Football: our winter game, Charles Alcock (1874)
Charles Alcock's 1874 book Football: our winter game is available to read on Google Books.
As the following extracts show it provides some interesting insights into the development of the game at a time when its popularity was about to explode.
Other chapters cover the history of ball games, different school codes and an in depth guide to playing Rugby.
Alcock (like Bill Shankly a century later) saw no place in the game for a man who simply didn't give 100% , 100% of the time:
It would seem superflous to state that in any description of football the principle of playing up is to be regarded as the fundamental rule on which depends much of the success of a player. Yet there are many who neglect the caution habitually and are apt to think that it is an exercise specially framed with the object of affording what is termed in slang parlance a gentle breather. Let me discountenance at the outset such ideas and register my opinion that as far as the dribbling game is concerned unless a player determine on playing up to the last he should be discountenanced as a pestilential person likely to contaminate and ruin a whole eleven.
I would recommend a young player first of all to learn the practice of keeping on the ball throughout the game and the other secrets will follow the easier when this is mastered.
The Combination Game
This is the first recorded use of the term, Alcock yet again proving to be at the forefront of important developments in the game. There have been a number of theories put forward regarding the development of Combination play, and various teams have been identified as pioneers. Maybe the system gained favour through something akin to natural selection- only teams adopting this style of play could hope to meet with any success?
Nothing succeeds better than what I may call a combination game and nothing is more pleasant to an on looker than a thorough concentration of the forwards. It is half the battle believe me when a spirit of co operation pervades the forwards of any Eleven when each player can calculate the position of his fellow with accuracy and when the slightest obstacle in the way of one merely produces the substitution of another to take his place. I have seen much of the game and though I am actually an admirer and advocate of individual skill give me in preference the command of an Eleven that works like a machine of an Eleven that knows not self of an Eleven with every member thinking only of the success of his side and not coveting a string of goals on his own account. Play up I say to all and learn to play together with the rest of your fellows and you will have learnt a very important lesson in the game of football.
I maintain advisedly that allowing anything like a strong opposition eleven players of average calibre will always overcome an organization dependent on individual prowess however skilled may be each member of that organization.
Success is sure to wait in some degree on the side which shows the most unity of action.
Let the first idea be that of a score for the side and the second the subservient gratification of a goal for one's self.
Let me commend above all things the policy of backing up as is technically called the process of following closely on a fellow player to assist him if required and to take on the ball if he be attacked or prevented from continuing his onward course. Of late this policy has been adopted more generally than it was some years ago, and with great success.
Time and again in Alcock's work we find him promoting skill and mental agility over brute force. Interesting to note here he describes the charge as being executed by the man in possession of the ball as a mean of getting through defenders like a Rugby player.
Charging is a point on which great misapprehension prevails with those who have not yet finished their term of apprenticeship at football. Injudicious charging is one of the greatest errors in which a player can indulge as nothing is more calculated to produce a heavy fall and consequent twist than this principle of wild heedless attack. To charge well is a point of advantage which recommends itself to the weakest intellect and to be an adept at charging requires something more than weight. Prudence demands that charging should be administered like many other disagreeable potions in moderation and that all recklessness in this line should be severely reprehended. Except in cases of absolute necessity I would avoid a charge if possible as you will find that the shaking that ensues often seriously interferes with your progress while a more important advantage may often be gained by eluding and circumventing the obstacle which faces you. When compelled to bear the brunt of a hostile meeting remember bis dat qui cito dat and if possible have the first shot keep your body well set your elbows tight your shoulders and hip acting well in concert and you will have taken the best precautions for the prevention of a downfall.
None of this cultured 'playing out from the back' in the 1870s!
He should consider delay a capital crime and should never hesitate eschewing any attempt at dribbling unless he be absolutely alone in possession of the ball and then only if his own lines be well guarded during his absence.
Alcock's assertion that there should be a goalkeeper is very revealing. He does, however, advocate rotating the responsibility and using the goalie as an outfield player when you're on top.
One player should be stationed in the very centre of the goal in order to save it in case the outer lines of defence have been passed by the enemy the extreme width of the space rendering such a course in most instances absolutely necessary. The man selected to occupy this post should be an adept at catching cool and not prone to be flurried and should the task prove a thankless one and free from all chances of attack it would be advisable at times to relieve the sentinel by the substitution of another player.
When contending against weak opponents it is politic to bring the goal keeper, I mean the player stationed between the sticks, up to the front.