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Ivan Sharpe: England x Scotland - 31/03/1928
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FINEST FOOTBALL EVER SEEN?
Bewildered England Suffer Their Heaviest Professional Defeat by Scotland
The Match of the Midgets
Ivan Sharpe | 02/04/1928
In week-end of sensational sport England and Scotland "kept it up." A hundred-to-one Grand National Winner. A ten-lengths win by Crambridge in the Varsity boat race. And, close on its heels, a 5—1 win for Scotland in the Soccer International at Wembley after a display just as startling. England have been handed the wooden spoon of the International Championship filled with bitter sauce. The result is startling after that 6—2 win of the English League over the Scottish League only a week or so ago. But the result is less sensational than the method of its accomplishment.
England were not merely beaten. They were bewildered — run to standstill; made to appear utterly inferior footballers — by a team whose play was as cultured and beautiful as I ever expect to see.
I said, emphatically, after that Inter-League win that the English success was flattering because it was secured over the poorest Scottish League eleven I have seen. England had most of those winners in this match, and yet the decisive margin is completely reversed; and, just as the English League should have had an even heavier harvest at Glasgow, so should the Scotsmen have had a more decisive victory at the Stadium.
Why this transformation? Is Association football such a hopelessly uncertain, "unguessable" game? Read on.
With every desire to avoid being boastful, I am going to claim to place a finger right on the cause of this sensation at the Stadium — for sensation it was; no other word adequately describes the utter humiliation of the England eleven, who were made to look schoolboyish in the second half and were chasing the ball so that, in very truth, there were times when they "could not get a kick at it."
Why? Because it rained at the start, and the Stadium pitch is perfect, unused turf. Because Scotland's small attack of highly-skilled ball-players found that they could slither the ball along the surface and the defender could not turn, without risk of a tumble.
This midget attack of Scotland's might have been overweighted and pushed out of the picture on a number of First Division grounds I could name, where weekle wear and tear makes mud in wet weather.
In mud these five little monkeys could not so merrily have danced and capered. Sometimes they would have stuck. Their artistry would have been reduced by the ploughing tactics of heavy English half-backs.
But on fresh, unused turf their football had a fair chance. This is no excuse or palliation. The conditions were as good as a forward need desire, and were the same for both sides. I am merely emphasising the fact that Scotland's selectors had the courage to bank on skill and found the conditions fitting perfectly to their plan.
Do not imagine, however, that forward skill alone overran the Englishmen.
It was a triumph for the Scottish style, which is close co-operation between half-backs and forwards and the ball to be kept on the turf. It was a triumph for the mainly supporting as distinct from the mainly destructive half-back, and a complete and convincing illustration of the fact that under the new law half-backs can and should follow up.
And all Scotland should have been there to see it. Never has the Scottish style of football been more gloriously confirmed in its correctness. Never has sheer ball-skill and artistry gained a greater triumph.
For nearly an hour of the match England were chasing the ball and made to look small. Scotland will grasp the full measure of this exhibition when I say that the winners danced through the defence and bewildered the Englishmen with greater ease than was seen at any stage of the recente runaway Inter-League win at Ibrox Park.
There were times in the second half when the play was the purest and finest ever seen. This is a tall statement. I think there is no doubt that it is true, however, for the reason that it was all so polished; easy, and precise — the ball always doing the work and finding the man — that it could not be better. There was nothing missing.
ENGLAND 1 — 5 SCOTLAND
Kelly(1) — Jackson(3), James(2)
England: Hufton (West Ham United); Goodall (Huddersfield Town), Jones (Blackburn Rovers); Edwards (Leeds United), Wilson (Huddersfield Town), Healless (Blackburn Rovers); Hulme (Arsenal), Kelly (Huddersfield Town), Dean (Everton), Bradford (Birmingham), Smith (Huddersfield Town).
Scotland: J. D. Harkness (Queen's Park); Nelson (Cardiff City), Law (Chelsea); Gibson (Aston Villa), Bradshaw (Bury), M'Mullan (Manchester City); Jackson (Huddersfield), Dunn (Hibernians), Gallacher (Newcastle United), James (Preston North End), Morton (Rangers).
Referee: W. Bell, Scotland.
THE FATAL FLAW
The source of inspiration has been the same in each of these two memorable matches: half-back play.
Here, England were unfortunate. Wilson, of Huddersfield Town, is primarily a defensive player, and the system of selection was sound enough in providing for a "good stopper" (with serviceable supporting power) down the middle and two constructive men on the flanks (Edwards and Bishop). The latter pair re-established English strength at Hampden Park in April and again recently at Ibrox Park. But on Saturday morning Bishop had to cry off — indisposed — and in his place Healless (not a left half-back at all, but a right or centre-half) was called on.
The selectors fell back on their half-back reserve, and how grievous was the consequence. Healless was out of place and out of the picture. Wilson prefers mud and was lost on the fast, slithery surface. Edwards was the only half-back worth the name England had — a brave, skilful player.
Wilson' head is a great force when the ball is in the air. He must have wondered whether there was any air at Wembley. The ball wasn't there, anyway.
The Scottish forwards, wonderfully supported by the half-backs, pranced past Wilson and Healless by the choicest combination football can provide.
BEST OF ALL TIME
Tremendous tributes are paid to the Scottish display by famous Scottish players of the past.
R. S. McColl, the great International centre-forward of Queen's Park and Newcastle United, took a party of old Internationals to the match. This is what some of the party say:
R. S. M'Coll: Those who thought that the 1900 team (which beat England by 4—1 at Glasgow) was the finest that has ever worn the Scottish colours must be thinking differently. The present team is as clever in every respect as that which won at Parkhead by 4—1.
J. T. Robertson, who captained the 1900 team, considers that Saturday's team "beat" even the display of his side.
Harry Rennie, who was the goalkeeper of the 1900 side, says: "The Scottish players were inspired by the presence of the 1900 team. It was a miracle of applied science against brawn. Scottish football is again in the ascendant."
Remembering the general reluctance of the old-timer to concede that the present can equal the past, this is high praise indeed. It may be of interest to add the names of Scotland's 1900 side:
CLOCKWORK AND GOALS
Real football at last! Clockwork passing. The "triangle" — prettiest of all tunes football can provide — tinkling for an hour on two sides of the field: Gibson (at his best) behind Jackson and little Dunn; M'Mullan (generally great in attack) inspiring Morton and James. James! He needs no inspiration. But he got it and, taking the game through, was the master mind of this clockwork Scottish forward line.
Clockwork is the word. Take the fifth and last Scottish goal. Admittedly, it came at a time when England were down and out, but it shows how perfectly Scotland played.
M'Mullan (left half-back) had the ball forty yards from the goal line. I was over a hundred yards away, yet I heard the call of Morton (outside left) for the ball: "Jimmy-y!" No sooner said than done.
Between half-back and back went the arrow-like ground pass. Morton, racing ahead in anticipation, caught it, eased up, crossed the ball a yard from the line, and as it fell in front of goal Jackson, running in, met it in the air three yards from the post. Crash! A volley goal at point-blank range. That is football — the real thing.
FIVE "LITTLE BLUE DEVILS"
I heard a man at Hampden Park one Anglo-Scottish day, call Morton "yon little blue-devil" (for Scotland play in Oxford blue). There were five little blue-devils in this Wembley attack, and one or two more behind.
James and Jackson were the stars, Morton "came back" in the second half, and Dunn and Gallacher fully did their bit, though getting no goals. Jackson headed the first and third goals very cleverly from Morton's precise centres, and made it five (three for himself) from another centre from Morton in the manner already described.
James got the other two. The first (number two in the order of scoring) was a gem, manoeuvred from the inside-right position and driven home with the flash that marked all his work. The second, a swift drive that hit Jones, knocked him out, and sped into the net. This was Scotland's fourth goal, three of the points coming in the second half.
James with one cross-field flash found Jackson time and again — masterly moves, made with uncanny swiftness and certainty; Jackson just revelled in the Jackson way. This pair Scotland have had few finer forwards.
Five forwards, Gibson and M'Mullan made this match an affair to remember. Who could not shine in such company?
Bradshaw quite justified his inclusion, keeping the ball on the ground, as per general plan, while Nelson and Law were steady, virile backs, though not sorely tried. And Harkness played his small part thoroughly well. That was a vital save when he fell at Bradford's feet in the ninth minute and risked his ribs to prevent an equalising goal. Yes, so early Scotland scored — in the fourth minute — but Smith, cutting in when Nelson slipped on the greasy ground, had hit the post two minutes earlier. A bonny start, and from Scotland's viewpoint a bonny business altogether.
Now what about England? And what about including four Huddersfield Town men in a Scottish match 48 hours before their replayed F.A. Cup semi-final?
The selectors were bound to come under fire. To put the players in meant the query: Could they, being human, go all out? Not would they; could they? Forty-eight hours is a precious small time in which to get rid of an injury, however small. To leave them out looked something like a skeleton team and certainly a venture.
Well, except that Wilson could not get to grips, I saw no difference in the Huddersfield men's display from their form of last Monday's semi-final. I choose those words carefully.
Ask Gallacher whether Goodall held off. Ask Jones and Healless whether Jackson, the Huddersfield Scot, was shy. Wilson, Kelly, and Smith were not successful, but, apart from the last name, who is never a robust player, I could see no serious lack of spirit.
Smith did not knock Nelson about, but we were prepared for that, anyway. Wilson was "lost" in his International debut, but plenty of English players have suffered through the feeling that on International day they must be very careful not to roll up their sleeves too far. Do you remember "Dicky"?
HUFTON AND EDWARDS
In any event, I am not going to pillory any English players. It is sufficient to say that they ran up against a team to whom the conditions of the day gave a wonderful inspiration. England were outclassed — on grease — and only Hufton in goal and Edwards looked like Internationals. Goodall and Jones played well. I thought, seeing that they were behind a hopelessly broken intermediate line, while the forwards suffered for the same reason. Half-backs, you see, mean all.
Of the forwards, Kelly made occasional leads, and scored for England with a capital drive from a free kick over 20 yards from goal when Scotland were five in front, but Dean was the only member of the line in whom the home country could place much faith.
Hulme, like Smith, was crowded out. Two potential match-winners played a minor part because Scotland took the initiative, and for the greater part of the game maintained it.
The simple fact is, this England team could not cope with the most cunning and effortless combination one can expect to see. Half-backs mean all.
THE MIDGETS' MATCH
But it was a match to be earmarked. Though the English eleven would like to forget it, it ranks with the memorable Sheffield game of 1920. It must be remembered.
Scotland had the smallest forwards and the biggest victory for years. There is a great lesson in that — brain and brawn puts it most precisely.
Shall we call it "The Match of the Midgets"?
Rennie (Heart of Midlothian); N. Smith (Rangers), Drummond (Rangers); N. Gibson (Rangers), Raisbeck
(Liverpool), J. T. Robertson (Rangers); Bell (Celtic), Walker
(Heart of Midlothian), R. S. M'Coll (Queen's Park), Campbell
(Celtic), and Smith
Neil Gibson, of this team, is the father of James Gibson, of Aston Villa, who played in Saturday's match.
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