Hall of Shame #27: Andy King’s hoofball kick-off routine

Alex Cooke looks back at a massive punt and a manager who didn’t changed his kick-off plan, despite years of repeated failure.

You must remember it. It happened at every Swindon kick-off under Andy King, game after game after game: Sammy Igoe (or similar) tapped the ball slightly forward. Then, (often) Matt Hewlett swung the ball over the heads of the Swindon strikers, straight into touch somewhere near the opposition’s corner flag. Town then jogged up the pitch attempting to pressure the opposition into giving the ball back.

It was that simple. At each and every kick-off under King, possession of the football was given up for position on the field. At first it looked like a (then fashionable) rugby-style attempt to feed a forward on the flank, but such was the frequency with which the ball sailed into touch unmolested, it must have been planned. Forget Dennis Bergkamp’s belief that, “behind every pass there must be a thought’, if this was a plan, it left a lot of room on the fag packet (or cigar packet).

As an idea, it was an extreme version of anything advocated by Charles Reep or Egil ‘Drillo’ Olsen, and not even completely in keeping with King’s football, which was direct but hardly pure long ball.

For Reep, someone who did much of his early match analysis at the County Ground, a long ball was always a good ball. It didn’t even matter if the booted punt reached a team-mate or not because even a long pass into space “brings valuable gains and is by no means wasted”. His reading of his own data also showed that “two thirds of goals come after the ball is recovered in the final third”, exactly as King’s massive hoof plan hoped.

Olsen, coach of a Norwegian national team containing Jan Aage Fjortoft, similarly used statistical analysis to claim the effectiveness of balls into the ‘bakrom’ – the area behind the opposition’s defence. His studies also found that a team had a greater chance of scoring again when the opposition’s goalkeeper was taking a goalkick than a teams’ own ‘keeper. So with his aim of getting 99% of passes into this bakrom, he would also have of approved of King’s plan. Despite this also he got Norway to second in the FIFA rankings, and beat Brazil.

King clearly found much to admire in these ideas (although it was unlikely he would admit studying theory) with his habit of watering the pitch in the corners to make sure that the ball slowed there. But this hoofplan was taking even this extreme approach further – actively giving away the ball on the edge of your opposition’s half so they would have to play the ball near their own goal. For, unlike Drillo, the teams being pushed into the corners weren’t Brazil so could happily relieve the pressure with a hoof of their own.

But that isn’t the reason why this kick off ‘plan’ makes the Hall of Shame: even if it has long been proven that there is actually a positive relationship between possession and goals scored. No, to do so would be too subjective – just because I found it tedious. It isn’t even that King played such an ugly, reactive strategy with all of his teams, from the patchworked squad of 2001/02 to one so talented it included Stefani Migloranzi, Sam Parkin, Tommy Mooney, Brian Howard and (sometimes) James Milner.

No, the reason why Andy King’s hoofball kick-off deserves its place is that it didn’t work. No matter how many times the same ‘hoof and press’ plan was used, it didn’t work, even with the 2003/04 team. Using even by the most generous measure (a three minute window since any Town kick off, for a goal conceded or half-time or full-time) Town only scored two of their goals during 2003/04 with three minutes of any kick off. It might be unscientific and dogmatic to base an assessment on just one season but at least Reep would understand such a flawed methodology .

Knowing that something isn’t working and to continue to do exactly the same thing week after week, season after season has to be the greatest failure as a manager, and of anyone, and that is why Andy King’s kick-off plan goes straight into the Hall of Shame. It just needs one touch, then hooooof!

Read more tales from the Swindon Town Hall of Shame…

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