It may seem like a relatively new phenomenon, but it’s not really, perhaps entering the norm when once it was deemed to be solely the modus operandi of adherents to the more muscular and robust approach to football, eschewed and sneered at by self-appointed sophisticates. No, not the professional foul, nor even the injury time substitutions to run down the clock. I’m talking here of the ‘long throw.’
Many Premier League clubs have taken the tactic on board as a legitimate weapon. For a throw in anywhere in line with the penalty area, a player will be designated to hurl the ball into the penalty area very much as in the mode of a surrogate corner kick. Quite often, these will be full backs – which incidentally brings a query to mind. Why is it now that so many teams’ throws are taken by full backs, regardless of how far up the pitch it occurs? Apologies, I digress. A good example is Chelsea’s muscular right back Branislav Ivanovic, but he’s far from an exception.
It could be argued that Rory Delap brought the tactic to prominence during his time at Stoke City. Tony Pulis had built a team of big men, and saw merit in, to use the colloquial ‘putting it into the mixer’ whenever the chance presented itself. The mortar-like range of Delap’s throws offered plenty of those. A bit like thunder and lightening however, fear of it probably caused more headaches for defensive coaches than it probably warranted. It certainly gained Delap a period of fame/infamy (delete as you see fit) however. Although at the time it’s true to say that having Delap in your Fantasy Football team was always a shrewd investment for ‘assists.’
At one stage, all sorts of rumours abounded that there was something underhand going on with chemical or other underhand assistance being used. A while ago, in an interview, Delap was keen to dispel any such myths. “There was talk of whether it was legal. There were suggestions that we had some kind of advanced drying thing, MI5 or whatever, that could dry the ball before we threw it. It was none of that.” Then, of course there was the issue of what appeared to be a towel, sewn into the inside of Delap’s shirt. Was it some special material? Apparently not according to the player “It was a Fruit of the Loom vest with the back cut out.” Bang goes another conspiracy theory!
It would be wrong however to think Delap was the first exponent. From 1994 to 2002, The Wirral had their own missile launch system. Not Star Wars, but a central defender playing for Tranmere Rovers by the name of Dave Challinor. The unsung hero once held the record for the longest ‘legal’ throw in as authenticated by the Guinness Book of Records. In 1998, he hurled a ball no less than 46.35 metres – which on a lot of grounds would mean hitting the penalty area from the halfway line. Although never deployed in the top division, Challinor’s missile became a feared weapon for Tranmere.
Interviewed by the BBC back in 2011, Challinor related how opposition teams would often refuse to offer him a towel to dry his hands at away games. It’s a ruse that Delap later overcame with his vest. “It’s something that’s loomed over me throughout my career,” Challinor lamented, accepting however, “If that’s how people remember me, that’s fine. At the time it got a lot of media coverage because we put teams under pressure and we scored goals. It went a little out of fashion then all of a sudden with Rory Delap and Stoke in the Premiership it’s back in the spotlight.” There was a downside though. Challinor commented that, “I think I’m paying the price now for thousands of throw-ins throughout my career and I’m struggling a little bit with shoulder problems.”
More than five years before Challinor was born however, the tactic was deciding major trophies. Ian Hutchinson played 144 games for Chelsea between 1968 and 1976, netting 58 goals. Although that is probably sufficient for him to be held in the highest esteem by Chelsea fans, most other football supporters around during that era will remember him better for the pioneering long throw, wherein he hurled the ball distances and then continued to rotate his arms like some kind of windmill. Although Hutchinson, netted the equaliser at Wembley that took the 1970 FA Cup final to a replay at Old Trafford, he’ll be better remembered for hurling the long throw in that David Webb forced into the net to win the old trophy for the Stamford Bridge club near the end of extra time in the replay.
It’s difficult to tell whether it was because of Hutchinson, Challinor, Delap, a combination of all of them or indeed none of them that convinced UEFA of the authenticity of the long throw tactic. Something must have triggered them however as the European governing body has even produced a Guide to the Long Throw in. You can see it here: http://www.uefa.com/trainingground/skills/video/videoid=1908190.html. Whatever the case, if it hasn’t already happened, it’s time for football to accept the tactic as a legitimate ploy in the modern game. Because, praise it or damn it, it seems like it’s here to stay.
(This All Blue Daze article was originally produced for the ‘offsiderulepodcast’ website).