Victorian Football

GO Smith

Mr. G. O. Smith Talks about the Great Game,
By C. Duncan Lewis, 1896

Now that the Football season has commenced, readers will naturally be expecting some hints on the winter pastime — hints as to how they may save their goal and their shins at the same time. No authority is better qualified to give advice on this subject than Mr. G. O. Smith, the famous International Association footballer.

Mr. Smith is an ideal athlete. A brilliant footballer, a fine cricketer, the old Oxonian is equally at home when he is playing a winning game or working like a Trojan to save his side from defeat. If everyone else in the team fails and pulls a face as long as the Monument, Mr. G. O. Smith can always be depended upon to shatter the rising hopes of the opposing side. It is very cruel, no doubt, but he can’t help it; it is in his nature to!

When I wrote to Mr. Smith the other day and told him that readers were anxious to make his acquaintance, he very kindly offered to answer any questions I might put to him.

I asked Mr. Smith his opinion of compulsory football — whether he thinks a boy ought to be made to learn football for his health’s sake, just as he has to fill his head with algebraical solutions for his brain’s sake.

“In compulsory games, as a whole, I do not believe,” he replied. “Football, in my opinion, is best enjoyed and best played at schools where it is not nominally compulsory, but where public opinion practically makes everyone keen to play. In such a case football loses all sense of a task which must be undergone, and becomes a game at which it is the desire of all to excel.”

Do you consider it a very healthy game?

“I don’t think there can be a doubt that football is good for the health. For a strong boy an hour and a half’s exercise or violent exercise is not at all a bad thing, and I can remember playing three hours on end and never feeling the worse, though I fancy that was rather too much. Of course, where a weak boy is concerned it may be overdone, but in an ordinary case the exercise to be obtained at football cannot, I think, be considered detrimental to health.”

But what about the boy, Mr. Smith, who would be much better for a sound, healthy game, but who wraps himself up in shawls and mustard plaisters and takes snuff to assist him in shamming a cold, then gets the doctor to certify that he is unfit to play? Does this kind of youth as a rule grow up weaker than the boy who regularly dons his jersey and goes through the game like a trump?

“As far as my experience goes, the boy who enters keenly and heartily into the game will necessarily prove a better and stronger fellow than the one who shams to avoid it. The former will almost certainly be energetic in other things as well as football, while the latter will probably shirk his other duties as he has shirked his games.”

Since most of us are eager to shine on the football field, can you give me some useful recipe for the making of a first-rate footballer?

“It is hard to recommend any particular course to a boy who wishes to become a good football player. The saying nascitur, non fit applies, I think, to football as well as other things: a boy must have it born in him to become really great at the game. Of course, perseverance will succeed, as a rule, in turning out a moderate player, but unless perseverance is aided by an innate skill it will not produce a first-class performer.”

How should one practise to become a first-class forward?

“The qualifications for a forward vary somewhat according to his position. Every forward, however, must have some dribbling powers, and must also be able to pass well. It is essential for an outside forward to be fast, as he gets many opportunities of using his pace; an inside forward need not be so fast, as combination is his chief concern.

“To be able to dribble well is a great advantage, but good passing is of the utmost importance. If a boy is selfish, no matter how good a dribbler he is, he will spoil the team; forwards to be perfect should work like a machine, each being dependent on his companions.”

Now, what of the ‘funk’, Mr. Smith? — that most estimable of gentleman who would like to pad himself with pillows and mattresses and that sort of thing, and who, whenever one of the opposing side approaches with the ball, clenches his fists and assumes a ferocious let-me-kill you sort of expression, and when the moment for business arrives—quietly ties up his boot-laces.

“There is, I am sorry to say, a good deal of ‘funking’ at football, and in my opinion it is impossible of cure; a boy if he ‘funks’ will probably go on ‘funking’ when he becomes bigger. Oddly enough, the people who ‘funk’ are generally the ones to get hurt, which fact may perhaps be of use in persuading boys not to adopt such tactics.”

Ah, that reminds me. The public is treated from time to time with a football butcher’s bill. We read of awful slaughter and the breaking of thousands of limbs on the field of play; but is football really as dangerous as it is made out to be?

“I do not thing that the dangers of football are at any time great, and amongst prominent players they are very slight indeed. One hardly ever hears of a bad accident in a good match. The dangers of football arise generally from the inability or rashness of the player. The wild kicking of an unskilful player who doesn’t care a nit whether he kicks the ball or an opponent is a great source of danger; but fortunately this sort of player is not often met with. It is the player that creates danger, not the game. On the whole, I believe football to be a safe game. As far as my own experience goes I have never been hurt, and hardly ever seen an accident, and certainly not a very serious one.”

Complaints are sometimes made against the professional footballer, Mr. Smith. The man who makes his bread and cheese out of the game is surely not the double-distilled monster he is occasionally claimed to be?

“I have been lucky enough to play against nearly all the League teams, and have, therefore, met many professionals. They are a very nice set of men, not only to meet on the football field, but off it. It is quite an exceptional thing to find foul play amongst the leading professional clubs. When you meet second-class professional the case may be different; but the first-class professional rarely descends to shady tricks, and plays the game in the spirit in which it ought to be played.”

Do you think football is growing more popular every year?

“As far as I know, football, not only amongst men but also amongst boys, is largely on the increase, and growing more popular every year.”

This is an edited extract from Goal-Post, the Victorian football anthology.

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