Denmark-Ireland: A timely reminder of how awful ‘British’ football used to be

In Copenhagen on Saturday night, both teams played like modern versions of 1980s Watford or Wimbledon...

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There’s beauty to be found in kick-and-rush. You have to look hard in order to find it, but it’s there. Under the right light, from a certain angle, even the most putrid long ball side can take on a pleasing aspect: there’s a visceral, primal thrill to be found in a high, arcing punt dropping from the heavens and onto the head of a 6 foot 4 centre-forward.

Yet you wouldn’t want to see every team employing it.

Or even, for that matter, most teams.

These days, long ball can be something of a relief from the sameness of modern football. An ugly, retrogressive uncle whose ‘controversial’ beliefs you absolutely wouldn’t be able to stomach hearing on a regular basis, but which at least provide talking points on those dull, annual family occasions.

You don’t necessarily have to like or agree with what’s being said – but at least it cuts through the fog of polite conversation about which is the more nutritional of quinoa and cauliflower rice.

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The events of Saturday night were enjoyable in a strange, what-the-f*ck-is-going-on kind of way. After the 67th punt from Darren Randolph towards the large and doughty head of Daryl Murphy, or the 102nd 40-yard chip over the top from Simon Kjaer, you got the sense that you were watching something unique.

Neither side made any effort to conceal their plan: we’re going to punt it, so shut up and try to enjoy it. The very ugliness of the match made it a spectacle, a thing of glorious, terrifying weirdness.

Of course, in terms of quality it was, frankly, one of the worst games of football the world has seen in recent times.

It was hard for Danish and Irish supporters to witness – one can only imagine what neutral fans unfortunate enough to be watching must have thought.

Unsurprisingly, after the final whistle, much of the talk was about the ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘throwback’ style employed by both teams, which should serve as a reminder to us all about how much better we have it now. At the higher levels of international and domestic football, this type of contest is a rarity.

Very few teams play like this any more, even in the UK, the spiritual home of Route One. And with good reason. Football has, largely, moved on from the delusional theories of Wing Commander Charles Reep and Long Ball Charlie Hughes, who ruined a generation of English (and consequently Irish) players during his time as director of coaching for The FA.

Hughes’ notions about ‘Positions of Maximum Opportunity’ were de rigeur for many English clubs (and national sides) during the pre-Premiership era. There were exceptions, of course, but long ball quickly became the dominant football culture in England during the Hughes era, culminating in Graham Taylor’s reign as Three Lions boss during the 1990s.

Thanks to YouTube, it’s possible to look back at matches from this time.

From which it becomes clear that even the more gifted teams were partial to a punt.

The Denmark and Ireland nosebleed-fest in Copenhagen is a wonderful reminder of how miserable it must have been to watch football regularly in Britain and Ireland back then. Now, we’re lucky to live in an age when Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino are the tactical figureheads in the Premier League.

Don’t let anyone tell you that football was better in the past. It wasn’t – Denmark v Ireland is proof of that.

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