Fred Spiksley on Film

I mentioned Fred Spiksley here yesterday – he was one of the group of Edwardian football coaches and ex-players interned by Germany with John Cameron at Ruhleben near Berlin.

This group, plus Jack Reynolds, William Townley and Jimmy Hogan, pioneered the teaching of football, and had to go abroad to do it. Of these, Fred Pentland (Spain), Jimmy Hogan (Hungary and Austria) and Jack Reynolds (Holland) were undeniably excellent coaches who had remarkable careers and left considerable legacies.

Three out of that group is quite a high proportion. It’s worth bearing in mind that these men were self-selecting: not only did they have to regard teaching football as worthwhile, but they had to have the self-confidence and self-assurance to leave home for years on end, and, in most cases, to stay abroad even after the bitter experience of imprisonment during World War I.

That self-selection doesn’t include any factor about ability to coach. British football was looked up to by Europe’s small happy band of early adopters, and one suspects that any “name” from the Football League would have more than satisfied a club who were simply too far away to perform any kind of quality check upon their new gaffer.

It might be that outside of the great three of Pentland, Reynolds and Hogan, the others were pioneers merely by being where they were and doing what they were doing i.e. creating the idea of football as a sport to be learned and developed. Whether they were any good as coaches is impossible to tell – there are no contemporaries to compare them with, and hindsight is worthless given that they were breaking the ground for others.

But this brief film of Fred Spiksley coaching at Fulham in the early 1930s is interesting nonetheless. We are always being told, for instance, that street football taught skills that coaching cannot reach. Not much sign of that here. And then what of Spiksley himself? Is he any good?

Interesting to note that 1930s Fulham was also home to Jimmy Hogan for a while. They fired him, contemptuously, saying that professional footballers “didn’t need to be coached”, whilst Hogan was recuperating in hospital. For all that, to have both Spiksley and Hogan on board for part of the time hints at something important almost dawning on the club. Craven Cottage has always welcomed players of genuine skill and intelligence: was it close to taking the same attitude with its managers? Vic Buckingham, who discovered Johann Cruyff and almost won the double with West Brom in the 1950s, would be there later, and so would Bobby Robson. Fulham dealt both of them unusually unpleasant sackings too..

Here’s the film. Clearly, the film makers have insisted on an easy-to-shoot scenario, and Spiksley is having to shout for the microphone. And are the players camera-shy? The whole thing is very artificial. What do you think?

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