Goalscoring weapon: Throw-ins are in it for the long haul

By All Blue Daze.

It’s not a new tactic and has gained acceptance as part of a robust approach to the game, yet it’s still sneered at by football snobs. No, we are not talking about the professional foul or injury-time substitutions to run down the clock, but the misunderstood long throw-in.

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Many Premier League clubs now use it as a legitimate weapon. For a throw-in anywhere in line with the penalty area, a player will be designated to hurl the ball into the box in the mode of a surrogate corner kick. Quite often, it will be entrusted to full-backs like Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic.

But it could be argued that Rory Delap brought the tactic to prominence during his time at Stoke City. Tony Pulis had built a team of big men, and saw merit in ‘putting it into the mixer’ whenever the chance presented itself. The mortar-like range of midfielder Delap’s renowned throws offered plenty of those. But the fear of them probably caused more headaches for defensive coaches than they warranted.

At one stage, there were all sorts of rumours that something underhand was going on, chemical or otherwise. Delap dispelled the myth in 2013, telling The Daily Mail: “There was talk of whether it was legal. There were suggestions that we had some kind of advanced drying thing, MI5 or whatever, that could dry the ball before we threw it. It was none of that.”

Then, of course there was the issue of what appeared to be a towel, sewn inside Delap’s shirt. Was it some special material? Hardly. “It was a Fruit of the Loom vest with the back cut out,” Delap explained.

But he was not the first throw-in specialist. Former Chelsea star Ian Hutchinson netted 58 goals in 144 games between 1968 and 1976. Although that is probably sufficient for him to be held in the highest esteem by Blues fans, most other football supporters around during that era will remember him better for the pioneering long throw. Hutchinson would hurl the ball distances, then continue to rotate his arms like some kind of windmill.

He netted the equaliser at Wembley that took the 1970 FA Cup final to a replay at Old Trafford, but he’s better remembered for hurling the long throw-in that David Webb forced home in extra-time to win the trophy.

From 1994 to 2002, the Wirral had their own missile launch system in Tranmere Rovers defender Dave Challinor. The unsung hero once held the record for the longest ‘legal’ throw-in as authenticated by the Guinness Book of Records. In 1998, he hurled a ball no less than 46.35metres – which on a lot of grounds would mean hitting the penalty area from the halfway line. In an interview with the BBC back in 2011, Challinor related how opponents would often refuse to offer him a towel to dry his hands at away games. It’s a ruse that Delap later overcame with his vest.

Challinor admitted there were downsides to his talent. He added: “It’s something that’s loomed over me throughout my career. If that’s how people remember me, that’s fine.

“At the time it got a lot of media coverage because we put teams under pressure and we scored goals. It went a little out of fashion, then, all of a sudden, with Rory Delap and Stoke in the Premiership, it’s back in the spotlight.

“I think I’m paying the price now for thousands of throw-ins throughout my career and I’m struggling a little bit with shoulder problems.”

It’s difficult to tell if any of these trailblazers helped to convince Uefa of the authenticity of the long throw tactic and then produce a Guide to the Long Throw-in. Whatever the case, if it hasn’t already happened, it’s time for football to accept the tactic as a legitimate ploy in the modern game because it’s here to stay.

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