By John Cartwright
My father took me to see my second pro. football match …….it was Leyton Orient v Notts. County in about 1947. He had taken me to watch a famous player of those days… TOMMY LAWTON, an English international centre forward. “Watch him son, he’ll score with his head today,” my father said. Sure enough I can remember him scoring a majestic headed goal to win a game that was fiercely contested on a muddy surface.
The game of football has moved on in many ways since those days……..mostly for the better, but the ability to head the ball is one of the skills of the game that has not shown a similar improvement. There are still good headers of the ball—especially defenders who can power the ball away, but there is a general lack of craftsmanship when it comes to the more subtle and creative variables involved with heading the ball. There is always emphasis on power and timing in heading sessions but little importance is shown for; — ‘cushioned’ headers; — back headers; — glanced headers; — turned headers; and equally important…….. the decision-making to chest control the ball instead of heading it when space and opportunities permit.
Tiki-Taki football is effective only when it produces sufficient, penetrative end products. Too many teams are playing football with possession statistics being the overriding requirement; penetration on the ground and in the air must be the positive culmination of possession-play. We should not forget the use of statistics to establish the number of penetrations through the field of play that have been made in games ——possession numbers allied to penetrative field area numbers would provide interesting and informative details of whole team performance.
Many teams are now ‘parking the bus’ and using counter-attack methods in games against opponents using high possession tactics. By drawing their players back to establish a solid block in their defensive third they have reduced the gaps available for the Tiki-Taki tactics to succeed———-but they are unable to ‘fill the space in the sky’ and quality delivery of the ball in the air from direct, wide or angled positions to skilful headers of the ball can ‘sink’ these defensive tactics and provide teams with the necessary playing variation for possession football.
I am not suggesting the return of ‘Direct| Football’ methods and big forwards with little football craft other than the ability to jump to head the ball, but we must realize the game does not ‘stay the same’ tactics change and the production of players should incorporate all skillful aspects of the game. One of the best young players I ever had the privilege to coach was Paul Walsh, who stood about 5ft 8” tall but could win the ball in the air against much taller opponents — Paul, was also hugely talented on the ball —- the coaching challenge before us is to produce players who possess the full playing requirements for the modern game — skills…tactics…physical. Heading must not be a forgotten skill, for the ‘space in the sky’ is a permanent feature and the ability to utilize it must not be overlooked.