IN a letter to When Saturday Comes magazine recently, a Bristol-based sports historian called David Bull recounted a tale which loosely relates to the long-throw wizardry of Stoke’s Rory Delap.
Bull recalls how, 13 years ago, he interviewed Stoke manager Tony Pulis’ father-in-law – former Southampton, Leyton Orient and Newport player Bill Stroud.
During the interview, Stroud revealed how he had been coached in the art of the long throw by John Arnold, himself an ex-Southampton winger who played football and cricket for England, and who later became a first-class umpire.
What’s interesting about this is that Stroud confessed that Arnold had taught him how to throw the ball using only one hand – the stronger one – without being detected.
Those of you who like your conspiracy theories can probably see where this one is leading. Could Stroud have passed the one-handed throwing technique on to son-in-law Pulis, who passed it on to Delap?
Bull was very careful not to suggest that had happened – and with good reason, in my view.
Last night’s final match: Stoke 0 Aston Villa 0
Commentator: Simon Brotherton
I don’t believe for a second that Delap’s throws are illegal – and I’m not just saying that to avoid libel action and the wrath of the Stoke fans who have stumbled across this blog entry via the Newsnow website. (Hello.)
And the reason I don’t believe Delap is doing anything wrong? Well, last night’s Match of the Day can provide part of the answer to that question.
You see, Arnold’s one-handed throwing technique might have worked in the 1950s, when TV coverage was limited to a handful of games captured on scratchy newsreel. But in an era when every Premier League game is filmed by at least 10 cameras, and many are filmed by twice that number, it’s hard to believe that a one-handed throw wouldn’t get spotted.
If Delap was cheating, then Hansen, Shearer, Lawrenson or Dixon would have picked up on something by now. And they haven’t. I watched Delap hurl a couple of long throws into the area during the five-minute highlights at the tail end of last night’s MOTD. It certainly looked to me as if Delap had two hands on the ball when he took the throw in.
(I’ve got a couple of conspiracy theories of my own surrounding Delap’s throws, though. One is that the ball has a false bottom in it, which conceals a secret jet engine, which Delap activates with a remote control device hidden up his sleeve when he winds up to take the throw – which is why he always wears a long-sleeved shirt. The other is that it’s all done with mirrors and suggestion, and there’s actually no ball at all.)
Unless you were studying Delap’s technique closely, there wasn’t much else to get excited about in a game that was deservedly last on MOTD – and which took Stoke to the top of the Gubbometer for the first time this season. It also kept up Martin O’Neill’s bizarre record of never having won a Premier League game in March during nearly four years in charge of Aston Villa.
“Some games look good in five minutes,” said Gary Lineker as he prepared to read out the Premier League table. “But that wasn’t one of them.”
At the end of his letter, Bull asked if referees and linesmen need training in how to detect one-handed throws, and if the technique perfected by Arnold all those years ago is still in use.
If anyone is using this technique and getting away with it, then perhaps it is the clearest signal yet that officials need TV technology to help them. But if the cameras can’t pick it up either – even in high definition – then it would suggest that anyone who thinks that TV can eradicate refereeing errors is kidding themselves.
But the answer to the question posed in the title of this blog post? I would definitely say it’s two.
1. Stoke: 7 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
2. Blackburn: 6 (GD: 1. 2L: 3.)
3. West Ham: 6 (GD: 1. 2L: 2.)
4. Portsmouth: 6 (GD: 1. 2L: 0.)
5. Everton: 5 (GD: 1. 2L: 1.)
6. Wigan: 5 (GD: 0. 2L: 3.)
7. Bolton: 4 (GD: 0. 2L: 7.)
8. Hull: 4 (GD: 0. 2L: 6.)
9. Aston Villa: 4 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
10. Fulham: 3 (GD: 0. 2L: 5.)
11. Gubba: 2 (GD: 2. 2L: 3.)
12. Wolves: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 7.)
13=. Birmingham: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 6.)
13=. Burnley: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 6.)
15. Tottenham: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
16. Arsenal: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
17. Liverpool: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
18. Sunderland: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 6.)
19. Manchester United: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
20. Chelsea: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
21. Manchester City: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
GD = Gubba difference
2L = On second last (Last night’s penultimate match was: Birmingham 2 Everton 2.)
(NB. Teams will receive one point for every time they appear last on MOTD. Appearances on MOTD2 are not included. Teams level on points will be separated by Gubba difference – the number of times a team is on last with Tony Gubba commentating. Teams still level will then be separated by the number of times they appear second last on MOTD.)