The Telegraph called Huddersfield’s display yesterday “impressively spirited and organised” perhaps forgetting that they had not one single shot on target.
But this was to be expected because what we saw yesterday was the return of Bolton under Fat Sam (or as we had to call him when people objected to the word “Fat” – “Very Large Sam”. I’m going back to Fat).
From 1999 to 2007 Allerdyce was the manager of Bolton, a team whose style of play became notorious for an approach which either could be said to have conned referees into accepting a total rewriting of the rule book, or if one was more cynical, an approach in which they extended the rules step by step with the knowing acceptance of what they were doing by the PGMO and its staff.
The essence of the approach was based on the observation that referees rarely take into account the totality of what they see – instead focussing on individual moments. If each moment is a minor infringement, most don’t get punished, and the overall effect of unsettling the football playing side can be significant. It is not football but niggling.
The prime factors within the playing of Niggling were fake injuries (which had players rolling on the ground onto to leap up if the ref ever waved play on), rotational fouling and rotational time wasting. They were enormously effective not least because the media refused to acknowledge that anything unusual was going on.
With the move of Allerdyce to Blackburn (2008-10) it was shown that the approach could be used almost anywhere – the referees simply would not deal with it, the media would not pick up on it.
When the Fat Owl of the Remove (as the most elderly in the stadium might have called Allerdyce) left Everton last season many of us thought that we had seen the end of his approach – not least because it in latter days the media did start using our phrases (rotational fouling in particular) to describe his style of play.
But now it is back in the form of Huddersfield who have adopted the approach as Fat Sam did, as a means of survival at any cost.
The problem that we had was that our players simply didn’t understand what they were playing again, nor did they have a manager who could quite work out what to do – at least until the second half when he really did give New Bolton something to think about.
The answer, as Mr Wenger had discovered years before, was to give them something to think about in terms of attacking flair. Hence on came Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the place of Lacazette and Lichtsteiner.
But the worrying fact is that other teams at the foot of the table will have noticed this, just as others copied Notlob (an appropriate name for the anti-football team) when finding themselves near the foot of the table and without talent.
Meanwhile the fact that 50,000 people in the stadium were able to see the anti-football in place and made their feelings felt accordingly but the newspapers don’t want to know tells us a lot.
Recently I wrote a little piece Pulis v Wenger on how a major part of the problem with the violence against players by Stoke over the years was that the media refused to call them out, and told Arsenal players to “man up”. The Fat Sam approach was never as violent as the Pulis approach, although it took could cause awful injuries. But it was an approach that like that of Stoke was ignored wholesale by the press, who preferred to blame Arsenal for the effects.
Now it is back, and the reaction of the press is instant and unanimous. The fact that football is being twisted away from the game we know into a perversion created in order to frustrate the opposition so much that they become careless is something that the media ought to care about.
But rather like the corruption of Fifa, the insanity of England ploughing money into its activities, and the fact that it is now run by the man who was at the heart of the Manchester City deal while at Uefa, is ignored, day after day, year after year.
Worse, now that Huddersfield are using the tactic and getting away with it, others will follow. As yet it is not fully functioning and they are still in the relegation zone, but I suspect they will make it work as they get more sophisticated at the way they handle it.
Huddersfield have scored fewer goals than any other team in the PL, and it was easy to see why – just as it was easy to see why they are playing as they are.
We really ought to be clear: this was not football when Fat Sam did it, and it is not football now.
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