12 November ~ There are certain footballing basics that all who play the game are expected to master quite quickly. The trap, for example, is one that I clearly remember my dad drumming into me as a small lad. For hours, it seemed, he would play balls to me in our garden until the simple act of making the ball stop dead at my feet became muscle memory, a force of habit. It is rare to see anyone with any ability above that of a clodder committing cardinal sins like heading a ball with the top of the head. There is a footballing staple, however, that seems to me to be surprisingly common among many adult players, even professionals – the foul throw.
It really is a very simple concept – throw the ball with both hands, from behind the head while keeping both feet on the ground. Yet for some people whose job it is to kick a ball around and occasionally throw it on to an area of grass, it is surprising how many seem to fail to follow the basic rules of the throw-in. Referees, for the most part, seem to be all too happy to ignore these transgressions, but to me it rankles like no other minor footballing offence.
My own style is one of no frills, no length, just a solid, regular, textbook throw. To see someone with the technique of Jack Wilshere, for example, committing a foul throw saddens and annoys me. Maybe that is why Mike Dean penalised Wilshere for this offence when Arsenal played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Maybe he had grown tired of player after player lazily lobbing balls into play without pulling the ball all the way back or bothering to keep their feet planted on the ground. I thought this was all too rare an instance, and yet in England’s recent game against Montenegro a foul throw was blown up by the referee. Maybe things are changing?
Arsène Wenger once famously called for the throw-in to be replaced by a kick-in, which I can see working to some extent, but the throw-in offers a dimension that a kick-in cannot provide – that of limits. Of course there have been some proponents of the mega-throw, like Dave Challinor (who seemed to single handedly propel Tranmere on a cup-run in 2000 using his bionic arms) and the current master Rory Delap. They can be very potent weapons – the chaos caused by their throws is testament to that.
Looking to the past, one player who was able to combine a throw in with something else to cause a completely different kind of chaos was Pat Brady, brother of Liam, who while playing for Millwall in the 1960s would in one motion throw the ball in and punch an opponent: a foul throw of a totally different kind. I hope the recent spate of foul throws being penalised is not just a flash in the pan. Here’s to picky refs putting sloppiness to rest. Duncan Palmer