In association football, a long ball is an attempt to move the ball a long distance down the field via one long aerial kick from either a goalkeeper or a defender directly to an attacking player, with the ball generally bypassing the midfield. Rather than arrive at the feet of the receiving attacking player, the attacker is expected to challenge the opposing defence in the air, with other attacking players and midfielders arriving to try and take possession of the ball if it breaks loose. In Continental Europe the style is called kick and rush.[1] It is a technique that can be especially effective for a team with either fast or tall strikers.[2] The long ball technique is also a through pass from distance in an effort to get the ball by the defensive line and create a foot race between striker and defender.[3] While often derided as either boring or primitive (in England it is often pejoratively referred to as hoofball),[4] it can prove effective where players or weather conditions suit this style; in particular, it is an effective counter-attacking style of play in which some defenders can be caught off-guard.[5][6][7][8]

Not all lengthy passes are considered long ball play, and long but precise passes towards a particular teammate may not fit the description.[9] Long-ball play is generally characterised by the relatively aimless nature of the kick upfield, with the ball simply being 'hoofed' high in the air towards the general location of the forwards, who, given the length of time the ball is in the air, will have time to arrive at the position where the ball will drop.

Statistical basisEdit

The 'long ball theory' was first discussed by a retired RAF Wing Commander—Charles Reep—in the 1950s in England. Reep was an amateur statistician and analysed not only the number of passes that led to a goal, but also the field positions where those passes originated. Reep documented his findings in various publications including match day programmes.[10]

Reep developed a number of concepts describing effective long ball play. 'Gulleys' refer to the optimum position between the corner flag and six yard box from which to make the final pass into the penalty box; the '3-pass optimisation rule' emerges from the fact that a higher percentage of goals are scored in moves involving only three passes prior to the shot; the '9 shots per goal' maxim, stating that on average, only one goal is scored for every nine shots; and the 'twelve point three yard' position, which is the mean distance from the goal that all goals are scored. The long-ball game is also advocated in such books The Winning Formula: The Football Association Soccer Skills and Tactics, by Charles Hughes, which demonstrates with statistics that a majority of goals are scored within 5 passes of the ball.[11]

Jonathan Wilson criticises Reep's statistical analysis as heavily flawed. The 'three pass optimum', for example, comes in for particular criticism. Wilson notes that while Reep's statistics showed that a higher percentage of goals were scored in moves involving three passes, they also show that three pass moves account for a higher percentage of all shots.[12] Instead, the percentage of shots for which three-pass or fewer account is higher than the percentage of goals for which they account, implying that moves involving more passes have a higher ratio of success. Furthermore, Reep's own statistics show that this trend becomes stronger at higher levels of football, indicating that moves with a greater number of passes become more effective amongst higher quality teams. Reep also fails to distinguish statistically between three-pass moves that emerge from long balls and those that emerge from other sources such as attacking free kicks or successful tackles in the opponent's half.


The long ball strategy has often been criticised as a method that has held back the England national football team. Hughes became the head of coaching at the FA in the 1990s, and used this position to promote his theory of long ball, which followed on from the work of Reep. Hughes and those who defend the tactic claim that time and time again, teams playing direct play have more success.[13] At the 1994 FIFA World Cup, for example, the winning Brazil team scored the most goals from three or fewer passes, while the team to score from a move involving the most passes - the Republic of Ireland - were eliminated in the second round.[13] While multi-pass moves such as those by Brazil against Italy in the 1970 FIFA World Cup Final or Argentina versus Serbia and Montenegro at the 2006 FIFA World Cup are widely lauded as brilliant examples of football,[14] it is partially the rareness of success for such long moves that results in their appreciation and makes them ineffective tactics to attempt to replicate.[citation needed]

It is however used by teams desperate to score a goal before the end of a match, though this is probably as much due to the lack of time for a gradual build-up as it is for its perceived effectiveness.[15] The long ball technique is also effective in lower level football matches since players lack skill to work as a team and pass the ball accurately up the field. A long ball is a quick counterattacking move and with a fast striker may produce multiple goals.

Notable proponentsEdit


Bergkamp's goal against Argentina

The long ball is sometimes criticised as being used by weaker teams with less tactical skill.[32] In the hands of mediocre teams, or at the lower youth leagues this might be so. Analysis of its implementation at world-class levels however, shows that effective use of long-ball techniques can be found in numerous competitive World Cup or championship club teams. It can be used as a counterattacking style, or as a daring through pass when opportunities open up during a game. The long ball requires top level skill to implement correctly. Mere passing is not the only variable—intelligent running into space, good dribbling and crisp finishing are also required.[33]

One of the best uses of the long-ball was Netherlands striker Dennis Bergkamp's goal against Argentina in the 1998 FIFA World Cup. Dutch defender Frank de Boer initiated the move from near the middle of the field, with a long pass that curled over 7 opposing players. Bergkamp controlled the difficult ball, spun past a defender and smashed it home. The example illustrates the power of the long-ball style but also that it is more than simply pumping the ball upfield. Only Bergkamp's excellent skills were able to take advantage of the de Boer's outstanding, and daring pass. As such, it emphasises that football is a game requiring not only a comprehensive package of individual skills, but imagination and creativity as well. Both are present in the long-ball style.

Contemporary teams like Norway and Sweden have also demonstrated the viability of the long-ball approach when executed with skill, precision and creativity by top players. Norway played a characteristic 4-5-1 formation in the 1990s and early 21st century. The left back would often hit long crosses to Jostein Flo, who in turn would head the ball to either one of the central midfielders or to the striker. This was known as the Flo Pass, and the Norwegian national team garnered much criticism for its perceived long-ball approach. Egil Olsen did, however, take the national team to two World Cups, and the long ball style of play is considered to have played an important role in accomplishing this.[34]

One of the greatest of the Norwegian goals scored with this style was by the striker Tore André Flo during the 1998 World Cup. Similar to the Bergkamp goal, but played to an advanced man on the wing, it began with an extremely long pass from Stig Inge Bjørnebye. Flo was alone when he received. He ran on and cut inside to beat his defending opponent, then slotted the ball past the goalkeeper Cláudio Taffarel. The Norwegians went on to upset the mighty Brazilian team in this match. However, Brazil had already won the group before this game took place while Norway needed to win.

Accurate passes aimed at a specific player are examples of individual long balls, but do not represent the spirit of a team playing a long-ball game. In that situation, the team would be pumping long-balls up repeatedly into an area, rather than a specific player, hoping the striker would get some of them and the percentages would pay off in the long-run.

The long ball can be very effective as a switch in game plan in pressure situations. In Chelsea's quarter-final victory over PSG in the 2013–14 UEFA Champions League, PSG needed to defend their 3–2 lead on aggregate for 10 more minutes when Fernando Torres entered the game as a substitute for Oscar. Chelsea's rehearsed gameplan for this scenario was to go direct from anywhere in the field, and PSG's defensive line fell very deep and very compressed. All secondary balls from either Chelsea or PSG players fell into spaces occupied solely by Chelsea players, leading to multiple goal scoring opportunities, one of which eventually taken by Demba Ba.[35]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Fifield, Dominic (15 June 2010). "World Cup 2010: Franz Beckenbauer attacks England's 'kick and rush'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 27 June 2012.
  2. ^ Rainbow, Jamie (16 July 2013). "England has always provided a home for long ball football". World Soccer. Retrieved 17 August 2015.
  3. ^ "How to - soccer passing". 9 December 2007. Archived from the original on 9 December 2007. Retrieved 14 August 2018.
  4. ^ "Guide". TalkFootball. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  5. ^ Sleight, Hugh (16 December 2010). "Graham Taylor: playing the long ball". FourFourTwo. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  6. ^ Innes, Richard (18 September 2015). "The Premier League's most long ball teams revealed - two clubs are in for a shock - Mirror Online". The Mirror. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  7. ^ Bull, JJ (22 July 2016). "Flexible formations, rigid systems and making long ball work: How Sam Allardyce will tactically transform England". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  8. ^ Welch, Ben (10 June 2013). "How to defend against the long ball". FourFourTwo. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  9. ^ "Boring Winners and Long Ball in England". The New Yorker. 24 February 2015. Retrieved 18 October 2021.
  10. ^ Ronay, Barney (1 June 2003). "Grim Reep". When Saturday Comes. Archived from the original on 23 June 2012. Retrieved 15 September 2010.
  11. ^ Charles Hughes, The Winning Formula: The Football Association Soccer Skills and Tactics, HarperCollins: 1990. 0001979620
  12. ^ Wilson, Jonathan. 2008. Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics. Orion, ISBN 0-7528-8995-8. p140.
  13. ^ a b Football: Learning to live with football's bogeyman: Dave Hadfield lived next door to Charles Hughes - and survived Hadfield, David. The Independent. 13-08-94, Accessed 08-06-10
  14. ^ Design. Architecture. Football City of Sound Blog. 20 June 2006. Accessed 8 October 2006
  15. ^ Holden, Jim (21 September 2007). "Why England Need Coaching Genius". The Express. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  16. ^ Henson, Michael. "Bolton Wanderers". Archived from the original on 10 February 2012. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  17. ^ Bull, JJ (14 January 2020). "Weaponising goal kicks and winning without the ball". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  18. ^ James, Stuart (23 May 2006). "Long ball could give Hornets route one to safety". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  19. ^ Glanville, Brian (21 September 2002). "The Charltons". Sportstar. 25 (28). Archived from the original on 13 February 2008.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  20. ^ Glanville, Brian (14 December 2002). "The Irish question". Sportstar. 25 (50). Archived from the original on 13 February 2008.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  21. ^ McNulty, Phil (4 October 2006). "Butcher relishes Sydney challenge". BBC News. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  22. ^ "Norway's style won't change without Olsen". CNN. Sports Illustrated. 28 June 1998. Retrieved 16 February 2008.
  23. ^ Shaw, Phil (26 February 2008). "Stoke on fire as Tony Pulis wins over sceptics". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 11 May 2010.[dead link]
  24. ^ [1][dead link]
  25. ^ Lutz, Tom (8 December 2006). "Football League Spy No6: Grimsby Town". The Guardian. London.
  26. ^ "The Reebok revolution: How Coyle brought sexy back?". 11 January 2011. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  27. ^ "When Saturday Comes - Cambridge United 1991". 9 July 2012. Archived from the original on 23 May 2012. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  28. ^ Begley, Emlyn (28 May 2011). "Stevenage 1-0 Torquay United". BBC News.
  29. ^ "Hleb slams McLeish 'long ball' Birmingham tactics". 19 April 2012. Retrieved 17 August 2015.
  30. ^ "'And soccer only comes fourth in Wimbledon'". New Straits Times. 11 September 1986. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  31. ^ Kerr, Brian (7 September 2013). "Ireland playing stone-age football puts us in the lap of the gods". Irish Times. Retrieved 31 October 2013.
  32. ^ Peter Swann (10 August 2015). "What tiki-taka football can teach us about boosting innovation". Retrieved 17 August 2015.
  33. ^ Ken Jones and Pat Welton, Soccer Skills and Tactics, Crown Publishers, 1979, p. 157–159
  34. ^ National Soccer Coaches Association of America, The Soccer Coaching Bible, Human Kinetics Publishers; 2004. ISBN 978-0-7360-4227-7[page needed]
  35. ^ "UEFA Champions League 2013/14 - History - Chelsea-Paris –". 8 April 2014. Retrieved 17 August 2015.

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