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When old voices gather......

When old voices gather......

Arsenal ticket scheme members may receive the annual pack which is usually a decent collection of Arsenal artefacts, dvds, giveaways, yearbooks and the like. This season the pack included an edition of Eddie Hapgood`s autobiography. 'Happy` Hapgood was captain and full back star of Chapman`s all conquering pre-war Arsenal side. The autobiography is a fairly rudimentary account of his career for Arsenal and England written in 1945 at a time when he`d set the record for most England caps. Anyone born when Hapgood produced his work would now be qualifying for their state pension.

As historical record it`s an entertaining enough read but maybe what strikes the reader most is how much pain players had to accept for their sport and how proudly they wore their battle scars. These were times without substitutes so broken noses, distressed muscles and damaged limbs might get you moved to a safer area of the pitch but you`d rarely leave it, other than temporarily, if you could stand. As much as you can admire their endurance, bravery, their toughness no real supporter would want to return to those days of laced footballs and industrial boots.

Much else has changed about football since those times which, despite the natural appeal of nostalgia, has been to the good of the game. Substitutes are now allowed - three of them, the same number of points as you can now earn for a win. Changes in the laws restrict the handling of backpasses and complicate the understanding of the offside rule and the abolition of the minimum wage eventually led to some players becoming multi-millionaires in their teens. But among the biggest of changes are changes in the players themselves and the conditions under which they play the game.

You needn`t go back as far as Hapgood`s time to appreciate the differences in playing conditions. A number of old voices, Redknapp, Allardyce, Coyle and Moyes among them have recently invoked the 60`s and 70`s as a benchmark by which to consider today`s tackling issues. Tackles then were often made on muddy, sodden pitches at a pace that allows them to be examined without today`s slo-mo replays. Much of what was done 30 or 40 years ago you could see coming.

It wasn`t just pitches that made tackling less dangerous players themselves were much slower. British researchers looked at games played in the old first division in 1976 and found that the average player covered a distance of 8 to 11 kilometres a game, 25% of which was spent walking and 11% in sprints. Modern premiership players will cover 50% more distance with an average of 11 to 14 kilometres a game while the number of sprints in a game has more than doubled. The modern footballer is fitter and runs much further, for much longer and much faster than his 1970`s counterparts. It probably isn`t possible for a midfielder of the current era to feel contentment with the sobriquet 'Stroller`. Still the physical demands increase each year and it`s clear that the game is getting faster and more physically intense - dramatically so compared to 30 or 40 years ago. The speed and power of the game now means that bad tackles will cause more damage than they did in the past.

When conditions change in other spheres then we expect to have to adjust behaviour accordingly. As more traffic with better engineered vehicles and motorways produced greater power and acceleration and greater average distances travelled cars were fitted with seatbelts and motorcyclists compelled to wear helmets. Similarly, in almost any profession if accidents occurred repeatedly you`d be obliged to look at them, the changed conditions under which they occur, and adjust your behaviour or conditions to bring about a reduction. Most employees, their families, friends, bosses and professional organisations would insist that is done. There`d be media outrage if it didn`t happen. You certainly wouldn`t be permitted to deflect any inclination for action by saying that it was pretty bad 40 years ago too. So why do we expect football to live in a bubble that seeks to exclude it from the simple common sense we apply elsewhere? 'It`s a contact sport - what do you expect?` is no more valid an observation than that cars are still made of metal.

The laws of the game are clear. You cannot tackle in a manner that is careless, reckless or uses excessive force. There's no need to change any laws but there is a need to ensure that they are interpreted to the standards and needs of the modern game and not those that prevailed decades ago. What prevents that from happening? Who is scared of bringing about change that could only benefit the game? Many of the answers can be heard in those old voices locked in the past.

If we can see and applaud improvements in players' technical ability to perform feats of skill at high speed why wouldn't we want that to include their tackling skills? What's wrong with thinking about the purpose of tackling and even redefining it in coaching terms if that's what it takes to make it more relevant to the objectives of the modern game? The ideal should be for a tackle to regain possession of the ball - or as a last resort in the final third an endeavour to clear your lines to avert a threat to your goal. But ugly, careless or reckless lunges, too often with force disproportionate to the aim of winning possession, are made in areas of the pitch in which they can serve no purpose other than to stop the game - and maybe bring a player down. It's a blight on the modern game in its faster and more athletic form and perverse when those similarly conservative voices object to the introduction of video technology on the basis of its potential impact on the free flowing game. In a good tackle there is a desire to win possession not simply to clear the ball. Many tacklers will tackle with absolutely no idea where the ball will end up - but a fairly good idea of where the player will. A good tackler should be looking to win the ball and has the next pass or movement in mind when he does so.

Those old voices seem to feel the only choice to be made is between tackling and not tackling - not one between good tackling and bad tackling. There`s no need to outlaw or abandon tackling it just needs to be appreciated and refined as a skill set relevant in the modern age of football. There`s nothing tremendously difficult about it. It can be done easily enough if the understanding is there and taught and appreciated as an improvement in technique every bit as valuable as any other football technique.

If referees were to enforce the existing rules by defining the criteria of carelessness and recklessness in the context of today`s game and not that of decades past then the need to coach players in the art of the good tackle will become more urgent. Those old voices can only speak of times gone by. We need some new, younger voices to encourage the game to understand and look forward to the needs of the future. At present there are too few of them making themselves heard.

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Date:Monday September 20 2010
Time: 9:23AM


It's an excellent article which simply sets out some very simple terms that aren't at all controversial. Sill, I'll bet my bottom euro that some luddite from another club will still trouble the forum with, "yeah, but we mustn't lose the British blood and thunder, it's what makes our league stand out" which deliberately misses the point. I repeat my assertion on another thread, we all know that the day the attitude will change in this country is the day an England regular leaves a football stadium in an ambulance and it won't happen a second sooner.
Little Dutch
20/09/2010 10:13:00
Agree LD but the big change will come when a footballer who's career is finalised by a thug pretending to be a footballer and the injured player takes them to court along with the manager and the club they play for. The sooner that happens the quicker the FA will review thelaws.
20/09/2010 10:24:00
No I won't listen...LALALALAALLALALALALALAhypocritewengerLALALA LAALAmansgameLALAilovewalrusLALALAmoanmoanLALALA!
insider says
20/09/2010 10:26:00
The acceptable face of English football
20/09/2010 10:57:00
and if that englishman is from Arsenal, then the attitude or anything else will still remain the same..
20/09/2010 11:57:00
I'm not sure i agree that the only way this archaic mentality will change is for a (false) national icon to suffer from a bad challenge. It may be the fast track solution to getting people to look at the state of the game, but the sad truth is I don't have any faith in the FA or media (who determine what joe public believe) to look at anything honestly and without ulterior motives, then act and make the necessary changes without ******** it all up... That's just how the FA do things, they're incompetent! So, for a start change first needs to happen at the top level and then people may begin to take the issue seriously. Media needs to radically improve and this i hope will come around by public opinion through blogs gaining strength and importance over journalists who only write to shock rather than inform. In essence what i'm trying to say is that it'll be a long drawn out process trying to change these archaic industrial mentalities but Wenger is planting the seeds in the cracks of the aging infrastructure. He's taking the flack now and being a martyr for the good of the game in the future because he really does believe in it. Graham Poll (not someone i pay much attention to) wrote in the mail today ( that reckless tackles must be dealt with properly and refs need to have more consistency. Now this is just 4 days after he writes a piece titled "Do Arsenal need more protection from referees? No Way!". Peoples initial reactions to Wengers statements are rejection with abuse added to give the (over)reaction an English flavor. Now people are starting to talk and that is because Wenger brought it up and asked the question 'what if?'. A gathering force of opinions & voices in the public domain will encourage journalistic self-reflection (one hopes) and organisational remodeling throughout the FA. How long do you expect that to take?
insider says
20/09/2010 12:20:00
...Or we could just break Gerrards leg and see what happens!
insider says
20/09/2010 12:24:00
That's a good post insider (not the one about breaking Gerrards legs!) and exactly the lines I was thinking of. The louder we can bang this drum on blogs and internet sites the more likely the mainstream media will be to pick it up eventually. It doesn't need to be sensationalist in nature or to sound self pitying just simple logical arguments for the greater good of football that asks the questions persistently. It'll take a while to get through but the counter arguments are illogical and ultimately that's where they'll be defeated.
20/09/2010 12:32:00
Consider the campaign under way
Little Dutch
20/09/2010 12:51:00
Good points made Amos. They are not brilliant in its insight, simply common sense, which the wider media is unwilling to see as it doesnt create headlines. If Redknapp talks abt the tackling in the 60s as a comparison, then is it ok for him to be paid the salary of a 60s manager? Clearly not. There is so much about football that has changed, and it beggars belief that such a simple point cannot be acknowledged. Wenger's words are twisted continuously - he has never said tackling should be banned, just that reckless tackling should be punished. But you wouldnt believe that if you read the papers.
20/09/2010 13:34:00
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