The first Englishman to provide top class coaching to the Swedes stated work today in 1911.
This is an edited extract from the book FLYING OVER AN OLIVE GROVE: THE REMARKABLE STORY OF FRED SPIKSLEY, a flawed football hero.
|Coach Fred Spiksley (far left, back row) stands with his Swedish international team in 1911.|
Sweden will host the Europa League final this Wednesday when the first English side to tour the continent will hope to win the Trophy. Manchester United did so in 1908 with a summer trip to the Austro-Hungarian Empire that was followed shortly afterwards by the England team playing four matches in Austria, Hungary and Bohemia (as the Czech Republic was then called).
Sweden itself appointed an English football coach in the lead up to the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. Sweden had been hammered 12-1 in 1908 by Great Britain, who went on to carry off the gold medal. No country needed a football coach more than Sweden.
The Englishman was Fred Spiksley, a Sheffield Wednesday legend and the first man to score three times against Scotland in 1893. His initial brief when he took charge on 24 May 1911 was to prepare the Swedish national team for a high profile match against the German Federation on 18 June 1911.
Fred would have to rise early each morning for coaching and teaching football in two primary grass pitch locations – the Rasunda IP and Ostermalm Parks and Stadia.
On his first day in his new job, Fred Spiksley was introduced to Swedish FA officials and players. He was then given a whistle-stop tour of the city and some tips on how to get safely around. On top of his coaching work Fred was expected to visit football clubs and centres in Sweden to watch matches and assess the abilities of the players. What was required was the building of a strong and skilful national side that could compete on equal terms with other nations. Fred needed to identify talented players who were passionate and enthusiastic about football and also willing to listen, work hard and constantly practise to improve their football skills.
Buoyed by a report in Idrottsbladet, the leading Swedish sports paper, that he was gentle, friendly and liked by the players who had met him, Fred enthusiastically watched numerous matches and players on his travels, setting up football clinics and organising coaching sessions.
Fred Spiksley’s number one priority was to teach Sweden’s top amateur footballers a different way of playing the game. As in all walks of life trying to introduce a completely different way of doing things is never going to be easy and it was therefore perfectly understandable that the players were apprehensive as they had never had a professional football coach before.
However, the new coach had a number of things going for him including his reputation and details of his exploits in the Football League, FA Cup and international matches. Fred’s flair for languages also helped and he very quickly started to pick up Swedish, including a number of phrases that he employed to address his new players the first time they met. In return, the players immediately liked the new man in charge and considered him a warm, friendly gentleman.
Fred was to pull no punches in telling the players that he meant to change the style of football and that included fundamental ball skills. He also made no secret that there would be lots of hard work and he urged anyone not up to the challenge to leave. Furthermore, if players turned up so much as a minute late to training, they were sent home and therefore lost out on Fred’s wisdom.
The new coach began by teaching players how to trap the ball and how to use the chest to cushion a ball in the air and bring it dead to a player’s feet. He then turned to how to shield the ball from an opponent and keep possession, while at all times maintaining complete control of the ball with the outside of the boot. When the players had mastered the art of dribbling with the ball, Fred taught them how to kick a football and he coached them in the main ways to kick – the short crisp pass, the centre or cross-field ball, the corner kick and how to shoot.
Fred was a disciple of combination football. He wanted short quick passing along the ground to unmarked colleagues in order to keep possession and outmanoeuvre opponents so as to create goal-scoring opportunities. As coach, one of his favourite exercises was to line up his forwards on the halfway line and get them to pass the ball along the line as they advanced together before one took a shot. Another was ‘piggy in the middle’ in which two players in the middle attempted to intercept an errant pass from players attempting to pass to one another. Several of the training drills that Spiksley believed would develop a player’s skill can still be witnessed by top professional teams during training sessions and pre-match warm-ups. In terms of skill training, there is little doubt that he was way ahead of his time.
Fred had never worked harder in his life but he really enjoyed what he was doing and he could see that he was making a big difference especially as he quickly mastered Swedish and could use the language to pass on his instructions.
Most of the current Swedish side played for Orgryte and there were also Gothenburg-based players from IFK Gothenburg, FF Gothenburg and Kopings IS. From Stockholm there were players from AIK, Djurgardens, IFK, Gavle and Mariebergs.
The side selected for the big game against Germany at the Rasunda on 18 June 1911 were as follows:
Oskar Bengtsson (Orgryte); Knut Sandlund (Djurgardens),
Oskar Bengtsson (Orgryte); Knut Sandlund (Djurgardens),
Jacob Levin (Orgryte); Ragnar Wicksell (Djurgardens), Gotrik Frykman (Djurgardens) captain, Sixten Oberg (Mariebergs); Herman Myhrberg (Orgryte), Gustaf Efkberg (Stockholm), Karl Gustafsson (Kopings), Josef Appelgren (Orgryte), Karl Ansen (AIK).
Germany: Moller (Kiel), Kipp (Stuttgart), Worpitsky (Victoria Berlin), Dumke (Victoria Berlin), Droz (Prussia Berlin), Hunder (Victoria Berlin), Burger (Munchen 1860), Ugi (Leipzig), Hempel ((Leipzig), Viggers (Victoria Hamburg)
The home side contained in Gustafsson, Sweden’s leading international goalscorer with nine goals in eight games. However, it was the outside left in the side, Karl Ansen, who was considered the best forward. He was 24 and had previously played eight international games. Bengtsson in goal was making his eighth appearance for his country while Sandlund, Oberg and Esbjerg were all making their first.
The game, which was the first international in Stockholm was played in warm sunshine in front of a crowd of 3,000. Having won the toss, Sweden chose to kick with the breeze behind them. The home side took the lead on 28 minutes when Gustafsson was sent clear courtesy of a brilliant ball from Myhrberg and he left Moller with no chance of saving his shot. One minute later and it was 2-0 when Gustafsson hit a great shot past the German ’keeper and this was the score at half-time.
Buoyed by their success, the home side played some excellent football on the restart but were guilty of missing four gilt-edged chances. This allowed the German team to take the initiative and the away side struck twice in quick succession to level the score. Things then went from bad to worse for Sweden when Bengtsson was beaten by a deflected shot and Germany led for the first time.
The home side were handed a lifeline on 68 minutes when Gustafsson was upended in the penalty area. Having already scored twice, the Swedish centre forward was the obvious man to take the spot kick. But to the crowd’s surprise the captain of the home side, Gotrik Frykman, saw this as his responsibility and had agreed with Fred Spiksley beforehand that he would take any penalty kicks. Unfortunately for the Swedes, he missed but this did not stop the home side piling forward in search of a deserved equaliser.
However – and no doubt readers have heard this story many times since – in the final minute of the game, Germany broke forward to make it 4-2. The Swedes had been the better team, had led for much of the game but Germany had won!
Fred was understandably upset by the result when on another day Sweden would have won comfortably. The Swedish coach also blamed himself for agreeing that Frykman should take the penalties. What had really counted against the losing side, though, was their lack of composure when shooting. Practice could help ensure that was less likely to be the case in the future and despite the result it was clear from their performance that Fred Spiksley’s coaching had massively improved the quality of the Swedish side.
Over the following weeks, Fred had, according to Swedish FA reports, visited Vasteras and later Karlstad, which is 160 miles west of Stockholm. There he saw IFK Karlstad play short, fast passes to beat Karlskoga IF 9-0 with the latter reported as playing long balloon balls.
Fred also worked with the Stockholm AIK players as the History of AIK, published 2012, states in the section covering 1911: “Maybe the very first successful autumn of 1911 was due to the fact that the players in the summer got instructions from the English football coach Fred Spiksley who was moving round Sweden.”
AIK won the Swedish championship, which was run as a knockout competition. They beat IFK Vasteras, IFK Eskilstuna, IFK Stockholm and then IFK Uppsala 3-2 in the final. There were 21 teams entered the tournament.
Fred appears to have left Sweden at the start of September as there is no mention of him being present at the international in Stockholm on 17 September that saw Norway crushed 4-1. Whether his contract had ended or he left early is unknown.
Fred’s time in Sweden had been a very happy and rewarding one as he had transformed Swedish football by teaching the players how to play the combination game. He had instilled in the players a pride in their performances in working together for each other as a team.
Fred was disappointed at missing out on the chance of coaching Sweden at the Olympics but returned to Retford in a good mood.
Spiksley later went on to coach in Germany, Spain, Peru, Mexico, the USA and Switzerland and thus became the first man to coach on three continents.
In 1918, Torsten Husen, a sports journalist for the Idrottsbladet paper in Stockholm, obtained Spiksley’s advice when he wrote the first major football book in Swedish. The spiksley.com site has copies if anyone would like a copy.