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Hapgood: Best-ever team

Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2022-01-14 19:35:05


Data providers: Isaque Argolo.
Best-ever team
Eddie Hapgood | 1945

Having had a fair chance to assess the merits of the leading players of the last three decades, men who have made their mark in the golden era of soccer, I am one who firmly believes the modern footballer is as good, if not better, than his ancient counterpart of the cloth-cap era.
I've played with, or against, the best for seventeen years, sufficient time to assess their merits and demerits. And, greatly daring, I'll attempt to name the team I would like to have played in, if it were possible to muster them in the same club jerseys.
To my mind, the majority of the positions are instantaneously filled. The only place I find it hard to discriminate is at centre-forward, so I've taken the easy way out of naming three men, leaving the reader to fill in his favourite choice from the short list.
My goalkeeper is Harry Hibbs, rated by some schools as the best of all time, by others as second only to Sam Hardy. Never having had the full opportunity of playing with Hardy, I cannot make any statement as to his capabilities, so Hibbs will do for me. A fine type of man, who never let his country, club, colleagues or himself down.
I had the best possible chance of studying, in particular, the play of the great full-backs... Roy Goodall (who captained the first England side I played in), Ernie Blenkinsop, Tom Cooper, Sam Wadsworth, Ernie Catlin (who displaced me in the England side for nearly a full season), Tom Parker (my first Arsenal colleague), Bert Sproston, Warney Cresswell, George Male, and the rest. My choice for partner is Male, with whom I worked up a grand combination for Arsenal and England.
George came to Highbury from an amateur club as a wing-half-back, and it was at left-half that he gained his first Cup medal. But he was a better full-back than half, though, frequently, he reverted to the middle line for Arsenal wartime games. Male, incidentally, was the only man to whom I ever relinquished the England captaincy after I had once been given the honour. My first game as England captain was against Italy at Highbury on November 14, 1934, and I held the position, with one break, for thirty-seven games, my last being against Wales at Wembley on January 27, 1943.
The only exception was at Helsingfors, against Finland, on May 20, 1937, when I came back to the side after being kept out by Catlin for six games. Male had been appointed captain for the tour, and retained that honour when I regained my position in the side.
However, to get on. My choice for right-half, unanimously proposed and seconded by myself, is Willis Edwards, of Leeds United, who, although I never had the opportunity of studying him in front of me in an international side, I saw frequently in club matches. An ideal half-back, who could go forward or back at any time, and all the time.
For centre-half I choose the player to whom I handed over the England captaincy at the end of my long run... Stanley Cullis, of Wolverhampton Wanderers. An intelligent, defensive centre-half, who varied his play by attacking when the situation warranted this method. Stanley has mannerisms which sometimes annoy onlookers, but nothing ruffles him. He goes his own way, thoughtfully, always looking for the opportunity of a crack down the middle.
Apropos of nothing, I must tell you a story of Stan. He is always studying, arguing, or theorising, and is one of the many lads who is making soccer a stepping stone to a good job when he retires. On this particular tour somebody had been chipping Cullis about his study of foreign languages and, particularly, about French, which was Stan's particular interest at the moment. Stan took it all like the good-natured fellow he is, and bided his time.
We were out sight-seeing one morning and the chipper in-chief (I forget his name but he took the sequel in good part) told Stan to ask a benevolent looking Frenchman the direction to a certain place of interest. Some of the doubters, naturally, expected Stan to take out a French-English dictionary and haltingly stumble his way through a couple of simple sentences. But with an admiring audience, and without turning a hair, he launched into fluent French in the manner born!
At left-half I look no further than Bob John, my Arsenal colleague for so many years. I have previously mentioned Bob, so will pass on with the comforting thought that I never wanted to play behind a better player.
The forwards, forgive me, with one exception, wear an Arsenal shirt. Here they are... Hulme, Jack, James and Bastin. Try as I can, there's no way I can fault this quartette.
But the centre-forward position is tricky. Here's my three nominees I cannot separate. Different in their own way, but great players all... Dixie Dean, a wizard with his feet, but just as deadly with his head, as strong as a house, and just as hard to knock off the ball, as clean in his play as a new pin, a great sportsman, and a Trier to the end. Dixie was always a tough handful, not only because he used to roam out on to the wings, taking the centre-half with him, and, frequently, slipping him, making it extremely hard for the rest of the defence to keep some sort of order.
Hughie Gallagher, greatest centre-forward ever to come over the Border, who hunched himself over the ball in a way that made it almost impossible to dispossess him unless he was to be knocked over, a bobby-dazzler dribbler with a flashing shot delicately angled to beat even the most agile goalkeeper, his only drawback a fiery temper, which far too many players took advantage of-I always thought he was more shinned against than shinning-the centre-forward of whom Herbie Roberts once told me, "Hughie is perhaps the most elusive antagonist who bluffed me into going the wrong way." His smallness and lightness of foot made him difficult to 'get at.' Always trying new tricks was the little fellow who learned his football in the streets of Bellshill with Alex James... and the third, George Camsell, rather like Dixie Dean, perhaps not quite as good with his head, but a deadly shot from anywhere near the penalty area, and terrifically fast.
Well, there you are, that's my choice. Have another look at them and then argue. I have included myself because I would have been honoured to play in this team: Hibbs (Birmingham); Male (Arsenal): Hapgood (Arsenal); Edwards (Leeds Utd); Cullis (Wolves); John (Arsenal); Hulme (Arsenal); Jack (Arsenal); Dean (Everton) or Gallacher (Chelsea and Newcastle) or Camsell (Middlesbrough): James (Arsenal); and Bastin (Arsenal).
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