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Gallacher, 1932: My ideal forward line
Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2022-05-04 12:19:32
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MY IDEAL FORWARD LINE — AND WHY
ALEC JAMES — MY IDEAL FOOTBALLER
Hughie Gallacher | 29/05/1932
In this instalment, Hughie Gallacher, the famous Scottish and Chelsea centre-forward, selects his ideal forward line of contemporary footballers. He describes "Dixie" Dean as the best centre, though many people will be inclined to award this distinction to Gallacher himself. He pays a warm tribute to his countryman, Alex James, his "ideal footballer" and "the footballer's footballer."
More than in any other aspect of the game forward play shows indication of changed style and purpose. There is still the sharp division between two schools, the Scots and English, but the influence of the former is marked on the English game. The vogue of importing Scots players into English football has had the inevitable result of blending two contrasting styles. There are those who think the English game has suffered. I have heard Scots insist that the Anglo-Scot loses craft when he assimilates the English ideas of speed and dash.
For my part, I think that the Scot who crosses the Border gains both in craft and effectiveness when he schools native idea to meet the demands of English standards. The classic example is Alec James
At the start let me name Alec as my ideal footballer.
Like the characters in the immortal song, "We twa hae run aboot the braes"; we knew each other in boyhood. Alec James was my first football partner. We were nursed in the same football nursery. What craft we may have acquired was inspired by hours of practice with the "wee ba." Our notion of the ideal training for the ideal footballer is the same to this day; we share a view that the footballer who began by getting command of a wee ba' is the only footballer worth talking about.
He is the footballer's footballer. And that is the label I attach to Alex James. He is an artist. There may have been greater artists in this football game before Alex arrived, but I am definitely sceptical about that possibility.
Certainly — and now I speak with a full sense of the meaning of my assertion — in all my life, both as a player and as a football enthusiast, I have never seen a player who could compete with James in craft or artistry. And here is the rub of the matter.
Alec James improved his performance 100 per cent, when he studied to blend his inbred talent with the demands made upon him by English standards. Ever since he came from Preston to Arsenal, James has improved.
He gave full consideration to the fact that English First League football brings laurels to the swift-footed. This is not to say that Alec himself became a "Flying Scotsman." On the contrary, I doubt if he added many yards to his speed, although he, I believe, thinks he reduced his running time, but James certainly found tactical methods which made one move from him worth five from any other player of considerably greater speed.
The fact is James increased the speed of his football brain. His greatest asset is that while another player is thinking, James has thought and is putting thought into action. Add to this the fact that James is a genius in ball control.
I remember the Scots giants of fifteen years ago. Not one of them — with the possible exception of the Irishman, Patsy Gallagher — had at his command the football "vocabulary" James possesses. Alec has a football dictionary in each foot.
No need for me to elaborate here the admiration, almost emotional, I felt for Alec when he played alongside me in the famous Wembley team. Let me tell you, though, while others were hysterical about Alec's Wembley performance, I could only think of him as the dazzling youngster who played in the school team with me. And I may also tell you that our hame that day was modelled on the game we played when youngsters; the uncanny passing, anticipation, the collaboration, all were merely the afterthought of a combination first begun at Bellshill Academy.
Mind you, while I name Alec as my ideal inside-left, I do not say that he must of necessity be the best inside-left in any forward line.
Here is a paradox. I name Alan Morton as my ideal outside-left, making allowance for the restrictions of age. But I do not say that to-day a Morton-James wing would be the success it was at Wembley.
James has created for himself an original idea of positional play. He has perfected this idea in collaboration with Bastin. His plan of lying well up, almost on the heels of his outside man, then shifting his position until he is shoulder to shoulder with his half-back, is as disconcerting to his partners, unless — like the Arsenal men — they move in obedience to his unorthodox scheming.
For Morton I regard his present club-mate — and an old club-mate of mine — Bob McPhail as the ideal inside man. McPhail and Morton together are one of the strongest wings I know. Their club game is of international standard. Their international game is the best club tradition.
Bob McPhail is one of the most forceful, stylish inside forwards I know. Alan Morton was, and is, in a class by himself. The daisies never grow under his feet. He crosses a ball with the accuracy of a mathematician. His passes are such that a man need to be a gazelle or a giraffe to accept. He has every trick of the footballer's trade at his toes. I saw him play for Scotland in Paris. I said then, and I repeat now, that Alan Morton never got one cap too many.
Now I must step lightly. I must name my ideal centre-forward. The choice is, of necessity, ticklish. There is Jimmy McGrory, of Celtic. McGrory has modelled himself on the style of that great centre-forward whom Celts regard as the greatest the world has ever seen, Jimmy Quinn, for years the idol of Scots enthusiasts and the terror of Sassenach defenders.
I have great admiration for McGrory. He has pluck. He does not know the meaning of fear. He can hustle the steadiest backs into panic. He has a dead sure shot. But he is not my ideal centre-forward.
There is also Dewar, the Third Lanark leader, whom I saw score the neatest "hat-trick" I have seen for many a day when he topped the scoring against France the other day. I do not think I have ever seen a centre-forward who mesmerised me as Dewar did. I sat fascinated.
He has a gait that made me want to laugh, then thrilled me with wondering admiration. He does into action with less acceleration than any centre I have ever seen. My heart stood still at times; I grew cold with terror wondering how he would ever manage to catch up with the ball. But he got there just the same. And when he once got the ball at his toes it seemed to be tied to his boot.
He must be a difficult man to rob. And when he got into shooting position his shot was both strong and sure. But he is not my ideal centre-forward.
DEAN, THE IDEAL
No; for my ideal centre-forward — ideal, that is, by contemporary standards — is an Englishman, "Dixie" Dean. I know well what Scots' fans say: Dean has never justified himself in international football. I do not care a fig about that. Of all the centre-forwards I have watched in action Dean is, to my mind, the best leader of an attack.
He is always keen; he is unselfish. Never mind about those double and triple hat-tricks. Dean gives his colleagues as many goals as he himself scores. The stupid conception that a centre-forward is a dud unless he is topping the list of scorers has given reputation to more mediocrities than hero-worship has ruined others.
I have known centre-forwards who were hailed as being in direct succession to Quinn and McColl who did not merit a place in a ladies' team. I do not name Dean because of his goal scoring record. I wager that Dean could play in a match and never score a goal yet be the initiator of the goals that counted.
"Dixie" Dean is one of the few centre-forwards who thinks as he runs. He has his eyes everywhere; he knows where he is going; he never forgets that there are forwards on both sides of him; he can distribute the ball accurately and always effectively.
Big of body, he is a feather-weight on his feet, and to see him jump for a ball is one of the delights a spectator always anticipates. Dean is undoubtedly the best leader of an attack I know.
And when I throw bouquets at Dean let me make the moment auspicious for reminding Everton admirers that Jimmy Dunn is on Dean's right. Here is an inside forward who, like James, is a midget, but is a midget who is worth his weight in gold. Also one of the Wembley team, Jimmy was one of the inconspicuous marvels.
That is Dunn all the time. He is at all times the most effective man in the forward line, but only one in a thousand spectators appears to realise the fact. But the men opposing him never admit this illusion of casual importance.
Like my old Newcaslte colleague, Roddy McKenzie, Dunn is a worker. From whistle to whistle he is on his toes. He never shirks going back to help. He is always scheming to bring the attack into threatening action. I wonder just how ofeten Everton have found the tide turning for them as a result of Dunn's subtle manoeuvring? Like James, Dunn is a Scots's inside-forward who has blended craft with quick-moving action and has yet made no ostensible sacrifice of craft.
CROOKS, NOT JACKSON
I choose one more Englishman for my forward line. Crooks, of Derby County, is to my mind the greatest outside-right playing football, to-day. He has no equal.
I am sorry, but even my admiration for my late colleague, Alec Jackson, will not permit me to let prejudice influence judgment. Again I choose a little fellow.
Funny, is it not, how one discovers time and again that the little fellow is often the big fellow when it comes to the question of craftsmanship and value. At his very best Alec Jackson was a terror. He could run. His finishing was uncanny. He had a shot that, for first-time force, was the despair of goalkeepers. Yet I think of my impressions when watching the two wingers and comparing their effectiveness, and am compelled to give my vote to Crooks.
The Englishman is both speedy and crafty. He does not, however, rely solely upon speed to make himself effective. Think of the times he has brought panic into the Scottish defence.
A FRENCH "STAR"
We used to call Alan Morton the little blue devil who "hammered" the Sassenach. I wonder what is the Scot's football fan's opinion of Crooks? At that match in Paris, to which I find myself compelled to make frequent reference, I saw a French winger, Langellier, who closely resembled Crooks in style and effectiveness and who, next to Crooks, I think the most dangerous winger I have seen this season.
Both were adept in trapping a ball and getting into stride in the one movement. The Frenchman was the faster of the two, but Crooks has the greater variety of tricks. (I hear a whisper that the Derby man may travel north to Rangers). I cannot vouch for the truth if any of the rumour, but, if it does happen, Ibrox is going to give hospitality to the greatest little winger playing to-day.
More than that, Crooks never overelaborates. He is always on the way to the goal, and, like the best type of modern winger, he can cut in and drive dead for the net when the moment comes.
I like to think that Crooks comes from the Newcastle district, for that is the next best thing to saying that he comes from Scotland.
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