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Wooldridge, 1910: Half-back developments

Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2022-04-24 13:49:49

Data providers: Isaque Argolo.
W. T. Wooldridge | 07/10/1910

I imagine the reaerd repeating the tittle of this article in a voice which the novelists describe as "sarcastic", and probably expressing his disapproval further by adding "I don't think" Half-back developments! "What about Ernest Needham, Jimmy Crabtree, Raisbeck, Reynolds, and other notable halves of a few years ago? Have you any present-day player's who can compare with them?" is a likely question.
Let me say at once that no one has a keener appreciation of these famous players than I have, and I very much question whether we have two players to-day who could be compared with Needham and Crabtree at their best. But in an attempt to show that there have been many developments in half-back play, I purpose going back to a time before there redoubtable players appeared on the football field. Naturally my own memory does not carry me back so far, and I form my opinions on the style of half-back play which was associated with the early days of the League from what I have read, and from what I have been told by those who took part in those game. I make bold to say, too, that in my time there have been many developments in the style of play, and that the changes have been, on the whole, for the improvement of the game from a scientific standpoint. "GOOD OLD DAYS" — FOR THE SPECTATORS
Many of my readers will remember the time when the wing half-back's great idea was to stop an opponent by charging him over the line. In those days the middle-line man was regarded more as a defender than anything else. The duty of getting goals was left almost entirely to the forwards. The halves and backs used to rely on putting in big kicks when they got possession of the ball, their idea being to drop it in the goal-mouth, and leave their forwards to rush it through. This was in the days when forwards could do anything with a goal-keeper, and they used to do it too. The custodian used to do a bit as well. He was by no means a passive resister. If the forward missed him, he generally hit the forward, and hit him hard too; and the worst of the business, from the forward's standpoint, was that the goalkeepers of those days were generally big men, with fists in proportion. Those were the "good old days" of football — for the spectators. I fancy the players held a slightly different view. TACTICS OF NUDGER NEEDHAM
But to get back to our subject. No one will deny that from those early days there has been a decided improvement in the methods of the half-backs. The middle-liners behan to see that to stop the man and get the ball was a better policy than to merely stop progress by charging their opponent down or over the line, and a new stage in defensive tactics was initiated. Those were the days when we used to have long tussles between the halves and the forwards, the rest of the side looking on very much with the style of Rugby players waiting for the ball to come out of the scrum. But whilst this plan of campaign was a great advance on the early methods, it was only a stepping-stone to what was to follow.
Halves began to put more brains into their work, and the idea was evolved that it ws much better to get the ball before the forward pounced on it than to rely on taking it from him. At this particula style of play I think Ernest Needham was the finest exponent of all time. No one ever knew where Needham was. At one moment he would be in the mouth of his opponent's goal, putting in one of his famous pot-shots; the next time he appeared in the limelight, he would be behind his back, just popping across in time to rob a forward who was under the impression that he had only the goalkeeper to face. A great player was Needham, one who, to my mind, reached the highest ideal of the half-back game. But though Needham had reached this point, I don't think there were many others of his who had. Needham was allowed to play his own game because it ame off, but manu football experts still clung to the idea that a half must never leave his forward, or at least not wander many yards from him, and this idea still prevails with many who consider themselves good judges of the game. THE SCIENCE OF ANTICIPATION
With all due respect to those who hold this opinion, I am firmly convinced that all developments with the half-back game have been made on the lines that it is better to follow the ball than hang on to the man, and that if we ever reach a stage in the game when the last word has been said, we shall find a half-back line doing very little charging. The great point in the style of play adopted by men of the Needham school is anticipation. The half must work on the lines of a chess player. He must form his opinion of the next move and act upon it. To what a state of efficiency this may be brought can be seen by watching a really class half-back. He always seems to be where the ball is. Often he has time to have a look round at his forwards before parting with the leather, whereas the poor half is generally found rushing up a yard too late, and if he does get possession by robbing his opponent, he is often so muddled br his exertion that he can do no more than kick it somewhere and trust to luck to get it to his own forwards. To-day the half-back has to be a sixth forward and a third full-back, and obviously he cannot perform these duties if he adopts a policy of merely watching an opponent. That this principle has been realised and acted upon during the past few years will, I think, be generally agreed, and I put this forward as my argument that there have been developments in the half-back game, and developments which have been in the right direction. To my mind it is better to lose sight of the man than miss the flight of the ball. A RECORD OF PROGRESS
As to the question of whether our present-day halves are superior, or inferior, individually, to those of a few year ago, I will hazard no opinion, but that the style of play adopted has improved I feel confident. If the present-day games are poor and tame, as some people affirm, then it is the fault of the men and not the system. Surely both from the spectators' standpoint, and also from that of the game itself, the modern system of half-back play is better than the style of say fifteen years ago. The game has improved, and the half has had to adapt himself to the changes made. And these changes have affected the middle trio more than any other department. A goal-keeper of twenty years ago could come on the field to-morrow, and, provided he could renew his youth, he would not find himself outclassed, and in a lesser degree the same thing might be said of a full-back. But the half has to do a lot of his work in the middle of the field, and he is expected to get the ball from the forward without knocking both man and ball out of play. Spectators nowadays would not stand the old style of simply stopping men; they insist on the middle men taking a part in the attack. FEET BEFORE HEADS
But we have lost one thing which the old-style player possessed. The ability to head a ball hard and accurately is not so common as it was. Probably this is due to the fact that in the really scientific game the ball is kept down more than used to be the case, but heading will always be an asset to any footballer, and to the half-back it is essential. I do not think we have by any means reached the end of half-back development. What another ten years will bring forward we cannot say, but I feel certain that the changes will be in the direction of more latitude to the half. The death-knell of the old policy of simply marking a man was sounded by Needham, as I have tried to show, and though it lingers on in many teams it will never again be the unquestionable rule it once was.