Bobby Templeton

Bobby Templeton

Robert (Bobby) Templeton was born in Coylton, Scotland on 22nd June 1879. He played football for Kilmarnock and Hibernian in the Scottish League before Aston Villa paid a fee of £250 to join them in May 1899.

Tony Matthews argues in his book, Who's Who of Aston Villa, that Templeton was "a tremendously gifted player... who was tall and thin, selfish but brilliant." Templeton was considered an erratic player and only played in 11 games that season. However, with a forward-line that included Billy Garraty, John Devey, George Wheldon, Stephen Smith, George Johnson and Charlie Athersmith, competition was fierce at the club.

Aston Villa won the league championship that season confirming it was the best club in England during the 1890s. This was their fifth league title in seven years.

In 1900 Templeton was suspended for insubordination. However, he returned to the side and was a regular in the first team over the next two seasons.

On the 5th April 1902 Templeton won his first international cap for Scotland against England at Ibrox Park. It was during this game that the newly built West Tribune Stand collapsed. Supporters fell up to 40 feet (12 m) to the ground below. 25 people died and 517 were injured. Afterwards it was claimed that Templeton was partly responsible for this disaster as had the ball on the wing at the time and the vast crowd swayed to see his dribbling skills.

In January 1903 Templeton joined Newcastle United for £400. However, he was unable to bring success to the club and in December 1904 he joined Woolwich Arsenal for a fee of £250. Arsenal had just been promoted to the First Division. The club did reasonably well at the top level finishing in 10th place (1904-05) and 12th (1905-06). The club also had a good FA Cup run that season beating Watford (3-0), Sunderland (5-0), Manchester United (3-2) before losing to Newcastle United 2-0 in the semi-final with Jimmy Howie and Colin Veitch getting the goals.

William Pickford, the journalist, wrote in his book, Association Football and the Men Who Made It (1905): "Templeton is afflicted with a large measure of the eccentricity of genius. He is a man of moods. When "the afflatus" is upon him he is a winged horse to whom a spur is useless, and whom a curb cannot hold. It is then that the watching multitude is aflame with mingled surprise and admiration - surprise at the wondrous versatility of the man, admiration at the grace and beauty of his movements."

During this period Arsenal had a very impressive forward line that included Templeton, Bert Freeman, Charlie Satterthwaite, Tim Coleman and Billy Garbutt. The defence was also very good with players such as Jimmy Ashcroft, Andy Ducat, Roderick McEachrane, Jimmy Sharp and Percy Sands in the team. However, Arsenal encountered serious financial problems at this time and in May 1906 was sold to Glasgow Celtic for £250. He also played for Kilmarnock before returning to England to sign for Fulham in 1913.

On the 3rd March 1913 Templeton won his last international cap for Scotland against Wales. The game ended in a 0-0 draw. Templeton scored one goal in 11 games for his country.

Robert Templeton died of a heart-attack in November 1919.

Primary Sources

(1) William Pickford and Alfred Gibson, Association Football and the Men Who Made It (1905)

This wonderful Association forward has been at once the delight and despair of countless thousands. To watch Templeton at his best is a sight for the gods; to watch him at his worst is to see at a glance the frailty of things human. Templeton has two styles; but happily one of them - the best - is generally uppermost. He is like the boy of whom the nurse said, "When he is good, he is very, very good, and when he is bad, he is horrid." Templeton is afflicted with a large measure of the eccentricity of genius. He is a man of moods. When "the afflatus" is upon him he is a winged horse to whom a spur is useless, and whom a curb cannot hold. It is then that the watching multitude is aflame with mingled surprise and admiration - surprise at the wondrous versatility of the man, admiration at the grace and beauty of his movements. There is nothing of the steam-roller about his methods. He is more like "a fawn playing with the shadows." He dances airily out and in amongst his opponents, threading his way by devious steps, which no one can anticipate and no one can stop. Tall, thin, gracefully built, he has the easy action of the accomplished dancing-master, and all the slimness of a Sherlock Holmes.

There is the quality in his rush along the wing which one can only associate with a flash of lightning. He is irresistible, not because he bores his way through the opposition, but because he evades it. He will never attempt to go through a man if there is a way round him. He does not overcome obstacles so much as he ignores them. If there be a stumbling-block in his path he will contrive to make stumbling blocks look foolish. A sort of human eel, he twists and twines his way through all opposition without so much as touching it. With easy, prancing step he waltzes hither and thither, while the discomfited enemy gazes in silent rage and admiration. No forward ever had such power of making an opponent look foolish. A big back may rush at him, determined to take "man or ball," but Templeton with the dark locks, by a quick movement of the body, eludes his pursuer, who mayhap is measuring his length on the ground, while Robert is careering up the field in quest of goal.

Unfortunately Templeton has also the defects of his qualities. If the afflatus be absent, if the mood be wrong, if the task be uncongenial, if he meet with some unexpected check all his wit, all his cleverness, all his electric flashes seem to desert him, and lie becomes a hapless, helpless spectator of a game which in happier circumstances he would be likely to dominate. He has one quality, however, which stamps him as a player of the best class. In big games, in times of real responsibility, he usually shows his best form. He has played some marvellous games for Scotland against England. A partner who understands him, or at least who is fairly sympathetic to his methods, is almost necessary to his success. At times he has played some of his great games without reference to a partner, or indeed to any one on the field, but, as a rule, a bad partner upsets his mental equilibrium, and he is finished for the day.

The complaint is frequently made that lie is too individual - too selfish, some say, for the needs of modern football. There is some truth in the criticism, but one might with justice retort that Templeton with all his faults is frequently of more service than painstaking mediocrity. On the other hand, to find Templeton in one of his inspired moods, when he flashes forth on his conquering career, is to find one of the most fascinating forwards ever seen on a football field.

He is a man who must be "nursed," who must be led by silken strings, who must be allowed to develop his game in his own way. He is unlike in manner and method any other footballer of the present day, although his partner in the Woolwich Arsenal ranks - Tom Fitchie - is a man after his own heart. Both men make for subtlety rather than for force. Both are clever dribblers, although Fitchie is stronger on his legs. The two, however, are eminently suited for each other, and Templeton has played some of his best games for the Arsenal club.

The strong point of Templeton is the amount of ground he can make, and his ability to centre the ball accurately. Playing as lie usually does at outside left, he does not score many goals himself, but he is the fruitful source of scoring by others.

(2) Brian James, England v Scotland (1969)

Within six minutes of the start part of a new stand in the packed Ibrox stadium collapsed, raining spectators down upon the bodies of those who had fallen a split-second earlier. After the players left the pitch - with a panicking crowd all over the area, they had little choice - it was decided that the match be resumed to prevent possibly worse scenes of disaster.

But from that moment on the game lacked heart and fire, for although they did not know the extent of the casualty list, the teams did know that many had been killed and they were merely playing to occupy time while rescue services were organised.

Even had they been in a mood to make a real match of it, it is doubtful whether they could have succeeded, for the crowds still encroached to the lines and often beyond them. Players taking throw-ins had to beg room to move their arms ... wingers taking corners had to ask police assistance to create a corridor for their run-up to the ball.

Templeton, often racing down Scotland's wing having to dodge spectators as well as English tackles, persevered to get over a centre from which Brown scored. Just before half-time Settle equalised for England, taking advantage of a neat pass through the centre.

After further debate at half-time the match was resumed but with the players now taking part with even less heart. Some of the play in the last half-hour seemed more like exhibition football in contrast to the traditional fire of the matches in the series.

(3) Jeff Harris, Arsenal Who's Who (1908)

Robert Bryston Templeton was one of the great personalities of British football. A showman, known as the "Edwardian Dandy" or the "Prince of Dribblers". It has often been claimed that he was the indirect cause of the Ibrox disaster in 1902 after the crowd swayed, attempting to see one of his amazing dribbles.