Category Archives: Junior Football

Doing It For The Kids II

The culmination of my first season in charge of the local kids’ team was to be a day at the Stockport Junior Blues 6-a-side tournament. It’s an annual thing held every July with some 200 teams taking part and one of the largest events of its type in the UK. It features teams ranging in age from U7-U16, many of who’ve travelled from all over the country.

As is standard with anything connected to City these days, it’s massive – loads of pitches, bouncy castles, hot dog vans…it’s a pretty impressive set-up to be fair. After arriving, dumping my bags and locating a few of our kids, I went to the registration tent where I was greeted by my co-manager. Our first game was due to start at midday, though he’d been there since about 10am. “Just been watching a few games!” That’s what he’s like.

He scanned the fixture list with a grimace. “Some good teams here today”. “Yeah.” “I think we should do things differently.” “Like what?” “Forget the mixed teams for the day…let’s go A and B.” This had been a bone of contention for some time, my feeling being that we are generally so crap, it makes no sense to try and split our lads according to ability. He meanwhile, is of the opinion that having clearly defined A and B teams will instil some sort of hierarchy, thus providing an incentive for the poor saps dumped into team B. Faced with a long, undoubtedly stressful day ahead, I couldn’t be arsed arguing the toss. “Okay then, whatever.”

According to the phone calls and texts received the day before, we had 16 ‘definite’ and a couple of ‘he’s ill…but I’ll see how he is in the morning’s. With us having to submit 2 teams, each scheduled to play 9 (NINE!) games – we desperately needed everyone to turn up. We ended up with 12, leaving my mate and I only 6 players each. No substitutes, then. Marvellous.

So my beaming co-manager (he’s really in his element today) gets his notepad out and frantically starts scribbling out lists of names and formations. Within a minute or so I get my half-dozen kids allocated. I’ve got the B team, naturally. I cast an eye over my charges and immediately alarm bells are ringing. God bless ‘em and everything, but this really isn’t looking good. Still, ‘hope springs eternal’ and all that. I put my manager head on and try to work out what’ll be the best way to get through this with minimal loss of dignity for all concerned – myself, the kids and the already irritated (the A and B team ‘plan’ hasn’t gone unnoticed) parents.

I get the lads together and explain that because we haven’t got a keeper, they’re going to have to take it in turns. Each match is only 5 minutes long but with 10 teams involved and all fixtures to be played on a single pitch, the wait between games is going to drag. I do my usual team talk, “try and stay focused…pass the ball…when you get near goal, have a shot…first to the ball… get your tackles in…it’s a hot day…plenty of fluids…try and go for a wee before the game, not during… just do your best…enjoy yourselves.”

We did alright in the first game. A hard fought 0-0 draw – but at least we kept some sort of shape and looked like we might do okay. “Well done lads, that was good. In the next game try and attack a bit…don’t just all stay camped round your own goal.” The team took the last part of this instruction to heart and this resulted in us adopting a revolutionary 0-0-5 formation. We got beat 7-0, meaning that on average, we’d managed to concede a goal every 40 seconds.

It was now about half two and we’d only played twice. The kids were bored out of their heads, it was boiling hot and their packed lunches had long since been devoured. Parents had lost interest and were either slumped in deckchairs with dead eyed stares or dutifully queuing for ice creams. I estimated that at best, it was another 4 hours or so before we’d be finished.

Finally, as 7pm neared, we were done. Our record for the day stood at played 9, won 0, drawn 1 and lost 8. Goals scored 1, goals conceded 26. What a fantastic end to the season. My co-manager’s verdict? “That was brilliant, wasn’t it?!” Resisting the urge to scream “NO, YOU FUCKING LUNATIC – IT WAS SHITE!”, I instead opted for something more conciliatory, “It’s all an experience for them, I suppose.” I consoled myself with the fact the kids were delighted with their medals (everyone gets a medal!) and I had a few weeks break from this nonsense.

Two weeks later, he was on the phone. “How do you fancy doing the FA Coaching Badge – Level 1? I think it’ll be good for us in our development as coaches. I’ve got the dates here, the club are going to pay!” “Erm…yeah okay, book us in.” The course was to be held a month later, 2 full weekends and 2 midweek evenings – not a problem as I had nothing planned, it wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility we might learn something and plus, someone had to keep an eye on him.

After asking around, I learnt that the course itself was a piece of piss. Part theory and part practical, bit of first aid, child welfare element, demonstrate a couple of drills…job’s a good ‘un. What I wasn’t prepared for was the fact that having not played properly for years, participating in the drills being demonstrated was destined to prove absolutely knackering. By 10am on the first day I had given up the pretence of showing off my limited football ability, it was simply a matter of keeping my breakfast down and trying not to pass out.

There are two distinct types of people doing these courses. Firstly you’ve got the bright-eyed, athletic types – young lads doing it to augment their studies, hopeful of making a career out of coaching. Some planned to go onto university, others to go travelling and get some work out in the US. This lot are there with drive, energy, focus, shin-pads and pencil cases – not merely sucked into attending by a snowballing set of circumstances that began with them being coerced into helping out their kids’ football team.

The other group then, comprised of shell-shocked, panting men in their 30s and 40s – beer guts, receding hairlines, questionable levels of fitness, each sporting a mish-mash of vintage, ill-fitting replica football gear. People whose Sunday mornings normally involve nothing more strenuous than a lie-in, reading the papers and perhaps getting dressed at some point. People like me.

The course turned out to be a good experience. Most of it was common sense, but a few useful pointers were picked up. The main thing I gained was a fuller appreciation and understanding of the use and application of multi-coloured plastic cones and bibs in modern coaching. The FA and their appointed tutors bloody love cones and bibs, simply can’t get enough of them.

Newly qualified, I was armed with the knowledge that if I stride around the pitch with a purposeful look on my face, placing cones and bibs at regular intervals, there’s a much-improved chance I’ll create the impression that I know what I’m doing – thus guaranteeing at least a modicum of respect from kids, parents and fellow members of the coaching fraternity. Satisfied with this development, I looked forward to the start of the new season.

Copyright Red News – February 2012

Doing It For The Kids – Part 1

Doing It For The Kids


When my son was born I didn’t buy him an MUFC baby-grow, nor did I name him ‘Cantona’. Similarly, I felt no urge to rush down to the ground to get him a membership the day he arrived, or record him as a toddler gurgling ‘Build A Bonfire’ and upload the footage onto youtube. He was always going to be introduced to football at an early age, there was no need to force the issue. The intention was to let him ask the questions and develop his own interest. I stuck to this up to a point…he was 18 months old before he had his first kit and attended his first match.

As for playing, it all started innocently enough with a trip to the park one warm summers evening, almost two years ago now. My son (then aged 5) came face-to-face with a mate of his from school. He looked at him in awe when he clocked what this kid was wearing. As well as sporting a full United kit, what caught my lad’s attention was the fact his mate was wearing brand new boots and shin-pads too.

Turned out that the local junior team trained on the park during summer and were apparently keen to get new kids involved for the season starting that September. I was buzzing at this news and so was my lad. All I had to do was get him some boots, fill in a couple of forms, pay £2 a week subs and bring him along.

So there began my son’s football career. I instantly felt certain as to what was going to be my place in all this. Other parents were stood on the sidelines barking instructions and offering encouragement to their mostly confused offspring. Ha! I was determined to leave any such nonsense to them, I was intent on being silent and aloof – I would take him, watch him play, then gently offer him the benefits of my considerable football knowledge and experience during the car journey home. I smugly told myself, ‘I’m not gonna shout, I’m not gonna get involved, I’m not gonna get wound up. People screaming at kids playing football look and sound RIDICULOUS, I mean look at the state of the coach there with his stupid tracksuit and his stupid initials embroidered on it. What a DICK.’

As time went by it became clear my initial impressions of the lad in charge were spot on. He was very shouty, clearly in love with himself and unforgivably dismissive of the less-able kids. Resisting the urge to share these observations with other whinging parents, I settled in on the sidelines, keeping both my distance and my thoughts to myself…well, for a while.

Over time you inevitably start talking to people and developing a common appreciation and appetite for the weekly madness being served up. With 5-6 year old kids involved, examples of sporting excellence are rarely encountered, although moments of high-comedy come thick and fast.

That first season contained some classic moments. The midfielder who stopped mid-game to make a sandcastle; the errant substitute who was found playing on the swings; the defensive partners spinning round mid-game, attempting to see who could get dizzy and fall-over first; the day when the goalkeeper was beaten twice because every time a tram went past he’d instinctively turn and wave at it. My favourite of all though was the game when the entire team decided to communicate with each other only by barking.

News arrived that changes were afoot. A civil war had broken out within the club (petty bureaucracy exists at all levels of football, then) and the upshot was that the present coach was leaving and our team had no one to take charge for the new season. Then came a seemingly innocuous approach via the smiley woman with the clipboard who collected the subs each week “Would you be interested in helping out?” “Errrr…”

Looking back, that was the moment I should have replied with a firm, “No”. Instead, my hesitation was somehow mistaken for interest and the gig was mine. It was like she’d tagged me, shouted “YOU’RE IT!” and run off. I’ve subsequently learnt that this is how most people get recruited, mainly because you’d have to be a mental to volunteer.

Luckily, my co-manager is one such mental. This is a man who has taken it upon himself to selflessly tackle all the demands entailed in running a successful junior football team. Communication with parents, updating the website, finances, committee meetings, scheduling fixtures, fund-raising  – he loves all that stuff, thankfully. All I have to do is concentrate on training the kids. Thus far we’ve proved an incredibly successful managerial partnership. We complement each other well – he brings the motivation and boundless enthusiasm, I provide the cynicism and a deep sense of despair.

Our partnership has not been totally problem free. My attempts at projecting a Mourinho-esque, studied cool on the sidelines were almost obliterated when he went out and bought us matching Kappa tracksuits. I flatly refused to wear mine and a stand-off took place until we reached a compromise solution of Nike waterproof jackets.

The key word is patience, which is what I don’t really possess.  I love my son dearly but I’ve struggled to bond with few of his fellow squad members. Spoilt, middle-class shits some of them – the sort of kids who got off lightly being named Joshua or George; you can just tell their parents were dying to christen something more fitting like Charles or Orlando. Some of these little snots are incapable of standing still and listening for 10 seconds, let alone appreciating the intricacies of the catenaccio system I’ve been attempting to implement.

Most of the kids are brilliant though. Happy, funny, football-daft, credit to their parents etc, etc. We get scouts down from United and City regularly, though for what purpose I’m not sure. They’re always keen to introduce themselves and show ID the first time they appear, probably so they’re not mistaken for paedos. The one lad we’ve got who (to my eyes at least) possesses genuine talent, spends most of his time doing ridiculous step-overs and showing off – you’d struggle to tell he was a half-decent prospect from a single viewing.

So now, several months into ‘the project’, I find myself in deep. As well as spending an inordinate amount of time pondering United’s fortunes, I now find myself looking up training drills on the internet and considering ways I can vary our warm-up each week. My car boot looks like I’ve recently robbed a branch of JD Sports and I’ve slowly developed the temperament required to nurture and encourage mud-splattered, rain-soaked, often-weeping children.

Overall I’d suggest we’ve probably reached the embryonic stage the present-day United were at back in September 1989, mainly due to the fact we’re regularly demonstrating the ability to win 5-1 one week then lose 5-1 the next…and our goalie is shit.

Copyright Red News – April 2011

Doing It For The Kids – Part 2