Ken Jones: Chapman's stopper starts the age of confusion

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Have you ever wondered about the terminology of sport? Why they say "love" instead of "nil" in tennis? Who woke up one morning and said: "Whoopee, I've just got the way to make cricket even more of a mystery to those damned Yankees. Let's see how they get on with 'silly point' and 'backward short leg' and 'bowling a maiden over'"? I guess it didn't happen that way, but it all happened sometime, somewhere.

Have you ever wondered about the terminology of sport? Why they say "love" instead of "nil" in tennis? Who woke up one morning and said: "Whoopee, I've just got the way to make cricket even more of a mystery to those damned Yankees. Let's see how they get on with 'silly point' and 'backward short leg' and 'bowling a maiden over'"? I guess it didn't happen that way, but it all happened sometime, somewhere.

In the beginning nobody had a problem with the positions in football. There was a goalkeeper, two full-backs, three half-backs and five forwards. Then the great Arsenal manager, Herbert Chapman, created a new position by pulling the centre-half back to stop surges through the middle. "A sort of stopper, then," a football correspondent of the day suggested. "Correct," Chapman replied.

I was about to say that the stopper wore No 5 but remembered that the numbering of shirts came later. When that happened, everything was quite simple. The full-backs were allocated No 2 and No 3, the centre-half No 5 and so on. However, confusion was caused when coaches started messing around with systems of play.

If the No 9 dropped back into midfield, which was how Hungary deployed Nandor Hidegkuti in the Fifties, he was described as a deep-lying centre-forward. On the basis of tradition, England's No 5, Harry Johnston, went looking for Hungary's No 9, which was one of the reasons why England were thrashed 6-3, their first home defeat by a team from outside the British Isles. Picking up on this, Manchester City achieved some success with Don Revie adopting the Hidegkuti role.

Recently, at some function or other, I told the story of a famed Fleet Street columnist who was still sold on the notion of position by number when Arsenal played a European Cup tie in Norway during the Highbury days of Frank McLintock, Bob McNab, John Radford, Charlie George and other luminaries of that period.

On arriving for the game, Arsenal's manager, the late Bertie Mee, saw that all his players were wrongly numbered in the programme. "Just go with whatever number is beside your name," he said. Known for the depth of his imagination, the columnist filed the amazing tale of every Arsenal player apart from their goalkeeper Bob Wilson, playing out of position. To make matters worse, he invented a corroborative comment from Mee. "Coming up against weak opposition provided the ideal opportunity for experiment," the Arsenal manager was alleged to have said. Arsenal's written response was that they didn't mind if he made a fool of himself but would he please refrain from making a fool of their manager.

Getting back to terminology, who, I wonder, put names to the positions in American football? "Tight end" is a beauty, so is "offensive lineman". Apart from "hooker", rugby has nothing like them. The game is getting damned difficult to follow, but the positions are easy: full-back, threequarters, scrum-half, outside-half, forwards. Recently, I was asked to point out the positions in Aussie Rules. Hadn't got a clue. Similar with hurling.

Somebody once said that the scoring system in tennis must have been invented by Lewis Carroll. Data systems with nets. Why would you guess the first point would be scored 15? The second 30? And the third 40? Six games win a set. But only if you stay two games ahead of your opponent. Why? There is sure to be an answer out there but I've never been bothered enough to search for it.

Sometimes, of course, terminology must change to keep pace with tactical development. I do not know who in football came up with the term "sweeper" for a central covering defender but it is pretty much perfect.

Being thrown into contact with coaches corrupts the language of commentators and reporters. Eager to crash the inner circle and to prove themselves in the know, they borrow coaching terms and employ them in tones of authority. This establishes them as experts, at a frightful cost to readers and listeners.

When I hear or read the term "back stick" I cringe. What was wrong with "far post"? Why do they keep going on about "playing in the hole?" "What does that mean?" one of my grandsons recently asked. "Don't bother your head," I replied. "Just keep your eyes on the game."

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