The bellowing

Everyone has one near them at Valley Parade. No matter where you are in ground you are not more than a blast of the vocal cords away from someone who can really bellow.

Where I park myself in games we have a number of them – I might even be one myself at times – and each of these bellowers have their own bug bear which brings about the bellow. For some it is the shout of handball whenever the kickeater goes near a shoulder, for other’s it is pointing out the failings of the Referee. On Saturday those people were busy.

Also busy on Saturday was one orator who’s chief comments comes on the occasion of a corner kick which is cleared by a defender. As the ball arcs away one hears the pull in of breath and the exhale “You’ve got to beat the first man City!”

Invariably there is a qualification: “losers” is a favourite at the moment, the odd vulgarity too; but never any sense of a sense of why the move had failed. Of why with the entire field to aim at a player would go for the very place where the opposition are standing.

A corner kick has to beat the first man for sure but if that were the only qualification then could one could punt the ball high and happy over a hundred yards and believe one had done good work? A corner has to beat the first man of course, but not the last City man and as the Bard said “there is the rub.” The first man is only on the field to get between he who has the ball and he who would receive it.

Football is easy to play in the stands and even easier to heckle. A corner kick that beats everyone is as useless as one which is cleared by the first defender but considering the first defender takes a position near to the most dangerous attacking player who is being targeted to head the ball in then it is unsurprising that so often does he get to the ball.

Likewise a direct free kick “has to beat the wall” but if – in doing so – it beats the crossbar it is a chance wasted and so the taker tries to aim at a gap over wall and under bar or rather he has to do that if his aim is to score.

If his aim is to avoid the criticism of the attended masses – the bellowing – then he can just hit a nice shot that raises over the wall and – drat! – clears the bar. No one ever got booed for forcing the keeper to scramble across his line, but such a shot is unlikely to go in.

And no one every got booed for putting a corner deep in the box, and when crossing a free kick no one ever got booed for hitting one towards the edge of the box and not into the danger area where the keeper has to gamble on coming and can be beaten to the ball. Trying to whip a ball in with pace that gives the keeper a decision to make risks putting the ball too near the goalie (he can use his hand, so he gets to more things than the strikers) but it also promises more rewards for the forwards than a punt to the edge of the box.

What is a player to do? He has a choice between the safe thing that offers no risk but little reward and the rewarding route which risks drifting a ball over the bar, to the keeper, at the first man and incurs the ire of the bellow.

This conundrum happens all over the field. Does a player take responsibility for the ball or does he pass it on to a team mate? The one keeps him safe from the bellowing but puts his team mate in trouble, the other and he might be the one who is left with football pie all over his face.

When up front does the player make the run behind the defender knowing he will look a fool but trusting his team mate to try find him or does he stay short and in the defender’s pocket knowing that he will not be the odd one out? That someone else will take the blame.

Wingers who drift as wide as they can on to the touchline looking like they present an attacking option but leaving the battle in the middle unjoined, visually separating themselves from their team mates, hiding in sight. Players who do not meet the captain’s eye as he looks for someone to take a penalty. When one player misses there are ten on the field who “would have scored” but they are no more use than the ten thousand in the stands.

This question defines – for me – what one could call “quality” in footballers. Peter Beagrie was one of the best players I’ve ever seen and his answer to these questions is the I Ching of football. “Real bottle is doing the thing on the twelfth time you know to be right, even if it has gone wrong for the last eleven times.”

“Not trying” in football is only rarely seen in the Alen Boskic walking around the pitch as if out for a summer stroll but is more often seen in the player who does not take responsibility for the collective performance. The player who at the end of the game says that the has done little wrong, but one struggles to recall any time when he could have done anything right either. Not trying is not risking looking a fool, not risking the bellowing.

Not everyone can deliver a ball like Beagrie but everyone can follow his lead. Rather than hiding in the game every player can try play the corner which just drifts over the first man’s head and onto our centre forward who nods home or the cross which leave the keeper in no man’s land and sometimes they will look like a fool for doing so, probably more often than not, but they do it because it is the right thing to do.

Rather than than the meaningless ball, the hidden player, the shy free kick. I can forgive a player his inability to do what is difficult but not his unwillingness to try that for fear of exposing himself to ridicule. Give me the player who will try hit the sweet spot than one who does just enough to make sure he never puts his head over the parapet.

I think about the “first man” guy every time we get a corner and how the difference between the corners he bellows at and those he cheers when they are converted is the matter of an inch or two that goes over that first man’s head and drops for the second – and our – man. The difference which invokes an often vitriolic response is an inch or two in a ball hit over thirty yards.

Rather than an inch or two lower than two feet higher and the corner taker slinking away as his team mates chase ball and get the bellowing for not being “in position”. Rather the players look to do what is best, rather than look to not be considered the guilty party.

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