England Caps: 41
Player: 1902 - 1914
In these days of transfers and three to five year contracts it’s unusual for a player to stay with one club through his career. But at the beginning of the last century, it was very common, although England captain Robert ‘Bob’ Crompton took it one step further; he was a one-club man for life.
Blackburn Through and ThroughBob Crompton was born in Blackburn and played throughout his career for local team Blackburn Rovers, as full-back and captain. Then after hanging up his boots, he took over the management position. Only death was final enough for him to stop working for Rovers, his nickname when he was in his prime was “Mr. Blackburn Rovers”.
Debuts for Club and CountryCrompton's Rovers debut was in 1897 as a seventeen year old, and he was selected for international duty for the first time in 1902, for the match against Wales that opened that season’s Home Championship.
He was a commanding figure, supreme in the air, but more importantly, a master tactician. Playing at right full-back he stayed for the rest of the tournament, and the scores in England’s matches were creditably low for that era.
Long TenureThe Welsh match was a 0-0 draw, England then beat Ireland 1-0, and drew with Scotland 2-2. With the rest of the results in, England came second to Scotland that season, but Crompton must have impressed as he was on the team-sheet for virtually every match for the next twelve years, until the outbreak of World War I put an end to international matches. Just as it had been at club level, his leadership qualities were such that he could not be ignored as a candidate for the captaincy of the national team. But it was not as simple as that, for the battle between amateurs and professionals was still going on.
Amateur v ProfessionalProfessionalism was, generally speaking, stronger in the north, where more of the players were working class and could not afford to be amateurs. In the south, amateurism prevailed, but slowly the traditional ‘gentlemen’ clubs, with upper and middle class players, were losing their dominance in the League and the FA Cup.
The FA were, of course, stationed down south in the capital, and it was still felt that the national team should be captained by an amateur, in other words a gentleman. It had also long been the case, with some notable exceptions such as G.O. Smith and Norman Bailey, that the captaincy was more of an honorary post, shared out among the gentlemen.
Crompton Wins OutCrompton’s value as the rock of the Rovers team had been proved in the League, and his value as a driving force must have been felt at international level too, as he eventually became the country’s first professional captain. Under his stewardship England won twenty-seven games, drew eight and lost six.
Club SuccessFor Rovers he was a colossus, simply the best player they ever had. In the period leading up to the war they were consistently at the top of the league, winning it twice. Crompton made 528 appearances for Rovers, finishing his playing career in 1920. He only once strayed from the faith, playing a few friendly matches during the war for Blackpool, where he was stationed.
Then in his first stint as Rovers manager, he took them to an FA Cup win. After he retired, they were relegated, so he came back and took them back up again! War stopped play again but Crompton was still working at the club when he died in 1941.