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History of the Queen's Park Football Club 1867 - 1917
Chapter XXVI.—Three Half-Backs


The three half-back system was introduced about the time the Queen's Park first met Blackburn Rovers, 29th March, 1884, in London, in the final tie for the English Cup. Both clubs then played two half-backs, but in the following year the Rovers had adopted the new line of defence, and played three halves against Queen's Park in the 1885 English final, 4th April, at the Oval, the Scots adhering to the old formation. Again the Rovers were the conquerors. However, the Queen's Park, evidently considering that there might be something in the new departure, tried an experiment on the earliest possible occasion after their return home, playing three halves against the Northern at Springburn on 18th April, 1885. These were Tom Robertson (Cowlairs), Charles Campbell, and J. J. Gow. The result was satisfactory enough, as the Queen's Park won by 5-0. On the following Saturday, 25th April, the club renewed the experiment against Renton in a Glasgow Charity Cup tie, with unfortunate results, as the team were defeated by 3-0. Gow, M'Ara, and Campbell formed the half-back line on that occasion. The system after these two trials was condemned, and the defence left to Campbell and Gow. The new season came, and with it Blackburn Rovers, who visited Hampden Park on 19th September, 1885, playing three half-backs against the Queen's two, and as the latter had an overwhelming victory by 7 goals to 1, the old arrangement was naturally considered the better. The two clubs again met at Blackburn, 26th December, of the same year, and the Scots, adhering to their system and the Rovers to theirs, won once more by 3 goals to 2. On 1st January, 1886, the Corinthians, at their first visit to Hampden Park, used the old style. In the International on 21st March, 1886, England played three half-backs for the first time (Forrest, Bailey, and Squire), and Scotland two (Campbell and MacDonald). That game stood drawn—a goal each. Further intercourse with English clubs appeared to demonstrate that there was little in it, as 3rd April, 1886, the Preston North End game at Hampden was drawn—one goal each; 8th April, against Corinthians (who now played three halves), at Nottingham, lost by 2-1, and the same club at Hampden Park, 17th April, won by 1-0. It was, however, decided to meet the enemy with his own weapons on the occasion of Preston North End's visit to Hampden Park, 25th September, 1886 (Gow, Stewart, and Watson were the half-back line), with disastrous results again, the Englishmen winning by 6 goals to 1. The following Saturday, in a Scottish Cup tie against Whitefield, won by 2-0, the old arrangement was reverted to, and the same against Aston Villa, at. Birmingham, on 7th October, a loss of 3 to 1 being recorded. Then in the English Cup tie (first round) with Preston North End, at Hampden Park, 30th October, the Queen's had to lament another defeat by 3-0. On 6th November, 1886, Renton played three halves against Queen's Park's two, and won by 3-0. As early as 31st March, and again 7th April, 1883, Dumbarton played three half-backs in a Scottish Cup final, probably as an experiment, against Vale of Leven's two halves. Having now given the novelty a full trial with varying fortune, and as the other Scottish clubs, more particularly the Dumbartonshire clubs, played three halves, though the practice was by no means universal in Scotland, the Queen's Park immediately after the Renton reverse became a convert to the new practice. The club was by no means convinced of its utility by subsequent events. Playing three half-backs in the two memorable Scottish Cup ties against Cambuslang, 4th and 11th December, 1886 (1-1 and 5-4), the Queen's barely pulled through; were beaten twice by Corinthians—1st January, 1887, by 3 goals to 1, and 12th February, by 2 goals to 0 ; and lost to Dumbarton in the Scottish ties by 2 goals to i, 29th January. In the International between England and Scotland at Blackburn, 19th March, when the Thistle won by 3 to 2, both sides adopted the new formation. By common consent the novelty soon became the practice everywhere the Association code was Played. Many veteran players have still faith in the old system, considering that the advantage gained by having two centre forwards to finish up, more than counterbalances any loss in the second line of defenders in the field. Much depends upon the calibre of the pair of halves. Few clubs possessed such splendid players in that line as the Queen's Park at the time, with such giants at its service as Campbell and Gow, who were capable of covering a lot of ground, both being speedy, and with no end of resource. This may have to a large extent prevented the club from coming to a definite decision on the point earlier. The time came, however, when the Q.P. half-back line was no longer formidable, their centre forwards ditto, and this may have helped the club eventually to fall in with the majority, though it did so with manifest reluctance. Practical men consider that the three half-backs came at a period when there was a dearth of centre forwards, and the double duty had to fall upon the centre half-back. Up to the present day the same difficulty is experienced, a capable centre forward being worth his weight in gold, and, when lost, it is almost impossible to replace him. Any of the League clubs will strongly corroborate this opinion.


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