Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The latest football news from 90 Minutes Online

American Football: Soccer Style Kicking

Wil Lutz kicking (via nola.com)The NFL's series of London games are well underway at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the Oakland Raiders facing Chicago Bears to kick things off before Wembley takes on hosting duties at the beginning of November. Jacksonville Jaguars, owned by Shahid Khan- who of course occupies a similar position in the boardroom at Fulham- will be taking on the Houston Texans, in a collision almost as literal as the NFL Show following Match Of The Day on a Saturday evening.



But the overlap doesn't begin & end with the scheduling of the television highlights... Whether or not you're a seasoned watcher of America's venerable old National Football League, now in its centenary year, you may or may not notice some familiar footwork on show! The noble art of soccer style kicking dates back to the Sixties, brought in by Budapest- born placekicker Pete Gogolak who had emigrated with his family to the States & took with him skills first learned on the “soccer” field.


Drafted by the Buffalo Bills of the AFL, or American Football League in time for the 1964 season before transferring to the New York Giants of the NFL two years later. A move which actually helped to trigger a merger between the two leagues under the NFL name just prior to 1970's campaign getting under way.....


Not to mention a change in playing style, the method of kicking with the instep rather than the toes as in “our” football, quickly becoming standard practice. For a more technical answer to the question of why, we can turn to the Scientific American- which quotes Newton's Second Law of Motion. Namely, the more force you can put on the ball, the further it'll fly! As shown in an NBC special on The Science Of American Football.


That it took until the early Sixties for the players of a league with beginnings in the early Twenties to realise so, might seem staggering now. But a simple “two steps back behind the ball holder, then three steps to the side” with a holding team-mate sticking the ball in place on the field of play before the sort of punt seen most Saturday afternoons at grounds up & down this country sent the ball between the posts, really did change the state of play in a literal sense!


Which in turn leads to 80% more field goals being completed dating back from around 2010 in comparison to 60 in the early Sixties when the toe was king, the Seventies & Eighties rendering it virtually extinct. Apply a little science & it’s not hard to see why......


“When a toe-baller kicks, only the cross-section of the front tip of his shoe contacts the ball. In soccer style, the whole instep of the shoe (the arched portion, along the inside of the laces) makes contact. The greater surface area of contact gives the kicker more control over the ball's flight path.”


Which would explain why the NFL was so keen to snap up such players, often from outside the United States before the late Eighties saw more home-grown talent adapting the style. Not before one of our own had made the move though, Bobby Howfield signing for the Denver Broncos in 1968 as a placekicker in the Gogolak mould. He played for the likes of Millwall, Crewe & Watford before lapsing into non league having first gone Stateside to play in the International Soccer League for the New York Americans.


What of actual soccer, then? The North American Soccer League, or NASL, launched as Bobby's NFL career was in its infancy, bringing over some of the best players in the world at the time, perhaps to remind those who packed out American football stadiums week in week out just how the sort of kicking they were now used to seeing came about? Perhaps the best known team for such marquee signings were the New York Cosmos, who could call upon the likes of PeleFranz BeckenbauerGiorgio Chinaglia at the height of the league's popularity.


Major league soccer, you could justifiably argue! And the MLS itself came into being as part of the USA's ultimately successful bid to host the 1994 World Cup, its first season kicking off two years after that tournament. By then the NFL was celebrating 75 years, the San Francisco 49ers winning that year's Super Bowl. By the time MLS got under way it was the turn of the Green Bay Packers to taste victory in the highlight of the American football calendar...


The first post-MLS World Cup for the US, though, didn't exactly end half as well. Ironic that soccer style kicking by men who were representing their country at the NFL's 'poorer cousin', from a national sporting standpoint, should flop you might think? But flop they did, losing to Germany, Jurgen Klinsmann among the scorers before he later took on the job of coaching the States, followed by Iran in what was a massive literal game of political football & then Yugoslavia, heading home winless & indeed pointless.


A better showing followed in 2002, a run to the quarter finals having finished second behind co-hosts South Korea in Group D. They also came up against 2026 co-hosts Mexico (Canada also joining the winning bid), beating them 2-0 in the last 16. Guess who took a large share of the credit for securing the 2026 World Cup? Step forward Donald Trump!


“Thank you for all of the compliments on getting the World Cup to come to the U.S.A., Mexico and Canada. I worked hard on this, along with a Great Team of talented people. We never fail, and it will be a great World Cup!”- as he posted on Twitter...


No mention of his previous pledge to build a wall stopping the Mexicans getting in, of course. But US Soccer, the American game's governing body, said he had been a great help, wall or no wall.


“We have the full support of the United States government in this project, The president of the United States is fully supportive and encouraged us to have this joint bid. He is especially pleased that Mexico is part of this bid.”


Although whether football of a political nature will take centre stage in a few years time, at least on the scale of that Iran game, nobody knows?

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