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Ivan Sharpe, 1925: Little Blue-Devil
Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2022-05-05 13:42:03
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Ivan Sharpe | 13/04/1925
Year by year England scratches its head and says to iself: "But what about Morton?"
Surely this is the greatest tribute that can be paid to an artist of the sports field.
His opponents, year by year, cannot master him in the greatest of all matches. The selectors, year by year, wear a frown and wonder how his cunning can be checked — not mastered, just checked.
Provided his method be fair — and I never heard of Morton's play being questioned in any way — no finer testimonial can be offered. To Scotland's principal opponents he is "a mystery man," "a will o' the wisp," "the terror of the toucline," "the man who is never mastered," "a dancing devil with a prod for every English defender so far set against him." All these descriptions I have read of Alan Morton these last few days, or since Scotland once again drove back the invader from Hampden Park.
Morton, then, is the man of the moment, and demands a place in my series of chats on the ways of famous players.
THE ROUTE TO FAME
His story is well known and can be summarised.
Born in Partick, he was reared in Airdrie, where his "twinkling toes" — still, to borrow from the echoes of this last battle at Glasgow — soon caught the eye in secondary schools football. In 1910, while at Airdrie Academy, he played for the Rest of Scotland against Glasgow, and he reached his first ambition when admitted to the black and white of Queen's Park, with whom he bounded into prominence in season 1914-15.
In the first season after the war he became Scotland's recognised outside left, despite the challenge of Troup, another pressing little outside left, of Forfar birth and Dundee development, so that after securing his first cap while still and amateur player against Wales, at Cardiff, in February, 1920, when he had Cairns, of Rangers, his present club and international partner, to aid his debut, he played against Ireland at Parkhead in March, and was chosen for his first clash with England, at Sheffield, in April, but was unable to appear.
At the end of the season — 1919-20 — he heard the professional call, and the flag at historic Hampden fell to halfmast when the pet of Queen's Park passed over, on terms quite tempting, to the Rangers.
A LITTLE DANDY
Whatever the cost, the Rangers must be content. Morton's two international caps as an amateur player have grown to a collection. Of Scotland's 18 post-war international matches, in fact, he has figured in fourteen.
There is never any hesitation as to who shall play at outside left, for, although Troup had had the four remaining international caps, Morton has always been the man to set against England. For every League international with the Englishmen since the war, moreover, the call has come to Morton. Of his triumphs in the field everyone knows.
And the glory of it, those who welcome the triumph of skill over strength, is that Morton, as Chevalier used to sing, "only stands abaht so 'igh — that's all." He is of better build than the midget men of English football — Fred Walden, of the Spurs, Joshua Williams, of Huddersfield Town, and Peter Bennie, the Scotsman who moved from Burnley to Bradford City; all, be it noted, outside forwards.
Yet he is an inch short of 5 1/2ft. in height and the official international programme of the Scottish F.A. adheres to the statement that he is 10st. 4lb. in weight, or 10lb. short of the minimum most first-class clubs prefer their players to carry.
A STUDY IN FEET
Morton has a gift for the game, beyond a doubt.
He has what John Goodall calls a natural control of the ball. When it comes to his toe it is under command. It is trapped or controlled instantaneously — without clumsy manoeuvre or effort. The ball just seems to do as it is told.
But the gift does not come to both feet. He has studied the need of making the awkward foot obey, just as Edward Taylor, of Huddersfield Town, the England goalkeeper of last season, made his awkward right hand do things that came quite naturally to the left. Here is one of the secrets of Morton's success — he can use both feet with equal facility, and how masterfully!
An outside left, he uses the right or inside foot when taking the pass, so gaining a yard or a flying start. He is so happy in the use of the right foot that he will drible with it down the wing or by sudden flick of the foot turn inwards on that "devil's dance." Hill, of Burnley, will agree that it is all so sudden and disconcerting.
YOU NEVER CAN TELL
Little Magee, of West Bromwich Albion, his latest English opponent in the internationals, saus "You don't know which way he is going." That is equally true, and many a back will testify.
Why? Because the speedy, swerving outside forward who can use both feet and who prances forward dribbling with the right presents a new problem to the defender. So very few forwards to-day can do the double-foot advance at all confidently — Vizard, of Bolton Wanderers, and William Davies, of Cardiff City, are notable exceptions.
The defender — and the full-back in particular — finds the forward coming at him at a new angle and capable of swerving inwards or outwards without a pause. It is the pause that gives the back his chance.
Then the use of the inside foot, from right or left wing, paves the way to the perfect corner-kick, as Leicester City, who fell out of the Cup competition in the fourth round at Cardiff by such a boomerang punt by W. Davies, are aware. "Learn to use both feet" is the lesson of the Cup-ties and of Alan Morton. It is the first lesson for the really ambitious youth.
"YON LITTLE BLUE-DEVIL"
These are good arrows to be able to shoot, but Morton has more — quite a quiver-full.
He has to perfection the Scottish method of establishing sure communication with the inside-forward and the supporting half-back. The opponent is in doubt as to whether he will call in his partner or his half-back, or speed away darting in and out as a quick brain dictates.
If he raids, he dribbles at an unusually fine pace, generally to converge upon goal.
If he waits, he is never easily tackled, so sure is his command of the ball and his grip of the situation. He hesitates not to take stock, but to lure and entangle an opponent, to draw the man and pave the way for a colleague.
But he is rarely still. He is generally engaged on a bewildering prance. He has the most fascinating feet in football.
Two men from Derbyshire visited Hampden Park for the latest international. "Which is Morton?" I heard one say. "Yon little blue-devil on the ball" was the reply...
That will suffice.
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