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The Roker Ramble: Never Go Back... Actually, Please Do!


It is no doubt similar elsewhere, but the backward pass seems to invoke stinging rebukes from the Sunderland crowd on a gamely basis nowadays. God forbid the defender or midfielder (or striker, quelle horreur!) who sees fit to turn away from the opposition goal, and spray a short ball to a teammate behind them.

For whatever reason, a vocal majority of football fans are loathe to praise the backward pass. To win games and scores goals, a team must go forward, they insist, forever berating the man who dares venture in the opposite direction.

But the question I always find myself wondering, whilst being flecked with spit from the angered chap behind me at the match, is simply this: why? Why is it so wrong to go backwards in football?

It all smacks of impatience. Baying fans – always those of lower clubs, it should be noted; such anger is rarely invoked in similar situations at Old Trafford, the Emirates or the Nou Camp – are nervy at games, and thus feel that their side must seek to create a goalscoring opportunity in the quickest time possible. Going backwards detracts from such an aim, hence they don't much care for it.

I, however, find such an attitude baffling. This insistence, this unwavering belief, that teams must go forward at all times is illogical at best – and utterly ruinous at worst.

Watch any of the top sides on a weekly basis and patience is an integral part of their game. If there is nothing on when going forward, no matter, just turn around and start again. Keep the ball, draw teams out, and seek another gap in the opposition defence when it invariably appears.

For many teams though, and Sunderland are of course not the only guilty party, such sensible tactics are ignored. If nothing is on going forward, hoof it up there anyway, and hope for the best. When that doesn't work, fans complain then about the wasting of possession – it is a vicious circle, and one which I've witnessed countless times over my formative years of watching football.

Scott Parker has often been a man who has suffered from the disdain associated with the backward pass. Throughout his career, the Spurs midfielder has been largely under-appreciated, with observers lamenting his preference for the "safe option", as opposed to seeking a killer through ball each and every time. Yet, it is no coincidence that, having added Parker to their team in the summer, Spurs now sit third in the league – should they win each of their two games in hand, they will be just four points behind the two Manchesters.

To go backwards in football is perhaps that "safe option", but that doesn't mean it is the wrong one. Possession is always said to be nine-tenths of the law, and nowhere is that more true than in football. Keeping the ball not only reduces the chances of the side in possession conceding (unless own-goal whore Michael Proctor is playing for you, that is), but it also annoys the opposition, draws them out, causes them to make mistakes.

To Martin O'Neill's credit, he seems to be trying to overcome the barracking barrier of certain sections of the Stadium of Light crowd. Yesterday, against Everton, there were a number of occasions when Sunderland simply turned around and kept the ball, refusing point blank to waste it. It was a refreshing change, but inevitably met with a fair amount of derision. However, O'Neill and his men will hopefully stand firm in their embracing of the backwards pass, and perhaps acceptance will come.

This is perhaps a boring topic to "ramble" about, but it is an important/infuriating one nevertheless. The impatience of many a fan adversely affects their team's chances each and every week – they would do well to sit back and pause for thought before leaping in anger.

There is, however, a rather strange paradox, one that underlines the futility of such 'backwardpassiphobia' (coming to an Oxford Dictionary near you in the very near future). Should the ball find its way onto the head of a defender, and should he then gently nod the ball back with unmistakeable ease to his goalkeeper, you can bet your hat that a ground full of fans will clap such an action with unbridled joy. But God forbid if he sends it back there with his foot.

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