Feature: The Makers of the Villa - No.10 Tom Pank
The name of Pank was once a famous one at Aston - and may be now for all I know.
The father of the subject of this sketch was a magnificent specimen of ancient manhood when I first knew him, and a propagandist of the most powerful type.
What he believed in, he advocated with all his heart and soul, and his really handsome appearance had no little to do with his success as a reformer.
I do not particularise, because these are not political or social articles; they are merely gossip, and not intended to be disputatious; but I remember some rather fierce newspaper correspondence I had with the somewhat irascible old gentleman, and a visit he paid me one memorable Sunday morning , which commenced with a gale and ended in a short of sunshiny calm, never afterwards disturbed.
But it was not through the good old gentleman that I first became acquainted with Tom of that ilk; it was seeing him as a half-back for Aston Villa nearly 40 years ago, and witnessing his fine running on the cinder-path at Aston and other places; and there is no doubt that his name and fame at the time had not a little to do with the popularity of the Perry Barr team.
He was with them, so to speak, in their romantic days - when the Birmingham people, and especially those in what may be termed the Jewellers Quarter, began to recognise that they had in their midst a band of skilful young fellows who were likely to give local sportsmen a good deal of hearty entertainment in the times to come - and he was a member with a lustre gained by other laurels that added to the club's reputation.
The Villa at that time were regarded as a very fast lot [of course, I mean with regard to pace] and when you remember that it included in its ranks such men as Charlie Johnstone, Tom Pank, Eli Davis, Howard Vaughton and others, you begin to understand why the original talent of the club made its name "go" amongst leather-chasing organisations; for then, as now, speed combined with ability told its inevitable tale.
Like Charlie Johnstone, Tom Pank's great value to his side was not so much his overwhelming talent of tackling a man - for those both he and Charlie Johnstone were no mean hands at the game, they could not be described as Cowans, or Groveses, or Reynoldses - as the ease and certainty with which they could "fetch a man back" because of their extra-ordinary pace, prevent him from passing and shooting, and generally and industriously bother the vanguard of their opponents.
Tom Pank was a very genial kind of chap in those days - very determined and wanting his own way to the point of relentlessness, but as fair as a May morn, and a keen appreciator of other folks' talents.
He did not play many years with the Villa, and I fancy his fine running qualities rather militated against very regular appearances; but he was always a great power in the team at the period they were emerging from comparative obscurity [a short one] into the limelight of publicity; and let me say this here while I think of it - I never knew a more modest lot of fellows than that Villa band when honours came thick and fast upon them; they never lost their heads, they never had any swank and they did not proceed against the world on their heels with their chins in the air.
There never was a team that played for their side more zealously, and all of them had a pleasant habit of preferring to praise their comrades rather than themselves - a fashion, by the way, which I would respectfully recommend to modern footballers. Their followers liked that characteristic in their favourites; and I am sure it helped hugely in making the fine reputation which the Villa enjoyed in the times of which I speak - and later.
It was not only as a footballer, however, that Tom Pank was known. He was one of the very best sprinters we have ever had in the Midlands, and it would be interesting to give you some particulars of his deeds, but I haven't the space, and, after all, they are ancient history, and the fact that he actually did them will be sufficient guarantee of his prowess.
He was what I should call a radiant runner, and at short distances as good as any born within our borders during the last 50 years; and his style of progression was certainly the very best. When he ran it was the "very poetry in motion"; he seemed to touch the ground as lightly as a deer in full flight, and he had, so to speak, a distinction of movement that made him recognisable anywhere.
Tom Pank did not "lag superfluous" either at football or running. When he discerned that time was beginning to take the edge off his topmost efforts, he very wisely retired, and left the running path and the football field to the younger men who were crowding round the door and clamouring for admittance.
But he made his mark and left it, and his name will always remain, bright and untarnished, among the brilliant pioneers that served the game of football in general so well, and Aston Villa in particular.
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