Monthly Archives: August 2013

Euro-holiday football – ‘the humiliation’

Two years ago, staying on a Eurocamp in the South of France, the boys were drawn to the purpose built football pitch, 20 minutes’ walk through the forested campsite from our caravan.

One of our early visits to the pitch had ended prematurely with ‘the Tackle’, a near miss for no.2 son and an eye-opener for me about the dangers of radical mixes of generations (i.e. adults and five year olds) in the same game. We continued to cross the park to the football pitch, but only in the day-time, before the serious evening matches took place.

One afternoon, when we arrived there, a multi-generational, multi-national game was under way. Over half of the participants were kids, with Dads and a few older boys. No.1 son (10 at the time) and I integrated ourselves into one of the teams and began to play. The sun was still high in the sky, the air hot and the players sweaty. There was a lot of rotation of players on and off the pitch as everyone sought to rehydrate. I waved on a couple of boys in England kits, who were wavering by the side benches with an anxious mum.

The game was flowing but being dominated by a handful of older boys, parading tricks – fine – and taking the ball off the toes of their younger teammates – not fine. The younger boys were running around in the heat, finding space, but being ignored by a few, more senior ball-hoggers.

After one particularly selfish bit of play, I called out to my teammate who was responsible, in awful French, something along the lines of, “Hey, you! Give the ball to the little ones.” He was surprised, but I thought I had made my point.

A minute or so later, I had the ball and looked out for no.1 son, but couldn’t see him. He wasn’t on the pitch. He must have had the good sense to get to the water-fountain, I half-reasoned. Nagging at me was another possibility. I played on for maybe five minutes, trying to spot him in the trees around the pitch. Without a positive sighting, I left the game, and began to search for him.

I checked the table-tennis, the pool, the tennis courts, the water fountain and the snack bar. The many trees could have hidden a slender boy upset at his father. But he wasn’t there and I set off back to our caravan, heady with that unsteady parental mix of anger and anxiety.

A full 30 minutes walk away, Mrs TL was playing at the other pool complex with the 1&onlyD and no.2 son. No.1 son appeared, raging that “Daddy’s an idiot. So embarrassing.. He’s humiliated me.” He didn’t explain what or why and Mrs TL asked if Daddy knew he was here.

We met back at the caravan. As I concocted possible consequences for no.1 son’s action of fleeing without telling me and attempted explanations of why it was unacceptable, something became clear: no.1 son was uncompromising. I had made his participation and even presence at the football game impossible. I had crossed a line, whose existence I was so aware of, but hadn’t appreciated how tightly it bounded my behaviour. In the normal run of things, this was a boy who wouldn’t walk around the next corner unaccompanied. So grievously had I threatened his self-esteem, he had run a mile to get away from me.

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Euro-holiday football – ‘the tackle’

This afternoon sons no.s 1 & 2 take part in a pick-up tournament at our Menorcan resort. Unsurprisingly the game plays a prominent part in our continental sorties. Each of the Eurocamps we have visited has had a court or area for the game. At I Pini, near Rome, no.1 son (9 at the time) befriended an Italian boy, but was non-plussed that the local lad, defying national sporting stereotypes, was less skilful than he. Last year, at Cala Gogo, north of Barcelona, we played a joyful evening of Anglo-German contests.

It was Le Beaune in the South of France that saw the most drama. It was the site of ‘the humiliation’ – described in a later post – and ‘the tackle’. The campsite stretched a couple of miles through a forest. At the far end from our caravan was the football pitch: an astro rectangle fringed with a wooden fence and benches, with rustic wooden goalposts. During the day, Dads and their young lads played back garden style footie. From five in the evening multinational pick-up matches took place. Sides were no more than 8-a-side, with natural leaders emerging to usher substitutes waiting their turn on the benches to join the match.

The first time we turned up in the evening with intent, no.1 son’s eagerness to play dissolved at the sight of the bench apprenticeship. Minutes earlier (and for much of that day) he had been nagging me to play. I joined the bench more to provide an example than with any desire to play. I soon got the nod, and as I jogged onto the pitch found no.2 son (5 at the time) at my heels. He flitted about getting in other players’ way and took a few good swings at balls that came to him. No.1 son joined us.

I moved back into goal, trying to feed the ball to the boys who were the two smallest on the pitch. Suddenly, with no defensive cover, I found a 2 meter tall opponent alone in front of me. He controlled the ball, looked up, drew his foot back ready to drive the ball past me. Below his eyeline, no.2 son scuttled into action, sliding to make an impeccably timed block tackle at the second the striker’s leg completed its downswing and blasted the ball.

Time moved very slowly. In football terms, the shot was blocked. The spectators on the benches and around the wooden fences gasped. No.2 son was sent spinning from the force of the shot his tiny foot had blocked and he stayed down on the astro, metres from the point of impact. In parent mode, my mind flicked between an immediate diagnosis – fractured ankle – guilt and irresponsibility for letting my five year old play with adults. I pictured the cast on his foot.

I had a flash-back to five years before. Within an hour of arriving at our Sorento resort, the 1&onlyD, under my charge, had fallen from a see-saw landing on her elbow. Three days of hospital visits, police questions and a cast around her arm and body so heavy she toddled and teetered before we cut our losses and flew home three days into our holiday.

The two metre striker apologised in Dutch, German and English. No.2 son was dazed, but intact. We were substituted and the game continued.

It was one hell of a tackle.

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Respect – Play Your Part

FA Respect - Still 1

I reckon most people, irritated by the behaviour of others – on a train, in a restaurant, cinema or on the touchline – imagine the satisfaction of being able to zap those causing the annoyance. With one point of the fingers, a powerful ray silences or disappears those causing offence.

The FA’s new Respect campaign video indulges that fantasy with loudmouth parents and players getting closed in on by a heavily armed robot. Watch it here: Respect the Technology.

I really like the video. It’s surprising, funny and not preachy. Two aspects of the video struck me as important.

1) The video ends with the statement ‘Play Your Part’. It’s aimed at us – we are the targets: parents, coaches and players. We offend each other; we undermine the authority of the referee. Bad touchline behaviour isn’t the work of criminals and sociopaths. It’s mums and dads who do the school run and raise funds for the PTA. It’s kids studying for GCSEs and who babysit or help their younger sisters when they don’t know what to wear to a party.

2) The miscreants don’t get zapped. They get distracted – by music; understood – with a teddy bear; or just bottled up for a bit. We don’t want them zapped. We need the kids to play and we need the parents to bring them to games and be there when they score, whether its a goal of great individual flair or a shocker past their own keeper.

There are some grassroots football ideologues who have had enough of parents bawling from the side and want us all to be silenced, if not banished. I know the promoters of child-centred junior football are dead right that the kid comes first. But l want the pleasure I get from watching my kids recognised too. It’s not always euphoric, it can be tragic if they get upset or hurt, but I need to be there to share the experience with them.

This Respect campaign gets my respect because it’s not expecting po-faced parents. You can.. you should.. you must have fun. It’s just not the same fun you have in the stands at a league game or watching your team on tv. It’s a different game. In my view, a much, much better one.

I was asked to write about the FA’s new Respect campaign. I have received no payment for this piece and all the opinions are my own.

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How to keep the Coach sweet

jnr soccer coach

You played really well tonight, little bro.’

I was driving sons no.1 and 2 back from the latter’s development centre training session. No.1 son and I had kicked a ball around together, then settled down to watch the younger boys’ football and to chat. No.1 son talked about his younger brother’s style of play, how it contrasted with his own and what sort of player he might become (like Kolo Touré). While we watched, we both noted the frequency with which the coach shouted praise at no.2 son.

In the car, the boys’ conversation continued:

“Did you do what I told you to do?”

“I did”.

“Did you do exactly what the coach told you to do?”

“Yes”.

“The coaches like that and that helps you get picked,” no.1 son explained.

There’s talk, which I’m not encouraging, that no.2 son could be moved from the development centre to the academy. This must have been their agenda.

“So why don’t all kids do that – do what the coach tells them to?” I enquired of no.1 son.

“We’ll, they do during drills, but when they are in a match after they’ve been practising passing, they might prefer to dribble the ball, even though that’s not what the coach has been working on with them. But if you remember to do what the coach has told you to do he will praise you, you get more confident, you became better and he’s happy that his coaching is working. Everyone’s a winner.”

Now, we know that not everyone will be a winner. But I think I know someone who will be.

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