Throw the Wind and the Rain

By , Posted on 15th March 2012 - Posted in: Football News, News

An odd and little known fact is that the two great architects of Liverpool‘s golden ‘boot room’ era, Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley, were both, as young players, exponents of the long throw-in. To a generation of football supporters who see the long throw as synonymous with a certain style of football this may seem a little incongruous to say the least.

Ha, Liverpool, the team that swept all of Europe aside in the 1970s and 80s with a brand of pressing, passing, total football were managed in turn by a couple of long ball merchants.

Fair? No, not really. Both men played their professional football in the inter-war years, but had media coverage of the game been as commonplace and ubiquitous eighty years ago as it is today it’s a label both men may have found themselves lumbered with as they embarked on their respective managerial careers. We like labels, and once you’ve been given one, you’re kind of stuck with it.

Intriguingly, this weekend the FA Cup sixth round throws the self same Liverpool of Shankly and Paisley into direct conflict with Stoke City, the team today most famously labeled as the living embodiment of the long throw tradition. In Rory Delap and Ryan Shotton City have two players with arms like windmills, able to propel the ball unerringly into the six yard box with a short running throw from the sidelines.

No, the long throw-in is not a new invention, a weapon dreamed up by teams with little desire to play the game on the grass – it’s been around longer than television has – but City have perhaps taken its use to another level. Strategy is now focused on variations of near and far post balls, alternating flat and looping trajectories, dummy runs, second balls and all manner of resultant set play innovations. For that Stoke deserve praise rather than condemnation.

Yet for many the long throw-in has fallen into disrepute. Tarred with over-use by ‘route one’ teams in the 1980s and 90s, it’s presence in today’s game remains dodgy, it’s application seen as an unnecessary blight, an embarrassing hangover we can’t quite shake. The vast army of armchair fans wooed by the seductive charms of the football played by today’s European masters Barcelona don’t want to see it. The long throw is deeply unfashionable, no matter how it’s dressed up.

On Sunday Liverpool’s defence will be primed for the spinning bombs of Delap and Shotton; guided missiles that will hope to seek out the heads of Peter Crouch and Robert Huth. For a dismissive watching public it’s simply not seen as the way things should be done. It’ll certainly not be pretty but it will be fascinating nonetheless. Lurking somewhere in the environs of Anfield perhaps the ghosts of Shankly and Paisley at least, would give an approval?

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