The ugly sides of the beautiful game

The short corner

Unless a team is protecting a slender lead and wanting to run down the clock, or are severely lacking in the height department, why would they need to complete a two yard pass before crossing the ball? For a minute gain in crossing angle? Pointless. They could have crossed the ball directly from the corner flag and had another player in the box. When giant defenders lumber forward into the opposition’s penalty box, the last thing they’ll be caring about is a needless pass before the cross comes flying in – if indeed it does. All too often, the short corner creates more difficulty for the attacking team than an advantage, leading to a rushed pass backwards to the halfway line to start an attack all over again – frustrating for the fans and utterly futile.

How to take a corner kick

The long ball (also read long throw)

The ugliest and most basic of football tactics is one that removes virtually all skill and creativity from the sport. The only time a manager can be excused of the ‘punt it in the box and hope for the best’ approach is when there are less than ten minutes remaining in a game and their team is losing by a single goal. It is because of this one dimensional, direct and – admittedly – occasionally effective tactic that children are often being force-fed the instruction of ‘hoof it’ and ‘boot it up the park’ by spectators and over-competitive coaches alike when they line up for their local under-9s team. This, in turn, leads to the more successful youth teams being made up of the bulkiest, tallest, meanest players who can win physical matches that involve as much skill as pounding a drum.

Rory Delap preparing one of his missiles

The long ball is to football what Jedward are to the music industry: hard to take seriously, crude and annoyingly successful (Sam Allardyce and Martin O’Neill have made their living from putting it into practice).

I give the last word to the great Brian Clough whose own view on the tactic was: “If God had meant football to be played in the air he would have put grass in the sky.”

This pretty much sums it up:


As discussed previously, diving is a persistent problem in modern day football. Players theatrically flop to the ground at the merest touch from an opponent, as if floored by a David Haye uppercut, in an attempt to con the referee into giving a foul against the opposition. Simply put: it’s cheating.

In basketball, though, feigning a foul is seen as part of the game and is actually encouraged and praised when performed successfully. But, this is one area in football where the moral high ground prevails.

Drogba in full flight

Lack of goal-line technology

As technology has modernised, so too have most sports. In tennis, we have the brilliant hawk-eye replay system that determines if a ball has landed in or out the court; in rugby, the referee can enjoy the benefit of a video replay before making a key decision. However, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has stubbornly resisted the use of technology to improve the fairness of the sport for fear that it would slow down the game, even though it takes barely ten seconds to use successfully in other sports.

Imaginary card waving

Again a topic that has been discussed here before, here’s a different point of view. Imagine, you have the ball at your feet as you dribble past defenders. The goal in your sight. You prepare to shoot, only for an opposing player to slide in and clip your standing leg. It’s a foul. Clearly. The referee has seen it, he has blown his whistle. Why, as a professional sportsman and role model to thousands, would you ever decide to wave your hand in the air as though branding an invisible yellow or red card? The answer, of course, is simple: to gain an advantage for your team by influencing the referee that the foul was worthy of sending off the opposing player. Some might say it is gamesmanship. For me, though, it smacks of immaturity, pettiness and, worse still, cheating.

There are times, though, when card-waving can be funny, even if the referee doesn’t see it that way.

Please feel free to add your own personal gripes about football below. Take it from me, it feels good to let it out.

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9 Responses to The ugly sides of the beautiful game

  1. Gavin says:

    Great stuff James, I think I disagree with all of them except ‘diving’ though.
    I would also stand up for Mr Blatter. As someone who is also, in general, against goal line technology, I would add that his main reasons are consistency. The success of football is rooted in it’s simplicity and appeal to the lower classes, goal line technology stripes it of it’s identity.

  2. Calum says:

    I agree with you re. The Short Corner, Graham re. Technology, Gav re. Card Waving and Cloughy re. Long Balls.

    I actually think that the little tap that sometimes happens before free-kicks is even more pointless, although if referees clamped down a bit more on defensive rushing that might be less of a problem.

  3. Calum says:

    Sorry, I meant that I agree with Gavin re. Technology…

    I’m also not too sure of the footballers as role models thing. The superb Marina Hyde wrote a great piece for the Guardian last week about how it’s pretty unreasonable to expect footballers to be role models.
    On the other hand, I agree with you that it seems fair to expect them to conduct themselves with a bit of decorum at least, a lot of people really do look up to them after all.

  4. Graham says:

    The Marina Hyde article was very good and something I agree with whole-heartedly. Footballers should not be forced into being a role model.

    I have got to say I am a big fan of the short corner. Like the elaborate free kick routine, I am a big fan of a bit of innovation in my set pieces. I think it’s not just about gaining a better angle but having two players taking the corner means you bring another defender out of the box. This should in theory give the other attackers, although there are less of them, more room to move and attack the ball. It also gives you the option, if only one defender comes to meet you, of passing it into the box; an advantage if you are a small team. Admittedly some balls get passed back to the half-way line but to the same extent most corners fail to beat the first man or are always headed clear by a big lummox of na centreback

  5. Gavin says:

    I would add ‘obstruction in the corner’ and ‘Man City’ to the list.

  6. Sean says:

    The panic “lets take a short corner” short corner, is often useless and just leads to either taking the corner too early or knocking the ball back to the man on the half way line and a long ball being played. However, if you watch Spain or Barcelona play short corners they are just brilliant and often result in having Xavi or Iniesta in time and space in or close to the opponents box which is of course more dangerous than the routine corner lottery. I also think that a team like Arsenal are infinitely better off with Arshavin standing next to the corner flag with 2 opponent defenders than standing in the box with a near 0% chance of winning a header.
    Clough comment is perfect but this season is once more rewarding some of the long ball merchants. Except England, thankfully.

  7. James says:

    Gavin, you can’t honestly say you are in favour of imaginary card waving?

    I can the appeal of the argument against goal-line technology, however, if you say that the success of football is rooted in it’s simplicity then would being able to clear up contentious decisions not make the sport even clearer to understand? It certainly hasn’t impacted on other sports negatively.

    With regards to footballers being role models – which they undoubtedly are – I don’t think many players choose to be a role model, it just comes with the territory of being in the public eye, adored by thousands of youngsters. That aside, as a grown adult, is it not petty for a footballer to sulkily wave their arm in the air after being fouled (which is an inevitable part of contact sport)?

    Burt, I like the point you make about bringing a defender out of the box with the short corner, however, I still think the tactic causes more trouble than success.

    I would like to add Manchester United’s Anderson to the list.

  8. Graham says:

    I am split. I tend to agree that trying to get someone booked is not overly good etiquette but fouls are not just inevitable. Some players foul on purpose -“necessary fouls” I believe they are call”. That is not a part of a contact sport, it is cheating to some extent. In those cases I think players are right to stand up and say that the player deserved to be booked because they do.

    Football is a bit different to other sports in regard to video technology. Very few other sports have the continuity that football does. Most others have natural points where the play stops for reasonably long period of times so it is not a big change. Even when the ball goes out in football, it is usually quick to be put back in so the arguement goes that it would ruin the flow of them game. Also it is thought that it could not be implemented at all levels, which would mean that different archelons of football would be subject to different rules. I have some sympathy with that.

  9. Thomas says:

    Have to say that I object to the trend that seems to be emerging of goalkeepers getting freekicks if an opposition player [or even someone from their own team!] goes near them when a cross comes in.
    Obviously the tactic of El Hadji Diouf [and Allardyce] of targeting the keeper should be stamped out, but most ‘keepers seem to go over like they’ve been shot if there’s even a whisper of a contest for a ball in the air.

    Another thing [and something which probably says as much about me as anything!] is players who decide to wear gloves and short sleeves during the winter. Either you’re cold and you wear long sleeves and gloves or you man-up and wear short sleeves.

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