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J. Crabtree: Greatest game I ever played in

Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2022-04-19 12:35:13

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Greatest game I ever played in
Jimmy Crabtree | 20/10/1906

When a man who has played as much football as I have asked the queation — “Which is the greatest game you have ever seen?” he is apt to put his thinking cap on. I am bound to admit that I did not find it easy to say offhand which was the greatest game I had ever seen. The truth is that I have seen so many remarkable games that I scarcely know now which to single out as representing the most eventful of them all. One of tho finest games I ever played in was the final tie for the English Cup in 1897. When Aston Villa beat Everton by 3 goals to 2. Then the International at Villa Park, in 1899, when we beat Scotland by 2 goals to 1, was one of the hardest matches I have been engaged in; I cannot recall any game which I personally had so much trying work to do. I have the ball used in that match; a friend mine had it gilded, and it now occupies a conspicuous position in my home. Then one of the most wonderful shows I can recall was the match Amateurs v. Professionals at Trent Bridge in 1894. Although the Amateurs had some capable talent, the Professionals played such superb football that they won 9 goals to nothing. The combination of Bassett, Bloomer, John Goodall, Chadwick, and Spiksley was, I think, the most perfect I have seen. The finest match I can recall.
But the finest match that I can recall, taking every possible point into consideration, was the inter-League match with Scotland at Celtic Park on April 1st, 1899. There were many things which conspired to make that game eventful. The general impression seemed to be that we had not a good team, but it is very difficult indeed to say what is a good team, what is a moderate one, and what is a bad one. I will admit that the team was an experimental one; many the elevens chosen to appear in inter-League games have been experimental ones, and for very good reason. The League does not make a pretence of picking absolutely the best eleven available; it considers the engagements of its Clubs, and generally takes one player from each team. There are exceptions to this policy, but that is, broadly speaking, what is done. In this team, however, we had two Burnley men, two Aston Villa players, and two Stoke representatives. There was some criticism at the expense of Prescott, the Notts County man, and Joe Eccles, of Stoke, who some thought would not make a particularly good pair of backs; while Toman, the centre man, was deemed to be too inexperienced, and it was also contended, I believe, in some quarters that I had passed my meridian. Well, I won't into these matters now; handsome is that handsome does, and our men did handsomely in this match. Even the Captain, who was supposed to have seen his best day, satisfied every one, and I was selected to play against Scotland in the international proper on the following Saturday at Birmingham. I notice that in one football annual the list of internationals that year contains the following: J. W. Crabtree. Got his place as full-back owing to having to play in that position at Glasgow in the inter-League match. A most resourceful player; can do well in any position, and was a distinct success at back. The explanation of all that is, of course, that I had been playing half-back all the season in the Aston Villa team, while in this inter-League match I was at left-half originally. Theory v. Practice.
Our team was: Hillman, of Burnley, one of the ablest goalkeepers I have ever watched; Prescott and Eccles, backs; Frank Forman, Tom Crawshaw, and myself at half; and Athersmith, Bloomer, Toman, Settle, and Joe Turner, of Stoke, forward. Perhaps it was rather an experimental team. The Scots had a good side. M'Arthur kept goal; Nick Smith and Storrier were the backs; Breslin, Marshall, and Neil Gibson were the halves; Campbell, Walker, Hamilton, M'Pherson, and Bell were the forwards. There had been a lot of rain on the previous day, the going was very heavy, and there was tremendous wind blowing. We had the advantage of the wind in the first half, but did not get going, and had by no means the better of the game. Going on strict theory, we to ought have scored three goals during that half to have had any chance of victory, for the wind should nave been worth a great deal to any side. But there was a complete lack of understanding among our forwards, and our goal had quite as many narrow escapes as theirs. Games do go in this way, and it is no use seeking to account for it. When we crossed over the game seemed as good as lost. A man short.
Unfortunately, our inability to score had not been our only misfortune. Prescott, the Notts back, iniured himself badly during the first half, and had to leave the field. It was a pure accident, in fact; no one near him at the time. From what I could understand he kicked the turf instead of the ball, and hurt his foot badly that he did not play for Notts for quite a long time. Indeed, the point as whether the League was liable for an injury sustained by a player, belonging to a League club, while in the service of the League and not in the actual service of his Club, was raised, but Clubs benefit by reason their association with the League, and it is only fair that they should prepared to take the rough with the smooth. We seemed then in a hopeless plight. I went back to partner Eccles, and, as Captain, suggested to Settle that he might fall back into the half-back line. But he did not seem to view the proposition with special favour, and, considering how finely he played later, perhaps it was just as well that his views did not quite coincide with mime. At any rate, I made the same request to Joe Turner, and he came into the half-back line, and played as though he had been a half-back all his life. Whenever he could find time to do so he gave a little help to Settle, and he undoubtedly proved himself a smart and versatile performer. Playing against the Gale.
We were now playing against a gale of wind with only four forwards, for I felt that our defence must not be weakened, whetever happened. For a time the Scottish forward play was very strenuous, and I particularly remember the aggressive game John Bell played. But Eccles was in wonderful form. He did rise to the occasion, and I believe I played reasonably well. At any rate we pulled the Scottish forward up every time they came down, and the half-backs fed our forwards well, and the front line suddenly began to develop remarkable aggressiveness. Frank Forman and Tom Crawshaw played magnificent football in the half-back line, and were constantly giving the men in front of them chances. Athersmith and Bloomer seemed to leave the Scottish defenders standing still, and Toman played pretty and effective football in the centre. As for Settle, he worked with wonderful assiduity and cleverness, and we began to have matters all our own way. Bloomer scored our first goal. Settle obtained another, and a quarter of an hour from the end Athersmith scored again. Then there was a bit of a rally on the part of the Scots, and John Campmbell put the ball into the net for them. But before the whistle went Athersmith again beat M'Arthur, and we won a most stirring game by four goals to one. The Scots team.
I should not have deemed it possible for a team to do what we did that afternoon. The odds against us were tremendous, but I have never seen footballers show such splendid grit and determination to rise superior to all difficulties. I am bound to add, in justice to the Scottish team generally, that M'Arthur was very weak in goal. He seemed painfully nervous. Why, it is difficult to say, for he was an old hand at the game. Naturally, each mistake added to his nervousness. There was some most pungent criticism at his expense in the Scottish papers, and no one was surprised when the Sunderland veteran, J. E. Doig, was called upon to stand between the Scottish posts in the international contest between the two countries at the Villa ground seven days later.
We had a splendid reception from the crowd. They gave us a perfect ovation as we came in — indeed, I never remember a visiting side being better treated. The newspapers, too, were generous in their appreciation of our efforts, and I blush when I recall some of the nice things said of us. The result of that match shows that a game is never lost until it is won; and when next the young footballer who may chance to be reading these lines finds himself and his team in a tight corner, let him remember the inter-League game of 1899. I know I was very proud of being Captain of the side, and if every Captain had as loyal and as intelligent co-operation as I received that afternoon the task of leading a football team would indeed be a pleasant one.
A great deal is said about Irish humour. I remember going over to play in an international at Dublin some years ago, and on the morning of the match we went to have a look at the ground. It waa a Rugby enclosure, and a very good one, too. I said to a typical Irishman, who was engaged in getting the playing piece ready for the encounter, "This is a good ground." "It’s the best in all Ireland," said he. "I suppose you will get a big lot of people here this afternoon," said I. Instantly came his mystifying Irish reply — "It all depends on the gate!"