmen was freely expressed that Cowan's weakness had most to do with England's "win in a canter." The following year at Birmingham we lost by two goals to one. The play in that game was, I think, the poorest I ever witnessed in an international between England and Scotland, but there is no doubt that it was England's half-backs that won that game. The year 1990 was the start of the very bright period in Scotch half-back play. That was Raisbeck's first year in the international, along with "Jacky" Robertson and Gibson. These three half-backs simply tied up the English forwards in just the same fashion as Reynolds, Holt, and Needham had mastered the Scotch front rank so often, and just as easily, in their day.
Right up to the present day from 1900 Scotland has been splendidly served in her international matches against England by Raisbeck, Thomson, A. Aitken, and McWilliam, and while in some of the matches others may have failed, these half-back have always striven their hardest, and given us of their very best, and there is no doubt that since 1900 these middlemen I have named have been mainly responsible for England only having two victories to her credit in the last ten matches.
In casting one's thoughts over the period from 1884 up to the present time, it is plainly evident that half-backs have played the most important part in the result of international matches. Therefore, I think there is ample justification for my saying that half-back play is the backbone of a nation's football.