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A. J. B., 1913: The most accomplished player
Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2022-05-18 17:54:34
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THE MOST ACCOMPLISHED FOOTBALL PLAYER
A. J. B. | 06/12/1913
I am drawn on to the above topic because several of my old football friends were kind enough to tell me that they delighted in being taken back a few years by reminiscences of old-time players, or comments on matters and men of a score of years ago and also that another article on old-time matters would be welcome. It is not exactly "Nero fiddling while Rome is burning" to deal with a topic that is only academical, instead of tackling an up-to-date subject such as the coming together of the two parties of the spot in the football world. This is a matter that will keep for future comment. The healing of the breach appears to be nearer accomplishment, so that we may be able to be shoot "Hurrah!" before November is out. The parties to the dispute can be left to bridge over the difficulties.
In the world of football opinions are divided as to the best player the game has produced. In Derby, perhaps, they will quote Stephen Bloomer as the man for the honour; in Blackburn they will probably mention Bob Crompton, with his record of international games; while in certain circles in the South a few would mention G. O. Smith; while others of an older school would put Cobbold as the most accomplished.
Steve Bloomer is undoubtedly one of the greatest forwards that have adorned the game, and I can speak personally of many of the many marvellous things he has accomplished on the football field. At his best, he was a wonder and a wonder-worker, for in a flash he could score a goal that would thrill every spectator because of its unexpectedness and the accuracy of the movement that brought it about. He was amazingly quick to see a chance, and just as quick in having a go at the opportunity, and times without number have I seen him score goals when the defenders never expected a shot at goal or an attack from the quarter that Bloomer delivered it. Bloomer, with all his great qualities as an attacking unit, is unknown as a defender or as a player in the intermediate line, so his all-round accomplishments cannot possibly be estimated.
The same can be said of the great G. O. Smith and the equally skilful Cobbold, for both were wonderful in footwork, the last-named in his day having the reputation of being the most skilful dribbler the game has ever seen, although George Howarth of Accrington (Blackburn Rovers player), could always keep the big Corinthian in hand. As Cobbold excelled in dribbling at a great speed, and Smith was wonderful in combination and intelligent anticipation of his colleague's movements, simple goals were scored as easy as shelling peas. Smith was not a robust player, but his knowledge of the requirements of the centre-forward position was great, and although a fine goal scorer himself, a more unselfish player never kicked a ball. I don't think anyone could reasonably advance the claim of Smith or Cobbold as being the outstanding product of the game, for like Bloomer their defensive qualities can only be assumed.
Then again Bob Crompton has only been known as a full-back, and great as he is as a defender, one cannot imagine the big and healthy-looking back being particularly successful either as a half-back or forward Crompton must always figure amongst the great full-backs, but I don't think he comes into consideration when the greatest player is being discussed. I could mention dozens of players who had sterling all-round qualities, such as Joe Leeming, Barbour, of Bury, McQueen, of Liverpool, who were versatile without touching greatness. Higher up the scale we find five players who undoubtedly excelled their fellows in all-round ability, and in making up the number I have my doubts about leaving out a sixth in Andy Aitken. The five players referred to are Jimmy Crabtree, of Burnley, Ernest Needham, of Staveley, Willie Groves and Hughie Wilson, of Scotland, and Colin Veitch, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I have had the pleasure of seeing these great players at their best, and seeing them under different conditions, and in different positions on the field of play, and so far as my memory serves, without reference to the records I think the honour of being the most accomplished footballer lies within that list of five. Jimmy Crabtree was a great defender, a clever half-back, and a forward of more than ordinary accomplishments, and as he contrived to impress his qualities upon everybody who saw him play in any position he is always a big favourite for the high honour of being the man above his fellows.
Ernest Needham had not the physical qualities of his great rival Crabtree, but he made up for lack of inches and weight by a skill, quickness, and unequalled judgment that no other football player has ever possessed; at least, that is my opinion. The judgment of Crabtree and Needham at times was uncanny and savoured of thought-reading, but while that of Crabtree was greatest as a defender, Needham could deceive as an attacker, which stamped him as the best attacking half-back this or any other country has produced. His other qualities I will leave until later in my article.
Willie Groves was a brilliant player, who flashed across the football world too quickly to be appreciated at his proper worth. He was equally brilliant at either forward or half-back, and high-class football was stamped in every movement. Not only was Willie Groves a great player, but he was a stylist, and graceful in everything he attempted; and grace, when effect is not sacrificed, must be accounted as a spectacular quality and accomplishment. Willie Groves is a pleasing memory.
Hughie Wilson, of New Milns, was a vastly different player in style and method to Groves. While Wilson was as hard as nails and as strong as a lion, he knew the real game, and could play it like a master. His gaunt, wiry figure prevented him from being graceful, yet his effectiveness was beyond question. At Sunderland he chiefly played at half-back, with an occasional run at full-back or forward, as circumstances demanded, and no matter what position he occupied he seemed to fit in like one used to the position. Leaving Sunderland he joined Bedminster and captained that team in the Southern League, and when Bedminster amalgamated with Bristol City, Wilson went back over the Border, and continued to play chiefly as a forward, and goal-getting became a strong feature of his play. Had Wilson been of the same level-headed type as Needham or Veitch his reputation would have been higher than it is, but his wonderful football ability has never been questioned. The quality and worth of Colin Veitch is within the memory of every follower of the game, but most people only know of his versatility because they have seen his name in the various positions of the field of play.
As a half-back he was great, for at his best he touched International form of the highest standard, and, like Needham, he forced good qualities out of the men in front of him. His lack of inches was a bit of a drawback at full-back, but he was a brave defender when put in that position. His play at centre-forward was convincing enough of his ability, and had he been kept by Newcastle United in one position, that position in the International matches would have been Colin Veitch's. He suffered considerably owing to oeing constantly changed in his club team. He was a fine leader, and a sporting opponent, besides being a gentleman in all his actions. His impression on the modern game is creditable to him, both as a man and a player. After giving every player their full share of praise for their accomplishments, one is forced to the conclusion that the final choice must rest between Crabtree and Needham, and general opinion is about evenly divided between these great players.
One of the best judges of the game discussing the matter with me some years ago gave his opinion that Crabtree was entitled to the honour with Ernest Needham close up. As a spectacular player, Crabtree must certainly be given the preference, but Needham possessed many good points that never appealed to spectators for the simple reason that Needham appeared only on the fringe of certain incidents, yet the brain of Needham was in it all and his generalship had conceived the whole thing, and his personality had forced his colleagues to carry out the movement. In other words he was the brains and general of his team, besides being a great player, and putting all his qualities as a footballer together he stands out easily as the most accomplished player the game has yet produced.
Crabtree was a quiet player, Needham was not, for his brain and tongue were at full stretch conceiving movements and commanding colleagues, and deceiving opponents by his play and voice. As a captain he got more out of his men than any other man of his time and this alone easily swings the balance in this favour. The Sheffield players would have implicitly attempted anything that "Nudger" Needham desired them to, and the honours they won during the period of Needham's brilliance speaks for itself.
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