The Curious Case of Who Are Scoring Headers

The power flexes from knees to pitch; a doorframe filler of a man stretches beneath the murky sky, elbows, like wings, extending outwards.

An inch of flesh, two centimetres above Andy Carroll’s elbow, glances a defender’s head, and the player, toes still touching grass, folds into a collapse.

The whistle blows, because football is soft nowadays, or so it’s often said. With the traditional values of British football – being big and strong and heading the ball – hagiographically mourned as a dying art in the Premier League, one would imagine that they are better exhibited in the not-quite-so-modern Championship.

But, contrary to what may seem logical, headers are more often scored in the former than the latter.

Of course, maybe this is due to the endangered Andy Carrolls of the world, the magnificent giant creatures from an age prehistoric who still somehow manage to roam our green plains, the habitats dying around them.

Perhaps the Premier League (with 13.9% of headed shots being scored before this weekend’s games) beats the Championship (with a conversion rate of just 12.1%) because the elites’ defenders are wimps.

Gone are the John Terrys – in his particular case, literally to the Championship – and in their place are the John Stoneses, waifs of boy-men, who use their heads for intellectually, rather than physically, taxing tasks.

Andy Carroll, perpetually booked for a high elbow, is surely the one driving this success at Premier League heading, right?

Not so. Carroll’s West Ham have scored just two headed goals in thirteen games, with the third worst headed conversion rate in the league (6.1%). Only Swansea and Crystal Palace – who haven’t scored a header in their first baker’s dozen – were less successful with their headed shots.

Arsenal, a team so opposed to the British ideals of football that they play Nacho Monreal at centre-back, have the second-best rate in the league for scoring their headers (28%).

Manchester City, the current European ideal, are fifth, with a rate of nearly one in five (19.4%).

And Pep Guardiola and his waif boy-men defenders are the only team (before this weekend, time of writing before City’s game against West Ham) who has not conceded a headed goal in the Premier League this season.

As if this were not bad enough for the lines of lined old men who long for the old days, Andy Carroll’s West Ham concede one in every four headers made against them.

Carroll’s bestudded feet land on the floor, his face balancing disgust at the foetal defender and incredulity at the referee, yellow card already out of its pocket. David Moyes, on the side-line, throws two unconvincingly chosen curses at the fourth official.

The influence on this earthly plane of the ghosts of British football past has long since left.

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