By TTT Subscriber Ben Feltham.
“Formations are neutral….but players are not”. This paraphrased sentiment could be my second favourite moment on an internet forum. No actually just on The Internet. In my life. The first was a racism storm unsurprisingly linked to Luis Suarez and went something like this (the names have been changed to…);-
‘Other guy’ – “People need to get over themselves, how anyone can say words have the ability to offend them is ridiculous, I know I would never be offended by any words…”
Me – (to another mixed race scriber ‘MR’ (I myself am mixed race) but about ‘other guy’) “We know this guy MR, would he ball you out in the street and call you a n*****r, no, but a million pound to a penny he would say absolutely nothing if you were getting bullied in work due to race. I don’t know much, but I know this, ‘Other Guy’, you’re a racist….. now, did those words offend you?”
Reading back, maybe a slight location moment, in that you had to be there (the heat of the battle and all that. That Suarez shit went deep, I’m still not totally over how a lot of the fanbase reacted, but let’s not drag that one up again). I felt good. All day. Like Oscar fucking king wit Wilde himself (McNeil – “I wish I’d said that Oscar”. Wilde –“You will McNeil, you will”).
What I modestly refer to as my second greatest moment on The Internet was a no less heated, though perhaps less fraught, affair. Football formations. I got sucked into the most remarkable football thread I have ever read one afternoon. It was like a meditation on the game, truly. To the extent that I, gobshite extraordinaire, felt at first unqualified to post on the thread.
A consistent theme (in a Ronseal stylee, it was a few years ago, but I think the title of this piece and the thread are one and the same) was that formations are neutral, i.e. that no formation was inherently good or bad, it came down to how they were played, and so on. I have a complicated response to this that I’ll try and articulate here, though I do remember eventually plucking up the courage to post, and to swim slightly upstream. The truth is I hated three at the back, and my argument, when I’d worked myself up to it, that “…but players are not” (neutral) was, on one level the simple idea that the 352’s singular effect was to replace a winger with a centre-back (at that time), but the broader point is you have to play the formation that best suits your players, not the other way round.
And, leaving the self-aggrandisement aside, I’d like to follow that annoyingly complicated thread down the rabbit hole of football formations; the alchemy and intangibles of successful outcomes, and, if we’re lucky, some weird derivations on the way.
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