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THE ART OF THE LONG THROW

6 September 2012

The signing of Aron Gunnarsson on a Bosman transfer was undoubtedly one of the best recruitments made by the Bluebirds last season.

The midfield enforcer fans had long been crying out for had finally arrived, but he soon transformed himself into a player equally adept in the opposition half as in his own.

Aron has a fair few weapons in his armoury - he's strong in the tackle, has an eye for a pass and even popped up with a few goals in his debut season. However, as his teammates would assure you, he has one extra attribute which has proved invaluable to the team during his time in the capital: his long throw.

The Iceland captain has worked hard to hone his technique throughout his career. Being a big fan of his national sport, handball, Aron's training in that field has certainly been put to good use, and he has used everything from medicine balls to car tyres to practice his throw on the training pitch. In fact, Gunnar had about 7 seconds of YouTube fame after this was featured in a CocaCola commercial involving Iceland's U21s - look it up by CLICKING HERE !! 

Anyway, Gunnar's hard work over the years has certainly paid off. His long throws have directly led to goals on many occasions and also contributed to City scoring the highest percentage of goals from set pieces in the 2011-12 Championship campaign (42%), according to Opta Sports. A statistic made all the more surprising when you consider that a team managed by set piece enthusiast Sam Allardyce was competing in the same division!

But long before Gunnarsson's arrival, Cardiff City had a fine history of long throw specialists. Bobby Woodruff was famous for propelling the ball well in to the box from the touchline back in the early 70s, and he once won a televised competition at Stamford Bridge, before coming second only to Malcolm Macdonald in a final held at Highbury. But Andy Legg, who is still yet to hang up his boots as player manager of Llanelli, could certainly have claimed to be master of the long throw while playing for City. He actually held the world record at that time (a massive 44.54 metres) until it was broken by Tranmere's Dave Challinor!

More recent specialists for City came in the form of Adam Matthews, Lee Naylor and Tony Capaldi. Who could forget Michael Chopra's winner in the South Wales derby in 2010? Well, it was all created by Adam Matthews hurling the ball in to the area well into injury time. But it was Capaldi's throw which played a starring role in the Bluebirds' FA cup campaign of 2008. The Northern Irishman's launched delivery resulted in both Peter Whittingham's spectacular (right footed!) strike in the quarter-final at the Riverside as well as Joe Ledley's famous winner against Barnsley at Wembley. While in the Carling Cup run of last season, it was Gunnarsson's long throws which caused chaos in the Liverpool box late on, forcing the corner which brought about Big Ben's late equaliser.

So, the long throw has played an important role in Cardiff City's recent history, particularly in the cup, but it's Rory Delap's ability with the ball in his hands for Stoke which has really caught the public eye in recent years. Delap consistently launched the ball into the box with an unusually flat trajectory, as well as blistering pace, during their first season back in the top flight. His delivery left opposition defenders quaking in their boots, often unable to defend the goal mouth scramble which inevitably occurred.

But, although Delap revolutionised the long throw with this flatter, faster flight-path, other teams were using them to get one up on the opposition before he was even born. Ian Hutchinson, who played for Chelsea in the 70s, is credited by many as being the first to perfect the art of the long throw as an attacking weapon, and others, such as forward Malcolm 'SuperMac' Macdonald, produced similar efforts during the same era. Hutchinson famously launched in the long throw which set up Chelsea's winner over Leeds United in extra-time of the 1970 FA Cup Final replay - one of the more dramatic moments in the history of the long throw!

Going back even further, legendary former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly is said to have been another pioneer of the art during his playing career, often practicing by hurling footballs over entire rows of houses when training in his hometown of Glenbuck in Scotland!

There continue to be certain football 'purists' who oppose the long throw-in but, while it's easy to sympathise with their point of view, alternatives seem scarce. And when we try to tamper with the rule book nowadays it rarely ends well - the recent introduction of 'additional assistant referees' and the 'golden goal' rule are just a couple of examples of this. So, the proposed ideas of introducing kick-ins instead of throw-ins, or tinkering with the offside rule, would surely just confuse matters.

The most vocal opposition to the long throw in recent years has been a certain Mr. Wenger, stating that "we're supposed to be playing football not handball". However, it must be remembered that this is not a common issue in football matches, there are very few players really capable of causing the opposition defence problems from a throw-in. So, when there is a genuine long throw expert on the pitch it's novel, exciting and adds to the contest and spectacle - and isn't that what football's all about?

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