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Football is a sport grounded in simplicity.

An American friend of mine once asked me to summarise the rules, aims and objectives of what I had previously described to him as ‘the beautiful game’ - I did so with ease. By no means do I claim complete omniscience regarding all things football, indeed it is the intrinsic simplicity with which professional football is underpinned that lead me to explain its provisions in a matter of minutes.

Upon receiving my verbal synopsis on what he categorized as ‘British football’, I asked in turn if he could then do me the honour of explaining the process of his favoured American sport, Baseball, within the same timeframe. An hour, three bottles of Budweiser and a couple Jim Beam’s later and my memory retention had taken a severe hit. In that time I was inundated with bases, bullpens, plates, mounds, foul lines, RBIs, curve balls, fast balls, strike outs, ground outs, force outs, tag outs, gloves and mitts, and it just went on, and on, and on. To this very day I remain unsure as to whether it was his intention to confuse me, and perhaps in hindsight my asking lead to an unhealthy comparison (after all, there is cricket).

Fuelled by curiosity, on August 11th 2011 I bought tickets to the matchup between The New York Yankees and the LA Angels at the newly built Yankee Stadium. Sat next to a young college student who insisted on dribbling chewing tobacco into his empty plastic cup, I was overcome with a mixed sense of disgust and puzzlement with what exactly the giant scoreboard was showing. Then at the ‘bottom of the sixth’ up stepped Robinson Canó with the ‘bases loaded’, and with a hefty swing of the bat he delivered a ‘grand slam’ to the upper tier of the stadium’s north-east quadrant. The fans went wild as they furiously scrambled to retrieve the ball that was now meandering its way underneath their seats, only to be hindered by their giant foam fingers and gloved hands. I thought at the time that this reaction mirrored a stoppage time winner, except I had no idea whether this act had signalled the end of the game or if a grand slam was a rare occurrence – it turns out it was, but ‘big woop’.

It was in a drunken stupor in that Bedford Avenue bar that I believe I offered my most pertinent point to this friendly American, one that I put towards my fellow British ‘British football’ fans. The attraction of football does not derive from its innate simplicity, it’s 4-4-2s or its eleven versus eleven, but in the variables that exist beyond its rigid structure. I do not arrive at a football ground awaiting a game that is to be played as if it were summarised to me in a Brooklyn bar, instead I expect storylines, moments of perfection and imperfection, tactical savvy, and most of all goals!

What we have in football is a sport that is simple, but can easily produce complications. The role of officiating, tactical astuteness, or one moment of brilliance on the part of a player are a few of many variables that can decide the outcome of a match. It is the fact that none of the aforementioned are guaranteed prior to kick-off that makes this game ‘beautiful’.

‘Expect the unexpected’.

To be a fan of your team often entails vehement optimism and great expectations, but it also means much more than that. As a result of the sport’s simplicity, football fans have developed footballing standards, that is we expect our favourite teams to impress us with how they build upon football’s very simple framework.

We are bystanders who every Saturday afternoon join one another in the stands to watch as our beloved eleven play football. We have no say in the matter, we cannot influence what occurs on the pitch - sure we can cheer or voice our discontent with what we witness, but that does not make all the difference.

To be an overseas Barcelona fan would be a wonderful thing, with their never ending passing sequences and their squad of World Cup winners, but allegiance to the team you grew up supporting counts for much more than that. We cannot defect, but we will persist on pushing for good football, whatever that might be. For every fan there is a hope that there team will play good, as opposed to the bad and ugly. It is with this desire to make football more than just the sum of its parts that almost all fans look upon the long ball game with disdain.

Oh, ‘The long ball game’. Aimless clearances kicked fifty, sixty yards towards the opposition end, the straining of fan’s necks as yet another one reaches the heights of the main stand, the slight sense sympathy for the defender who must welcome its descent to earth.

From Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang during the 80s and 90s to John Beck’s Cambridge United of 1990-1992, this direct style of football has attracted its critics. Gary Lineker once remarked ; ‘The best way to watch them [Wimbledon] is on Ceefax’. Indeed, it is telling that the two most notable examples existed decades ago, however that is not to say this breed of football is extinct, more archaic.

In the modern day game football fans have adopted the term ‘hoofball’ in an effort to further condemn this unsophisticated and uncultured direct style. Gary Megson made a name for himself during his managerial stint at Bolton Wanderers in 2007 for reintroducing the long ball game to his squad, citing the following as his reason;

"All I did was take it back to the style they'd proven able to play’

As a fan of a team competing with his current club, Sheffield Wednesday, evidence taken from our recent clash appears to indicate a man stuck in his ways, and one that isn’t alone. Tony Pulis at Stoke City, Sam Allardyce at West Ham, and the manager of Norway’s national side, Egil Olsen, all might be considered to be the pariahs of contemporary hoofball.

The question we must ask ourselves as football fans is why the collective dislike of this direct style?
Is it that the adoption of hoofball takes away from the spectacle we paid money to watch?
Is it that this style appears void of creativity and skill?
Is it that it nullifies football’s many variables?
Are we engaging in football snobbery?
Or is it just too simple a style?

I would say ‘yes’ to all of the above, but with particular emphasis on the latter.

The reason the long ball game is despised by so many is that the objective (that is, to outscore the opponent) is already incredibly straightforward. Therefore, why make football even simpler? What we are really saying is that our teams should go about their business in a slick, entertaining and indirect fashion.

Beauty is in the eye of the football fan, and for that reason whenever I watch as my own team engages in a ten minute bout of head tennis, it comes as little surprise that the old boy sitting next to me shouts

‘Pass the f***ing ball!’


  • Thoroughly enjoyed that read. Quality.
  • Very good ... and I say yes too
  • on American sports vs football - i was having this discussion last night with a friend, there are some aspects of American sport I quite like but they are all to do with the allocation of resources amongst the teams & not the actual games themselves.

    With hoofball I would say as a manager it's a risky tactic, if it works then you will get the backing of the fans, but any inkling of failure & it quickly becomes a millstone round your neck. I can't imagine any fan saying "the boss needs to be given more time in order to perfect that huge hoofing up the field system that he's trying to get the team to play......"
  • No surprise Smegson it mates with Pullis. Horrible ginger whinger with a team to match !

  • Decent read.

    Would perhaps add that the reason why some people dislike direct football is that it can act to level the playing field and allow perceived lesser clubs (Taylor's Watford / Wimbledon of the 80's) to challenge their own clubs (who they think are larger & better).
  • Greg halford .... my god
  • I think one of the reasons hoof became so unpopular is that we're spending so much more money on games now. Can you imagine spending £50+ to watch Arsenal hoof it like the Wendies? I can't imagine paying £50 to watch Arsenal do anything. Crowds spend more and demand entertainment, and of course with such a wide supply of footballing information from Sky Sports post-match analysis and the many statistic websites, every fan is an armchair manager. I have Football Manager open right now. We know more, we spend more and so we demand more; no hoofing for us thanks. For me I hate it because we're rubbish at it - Wendies thanked us gratefully when we resorted to it at The Valley
  • Went to a very interesting evening a few months back where I (and about 30 other football coaches from the local youth league) spent an evening watching Exeter City's centre of excellence train and had a presentation with the centre manager.

    They pride themselves on playing a passing game at youth level to the extent that they would rather play the ball out from the back, along the floor and lose than hoof it and win. When someone asked him why, he said that if a player is brought up playing passing football its easy to adapt to playing long ball, but if you're brought up playing long ball you've got no chance of adapting to a passing game.

    Obviously some of the players we had last season were brought up in the wrong sort of youth system!
  • Baseball to most fans in the U.S., is as much a social event as it is a spectator sport. Having been here in Baltimore for the last thirty years, (where we have a really lousy team) I've come to enjoy the three hours or so it takes to watch a game once or twice a year, with good friends and reasonable (though expensive) beer. The game itself is a game of "situations", which I'll not attempt to try to explain, but it's possible to enjoy the game only waiting for, and watching when these situations arise. Often when the crowd wakes up and roars a neighbor will ask, "what just happened?" It often takes a few minutes to find someone who was actually watching. The scoreboard is a lifesaver, it keeps one up to date to the last pitch, and it's possible to sound like an expert even with a Cockney accent as long as one understands the scoreboard.
    Football (the American kind) is another story, we do have a decent team here in Baltimore, but the game is basically our thugs against their thugs. Our thugs this year have made it to the playoffs, which means that we got nine home games this year instead of eight. (the rest of the year the 70,000 seat stadium stays empty, except for one or two concerts) The game itself usually takes three hours to play 60 minutes, it hardly "flows".
    The town gets excited though, and people spend a lot of extra money on t shirts etc. (a good deal of which goes to the thugs)
    Wish I could get over for the beautiful game this Saturday, COYR..!!!!
  • 'Hoofball' although popular with some fans, can anyone name any REAL top flight clubs that play that kinda football? teams have forced their way into the higher leagues or cemented their teams in a top flight league through that kind of play but most high flying teams are playing it on the deck most of the time.
    Also, Think it was a bit harsh to say Pulis plays hoofball, admittedly the team used to mplay only hoofball but theyve grown since then, have a couple good wingers and play better football now, but I also have a girlfriend who is a Stoke fan so i may be slightly bias purely coz most of the time it doesn't leave me in the doghouse!!!
    Compared to American games, well, I think almost all American sports are pretty shocking tbh, none really flow that much are full of advertisements and most of the attraction isn't really the sport itself, what's up with that?! The best American sport is Basketball, a great sport that involves stamina, speed, agility, skill and quick-thinking. Honestly wish that i'd been given an opportunity to play it as a kid becuase it is such a great sport and SO overlooked!
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  • Very interesting and also very pertinent when you compare two Cities with the same initials Stoke and Swansea. In the latter case, passing the be-Jesus out of the ball in little triangles and in the former knocking the be-Jesus out of the ball by route one aerially

    It has always seemed to me that the easiest way to "gel" a team is the Allardyce/Pullis route. You play the percentages, you cut out the grass, shorten the time it takes to get to the opposition box and provided you practice heading and shooting, and work on being super fit, that should be enough to beat flabby more aesthetic opposition, but......

    .....along comes a club who has pretty much gone bust, with fan ownership at its heart, with no money much to invest and a long way off the promised land. They employ a exiled Spaniard who majors on the passing game, the neat triangles, keeping the ball. He believes in coaching these skills to mainly third and fourth tier home based players. Suddenly this team starts to win and he takes them into the second tier. The foundations of this quiet revolution are strong and another two managers later they are playing in the premier league, out passing, out footballing Champions League qualified teams on a regular basis.

    As the original post has it, football is a simple game. It is a game that when played as it is meant to be played, by passing and moving, can be so beautiful to watch. Left to percentages, muscle and the shortest route to goal it just becomes an ugly grunt which all but the most partisan find unpalatable.

    The lessons for our club are clear. The passing game - with passion and commitment is the way forward. Everything behind the scenes to enable the players to develop the skills to follow this direction needs to be done for the club to thrive. Everything I have seen and heard in the last twelve months makes me believe that we are firmly embarked on this path with Chris Powell at the helm.
  • I also wouldn't say that Stoke play hoofball. Direct football maybe, but there is a difference. Not only can it be effective but can also be entertaining (esp when it's your team having success with it). Unlike the hoof it up in the air ariel bombardment style that the wendys are currently adopting, fast, direct counter attacking football can be very entertaining Imo. Seen it more than once from us this season................
  • Maybe i'm making it up but didnt Curbs use direct football a lot towards end of his time with us?
  • At times yes, Curbs did and it was still entertaining to view. Much better than the hoofball tactics of PP.
  • Yeah but wasn't it a big reason why fans were getting bored/booing when we lost or drew.

    Thats why Dowie was appointed, to bring "Attractive" football to the Valley.
  • Stoke have modified a little, the out and out aerial stuff but it still is ostensibly the same brand of football they always play.
  • Not suggesting every team could play like Barcelona but more coaches at all levels willing to adopt the ethos that retaining the ball is the best option would IMHO raise the standards generally. Until the importance of first touch is ingrained in our youngsters we will never again compete with the continentals who are years ahead of what any National England team have to offer.
  • Have to say that standards are improving though. You watch us play and the way the ball is moved around, the first touch, the movement and accuracy of passing, it's not something you'd have seen in the 3rd division in even the recent past, and it's not as if we're the exception, there's more passing teams than hoof ball teams in this division, which shows that basic technique is improving. The corresponding improvement in pitches has obviously helped, you think back to some of the mud baths of the 80s and 90s and you can understand why most lower league teams went the aerial route.
  • Imnot - as part of my own football coaching "job" I am due to see one of Chelsea's Elite Youth Squads train in the next week so let's see how they line up.

    My guess would be Big is Best which may attract a Hoof or 2.

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