Oldham - bitterly cold, wet and miserable round table

Posted by Veinticinco de Mayo on January 27, 2013, 11:02:42 PM


I think this week we will open the round table with a guest post which raises some interesting questions and thoughts on the nature of the English game...

There's more than one way to play the game of football.  Interestingly, completely  different styles of football have evolved in different parts of the world.

It's been well documented how culture, approaches of referees and coaching methodologies have influenced different styles of football in different places.  There is however one important set of influences that dictate how the game has taken shape so differently in Britain to the countries in southern and central Europe.  These are climate and the quality of pitches.

Historically, British football has been played on saturated pitches for most of the season, when temperatures are low.  Low temperatures are suited more to endurance activities than explosive ones.  (You'll see the records for marathons are set in cool temperatures, but the 100m sprints set in the peak of summer).  The poor quality of the pitches meant that trying to play the ball on the ground was very challenging, so a game based on long balls into channels (where the ball would slow down on the slow pitch) or direct balls into a target man was the most effective way of playing.

At the same time, in other areas of the world, lower rainfall and hotter climates saw the development of what we often hear described as the continental style.  The intensity of the games were lower due to the heat, with short and powerful actions punctuating a much slower and patient game.  The ball was passed along the ground and possession football prospered.

Liverpool were the champions of England and Europe in the late 70s and early 80s as they, better than any other team, could switch between these styles of play to suit the conditions and their opponents.

Fast forward to the present, and modern Premier League pitches are so well prepared at the top level, the traditional British style is rarely seen in the top division.  We've seen Arsenal lead the continental revolution, with a style that is as one-dimensional as it is effective in the right conditions.  A combination of better pitches and cool climate means that we are now seeing a more continental game played at high tempos by the most evolved of the Premier League teams.

However, and that brings me to the point of this article, outside the top flight, the pitches aren't much different to those left behind by the advent of the Premier League.  Particularly in the depths of winter, the old-style British game still rules.  The sticky pitches, the big target man and game-plans built around set-plays and opposition errors.  It's percentage stuff Charles Reep would be proud of.

The FA Cup throws together two contrasting styles.  It is no surprise that after a week of snow on top of saturated ground that we've seen British football of old once again have its moment in the sun.

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