Rochdale went to great lengths to accommodate their Premier League guests in the FA Cup this past weekend, even going as far as to replace the entire pitch at the behest of the Spurs boss. Mauricio Pochettino’s voiced concern about the well-being of his players running on such a surface and, in turn, Rochdale duly facilitated a change.
For starters, Pochettino should explain the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf to his squad: he is concerned about injuries yet is comfortable seeing them fall over, feigning fouls on a weekly basis. Rochdale boss Steve Davies was right to note Dele Alli’s tendency to succumb to gravity in the penalty box but done so in a tactful manner. Strangely, this was even on an immaculate, snooker-table like surface that his feet failed him.
Nonetheless, sportsmen of today need to be challenged in new ways when they play at different grounds. By giving everyone the same quality of pitch, you remove any home advantage that may be present. Football is not alone in falling into this trap; cricket and golf have also mandated a uniform standard, removing the excitement away from playing at certain grounds. Think of how many cricket Test matches are now rendered dull by a flat surface designed to withstand even a nuclear explosion. Football is quickly following suit, it seems.
Before too long, groundsmen will be required to take a spirit level to the goal-line.
Players of my generation made careers out of playing on awful pitches. The entire England 1966 squad were brought up on uneven surfaces. I myself came close to an England B call-up despite playing on pitches regularly that appeared to have been ploughed by a Massey Ferguson.
I once showed up to a game at an unnamed Northern club. The ruts in the pitch were so deep that water had gathered, daffodil bulbs were resting atop the surface and the mud was so thick that the ball barely bounced. There was never any talk of the game not going ahead – this was simply football, and the crowd paid good money to see a game. Try telling the miners of this town that we couldn’t run on mud for fear of dirty boots or staining our shorts.
By being able to adapt my game, I became a much better controller of the ball. I was able to anticipate bounces and bobbles, and I learned that passing had to be far more precise. This was evident when I eventually played on a flat surface – I could ping passes across the deck to feet 99 out of 100 times, most of the time.
Given that England consistently fail on foreign soil, learning how to win in less-than-ideal circumstances would be a good starting point. The English contingent in Tottenham’s side would have done well to show up to Rochdale, stayed on their feet and proved why they were the elite team on display.
Tottenham Hotspur will face Rochdale at Wembley Stadium in a 5th round replay on 28/02/2018.