Well good morning,
After a wonderful couple of weeks in Africa, meeting young people, working with football volunteers in far-out villages on a rocky, shaly football pitch, some of them with no boots or shoes and the only kit being the smile that they wore, I returned last Sunday to drive down to Reading, pick up Monty and go and watch a local six-a-side competition.
Whilst I was away, I was passed a book by the boss of the charity Coaching For Hope, called ‘Why England Lose’. It was so good I read it twice, and made lots of notes. There are so many subjects within that book that are intriguing, fascinating, unbelievable, but real. I’m not gonna go into them all now, but it’s a book definitely worth reading whatever your age, and whatever your football philosophies are.
Under 13’s being told ‘well done’ for kicking the ball as far down the pitch as possible. Under 13’s being taught how to go man-for-man and elbow the opposition. Managers drinking cans of lager non-stop for four hours as they shouted at the kids. A dad, in the Under 10’s semi-final, when his boy’s team had lost, walked ten yards onto the pitch and said, with his finger pointing as the boy looked up at him:
“We’re out because of you”.
“Keeper – don’t roll it, kick it”. Dads shouting at a 15 year-old referee, just starting out in the game.
‘Why England Lose’ came to my mind.
And then a team came on. The keeper picked the ball up and the defenders pulled of wide. The keeper rolled the ball out and the midfield player went short to get it, before switching out to the other wide player. He then went back to the centre-back and his team completed six passes in 30 seconds, which must have been more than the other team played in all their games.
The manager was calm, the parents said nothing, the boys played good football, no-one argued with the ref, they all had plenty of touches of the ball, it looked to me as though they all enjoyed it, there was no hype that they had to win and there was no finger-pointing when they lost in the semi-final.
The manager / coach / dad was a credit and to be fair there were a few others that were also doing it the right way. As I was leaving, the manager of the ‘football’ team and my paths crossed. As you can imagine, coming from Reading and being nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’ I have to keep my head down and not get involved in any situation that could lead to trouble. Sadly for me, that is what it’s like. I wondered what he was going to say, or do, and he immediately asked me what I thought of his team. How refreshing. I patted him on the back, congratulated him and said how proud he should be. He explained to me how he did it and as I drove away, having worked with all those boys in Africa, who just play football because they love it, whose children are much better at football than they are in this country, who practise all the time, who play all the time, it’s uncomplicated, it was a weird feeling.
Why England Lose.
It is good that people do take part in managing, coaching and training young teams. It takes a lot of effort, a lot of time and is a big commitment. When I first started with my first team, it was Winchester City Under 9’s, who I took through to Under 10’s. Alec, the Skinhead, paint-flecked dungarees, painter and decorator, was the manager and I did his coaching, training and picked the team. I was playing at Portsmouth at the time but had a terrible knee injury. I was bored, I was fed up and I knew my left-knee wasn’t gonna last much longer, if at all. We met at a sports hall in Winchester for the first time, and I know Winchester is a posh area but I had most of the kids from the rough bit.
I spoke to all the parents and asked them to come to training and not just drop their child off and dash home, but to come to training with their son and embrace what we do. Every week six or eight of the dads would be with us, watching, listening, hopefully learning and encouraging all our players to pass on the grass and show some ball skills. This team had the same players every week – we did not go around, like I saw on Sunday, poaching the best players from the other teams. We got better and better .We started to train on Saturday morning from 10am to 11am and we continued to play football with passing only, on the grass. It was an unbelievable feeling when we started to win some games and the players got the confidence that came from their practising . The parents loved it, the players loved it and Alec stood there quietly with a great big grin on his face every week.
One Saturday morning I got the boys to quickly run out and stand next to me. Virtually right on the halfway line, believe it or not, to the left as we all looked, it was snowing. On the right side of the pitch, believe it or not, it was sunny. For a group of ten year olds and few mums and dads I explained to them that I doubted they would ever see this again in the rest of their lives. It was a magic moment, one I’ll never forget. That has nothing to do with Why England Lose, but it was a lovely Saturday morning moment.
When I managed Brentford we had an FA Cup game away at Southampton, and about eight of those lads and their parents came to the game. Can you imaging what that was like for me? I suppose more to the point, it must have been a bit weird for them too.
Mmm, Why England Lose.
Football is a mad, mad, world. Will England ever win an elusive trophy? I don’t think so. I was sat on my sofa with the curtains pulled next to my Dad when we failed to beat Poland at Wembley in October 1973, when I was just nine. All the lights were off, the room was dark. Jan Tomaszewski, the Polish goalkeeper was magic and the pundits after the game, and I remember this well although I can’t remember their names, spoke of the changes that were needed. Re-structuring, re-training, different ways of coaching. And there is change now, people are grafting, learning different ways to bring up and develop young players, but I still don’t think it’s gonna happen because society, the way young people are brought up in this country, there are so many other things to do. All the green areas on housing estates where people used to have a kick about have gone. Kids can’t play out on the streets at night for reasons I’m not gonna go into on a Sunday morning. And those stupid video games, Playstations, that Facebook stuff, I would love to confiscate them from every household in Great Britain and dump them in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, to get young people off their backsides and out to socialise, actually speak to people, and play sport.
Mmm yes, that would be my first move as Prime Minister, to enable me to write the new best-selling book, ‘Why England Win’.
God bless you, have a great day,