The English coach who took the game to Sweden
Fred Spiksley was the first man to coach across three continents including in six countries that are represented at the European Championships. In 1911 he was coach to the Swedish national team.
In 1912, Stockholm was to set to be the venue for the Fifth Olympiad. The home nation wanted to do well in football, which was going to be difficult as Sweden had been hammered 12-1 in 1908 by gold medalists Great Britain.
In 1911 the Lazarol factory owner, Mr Anders Lindahl, agreed to provide funding to the Swedish FA for a top class football coach and Fred Spiksley, who had briefly coached IFK Norrköping in 1910, was appointed.
Fred would have to rise early each morning for coaching and teaching football in two primary grass pitch locations: the Rasunda IP, the home of AIK, and Ostermalm Parks and Stadia.
Buoyed by a report in Idrottsbladet, the leading Swedish sports paper, that he was gentle, friendly and liked by the players, Fred enthusiastically watched numerous matches and players on his travels, setting up football clinics and organising coaching sessions.
His number one priority was to teach Sweden’s top amateur footballers a completely different way of doing things. All the players were told there would be lots of hard work.
Amongst the many skills Spiksley set out to teach players was how to trap the ball, shield it from an opponent and keep possession. He taught players how to master the art of dribbling with the ball, how to kick it and Fred coached them in the main ways to do so: the short crisp pass, the centre or cross-field ball.
He instilled in the Swedes that, after shooting, the most necessary skill was the ability to pass the ball to an unmarked teammate.
Fred went to great lengths to explain that passing with the inside of either foot was misguided as the inside side muscles were much weaker than those on the outside.
Spiksley was also a disciple of combination (pass and move) football, wanting short quick passing along the ground to unmarked colleagues. 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 today. He was way ahead of his time.
Fred really enjoyed what he was doing and could see that he was making a big difference, especially as he could pass on his instructions now that he had quickly mastered the Swedish language.
The Swedish side who played Germany at the Rasunda on 18 June 1911 was: 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).
Gustafsson was 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. Sandlund, Oberg and Esbjerg were all debutants.
The game was the first international in Stockholm and was played before 3,000 spectators. The home side went ahead on 28 minutes when Gustafsson was sent clear courtesy of a brilliant ball from Myhrberg, leaving Moller with no chance of saving his shot. Gustafsson then hit a great shot past the German ’keeper and Sweden led 2-0 at half-time.
On the restart the home side played some excellent football but were guilty of missing four gilt-edged chances.
This allowed the German team to take the initiative and the away side struck twice to level the score. Bengtsson was then beaten by a deflected shot and Germany led for the first time. The home side were handed a lifeline 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. To the crowd’s surprise, the captain of the home side, Gotrik Frykman, saw this as his responsibility.
Unfortunately for the Swedes, he missed, after which the home side piled forward looking for an equaliser.
However, in the final minute of the game, Germany broke forward to make it 4-2. The Swedes had been the better team but Germany had won!
Fred Spiksley was understandably upset by the result.
According to Swedish FA reports, over the following weeks Spiksley worked closely with the players of Stockholm AIK players who went on to win the Swedish championship.
Spiksley’s time had been a very rewarding one and he had transformed Swedish football. He had also made many friends.
In the Olympics in Sweden 1912 the home nation lost both their football games; there was to be no football glory for the hosts.
In 1913 the Swedish Olympic Association agreed to provide finance to employ a coach for the next two years. Stockholm FA were determined to have Fred Spiksley, but he had already obtained a one-year post as coach to Munich 1860. When Fred informed his prospective employers that he wanted a three-year contract up to the end of the planned 1916 Olympic Games, the Swedish Olympic Association saw this as unrealistically expensive and decided to search for a different coach. In the event, the Great War meant the 1916 Berlin Olympic Games were cancelled.
You can order your copy of The Remarkable Story of Fred Spiksley – The First Working-Class Football Hero by Mark Metcalf, here.
Footnote:- In 1926-27, Spiksley became the last English coach to win the German title with 1FC Nuremburg. Spiksley also won trophies with clubs in Mexico and the USA.