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14/07/1930: Brum interviews Howard Spencer

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THE GREATEST CUP FINAL EVER
HOWARD SPENCER'S RAPID RISE TO FAME

Interview by Brum | 14/07/1930

Howard Spencer, in the opinion of most people the greatest full-back who ever played for Aston Villa, and how a director of the club he served so well as a player, recalls memorable matches in which the famous Midlands team took part, in this, the first instalment of his "Lifetime in Football" interview.

During his association with the Villa as a player from 1893 to 1907, the club won the championship of the First Division five times and triumphed in the F.A. Cup Final on three occasions. In 1898-97 they won both the League championship and the Cup, a feat which Preston North End alone have equalled, and their battle with Everton in the final that season in generally regarded as the greatest Cup Final ever witnessed.

During this great period of Aston Villa's history, Howard Spencer was one of the side's stalwarts, and as such was recognised by England's selectors on six occasions.



Howard Spencer will always be recalled by the generation privileged to see him perform as a courtly and dignified player. Many men, some of whom have gone to their long rest, and others who have long given up the pastime, did their utmost during their playing days to keep the game clean and sweet. But Howard Spencer stood high among them as a man of exceptional courtesy. What he did, he did naturally; he was courteous and considerate to his opponents because courtesy and consideration were parts of his disposition. He was in very truth one of Nature's gentlemen.
Howard Spencer was a delightful fellow, and he is a delightful fellow to-day, for he is 60 genuinely quiet and unassuming. There is only one difficulty about him, and that is to get hiin to talk about his career, or, indeed, about the game in general,
Howard Spencer, quiet and unostentatious, loves to keep in the background. But he was not a simple man by any means; he had a strong vein of common sense; in fact, common sense might be said to be his great characteristic. COMMON SENSE
Since he gave up football, he has won distinction in the commercial world; he is a prominent figure in the wholesale coal trade. in Birmingham. He manifested his common sense when h3 stuck carefully to his business all through the time he was receiving good remuneration as a professional footballer.
Not that that remuneration was the great thing to him. As a matter of fact, he said to me, I had no idea of becoming a professional footballer, but it was put to me that I should be the odd man out if I were not.
It was represented to me that opponents would be more at home with me. That was the reason that I agreed to do so, for in one sense, I was not at all desirous of taking the step, but I consented to do it because my chief desire was not to be regarded az something abnormal." That represents & sensible and also an extremely considerate attitude of mind.
Howard Spencer, while quiet, extremely abstemious and careful of his condition, was no recluse, for he could handle a billiard cue well: no one need desire a better partner at bridge, and no one more enjoys a round of golf. EARLY DAYS
During his football career, however, he was a man of somewhat grave and retiring disposition. His striking face, commanding stature, and magnificent physique rendered him an outstanding figure on the football field, alike from the physical and from the scientific standpoint, for he could play the game perfectly.
No man ever showed greater powers of understanding, followed the ball more aecurately, cornered an opponent more skilfully and efficiently, or put in a spice of vigour more legitimately than Howard Spencer.
After leaving school, he became associated with a junior club called Stamford, but it was while he was with Birchfield Trinity Unity that he was discovered by Aston Villa when 17 years of age. He played for the Villa when he was barely 18. He was signed 'on by & well-known Villa director, now & vice-president, Mr. Charlie Johnstone, a great sprinter of the 'Eighties. FAMOUS PARTNERS
Howard Spencer owed his introduction to the Villa team to a fne display he gave as & mere boy in what is called the "Junior International," the game between Birmingham Juniors and Scottish Juniors at Leamington.
Those who saw him play in that game realised that he was destined to become a great player, and in Jim Welford he found an able partner, while later his association with Albert Evans, also & man of splendid physique, and Freddie Miles, constituted interesting chapters in the history of Aston Villa.
In reply to & query as to what he ravarded as his most notable game, Howard said:
Howard: The finest game I ever took part in was the Cup Final of 1897. You probably agree that that was the finest game you ever saw?" The writer agreed.
» That was indeed a battle of giants; there was no man in the 22 who was other than a tip-top footballer, and the play was extraordinarily strenubus. I shall never forget the work of John Bell, the Everton outside-right; it was really amazing to see the work he did for his side, and yet he was meeting some of the greatest defensive players who ever played, the immortal James Crabtree among them. CRABTREE THE GREAT
» James Crabtree was the greatest footballer I have ever seen; incomparably, the greatest all-round man.
» We won, and just deserved to win, but it was a superb exhibition of the game, and will never be forgotten. I have never met & man who saw that match who did not describe it as the greatest game ever played. I know our form was magnificent, and yet we had to strain every nerve to win.
» And we were å fine team! I fel! what an honour it. was to belong to such a wonderful array of footballers.
» We had Charlie Athersmith and John Devey, a great wing; Jobn Campbell, & wizard in the centre; Freddy Wheldon, an ontstanding artist with the ball, and Steve Smith (or John Cowan) at outside left; either good enough for any team.
» There are three games that stand out quite prominently in my memory. That Cup Final was the first.
» The second was the semi-final with Sunderland at Blackburn in 1895. We won the Cup that year, beating the Albion in the Anal, but the game at Blackburn was a gripping one. Dennis Hodgetts and Steve Smith were a wonderful pair at that time, and th: standard of football seen was really abnormal.
» Steve Smith scored two wonderful goals that day; how he managed to beat a goalkeeper of Doig's calibre with such a little space in which to shoot was amazinh. he was between the touch-line and the goal-line at an oblique angle, and yet on two occasions he got the ball past Doig. It was a remarkable performance.
» I do not think we have ever seen a finer game in Birmingham — I have not seen a game quite like it — than when we beat Liverpool at Villa Park, scoring five goals in the first half of the game. FUTILE CHARGE
» Liverpool were going hard for the championship, and the Villa were apparently out of it. Then the Villa gave Notts County a tremendous trouncing, and we also beat the Albion severely.
» Some silly people connected with Liverpool football — not with the Liverpool club I hasten to add — seemed sceptical about these matches, and openly said that there had been something underhand about them; that someone had ben squared, or some equally futile charge.
» To my knowledge, a well-known Lancashire journalist said quite openly to an equally well-known Birmingham journalist that they in Lancashire did not believe that the Villa had won those matches on their merits.
» The Birmingham journalist scoffed, very properly, saying that Aston Villa's form at that time was simply magnetic, and that the critic had better let the match run its course, and then see what he thought of Aston Villa. DAZZLING FORWARDS
» When at half-time they were leading by 5 goals to nothing, and the then magnificent Liverpool team, including George Allan, their famous centre-forward, and Alec Raisbeck, had simply been run through and cut to ribbons, the Lancashire journalist had the sportmanship to say, 'Well, old chap, I'm sorry: It's evidently quite right, but I didn't think there was a team in the universe capable of scoring five goals against Liverpool in 45 minutes. The Villa are indeed a wonderful side.
» The work of the forwards that day was outstanding. Those are the three matches which stand out most prominently in my memory, but there were many others.