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Author Topic: howdy partner or, charlie athersmith is god.  (Read 12402 times)


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howdy partner or, charlie athersmith is god.
« on: June 11, 2010, 01:42:23 PM »
Topping the list of my favourite people for the month of April is Derek Hadley of Swanley, who was good enough to give my book a plug in the last issue. The cheque would be in the post, but the postmen of Birmingham have been showing Bolshevik tendencies of late.

Derek wrote to H&V on my pet subject of Charlie Athersmith (anyone who says ‘Charlie Who?’ is banished to the directors box forthwith). I’m glad, Derek, that I’ve helped convince you of our speedy winger’s exalted status For those unfamiliar, he was the greatest footballer of all time. Our correspondent makes reference to one non-believer, so, Derek, next time you see your friend – who we shall now call Mr X – perhaps you’d like to point out the following to him:

Mr X, in an attempt to deny Athersmith’s genius, claimed that Charlie didn’t win that many England caps. This brings to mind an argument I had with someone a few years back on the subject of Garry Parker. My adversary suggested that Parker must be good because he’d been called into the England squad. I seem to recall mentioning Geoff Thomas a fair bit during that row. However, Mr X’s claim is, in fact, wholly false in that Charlie played in an enormous amount of internationals considering the era he starred in. Athersmith won 12 caps in total, but when one considers that only three internationals were played each season, and it was rare that a player was picked for all three in a year, he did bloody well.

One player who did fare better in this respect was G.O. Smith, who collected 20 caps between 1893 and 1901, including five consecutive ever present seasons. Smith primarily played at centre-forward and in one game scored four goals. That game was a 13-2 mauling of Ireland in 1899, yet on the whole Smith consistently failed to find the net, even when

the Three Lions were winning 5,6, even 9-nil. So why was he in the team? It seems he was the token amateur. Smith played his club football for Oxford University, Old Carthusians and the Corinthians. Incidentally, the FA was dominated by amateurs then, rather than run by them as is the case now.

The only other player to significantly top Charlie’s figure was the legendary Steve Bloomer. This Dudley-born forward won 23 caps with Derby and, later, Middlesbrough between 1895 and 1907. More on him shortly. Suffice to say that he was another great player long since, and criminally, forgotten by today’s know-nothing pundits. We’d gladly have his like in a Villa shirt today.

Mr X’s other claim was that Charlie was often dropped by England. This is completely wrong. Athersmith was dropped twice. The first time came in 1892 after he’d won his first cap. It would, however, be unfair to claim he was dropped, rather the player he understudied for came back into the side. His debut had come as he neared the end of his first full season with the Villa (perhaps Lee Hendrie can look forward to the same honour next year?). That season ended with Cup Final defeat at the hands of a highly talented West Brom side. Bet you’d never thought you’d read a sentence like that.

The thing that made the Baggies so good were their wingers, who would fling deadly accurate passes to one another as they made progress up the field. On the right flank for Albion was a man named Billy Bassett. He was in Charlie’s England shirt and had been, injuries permitting, since 1888. Now, the England selectors had a choice. Drop an outstanding player in favour of an up and coming genius, or stick with the tried and tested. They chose the latter.

Bassett played his last international in 1896. A year later, Charlie took over and didn’t lose the shirt until the 1900 game against Ireland when injury saw him pull out of the side, although he played against Wales and Scotland, his last games for his country. In 1900-01 Villa were crap, Charlie was forced to play outside left and both inside forward roles and subsequently lost his England place. He was then transferred to Blues and, well, would you pick a Small Heathen? So, in response to Mr X, Athersmith’s international record actually adds weight to the claim that he was indeed the greatest player of all time.

Charlie was, according to contemporary reports, outstanding in every international he played (and club game for that matter). But he was also horribly underused. This is because Steve Bloomer, for all his undoubted attributes, was not that good at bringing wingers into play. There was, thorough out the 1890’s, a fierce debate raging over who was the best inside-right in the world, Bloomer or the greatest Villa skipper of all time, John Devey. The Scottish selectors made no secret of the fact that they believed it was Devey and were in a state of permanent joy at never having to face our man in a Villa shirt.

Yet in truth, Devey should have played because his partnership with Athersmith was awesome in the extreme. They seemed almost telepathic in respect of each other’s movements and a glance at their record at club level should leave no one in any doubt as to their worth to England’s cause. But before we leave the days of Villa greatness behind, if Mr X or anyone else wishes to know more about the finest team ever to grace a football pitch, there’s a book called Pinnacle of the Perry Barr Pets which tells their tale. The author’s name escapes me, but for anorak-type detail it can’t be beaten. (Shameless Plugs Inc.)

There is a moral to this story and it has relevance to the Villa today. One of the things which made the Villa the greatest club side in the world all those years ago – and, to return to the international stage made Scotland a lot better than England back then – was the stunning partnerships forged on the field of play. Howard Spencer and Albert Evans were as good a full-back pair as one could hope to see. They knew instinctively where their half-backs where who, in turn, could pick out the inside forwards brilliantly. Meanwhile, along with Johnny Campbell at centre-forward, the wingers were utilised to the full by their fellow forwards and would rarely fail to deliver a pinpoint cross because they knew, instinctively again, where the support would be.

If you don’t want to travel back 100 years, look at Morley, Withe and Shaw, plus Evans and McNaught. Even more recently, Cowans could always find Daley who, poor crossing apart, had the happy knack of searching out David Platt’s late surges. And coming right up to date…er… well, you tell me. Alan Wright has an amazing ability to lay the ball back ten yards to Steve Staunton. Other than that the only sign that any of our players have the slightest idea what a team-mate is about to do comes from Lee Hendrie and Darren Byfield. Having played together in schoolboy representative sides and come through the ranks in tandem, they at least look like they are in tune with one another’s thoughts and deeds.

So, as John Gregory goes summer shopping, perhaps he might look at bringing in players who can complement and link up with those good enough to remain on our books. We have long moaned about the lack of productive forwards, but we have four top class ones on our books with another couple making decent enough strides through the reserves. Problem is, they don’t seem able to play together.

What I’m trying to say is, I’ll settle for Shaw and Withe, but if Gregory can unearth us an Athersmith and Devey, world domination here we come again.

Simon Page