Route One Football is an even more functional form of no-nonsense football. It is an attacking move whereby the goalkeeper, or central defenders, hoof the ball straight to a lone ‘target man’ who in turn tries to bundle it into the net using most or all of his body.
This way, the majority of players on the pitch are bypassed, and the tiresome business of passing the ball is avoided altogether. It has proved an efficient process, both in terms of time and personnel: it meant, for example, that the Republic of Ireland were able to attend the 1990 FIFA World Cup with only two players – goalkeeper Pat Bonner and target man Niall Quinn – saving the country a packet on airfares and accommodation. (Bonner stayed on a friend’s sofa in Cagliari, while Quinn claimed to have ‘crashed with some of the Egyptian lads’.)
Famous Route One Practitioners
Route One football is a time-honoured British tactic, originating in the post-war period when the leather ball was so heavy that in order to pass it, five men had to kick it at the same time. This meant that as little passing as possible was desirable to conserve energy. Moreover, because of rationing and workforce shortages in this era, football matches were only allowed to last an hour, so it was essential to get the ball from one end to another as quickly as possible.
In the modern age, many teams have kept alive this cherished tradition of ugly, workmanlike play, including:
Wimbledon - The ‘Crazy Gang’ of the eighties and early nineties were famous for their brutally direct style of football, a style befitting a group of players who would clearly be in jail if they weren’t footballers. When the nearby Wimbledon tennis courts were out of action for the winter, Bobby Gould’s squad would use them for passing drills, with players exchanging passes from opposite baselines. At their Plough Lane ground, the Dons played their home matches to almost empty stands, with most supporters watching from a specially-built observation deck 150 feet above pitch level.
Wimbledon’s prosaic style was derided by many in the game, including legendary guru and nutjob Brian Clough, who claimed that ‘if God had wanted football to be played in the sky, he’d have put grass up there’. Taking inspiration from this, for the 1990-1 season Wimbledon installed a second tier of turf on a raised platform suspended thirty feet above the opposition’s six-yard box, where target man John Fashanu would await delivery of long balls from his keeper Dave Beasant, and dream about his future as a Gladiators presenter.
Republic of Ireland - Jack Charlton, manager of Ireland’s most successful and unwatchable side, was famously more into fishing than football, and had little time for the nuances of the game, regarding anyone more skilled than Paul McGrath as a luxury player. During his tenure, would-be Ireland strikers had to queue next to a sign which read ‘YOU MUST BE AT LEAST THIS GANGLY TO PLAY’. This selection policy enabled Tony Cascarino, who was not Irish at all and not particularly good at football, to compete for the game’s highest honours.
Using route one football Ireland enjoyed some international success at the expense of being forever regarded as tedious, primitive cloggers. However, thanks to the Sentimentalisation Of Irishness which broke out between 1988 and 1990, only the positive sides of the tactic were acknowledged in the press, with pundits using euphemisms like ‘simple and effective’ to describe their football, when they meant ‘really quite horrible’.
Cambridge United - Under amoral schemer John Beck, Cambridge attempted to make the ‘route one’ concept into literal reality, applying for permission to build a flyover on their Abbey Road pitch so that the ball could be couriered directly from the goalkeeper to striker Dion Dublin. When this bid was rejected by then-FA Chairman Bert Millichip on the grounds that ‘no team may have any kind of road as part of their playing surface’, Beck focused instead on a proposal to allow Cambridge players to carry firearms.
Route One Football In Modern Times
A huge influx of technically-gifted foreign players has led to route one football becoming unfashionable in Britain, with previously outmoded notions like ball control, passing, and skill enjoying a comeback – except in the Scottish Premier League, where the record number of passes in a single match is still only nine. Largely, the popularity of route one football is now restricted to its use as a Plan B
Teams with a high quotient of European players tend to play something approximating to the opposite of route one football. Arsenal in the 08-09 season employed what became known as ‘route 19 football’, whereby the ball was played aimlessly between all eleven players for more than twenty minutes at a time before going out for a goal-kick.
Burnley are one of the teams that now use this style of play, which has now gained them the nickname "Brexit FC".