by Stuart Moriarty-Patten

15 June 1911: The FA honour Blackburn’s Bob Crompton

On the 15 June 1911 the FA, in recognition of his achievement of becoming England’s most-capped player, presented Blackburn Rover’s Bob Crompton with a portrait of himself.  He had achieved the feat two years previously when he won his 24th cap playing for England against Scotland on the 3 April 1909.

He went on to win a total of 41 England caps, a record that was to stand from his last game against Scotland on the 4 April 1914 until 1952 when Billy Wright finally surpassed it.  Although he is now only 74th on the list of most capped players for England it has to be recognised that when Crompton was playing the number of international caps available was severely limited.  England were restricted to playing just Home International Championship games with only the occasional sojourn against a foreign side.  Some have estimated that by today’s standards he would have achieved at least 120 caps.

His first cap came in 3 March 1902 against Wales and he was to be his country’s first choice right back for the next 12 years.  He was appointed England captain the next year, and went on to captain his country 22 times.

Born in Blackburn on 26 September 1879, Crompton spent his entire career at his home town club Blackburn Rovers, playing 528 games for them between 1896 and 1920. He made his debut as a 17 year old as a centre-forward, although after three games he was moved to defence where he was going to remain and build his reputation.  Crompton was a big man and he quickly developed into a powerful figure in the Blackburn defence.  He was strong in the air and powerful in the tackle but also blessed with superb positional sense and tackling ability, he was particularly renowned for his use of his shoulder charge. Despite the robust nature of his game he was renowned as one of the game’s gentlemen and was appointed captain of Blackburn aged just 21.  By the end of the twentieth century’s first decade Blackburn were emerging as a force in English football, and their defence was particularly strong.  Along with Crompton, Arthur Cowell and George Chapman and the keeper Jimmy Ashcroft formed the basis of the side that Crompton was to twice captain to the League title, winning it for the first time in 1912 and again in1914.

The outbreak of the First World War meant that Crompton was never able to add to his list of honours as a player after 1914.  He played on for a short while after the war but injuries meant he retired in 1920 aged 40.  Its hard to describe what a giant of the game Crompton was during his day, but by referring to a newspaper article from 1916 it is perhaps possible to put across some idea.  During the First World War Crompton, as did many Blackburn players, played as a guest player for Blackpool and in anticipation of a Blackpool visit to Anfield the Liverpool Echo was gushing in its praise for Crompton who was now in his thirty-eighth year.  The article excitedly talked of the visit of the legend that is Crompton and noted how he always draws crowds before relishing his forthcoming clash with the Liverpool forward Fred Pagnam.  They wrote,  “to-morrow a piece of football worth going a long way to see will be witnessed at Anfield. Pagnam will need to dribble cleverly to get past a man of Crompton’s solidity, and there may be a charging bout which will be rousing. The crowd loves to see healthy charging between men of Crompton and Pagnam’s build, and to-morrow’s game will doubtless produce some big cheers.”

After his playing career was over he went onto become a director of Blackburn before being convinced to take over as manager of a Blackburn team that had been struggling since the resumption of football after the war. He managed the team between 1926 and 1930 and immediately lifted them out of the relegation zone as the team won four of his first six games in charge and finished the season comfortably in mid-table.  He then led the team to a hugely surprising win in the FA Cup final of 1928 over the much fancied Huddersfield, a feat even more rewarding as this was the one honour he never collected as a player having been on the losing side in the 1912 final.

In 1931 struggling to get his aging squad of players to adapt to new demands of a game that was developing tactically he was fired. In 1935-36 he had a spell managing Bournemouth but returned to a struggling Blackburn in 1938.  When he arrived Blackburn found themselves looking at relegation to the Third Division (north), but Crompton again proved the saviour for the club and managed to keep them up.  Originally just returning for that one season, he was convinced to stay on and guided them to the Second Division championship the next season.  Back again in the First Division hopes were high with Crompton at the helm, but the next season was to be suspended after just three games due to the outbreak of the Second World War.

In 15 March 1941, and still manager, Crompton suffered a heart attack while watching Blackburn beat Burnley 3-2 in a war time game and he died that evening.  Perhaps it was fitting that he should end his days at the club that he loved and where many still consider him to be one of the greatest ever figures in the club’s history.