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Ernest Needham's story IX.
Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2022-04-30 14:55:29
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IX: THE PROGRESS OF AN INTERNATIONAL PLAYER
Ernest Needham | 25/01/1913
As they are just starting again to try and pick the best eleven to represent our country in the International matches, I have been asked to give some of my expiriences in games of this character. As most football folowers know, there are gentlemen connected with the Football Association watching the doings of our great players right from the beginning of the season, and they endeavour to get the pick of them pitted against each other in various trials before making their final selections.
When I began to blossom out, in the early nineties, pratically the only International trial was the match Amateurs v. Professionals. The selectors then had a much less difficult task than they now have. Southern League players, for instance, had not to be considered, for the simple reason that there was no Southern League, and the League itself was much smaller than it is at present.
The South was represented by its amateurs and the very cream of those came together in such clubs as the Corinthians and the Casuals, of whom the former at any rate could hold their own with any professional side in the country.
A STIFF FIRST TRIAL
It was a pair of such fellows that I had to tackle the first time I was put on my trial, which was in 1893. The match was at Derby. I was a lad of 20, and my opponents were R. Topham and R. C. Gosling, both of whom stood over six feet high, and weighed about 14 stones; not a bad handful for a "little 'un" like mysel. As this matches was the first step in my international career, I look back to it with some feeling. I remember that I felt very anxious to do my best, and that the other men in the Professionals' eleven gave me every encouragement.
Billy Bassett, the great right winger of the West Bromwich Club, came to me beforehand, and said, "Don't be frightened. Do your best, and you're certain to get your cap." He was judging, I suppose, of what he had seen of me in club games.
At any rate I managed to settle down pretty soon against my big opponents, and at the finish I had played well enough to satisfy myself. As it happened Bassett's prophecy wasn't fulfilled that year, Turner, of Stoke, being chosen instead of me, but I was not disheartened, for there was plenty of time before me, and I had the idea that perhaps it was as much the shortness of my experience as anything which had caused me not be selected.
AN INTERNATIONAL'S EDUCATION
Still, I was destined to get an honour in the same season, as I was chosen to represent the English League against the Scottish League. We played at Celtic Park, Glasgow, and I look back upon that match was one of the finest pieces of education I ever received. Our side was made up of Rowley, Clare and Schofield (Stoke), Reynolds, C. Perry, and Bassett (West Bromwich), Jack Southworth (Blackburn Rovers), Bob Howarth (Preston North End), Harry Wood (Wolves), Fred Geary (Everton), and myself. Except for Schofield and myself all these were seasoned players, and they were masters of the game. The same could be said of many of the Scots, for their eleven included such stars as Adams, of the Celtic, Begbie, of the Hearts, J. Campbell, of the Celtic, Dan Doyle, Jimmy Kelly, Sandy McMahon, Madden, and "Jock" Taylor, who afterwards became such a pillar of the Everton club.
We won by the odd goal, and in one afternoon I learnt a whole lot of football. In such matches as these, a youngster who has any brains at all, mixing with clever and experienced players, can pick up many valuable wrinkles, and as I have said, it was an education to me.
The fixture had only been commenced the year previous, but whereas in 1892 the English League, team was picked regardless of nationality, in 1893 the eleven were all English.
THEY WANTED MEDALS
As we were coming home in the train after the match, the players put their head together, and decided that, as it was unlikely many of them would be playing much longer in representative football, they should ask for a memento of the match, instead of the usual playing fee, which was a guinea. Finally we laid our request before the executive, with the result that we all received medals instead of fees. After all a memento is the best thing to receive for a match like that.
And now I come to the story of my first international match, which was against Scotland, in 1894 — or only three years after I had left Staveley, and when I was 21. It was played at Celtic Park, Glasgow, and you can imagine how full of football I was when I arrived in Glasgow the night before the match. But I hardly knew what to do when I was immediately approached by some reporters, who had been in waiting. They wanted to know my opinion of what the result of the match would be, and also my ideas as to the strenght of the different parts of the English team.
THE FIRST CAP
Being only a youngster, and this my "first time out," you can guess that I felt a bit shy of such questions, especially as the Scottish team was regarded as being the cleverest and also the strongest. However, I finally ventured the bold opinion that we were expected to do our best and that we shouldn't be beaten without a struggle.
There was as usual a most enthusiastic crowd to see the match. The Scottish people are more enthusiastic over their internationals than the English, and I might add, by the way, that the Scottish reporters are more severe in their criticisms of theplayers.
Our team consisted of L. H. Gay (Old Brightonians); Clare (Stoke) and F. H. Pelley (Corinthians); Reynolds (West Bromwich), Holt (Everton), and myself; Bassett (West Bromwich Albion), Goodall (Derby County), G. O. Smith (Corinthians), Chadwick (Everton) (Everton), and Spiksley (Wednesday).
A LITTLE LOT
Taken all through this would be one of the smallest teams that ever represented England. Most of us were neither heavy nor tall. Of the forwards, Spiksley, Chadwick, G. O. Smith, and Bassett would be under 5ft. 7in, and very little over 10 stones in weight on the average. The half-back line was the smallest which ever played for England, Reynolds, who was the biggest, not being more than 5ft. 6in., while Johnny Holt was 5ft. 4in., and I was only a shade taller.
The Scots certtainly had the advantage over us in this respect, and their team included many great players, of whom I may mention the lengthy and talented McMahon, Lambie, McCreadie, Dan Doyle, Neil Gibson, Blessington, and Gulliland. So great was the crush and excitement at the match that the crowd simply swarmed upon the track, where some of the reporters had been put to do their work, and the scribes had to do their writting as well as they could, standing up amongst the crowd. The match itself proved to be a very hard one, but we stuck to the Scots for all we were worth, and although they led us 2—1 at one time, a great goal from the foot of Jack Reynolds enabled us to equalise, and the match ended in a draw of two goals each.
A WALLOFING FOR SCOTLAND
My next international match was also against Scotland, in the following year, 1895, It took place at Goodison Park, Liverpool, and we won by 3—0, giving the Scots such a walloping that I think we made up the Scottish selectors' minds for them on the question of introducing Anglo-Scots to their eleven. Scotland had not then beaten England since 1889. She was, of course, weakened in her resources of home talent by the fact that so many players were crossing the border to English clubs.
Another point to be considered was that for effectiveness the purely Scottish style of football was not so good as that to which English players had not attained. In my opinion, a team of home-trained Scots would never be as effective in international football as a side composed partly of home-trained players and partly of men who have learnt our English methods by playing in this country.
At any rate, in the following year, 1896, the Scottish selectors introduced Anglo-Scots against us, the men they chose being "Eddy" Doig, the great goalkeeper of Sunderland, James Cowan, the Aston Villa half-back, J. Bell, of Everton, and T. Brandon, of Blackburn Rovers. As Scotland beat us that year, and also the next, the new policy met with success immediately.
ROBBED OF A CAP
I could not play in 1896. I went to Glasgow for the match, but was taken ill with colic at the hotel just after arriving, and had to stay there till the Thursday following match. Jimmy Crabtree moved up from back to take my place, while Lodge, of the Corinthians, played back. I was to have played for the English League the next week, but, of course, was not fit, and, as a matter of fact, I had finished for the season, as it proved.
Both before and after the match the English players paid me a visit in bed, explaining after the match what bad luch they had had in not making a draw of it. Among them was the old Wednesday captain, Tom Crawshaw.
Had I been able to play against Scotland in 1896, I should have represented my country in the chief International for eight sucessive seasons. This might be compared with the ten successive appearances for Bloomer, eight by Bassett, and seven out of eight by G. O. Smith. There was a fair number of men who were really certaintics for International honours year after year, and the selectors' difficulties are greater now, because there ia a wider area of talent to be studied, and fewer "certs."
I might also mention that it was the pratice then to play teams which were rather under full strenght against Wales and Ireland. Neither country was as well off for talent as she is now, and men who would hardly be considered good enough for the Scottish match would be played against them — the important fact (to my mind) being somewhat overlooked, that an International eleven is, after all, a cratch side, and is the better for being able to play together as ofeten as possible. Against Wales on one occasion the Corinthian club supplied the whole of the England eleven. Whereas I was chosen against Scotland as early as 1894, it was not till 1897 that I played against Ireland or Wales, but in that year I got all three caps.
These remarks cover what I have to say about the development of a player who is destined for honours, and about my earliest trials and representatives games. The great aim of a young player who is given his chance in an international trial should be to try and give the selectors confidence in him, and if he keeps his wits about him he can pick up a great deal in one match, and supported or opposed as he is by the cream of the country's players.
I will conclude by telling a little story of an experience some of us had on one of my earliest visits to Scotland. The night before a match we had nothing to do, so Tom Clare, Jack Reynolds, and I decided we would go and have a game at billiards. We were none of us stars at the game, but we felt that at any rate we could challenge the marker and have some fun.
A BILLIARD STORY
When we got into the billiard-room, the marker was having a game with a gentleman, so we thought we would sit down and study his form before issuing any challenges. We noticed that he didn't seem to be doing much — in fact, his score never increased, whereas his opponent kept collecting a few and going further ahead.
"Think we've got a chance with him," said Reynolds at last.
"Wait a bit, Jack," said Clare. "Lets be steady a bit."
The marker continued to do nothing out of the ordinary, and we got rather "cocky," but at last he worked up his position with the red ball on the spot, and then he started to score like lightning. He broke down at 109, whereupon I said, "Go on, Jack: challenge him."
"No fear," said Reynolds, "It's got to be you or Tom for this lot."
A few minutes later the marker again got the red ball on the spot, and began potting it. This time his break reached 103, and the game — in which it seemed he was only to count breaks of 100 or over — was up.
Afterwards we had a little chat with the marker, explaining that we had thought of challenging him to a match. We asked him if he would ming telling us what was his biggest break.
"Very nearly 1.000," was his reply. And at that we wished him good-night!
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