From the Archives: McGregor - Look upon your game seriously
William McGregor was a visionary.
The most influential claret and blue figure never kicked a ball for the club but his influence on the birth of football is without question.
McGregor, the father of the Football League passed away in December 1911 but his statue stands guard on the game outside Villa Park, clutching the letter that changed the world.
On March 2, 1888 - 125 years ago this week - the Villa secretary wrote to Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End, West Bromwich Albion and his own club, proposing they confront the spiralling wage bills of players and a stop-start, cup-riddled fixture list with an organised division. The Football League was born!
The 12 founder members were Accrington, Villa, Blackburn, Bolton, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
It was a wondrous written document that changed the face of football but in our 'From the Archives' feature we concentrate on an alternative essay which has rarely been seen outside the offices of Villa Park.
McGregor was clearly ahead of his time when it came to the business of football but his views on the playing of the game were equally progressive.
We found an extremely rare book this week, entitled 'Football and How to Play It' produced by the Burleigh Sports Co. and printed by Gale & Polden, London, 1907.
Remarkably, it contains an introductory piece by William McGregor cataloguing his 'Hints to Young Players'.
The sections include: 'The Importance of Being Earnest', 'Value of Physical Condition', 'Train, Do Not Strain' and 'Think Over Your Play'.
At the time it was written, smoking was a common pastime for the professional as was drinking to excess.
Football was, undoubtedly, a game high on spirit and low on science.
McGregor believed strongly that the performance of a player could be improved by living properly, practicing diligently and thinking methodically about one's own game.
These were alien views at the time - but now they are seen as cornerstones of modern football.
The point I want to emphasise is this - why not, if you take up football, seek to excel at it?
Condition is an all-important matter. It is important in its relation to the game and there is another way of looking at it.
The young fellow who is in good condition is generally in perfect health. Any man who has been in condition will tell you how light and elastic he has then felt.
Far too many men have learned to their regret that their health was not entirely satisfactory after the time that they allowed themselves to get fat and bulky.
There is no time in any young man's life at which he feels a finer sense of exhilaration than he experiences at the period when he is thoroughly and pronouncedly fit.
Football training for the young player should consist in the avoidance of much that will tend to render the youth's condition unsuitable for a hard game such as football.
Into the old questions of smoking and drinking - and the advantages of abstinence from these practices - I will not dig deeply.
Personally I do not smoke and I am an abstainer. I think I am a better physically for having pursued this course.
Smoking is not a good preparation for football or any other phase of sport under the sun and the young man who abstains from drinking misses many temptations that fall to the lot of those who are accustomed to taking alcoholic beverages.
Abstinence from drinking and smoking never marred a player's career - but indulgence in the practices has marred the career of thousands.
There is a moral here for those who care to study it.
For a young fellow who really has an ambition to excel at football, a routine of special exercises is to be commenced.
Skipping and ball punching are excellent aids to be maintenance of a man's condition.
I know nothing which improves the wind better than ball punching and skipping gives a man an agility which the non-skipper often fails to find.
Plenty of good walking exercise is also beneficial and if the young fellow is sufficiently lucky to be able to follow both football and golf, he will find that the latter game constitutes an ideal exercise for him who is desirous of excelling at the former.
It should be no great hardship for a healthy young fellow to abstain from those little luxuries which do not make for good health.
Plenty of good plain food, plenty of good exercise in the open air and a well-ventilated bedroom are necessary.
For the footballer all three are essential.
My idea of training is for a young fellow to live a rational, sensible, sober life and then he won't be anything but physically fit.
He wants to be fit so he may last out not only one trying game of an hour and a half's duration but a series of trying games of an hour and a half each extending throughout eight months.
To stand that strain a young man does not want to be too finely trained - before the season is over he will find the balls upon his reserve strength both frequent and severe.
I would say to the young footballer: "Look upon the game seriously."
The average player you meet strikes you as being an individual who does not think his game out carefully.
Young footballers would play football better if they studied the game out more.
There is a good deal of science in football and he who seeks to excel at it is far more likely to excel than the being who plays it in a loose and unorthodox fashion.
The average professional player seems to have a lofty contempt for practice.
The young fellow whose football begins and ends with the Saturday afternoon match should not turn up his nose at the idea of mere practice if chances of obtaining it come his way.
Most men would play better if they persistently tried to strengthen their weak points.
I have always been struck by a lack of initiative and resource manifested by the players. In the game men show a lack of resource, are wild in their passing and show an inability to take the ball on the run as it comes from a colleague's foot.
Weak shooting is one of the features of football which writers have to bemoan in all stratas of the game.
Some men, I know, will always shoot better than others, but I can hardly conceive the impossibility of the average man not being able to improvbe his shooting powers if he paid attention to this most serious defect.
Learn to pass and shoot with the inside of the foot - many a goal is thrown away by the excessive use of the toe in shooting and passing.
If you are a back, learn to kick accurately with either foot, the back who can only use one if eternally handicapped and can never hope to be regarded as first-class.
Think your game out well, remember that the game which will succeed on a dry and fast pitch will fail you when the turf is wet and miry.
Learn to use the wind advantageously, very few top-class players know how to do that well.
In fact, keep your eyes open, be up to every little knack and trick and learn to play the game with your head as well as with your feet.
It is the heady, brainy footballer who becomes the potent force of the team.
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