GREEN BARMY: Jack the lad responsible for Argyle and Southend progress
AS FOOTBALL clubs were making their initial steps into the competitive arena and also progressing into the crucial stage of professionalism, strong leaders with experience were vital requirements.
They were leading the way in the English game during the early part of the 20th century.
Both Plymouth Argyle and today's opponents at Home Park Southend United, were both fortunate in those respects. So much so, that one man was instrumental in steering both clubs into steady waters.
Robert Jack first made his name in sport as a footballer with Alloa Athletic, representing his hometown club where he was born in 1876. He also played representative football for Fife.
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As was often the case during those days, players' careers tended to have more longevity than is commonplace in the modern game.
Jack moved south to England as a 19 year-old in 1895 and became an instant hit with Bolton Wanderers.
The club was playing in the first division of the two-tier English league, and Jack topped the scoring charts during the 1896-87 campaign.
For Wanderers, he scored an impressive 29 goals in 110 appearances.
Losing his place in the side after a serious ankle injury in 1901, he travelled the short distance to join local rivals Preston North End, although that meant dropping down a division.
His new club missed out on promotion, although Jack, playing as a left-winger, scored six goals in 22 appearances.
The following year, he signed for Glossop, another second division club.
But the small-town Derbyshire side had big ambitions. They were bankrolled by the Hill-Wood family, a member of which, Sir Samuel, later oversaw great success with Arsenal.
After making 30 appearances, Jack moved to the south-west to join Plymouth Argyle, who were at the time members of the Southern League.
But he joined in 1903 when Argyle had just acquired professional status to be part of a defining era for football in the Plymouth area.
A man with ambition, Jack was a appointed as player-manager in 1905 following the departure of Frank Brettell.
His loss, a year later as a result of a disagreement with the members of the boardroom, was a huge loss to Plymouth Argyle, but he was to return – and with great effect.
In joining Southend United in a similar capacity to the one he was employed as at Home Park, playing for four more seasons and leading the club to two Southern League second division titles.
But Argyle wanted him back, and the request was accepted.
In a role not uncommon at the time, he was appointed as manager with the dual role of club secretary.
Two years after his re-emergence in the town of Plymouth, Argyle won the Southern League championship of 1912/13.
His all-round knowledge of the game was vital as the Pilgrims edged towards membership of The Football League with acceptance into Division Three (South) for the 1920/21 season.
He selected his first side for League action on August 28, 1920 and a 1-1 draw against Norwich City.
That point sent the club on its way to a finishing position of 11th – and Plymouth Argyle had begun its League journey.
Promotion was not easy in those early days as only the champions of the division would be elevated. Imagine the frustration, then, when Argyle finished in second position for a record six consecutive seasons.
The championship eventually came Plymouth's way at the conclusion of the 1929-30 season, when only four of the 42 league fixtures ended in defeat.
One major achievement that could be claimed by Robert Jack was he never oversaw a relegation in his long spell in charge of the football club.
Not only did Argyle acclimatise to life in the second division, but came close to another promotion when finishing fourth in 1931-32.
Jack retired in 1938, returning to Southend to live, but leaving the club in a very healthy position. One can only wonder if the club would have progressed at such a steady rate without his influence.
The only manager to take charge of Plymouth Argyle for more than a decade, his tenure in charge for the second time lasted an incredible 28 years.
To put that into perspective, Sir Alex Ferguson is still two years short of matching that amount of time with Manchester United!
Robert Jack passed away in 1943, but his legacy to Plymouth Argyle – and football in general – was immense.
His two sons also played for Plymouth Argyle, beginning their playing careers at Home Park.
Representing the Royal Navy at football during his service for the nation in the First World War, David Jack also played for Chelsea at a time when guest players were utilised by clubs.
He was selected by his father for Plymouth Argyle's first match in the Football League, making 14 appearances of the first 18 games in that inaugural season.
But a big money transfer saw him go to the club of his birth town when he signed for Bolton Wanderers for £3,500.
Becoming an integral part of the Bolton side, the winger scored the first goal in a Wembley FA Cup final.
With the official attendance put at 126,047, it was clear many more were inside Wembley on that afternoon in May, 1923 as Bolton beat West Ham United 2-0.
The match became known as 'The White Horse' final, as a police officer on horseback tried to control the crowds which had spilled onto the pitch before kick-off, such was the enormity of the numbers at the new stadium.
His meteoric rise led him to a first international cap as a 24 year-old in March 1924, when he was selected to play against Wales.
Three years later, Wanderers were back in the FA Cup final, with Jack scoring the only goal to defeat Manchester City.
After scoring 144 goals at a ratio of one every two games, David Jack joined the legendary Arsenal side managed by Herbert Chapman in a world-record transfer fee of £10,000.
His first of three international goals came against France in 1928, as he progressed towards a total of nine England caps, with one of those appearances as captain of the national side.
The move to Highbury led him to yet another FA Cup triumph in 1930 as he played in the Gunners' team that beat another giant of the day, Huddersfield Town, 2-0.
He did play in one further final, but had to be satisfied with a runners-up medal two years later when Arsenal were beaten 2-1 by Newcastle United.
Another personal landmark saw him picked on three occasions to play for the English League representative side.
Later in his career, David Jack followed once more in his father's footsteps by managing Southend United as well as a spell in charge with Middlesbrough.
The younger son of Robert, Rollo Jack, made his Plymouth Argyle appearance two days before Christmas, 1922 in a 1-0 win over Watford.
Scoring four goals in fifteen League games, history in the family repeated itself as Rollo also made the move to Bolton Wanderers for £1,500.
His career in the north-west, though was not as productive as his brother's, and after 29 appearances, he was transferred to Clapham Orient where he spent two years.
Scoring 22 goals at a rate of a goal in nearly every three games, he saw out his playing days with Swindon Town and non-league Yeovil Town.
The links of the Jack family are very strong, and it worth giving a thought to some early pioneers of Home Park football that made their mark at Southend, especially as another Argyle manager, Paul Sturrock, is now the current boss at Southend United.
There is just one other interesting tale concerning Robert Jack.
He wasn't all about just football. Despite being Scottish by birth, he also represented England at bowls!
Seasons allowed participation in dual sports, and he certainly took advantage.