Russell Cowper reflects on a leadership debate that seemingly won’t ever go away.
Walt Whitman wrote a poem called O Captain, My Captain about the death of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, it was about the death of a great leader.
Just 7 years later on 30th November 1872 Cuthbert Ottaway captained England in the first ever international football match. He went on to captain England one more time in the third international match against Scotland on 7th March 1874. Alexander Morton captained England for the first international match on home soil in 1873 which was England’s first international victory and Mr Morton’s only appearance.
As we approach 150 years of international football the role of captain dominates warriors out on the football pitch. Dear long gone Mr Ottaway with his record of being captain for two matches now stands joint 58th on the list alongside such luminaries as Frank Swift, Basil Patchit, Ephrahim Longworth and Scott Parker.
Post WW2 England have tended to have incumbent captains, with deputies being used in the event of the incumbent being unavailable. Billy Wright and Bobby Moore have been the longest incumbents both with 90 caps as captain. Before WW2 only Bob Crompton with 22 caps and Eddie Hapgood with 20 caps as captain make the overall list at at 10th and 12th respectively.
That’s enough English history though and anybody with a knowledge of the internet can explore this more especially if you are interested in the careers of Percy Walters and Ernie Blenkinsop.
I wondered what the one cap captain wonders such as the venerable Max Woosman and the brilliantly named Harry Daft would have made of today’s media frenzy.
Personally I have seen every England captain play since I first saw Bobby Moore as a young kid striding across the Maine Road turf and listening to my Grandad tell me how we won we the World Cup in 66 and how great Bobby was. Since him every England captain has been a mighty fine footballer and deserved to lead England. It appears to me though that as football has developed the role of the incumbent captain has become increasingly more important in the eyes of the nation’s media as they long to recreate the magic and leadership aura of the great Bobby Moore. So why did this phenomenon start? Other countries appear to have a relaxed attitude to the role and see it as being of minor importance. England however do it differently and it strikes me as being highly irrational.
After the Moore years Keegan and Robson were the incumbents for 15 years until 1991, then as England strivcd to recreate past glories a number of captains were tried until Beckham claimed the role in 2000 and the Captaincy became the all-encompassing role that we see today. It is a role that attracts scandal, controversy and ridicule in equal measure. The importance of the role attributed to by the media is extensive hyperbole and piles pressure on the incumbents.
My belief is that captains are born, not made; they naturally bring calm, authority and gravitas to the armband; they are respected, usually intelligent and more often than not opinionated and vocal. They organise, cajole, reprimand and in many aspects are the manager’s eyes on the pitch and a conduit to the manager’s coaching staff. They are an integral part of the side, but do not have to be the star player, they must be the rock the team is built upon. Ideally the captain should be the player who wears the armband in a team of captains. At international level they cannot be shrinking violets, they are the best of the nation, they can all lead rather than be led.
My conclusion keeps leading me to one train of thought. England has always had great leaders from Alfred the Great, Richard the Lionheart, Nelson, Wellington to Churchill. These were men who led with courage and stoicism and faced danger with the bulldog spirit. The media in my opinion want a captain that encapsulates these heroic values: they want warriors to signify our historic past. Our captains must have these values, they must reflect our history. Henry Winter in the Times wrote Kane should be captain because he reveres Bobby Charlton, speaks with intelligence and loves his country that much he would not dare dream to go to Amsterdam like Aguero did. Kane is the clean cut Englishman the media would portray as the captain willing to lead his platoon over the top of the trenches in WW1. I have no problem with Kane – he is a fine player with a great record – but my fear is that the England captains favoured by our media who helped campaign for people to get the job have a track record of supporting people for the job who end up as sorry stories of drunkenness, violence, missed drug tests and infidelity. The pressure is endless.
All this debate, all these points of view, acres of Brazillian rainforest cut down to make the paper that the scribes can extol the virtues of their chosen man. They want the stories of the future. I hope Kane desists and provides the vultures nothing, they will hate it and hate him in time regardless of what he achieves.
If it was left to me I would draw lots for the job