The Elements of the Game
Our first online mini series, looking at the little things that make football so special.
The atmosphere is tense inside the stadium as the players gather around the edge of the box. Some inside the ground can’t bear to watch whilst others can’t take their eyes away. The ball has been placed twelve yards from goal and all of the attention is fixed on the player who has the responsibility of taking the penalty.
It is perhaps the most nerve-racking element of football. The pressure to score is only heightened further when the context of the game is considered. It could be the difference between winning titles, escaping relegation, going through to the next round of the cup, or of course, staying in the penalty shootout.
It’s a long walk from the halfway line and the goal just seems to shrink as you place the ball down on the penalty spot. Unlike a free kick or corner, it seems that no amount of practice can ever fully prepare you.
Mentality is equally as important as technique when it comes to the penalty. It should be so simple and so easy to score, but at the same time it is so difficult not to overcomplicate the situation. Questioning which side to go, whether to place it high or low, to use power or precision or even to chip it - we’ve all evaluated every option in our heads whilst stepping back to set ourselves before taking one.
Standing in anticipation next to your team mate or in the stands ready for a penalty to be taken is just as intense. We can all relate to the anxiety and fear that come with stepping up to take one, but coming forward to do so demonstrates true courage and bravery.
Some players are able to embrace the occasion and thrive under the pressure, whilst others crumble. The feeling of missing a penalty is not one that anyone wants to experience, but scoring one to win a game is something we all dream of.
For many of us, a stadium can represent a second home. The home grounds of our clubs are places where we have experienced so many different emotions and have shared memories with so many different people.
With so many famous designs, there are many stadiums that are instantly recognisable just by certain features. Today we often see a contrast of old and new, with stands from different eras bringing a unique feel to each ground.
Rich in character and historical importance, stadiums are a key facet of the communities in which they are located, being places that have brought so many people together over the years, forming lifelong friendships and relationships.
There is no feeling quite like stepping into your home ground and supporting your team. We all have our special memories of visiting the stadium for the first time, whilst we can look forward to cheering on our sides as they write the next chapters in the histories of our beloved home grounds.
The Free Kick
The free kick can almost be seen as an art form. It is arguably one of the best ways to score a goal. The ball is placed down outside the box, the wall is in place and the keeper is set. Sometimes just one player is stood over the ball, whilst on other occasions two or three are poised and ready to take it.
Combining power and precision, accuracy and bend in the perfect quantities couldn’t be more difficult, yet the finest players around make it look so easy. Having a free kick specialist in the team really provides that extra edge, as no matter how the game is going, they will always be on hand to step up and deliver in the key moments when called upon.
One of the most exciting aspects of the free kick is that there are so many approaches that can be taken. You can look to clip it delicately right into the corner, beat the keeper through pure power, or make it unpredictable for him by using the knuckle ball technique to make the ball dip and swerve through the air. The more audacious minded players will look to place the ball under the wall or even aim to the keeper’s side of the net.
A well-rehearsed free kick routine that comes off can be quite spectacular. Whether it is rolling the ball to the side for an onrushing team mate to run onto and fire home, or if it is an intricate link up with someone who peels away from their marker to be played the ball and then flick it on to another team mate for a tap in, there are so many brilliant variations that can be tried.
It’s an incredible moment when a free kick is scored, one that is remembered fondly by fans, and definitely one that is spoken about amongst the team for many weeks and months afterwards. It can take endless hours to perfect through continual practice on the training ground, but in the most crucial of moments, all of that practice really can pay off.
Nothing fills you with pride more than putting your scarf on before going to support your team. The colours of our clubs and countries mean something to us; they are a part of our identity.
In the winter months it’s a great sight to walk to the ground and be amongst a sea of the colours that we recognise our teams by. Whether it’s red and white, claret and blue, or another of the colour combinations that we know so well, seeing the scarves draped around fellow supporters’ necks really gives us a sense of belonging.
Receiving a new scarf as a present or treating yourself to one at the start of the season helps to build new memories of your team, and sometimes the scarf can really become the lucky charm that you can’t attend a match without.
It is very special when clubs give every fan a scarf for those big occasions: a big cup tie, a derby, a final or that all important match that could keep you up or crown you champions. These scarves are the ones we cherish the most, as they are the symbols that we were there to witness those season defining games.
They allow us to keep a little bit of history with us, and capture the intangible in a physical object. The scarf reminds us of all of the games we have attended, and of all of the ups and downs that come with being a football fan - it seems that the essence of the game is woven between the threads they are sewn from.
The Full Time Whistle
The sound of the full time whistle can bring about a huge contrast of emotions. The ecstasy of a dramatic late victory, the relief of holding out and keeping that narrow lead, or the pain and disbelief of losing are feelings that we have all experienced when the referee has signalled the end of the game.
There are times where we never want it to come, perhaps we need those extra few minutes to find a goal or the game has been so exciting and enjoyable to be a part of that we never want it to end. There are other times where it cannot come quickly enough, when we are clinging on to that one goal lead and the other team are threatening.
There are those victories where we stay after the final whistle to cheer the team off, and celebrating with the players provides a great feeling of pride. It is always a shame to see the stadium start to empty before the final whistle has been blown however, during those heavy home losses that we don’t like to be reminded of.
As a player the final whistle is a great reward when you have given everything to help your side get the win. After shaking hands with the other team, it’s always great to then celebrate with your teammates, where all of the talking points are discussed in the changing rooms and club house after the game, from the brilliant goals, nutmegs and passes, to the misses, mistakes and comedy moments.
The sound of the final whistle can remind us of so many different occasions and matches that we have been a part of, or were lucky enough to witness first hand, and will bring an end to many more brilliant games that we will play and watch in the future.
There is nothing quite like a derby. They are the games you look out for first when the fixtures are released, they are the games where the noise inside the stadium reaches deafening levels, and they are the games that definitely mean the most to the fans.
The ecstatic feeling that comes with winning, and the unbearable nature of a defeat really demonstrates the importance of any fixture against the local rival. Whether it’s a league match or a cup tie, the result is always worth so much more than just the three points or a place in the next round.
Perhaps the ultimate derby occasion is the rare meeting of two classic rivals in the final of a cup competition. In this instance the winner really does take it all and these victories become legendary amongst fanbases.
In local league football the derby can really help players to raise their game and find that extra source of motivation to beat their rivals. This is also often seen at professional level, where the local players can be seen working especially hard during the derby games, as their connections with the club mean that it matters that little bit more to them.
The games that matter the most are the ones that make football so exciting and although tensions can sometimes boil over and shine a light on some of the more negative aspects of the game during derbies, the way that they provide some of the most thrilling matches and memorable goals mean that they will always hold a special place in our hearts.
The Evening Match
There is something truly special about a game under the lights. Seeing the stadium light up the sky around it or running out onto the illuminated pitch gives us all a unique feeling of excitement.
The rush to make the kick off can be stressful, but the way the anticipation builds throughout the day and knowing that we have a match to look forward to in the evening gives the occasion that extra flavour.
Whether it’s a cup replay, a league match with three vital points at stake, or if you’re lucky enough a hugely awaited European tie, there is something about a football match being played under the lights that feels incredibly authentic.
It’s a classic tradition that will always be a part of the game. Some of our finest memories as football fans and players are of those amazing matches that we witnessed under the lights. It could have been a famous Champions League night, a memorable play off win or a festive thriller that remind us of those amazing floodlit moments, but for most local league players the prospect of playing an end of season cup final at a neutral venue with floodlights is the sort of opportunity we dream of.
An evening match has that added allure that can create an extraordinary atmosphere inside the stadium, whilst as a player the chance to run out onto the pitch for an late kick off under the lights is something we all dream of. They have a nostalgic feeling, and there will be plenty more special memories that evening games will provide us in years to come.
Nothing gets the crowd going like a great tackle. Timing it perfectly to win the ball back or sliding in to save a certain goal from being scored, a brilliant tackle can help to inspire the whole team and give them that extra edge they need to win the match.
When the stakes are highest in those important must-win games, putting in a big tackle early on can really set the tone for the match. It can define the midfield battle or can deny a winger any early opportunities to beat their defender, and seeing a team mate win possession or break up the play with a good tackle can inspire confidence throughout the whole side.
The greatest of players seem able to be able to predict where you are going to go and what you are going to do before you’ve even done it, and seem to have won the ball from you before you’ve even been able to think about trying to beat them.
Incredible talents such as Alessandro Nesta and Bobby Moore brought an art to the tackle, often timing it perfectly to come away with the ball whilst the attacker was left wondering where it had gone. Their elegance, strength and athleticism allowed them to win the ball cleanly, but their talent on the ball started attacks once they had gained possession for their sides.
As a fan it’s a brilliant sight to witness a perfectly timed tackle, whilst as a player it provides a great feeling to win one, and great tackles will always entertain and amaze us for as long as we all continue to watch and play the game.
The Cup Tie
You just never know what will happen in football. It is this unpredictability that keeps us hooked each week and each season. No matter the players that a side boasts or their position in the league, there is always a chance of an upset, especially in a cup tie.
There is a different feel to the atmosphere at any cup match. If a smaller team is drawn against one of the finest sides in the country, there is always a sense of optimism, especially if they are able to play this tie at home.
It is a real treat for the fans, the players and everyone associated with the club to see their team face a household name, knowing that they could be witnessing a classic moment. The players can really rise to the occasion, knowing that this opportunity doesn’t tend to come around often.
When you experience the magic of the cup first hand, there really is nothing quite like it. The game or cup run will provide the fondest of memories, and stories of those amazing games are passed down through the generations. Sometimes when we are on the way to a big cup match, we could never have predicted the feeling of pride that we would be experiencing while returning home afterwards.
Winning a corner really creates a sense of hope. No matter how the game is going, there is always a chance of scoring. The roar of the crowd as their team forces a corner is often phenomenal, especially when the game is tight.
It can reach deafening levels when the player running over to take it signals to the fans to lift the noise levels inside he ground even further. This can help to build that bond between those on the pitch and those in the stands, and in the tightest of stadiums, the supporters can be within touching distance of the corner taker as they line up to swing the ball in.
In comparison, taking a corner can be particularly tricky in the local leagues, as the run up can be shortened or obstructed by hedges, nettles and banks, which combined with the uneven corner mark, will only result in complaints about not being able to beat the first man.
Even in a game where one side has barely seen the ball and hasn’t been able to create many chances, winning a corner always provides an opportunity to turn the game on its head. You could take a surprise lead, score a deserved equaliser or narrow the deficit to spark a comeback.
Whether it’s through a powerful header from a defender, a deft glance from the star striker or a tap in after a scramble in the box, there are so many different types of goals that can come from a corner. Every now and then we witness the quite spectacular - the ball flying straight in from the cross. Debates of did he or didn’t he mean it, was it the wind, or what was the keeper doing will go on for weeks after this rare instance.
The excitement and hope that winning a corner gives us is one of the many things that make a match so gripping. We’ve all been involved in or have witnessed a game at some point where for a period there has been an onslaught of corners. It can become frustrating for the attackers as they contemplate how they haven’t managed to score, whilst the defending side grow increasingly more tired and cautious as they have to defend a fourth or fifth consecutive corner.
It’s amazing to think of how many we have celebrated or remember for all of the wrong reasons that have fallen late in the game. There are times where a side will dominate the game and then lose it or drop points because they conceded from a corner right in the dying seconds.
But there are those other glorious occasions where the scores are even and one team has been pushing for that winning goal. It’s been coming for a long time and finally arrives when a corner is won. An inviting cross is met and a brilliant header beats the keeper to win the game, sparking elated celebrations with your teammates or with those around you in the stadium.
Winning a corner will always provide us with that reason to believe; a feeling of optimism unlike any other. Every time the ball is placed down and the players in the box begin to move around, there is a sense that anything could happen. It is a reason not to ever leave the game early - you just never know what you might miss.
The Away Day
There is something special about travelling to support your side away from home. The excitement of the journey, the adventure of exploring a new town or city and the feeling of local pride make it a great experience, regardless of the result.
It is often the same faces that can be seen whenever and wherever the team is playing, which provides a great sense of community amongst supporters when cheering on their side on the road.
Being part of a packed out away end is something that allows us to be a part of some incredible celebrations when our teams score, and these magical moments make the distance and time we have spent travelling all worth it.
It’s always exciting to visit a brand new stadium and see your side play in their famous away colours or a unique away kit, and we can look forward to many more great away days spent with friends and family members in years to come.
The Knee Slide
Sometimes we remember the way a goal was celebrated better than the actual goal itself. In those moments of shear elation inside the stadium, a knee slide in the corner flag in front of the fans is always a brilliant moment.
When the grass is wet and everyone inside the ground is bouncing after you’ve taken the lead or bagged a surprise equaliser, seeing a player pull away from the goal and slide on their knees reminds us of our childhood dreams.
Growing up we have all thought out exactly what we would do if we scored for our favourite teams. Would the shirt come off, would it be an expertly rehearsed dance, would it be a cartwheel or backflip for the more acrobatic amongst us, or would it be the absolute classic - the ball has fallen perfectly and you’ve beaten the keeper with the sweetest of strikes. You accelerate away and with an immense feeling of joy, and execute a perfect knee slide before celebrating with your team mates and those in the stands.
There is definitely an art to it and the most prolific strikers such as Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney are all masters of it. A great knee slide rounds off a brilliant goal and if we are lucky enough to be stood in the part of the ground where the player comes over to, it makes the celebration even more memorable.
The Walk Home
One of the best things about football is that whatever game you are going to, or have just been to, there is always something to talk about. Whatever the result, there will always be the questionable decisions, the missed chances, the brilliant moments of skill and the goals both for and against.
It’s fair to say that most of the time upon exiting the stadium and walking back to the station, the car, or all the way back home, we couldn’t have predicted exactly what was going to happen in the game we have just seen. Often it’s certainly a contrast to what we were expecting when walking to the ground before the game, but this is one of the great things about football – you really do never know quite what will happen.
Being amongst a sea of fellow supporters flooding out of the stadium after a win provides us with a great feeling of pride, whilst after a loss or a disappointing result the negative emotions can be felt amongst those all around you. As the crowd begins to disperse as we all go our separate ways home, we look forward to seeing the same familiar faces and club colours the next time we return.
Supporting a team is about staying with them for life, watching players and managers come and go, being amazed some weeks and deflated on others. It’s about dreaming of one day winning something when walking out of the ground and then one day walking out of the ground having won something.
The Heart of the Game
The heart of the game lies within us. As fans and players, we keep football going through our love of it. The feelings of joy, pride and unity that it provides has given us all so many memories to cherish over time. One of the greatest elements of football is that everyone has their own unique stories and reasons for falling in love with it in the first place.
Whether it was when we first walked into a stadium with a family member, watched a match on television at home for the first time, or first went to training with a friend, there was a moment in our lives where football became a part of us. And even as the game continues to change over time, it still means as much to us now as it always has.
For the majority of us, football has become a part of our relationships with others. It is lovely to attend a match and see the various groups of fathers, mothers, grandparents, uncles and aunties bonding with their sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, grandchildren and friends. Part of the reasons why certain games we’ve been to are our favourites aren’t just because of incredible moments on the pitch, they are also so special to us because of who we were able to witness those moments with.
So many friendships are born out of playing football together too. Whether this is just from having a casual kick about with a close friend or through being a member of a local team, the game really does provide a true sense of belonging and often allows us to escape from the stresses of everyday life.
The release it provides is so important for allowing us to enjoy ourselves and unwind. It is as if any troubles we are facing are left behind once we walk up the steps and into our seats, or first receive the ball at our feet. Sometimes we wonder what we would do without football, but without us the game simply couldn’t exist.