Is that Ringo Starr at #5? (c)Panini Cheapskates
Football is an artform – of that, there is no doubt. But I would stop short of classifying it as a fine Renaissance triptych, Beethovenian symphony or even a Hurstian cow sliced clean in half. No, I like to think the sport is much more unconventional, edgy and mischievous – in that sense, it is more like street art.
Fitting, then, that the subject of today’s thesis just so happens to be Walsall vs Wigan Athletic at Banksy’s Stadium beside the positively postmodern M6 motorway. That pinnacle of contemporary construction, a centrepiece of northern transport, the Great Concrete Wonder, the biggest street in all of the North (and Midlands).
(Point of note: I attempted to colour this article with a Google Street View photograph of the Bescot Stadium from the M6, but it appears the tubbiest of obese lorries doesn’t want us to look.)
The High-Wide Zone
Much like Banksy’s iconic street art, League One football is not always beautiful, but it is seldom dull. At least not when the rascally David Perkins is there to pinch bottoms and tie bootlaces together… until the referee loses patience and books him. Today, this obligatory flash of yellow came as early as the 14th minute.
Okay, I’ll admit that was the only real noteworthy moment of a misfiring first half hour. You might have heard of zonal marking, but are you familiar with zonal shooting? Whoever’s closest to the ball can have a free 35-yard punt, as long as it’s in the general direction of your opponents’ goalmouth.
Hiiigh-waaay to the pot shot zone. — Kenny Loggins
Hit that crocodile for five extra points. (c)Vital Wigan
Ayyy McAleny [aye!]
Colclough, Power and Morgan each sought to take advantage of this innovative new strategy, but Conor McAleny was first to demonstrate the correct execution (as noted in The Art of Football: A Textbook by Gary Caldwell).
Keeper Neil Etheridge seemed completely untroubled by the Evertonian’s 25-yard big dipper… by which I mean he stood zero chance of catching the ball as it looped hopelessly beyond his grasp. Credit goes to the Latics slip cordon for their hard work shining one half of the ball, as I’m sure such late vertical movement would have been physically impossible without it.
Now the game’s freshness seal had been pierced (Pearced?), a vampiric Billingham Grigg began flapping around the six yard box with malicious intent. Abetted by Power and McAleny, he rifled off a brace of ‘zonal’ attempts either side of the half time break. Though they threatened only the stability of a hot dog stand by the corner flag, Wilburn can take solace in the fact such things are noted in small time internet weblogs and not football scorebooks.
Cooler than Jussi’s fridge
However, the hosts were about to remind everyone (not least small time internet webloggers) there were two teams in this contest. Jussi J’s gloves might have been cooler than a Finnish fisherman’s ice compartment, but Sam Mantom’s not-so-zonal (Max?) powerstrike would certainly have defeated a keeper with elasticated limbs.
And the stretchiest of comic book goalkeepers with the most comfortable of gloves would have been tested by what was to come. Through one-on-one, Milan Lalkovic first rapped Jussi’s legs, then forced the formidable Finn into a pressured parry. Not at all bad for a bloke pushing sixt- er, forty one.
As it transpired, that was a highly significant double save. Because Latics, now pushing with subs Yanic Wildschut and Craig Davies in tow, were ready to break clean through the Saddlers’ carrier bag of late pressure. (Bet they’re wishing they bought a more durable 10p model instead of those 5p pseudo-plastic monstrosities.)
Yanic Wildschut, pictured here *not* running down the wing. (c)Vital Wigan
At the very moment Fergie Time arrived, Walsall’s peaches were strewn across the breadth of the Bescot car park by a rampaging Wildschut. Like with McAleny’s effort, Etheridge stood helpless as the visitors registered their final, fatal shot on target. It was low and piercing, but that element of surprise ultimately flummoxed the unfortunately unsighted Walsall keeper.
By the time those groceries had been gathered, all five minutes of injury time had already elapsed. Carried by the goal’s momentum and a helping hand from the Real Latics, Wigan had somehow paved a home-made ‘zonal’ path to the anti-relegation zone. By which I mean the automatic promotion spots.
It mightn’t have been a fine example of the genre, but (Plastic) Latics’ spray tag was just about effective enough to convey the overall message. And isn’t that what the art of football is all about, really?