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John Allen, 1944: Alex James

Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2022-05-05 13:17:33

Data providers: Isaque Argolo.
John Allen | 13/05/1944

A wee fellow, a long pair of "pants," two feet a vallet dance might have envied for their quickness, an iceool brain; place all these in the person of one man, and you have the greatest footballer of modern time — Alex James.

In his way, "Wee Alex" was a scientist. He planned very move in which he took part in a cold, calculating manner that provided surprising opening for his team-mates, and completely outwitted the opposing defenders.

A Glasgow man, James, as a schoolboy of eight, first showed his natural aptitude for the game, but as he was frail and on the small side, his parents were told by a schoolmaster that they should try and keep Alex off the football field — at least, until he had put on more weight and added a few inches to his height.

But Alex James was football mad, and in the company of his great friend, Hugh Gallacher — later to become just as famous — "made" the school team. The two midgets played against boys much older than they were, but natural talent prevailed, and when they left school, each to different jobs, the talent scouts decided to watch them.
Alex James, after working in the pits and an iron foundry, attracted the attention of the big clubs. Always, however, did the League clubs come to the same decision — "Too small for first-class football." It fell to Raith Rovers to give Alex James his big chance, and he took it with both feet. In 1926 he crossed the Border to don Preston's white shirt, and three years later the late Herbert Chapman, looking for a man around whom he could build a new Arsenal, paid Preston 9.000 for Alex James.
This proved the making of the "Gunners" of Highbury. At first James took some little time to settle down, but settle down he did.
True, he did not score many goals for Arsenal; his task was to make openings for others; but it should be stressed that the little "Miracle Man" of Soccer could shoot.
I have seen him put in some terrific shots for Preston, but with the London club he concentrated on making goals for his colleagues. In this respect he had few peers. A quiet little chap, Alex James was never in a scene of any kind. He had no time for that; his interest was solely in getting goals, and while he wore Arsenal's colours they had their finest teams of all time.
Mind you, Alex James had at inside-right in those superb Arsenal sides another of the "truly great" forwards. I am referring to David Bone Nightingale Jack — plain David Jack to football fans — who not only made openings for others, but scored hundreds of fine goals himself. The great difference between Jack and James was that Alex operated in midfield for the greater part of a match, while David, after brilliant dribble, in which he might beat three or four opponents, would pass to his winger, race forward, take the return pass, and crash the ball into the goal.
In club matches and internationals he showed a skill that endeared him to all crowds, and when he retired, to later become manager of Southend United, the game lost a great forward.
He cost Arsenal 10.340, when he was secured from Bolton Wanderers, which must have made Herbert Chapman feel upset. You see, after serving with the Royal Navy in the last war Jack offered his services to Arsenal and Chelsea. Both refused to sign him so he returned home to Plymouth, became a Civil Servant, and played for the club his father, the late Bob Jack, managed — Plymouth Argyle.
Two years later, in 1921, he went to Bolton, scored the first Cup Final goal at Wembley in 1923, and again scored when Bolton reached the Final in 1926.
I have checked photographs of both goals, and they show that David Jack scored from the identical spot on both occasions. In 1930, this time in Arsenal's colours, he added a third Cup Final to his collection. Between these two ace inside forwards Arsenal had one of football's biggest-hearted players — the late Jack Lambert. Jack and James supplied the brains — and Lambert did the rest by putting the ball in the net. Arsenal spent thousands of pounds in buying centre-forwards to take their place — and Lambert's — in the star-studded forward line of Bastin, James, Jack and Hulme.
They secured the transfer of Coleman (Grimsby), Halliday (Sunderland), Bowden (Plymouth), and Dunne (Sheffield United). All, for a time at least, took Lambert's League place — but always did this great sportsman make a successful "comeback."
In my opinion, had he not been killed in a motor accident, Lambert, who had proved himself a fine manager of Arsenal's "nursery" at Margate, would have become the leading manager in League football. Of this great forward line, only one member remains in football to-day, and he still wears the Arsenal colours, Cliff Bastin, who had won every one of football's honours — International Cap, Inter-League, Cup, and League Medals — before he was nineteen years of age, still gives a good display in the weakened club team.
Bastin would be the first to admit how much he owes to Alex James. He was a schoolboy international inside-left when Arsenal, after he had played for his local club, Exeter, paid 1.500 for his transfer.
They hoped he would become a fine deputy for James, but an injury to the regular outside-left, Sid Hoare, gave Bastin a League chance — and he remained on the wing, with successful results. "Prompted" by James, the young Exeter lad, instead of running to the corner flag and sending over a centre for his inside forwards, cut in to the centre himself and began to shoot hard and often, with the result that goals became plentiful. In fact, he took over the goalscoring job of James.
In the 1932-33 season he banged home 33 goals in 42 games, which shows the value of his "cutting in" to the Arsenal attack.
Behind these forwards of never-to-be-forgotten skill were to be found Herbert Roberts, first of the third-back and "policemen" pivots, and the great left-back, Eddie Hapgood, to mention but two.
By their team-spirit and great skill, they, too, played a big part in the success of the line of great forwards, but goals are the things that crowds remember. That is why few defenders have ever gone down among the "immortals of football." And so one could go on putting forward more and more Arsenal players who have gained glory in the red shirt. But to John Citizen, who knows his football, the men I've mentioned are on his lists of "Knights of Soccer." He knows them all, even if he has not seen them in action. Now he knows what really made them so great.