By John Cartwright
I remember it well, RON. GREENWOOD, introducing NEAR POST CROSSING to us at West Ham back in the early 1960’s. It was new to the game and brought an immediate, positive response from all of us who were there.
Crossing the ball had always been about flighted balls onto the head of a big front player, the space that was often open at the near post had previously not been recognised and therefore went unused. So, near post crossing and runs by attacking players into the spaces at the near post became an important attacking ‘weapon’ at West Ham and gradually into football generally.
The important aspect was – the space availability. If the space had not been covered properly by defending players or if they were unprepared for an attacker thrusting past them to meet a cross the possibility of a goal-scoring chance was high. In conjunction with the well-timed run towards the near post space, the crossing of the ball also needs to be well timed and accurately delivered. If the space is not there with defenders having covered it, then another crossing option needs to be chosen; in today’s game, choosing and delivering a different option is becoming less and less noticeable and a high number of crosses are wasted at the near post.
At West Ham during those early days a player called Tony Scott, played on the left flank – he was the best crosser of the ball using all options I have ever seen – here or abroad! With either foot – instep or outside – he could deliver the crossing option required for any situation – to the near post; pull backs to the edge of the box; high crosses to the back of the 6 yard box; or ‘chipped’ deliveries on to the head of a waiting attacker. This ability was achieved under severe pressure most of the time, but invariably his crosses caused danger to defending teams.
The reason why he was able to provide such exact crosses whilst at speed and under pressure is quite simple to explain; because he got his head up and looked! This doesn’t seem to happen today, it’s all rush, head down and hit – usually low and hard towards the near post and straight at a waiting defender positioned ready to clear the ball.
A CROSS, IS A PASS ACROSS THE PENALTY AREA, and like ALL PASSES it requires the player delivering the cross to LOOK, SEE, DECIDE and then DELIVER a cross most suitable for the situation. The ‘chipped’ cross is almost a lost art in our game today. This softly flighted cross when accurately delivered, offers better heading opportunities for attacking players positioned in more central and rear areas of the box.
Better use of crossing situations must become an important part in development here. Players must be capable of recognition and produce variations of deliveries when in crossing positions. It must be taught that crossing the ball is only a version of passing the ball and that the same skills should apply.