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Watchman: Sheffield United

Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2023-04-19 09:46:42

Data providers: Isaque Argolo.
— Watchman | 28/10/1930 —

It is a curious fact that both the Sheffield clubs, the Wednesday and the United, sprang out of a cricket club. The United was founded in 1889, not without some strong opposition from members of the cricket section, but it had a fine ground to begin with, and the promise of help from several local clubs who possessed the cream of amateur players in the City. But that promise was withdrawn, and so the United were launched and at once stranded — a club without players.
Determined not to accept defeat, the management resolved to make a purely professional club, and in response to an advertisement inserted in the Sheffield newspapers only three players of any note applied.
The committee then made their requirements known in provincial and Scottish papers, and got together a team which played its first match on the Hallam cricket ground against the Sheffield club, a team of amateurs, who they beat by 3—1 THE TINY TOTS.
By dint of practice and perseverance the United progressed and joined in the F.A. Cup competition. In the early '90s they signed a number of players who were destined to make a name in Soccer.
They had a trio of half-backs who were probably the smallest line that ever established a reputation in first-class football — namely, "Rab" Howell (5ft. 5 1/2 in. and 9st. 3lb), Tom Morren (5ft. 5 1/2in., and 10st. 4lb), and Ernest Needham (5ft. 5in., and 10st. 3lb.).
Howell had experience with Ecclesfield and Rotherham Swifts, and was capped against Ireland in 1895.
Morren, who played first with his native Middlesbrough club, became a twoer of strength as the pivot, and in Ernest Needham, a native of Whittington Moor, near Chesterfield, the club discovered at Staveley one of the most remarkable half-backs the world has known.
For many years he acted as captain, and had much to do with building up Sheffield United's fortunes. Before the club was nine years old he had helped them to become League champions, and a year later he led the team that won the F.A. Cup.
Needham was just as gifted a half-back in a constructive as in a destructive sense, his ball control was so good that he could dribble as well as any forward, and as he could make progress without having his eyes glued on the ball at his feet, he was able to watch the movements of those who sought to rob him, and place the ball to a colleague able to make the best use of it. BORN TACTICIAN.
Needham was a born tactician. How often did he change the whole course of a game by adopting a different style of play, or by revising the constitution of his team! On one occasion when his side were two goals down against Liverpool in a Cup-tie, he daringly brought up one of his half-backs and played six forwards, and as a result he saved a game which had appeared well lost. That happened frequently.
On sixteen occasions he played for England in international games; ten times he assisted the Football League team in Inter-League contests. Who will ever forget the great triangular combination which enabled England to beat the Scots at Glasgow in 1898, when Needham simply made the two Freds — Spiksley and Wheldon — a match-winning wing.
Another player who won fame with Sheffield United was William Foulke, the Shropshire giant, who stood two inches above six feet and weighed something like 20 stone. It was when he moved to Blackwell to work underground in a colliery that he got his chance to show his natural ability as a goalkeeper, and as his fame spread over the Derbyshire Moors Mr. Joe Tomlinson, a sealous Sheffield United director, heard about him and went to see him play.
Mr. Tomlinson's report was so glowing that the United lost no time in making overtures to Foulke's club. They were not the only big club keen to get him, but United made a bargain to pay £1 per day for a period to Blackwell until the mighty fellow could be legally signed. AMUSED CROWD.
Foulke was at one period one of the most-talked-of players in the country. His huge frame caused a roar from the crowd wherever he turned out; he was wonderfully active in spite of his bulk, and more remarkable was the celerity he showed in getting down to low shots.
He liked a joke and was very good-tempered, but he did not know his own strength. On one occasion at a wayside railway station the porters told him he must not do something he wanted to do, and without more ado he picked two of them up — one under each arm — and carried them the length of the platform in spit of their efforts to obtain release.
When playing against Liverpool in the Cup semi-final of 1899 he muleted his side in a penalty goal by picking up George Allan, the Scottish international centre-forward, and unceremoniously standing him on his head.
Between 1897 and 1899 Foulke was capped, gained a League championship medal, and helped his club to win the Cup by a 4—1 margin over Derby County. Two years later he stood between the posts when Tottenham Hotspur beat the "Blades" in the replayed Final tie at Bolton, but 12 months later he gained his Cup winners' medal when Southampton were conquered at the second attempt. VALIANT BACKS.
In both these successful Cup Finals Harry Thickett and Peter Boyle were the backs to play in front of Foulke, who finished his career with Chelsea.
Thickett was a Yorkshire product and a valiant one, too. He joined United in 1891-2, and left them, but soon returned to make a name. The story goes that in his first Final tie his ribs were swathed in bandages 100 yards in length, so badly bruised were they, but I am told that this was a yarn with which the late Mr. John Allison, a Manchester City director who ran a hydro to which injured footballers went from far and near "spoofed" a London journalist.
Boyle was an Irishman from County Louth, who helped Sunderland before he settled at Bramall Lane, and played five times for his country. He was a robust back, who never seemed to get excited.
These three defenders were a mighty big proposition to get over; they weighed over 45st. Among other Sheffield United goalkeepers who won international recognition were H. Gough and A. E. Hufton, who made a name after joining West Ham United and Joe Lievesley, Charles Sutcliffe (a younger brother of the Bolton international), and A. E. Lewis also stood beneath the bar with considerable success. FATHER AND SON.
I have already referred to the three best half-backs the club has had in its early days, though W. H. Johnson, who followed Howell at right half, was probably their equal. He was an Ecclesfield product, a strong and unflinching player at his best, who in 1900 and again three years later played for England in three internationals.
His son, Harry, now plays inside forward for the club. Bernard Wilkinson, who, like Needham, was a cricketer of some repute, was a delightfully clever pivot to watch. He, too, was rather on the small side. COMPENSATION.
Gillespie is the only one of the five still in the service of the club. For years he has been the brains of the Sheffield United attack. A broken leg kept him out of the third team to carry off the Cup to Bramall Lane, though he had compensation in 1925, when he captained the team that took it a fourth time. It was a good day's work when the United persuaded the old Leeds City club to give Gillespie his release. He has 25 "caps."
Arthur Brown, a Gainsborough centre-forward who played for England before he was 18, H. W. T. Hardinge, now a useful member of the Kent county cricket team, Fred Priest, a rare good inside left who played one game for England, R. E. Evans, a former Aston Villa outside left who played ten times for Wales before it was discovered he was of English birth, D. W. Mercer, J. Donnelly, S. Fasackerley, J. E. Kitchen, J. Dunne, J. Almond, and Fred Tuntsall are other United forwards who have won renown. My best United team is:
Lipsham Hedley Bennett
Gillespie A. Common
Needham Morren Johnson
P. Boyle Thickett