May 12

The centre-forward in 1906

Posted by SoccerHistory
Alf Common

We know relatively little about how football was played before the offside law changed in 1925 following which English football switched to the WM formation and the stopper centre half. The chief raiders were the wingers, while the centre forward became a tall, powerful figure pressing up against the centre half and needed to be strong in the air to head home the high crosses that came in from the flanks. This extract from an article from Alf Common (of record transfer fee fame) appeared in a book title ‘How to play soccer’, part of the Spalding’s Athletic Library, which was published in 1906.

The centre-forward is not required to be big, powerful and strong in the air (the ‘archetypal centre forward’ of the WM era). He can be any size or shape but height and weight are specifically said to be unimportant. The key skill of the position is dribbling; the centre forward should pass “as seldom as possible,” while heading ability is “not so necessary.” This suggests a game played mostly on the ground, with the forwards working to outwit defenders rather than deliver forceful attacks down the wings and centre. The full article contains a number of references to classical music, suggesting that there was significant input from a ‘ghost writer’.

How to play centre-forward
By A Common

The greatest artist is the man who conceals his art. If you listen when one of our greatest musicians perform – Paderewski for instance – his every action is so simple that it seems to you that a child could execute any or all of his finger movements. In a similar fashion, it seemed to me, when I first witnessed G.O. Smith perform on the football field, that any child could do that which I witnessed. He seemed to saunter along with the ball at his toe, just as if threading his way through the opposing defenders was as easy as shelling peas. A tap here and a tap there, a glide, a sinuous twist, and the cleverest of defenders was outwitted. …

You may be short or tall, or heavy in build, or bantam weight, but poundage and height are minor considerations for being a centre-forward. …

A good dribbler is always an unsettling factor against the best of defences … A good dribbler always keeps the opposing half-backs and backs guessing. A good dribbler can always draw the defence … The cleverness of the dribbler will often do more to disconcert a defending line than a combined attack from the five forwards. …

Dribbling may so easily beget selfishness. Therefore you must learn the art of passing. Any player can get rid of the ball when he is hard pressed, but it takes an expert to get rid of it to advantage. It behoves the centre-forward then, to be a man of quick reasoning and sound judgement. The one necessarily follows the other. He must learn to take in at a glance the existing condition of affairs in the enemy’s lines, and this reasoning will beget the judgement which decides whether a short or long pass ought to be adopted. … The chief thing to remember is to pass as seldom as possible, provided that you always do so when an advantage may be gained for your side. …

The art of heading is not so necessary in this department, but nevertheless it is an accomplishment which ought to be cultivated. Times there are when you cannot get your feet to the ball. At such times nothing but the head will prevail. Especially does heading come in handy when your side forces a corner kick. When the ball comes sailing in from the flag-post there is generally such a skirmish in front of goal, defenders and attackers being mixed up in glorious confusion, that it is impossible to get your toe to the ball. It is then that your head will prove of service. …    

Remember that you are the pivot of the forward line … in all frontal attacks you are the unit to beget success or failure. After all, you are the one to lead the charge.