Monthly Archives: January 2014

Game for all seasons

It’s five weeks since no.1 son last played a football match. Three waterlogged pitches (and there’s another for this weekend taking on water as I write) and one frozen ground have halted his games either side of Christmas. No.2 son has been slightly more fortunate, but has also lost games and outdoor practices to mud and frost.

With the winter comes rain and cold. With the rain and cold come sodden, or frozen pitches. With unplayable pitches come match cancellations. And with cancellations come calls for football to be played in the summer.

The thought of football in the summer, as I stamp my feet on the touchline, bury my fingers deeper in my pockets, pull my hood back over my head against the wind, is so alluring. Instead of wallowing in mud, I could be lying back on the grass, absorbing the heat of the sun. Shorts and sandals, not thermal underwear and walking boots.

And the house wouldn’t get clogged with piles of muddy kit and we wouldn’t have to step around sodden, soiled football boots to get out the front door. There would be a few sweaty shirts, socks and shorts after each game, easily whisked in and out of the washing machine.

But I’m running away with myself. Junior football isn’t played for my convenience and entertainment. How would the players benefit?

There’s nothing better than running about in the sun. The pitches would be firm and true. Even time spent as a substitute would be pleasant. Keep them hydrated, but don’t worry about hypothermia.

And isn’t the weather synonymous with England’s kick and run style that we’ve not managed to shake for generations? Rather than blame the players and coaches, maybe we should recognise that all that inelegant effort is a survival technique on damp, wind-blasted recreation grounds in the depths of winter. Let them play in warm, still conditions and players may put their feet on the ball, lift their heads and ease the ball around the park. When the weather gets warm, it’s better the ball does the running, not the players’ feet.

There would be no cancellations. Seasons would be finished on time. Pitches could recover, rather than be wrecked, during the winter months, ready to grow lush and green for the summer season.

It’s a win-win proposition, isn’t it? When can we start?

Never, I hope, never.

There are few things I would go to the wall over, but football’s migration to the summer would be one. I am amazed, given how football’s hegemonic reign in England has progressed, that it hasn’t already annexed the summer. It’s hardly absent from the season of long days and heat hazes: international tournaments dominate alternate Junes and the professional league season starts in time for the August holidays. These encroachments need to be resisted rather than surrendering more of our summer days.

Football thrives because it’s a simple game, that’s fast, exciting, adaptable and unpredictable. But it’s a sport without humility. It devours time and space. And it is just one sport amongst many pastimes. The summer is a time when other activities can gain a little traction. Tennis, cricket and athletics struggle to maintain a profile and attract participants. They each offer pleasure for players and followers that differs from bulldozer football. But if football isn’t fenced off, with fields left free for these sports, it will trample them, absorbing their players and airtime.

The public seems to have an inexhaustible appetite for football, so perhaps this should be indulged and let other sports battle for what’s left over. There is evidence, though, that this would harm our youngsters. Over-specialisation in a single sport has been shown to create injuries and burn-out. Better footballers (better sports players) come from children playing a variety of sports, which develop different aspects of their physical and mental capabilities.

Football is a sport for all seasons, but would be less interesting were it to be played in all seasons. In community, grassroots football, the winter weather does takes a heavy toll of its pitches, interrupting the season and leaving youngster idle. There is an alternative solution to shifting the game to the summer. There’s a campaign by the Save Grassroots Football movement to ensure more of the wealth of the Premier League is devoted to grassroots playing facilities. The movement has an e-petition that anyone involved or interested in football in the UK should sign – it asks for 7.5% of the broadcasting revenue earned by the FA to be used to fund grassroots football.

My sons have missed some matches, but have still played football weekly this winter. That’s because they have the good fortune to practice on a 3G surface or indoors. The Save Grassroots Football campaign would secure that advantage for many, many more local and junior football teams.

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Filed under kit and caboodle, sport gives us.., whatever the weather

Pink is the colour, football is the game

pink welliesWhen no.1 son was maybe three or four years old, Mrs TL took him to Toys ‘R Us to buy some wellington boots. They were walking each day to and from nursery and our north-western climate guaranteed plenty of puddles to splash in.

Faced with a shelf of cartoon-branded boots, no.1 son had no hesitation selecting the pair for him. He carried the sparkly pink boots to the check-out, where the cashier said, “Now, they can’t be for you, can they.”

“Yes, they’re mine,” came the correction.

Unaffected by social conditioning, no.1 son wore the boots happily for a term or two. But soon enough, we found the boots with ink scrawled across them, as though he had tried to strike out their unacceptable appearance. Our society’s arbitrary allocation of colour to gender had caught up with him.

Our daughter picked up the family’s pink baton (and probably the boots) with clothing, toys and accessories in the many shades available. This persisted until the age of six, when given a new bedroom and the choice of pink trainerswall colour, she opted for.. blue. Pink still features in her palette but it has faded.

No.2 son has always been more conventional in colour choice. The primary school lost a much loved teacher to breast cancer. To mark her contribution to the school and raise money for a cancer charity, the school has an annual Pink Day. Mrs TL had the hardest time trying to find anything pink that he would agree to wear to reception class, settling with a ribbon on his school bag.

On the one hand, the arbitrary opposition by gender, blue versus pink, is ridiculous. I think I have read it swapped over at some point in the first half of the last century. On the other hand, it’s easy to understand why children go along with it, rather than attract their peers’ comment and attention.

I don’t think I have seen a junior football team playing in pink kit. Were I to see one, I would admire their flouting of convention, but worry for their player recruitment. The first time no.2 son went to a mini-tournament with other clubs, his side had a match with another team wearing red shirts. Our coach had the bag of bibs and handed out six pink vests. The boys looked at each other, perhaps recognised that none could ridicule another, and put them on. Next to me, behind one of the goals, a dad sighed as though jabbed in the gut, “Ooh. They’re a goal down already.”

Then this Christmas, things have come full circle. Both boys wanted football boots. Mrs TL took notes on preferred brands and models, searched the internet and placed orders. When no.1 son’s pair arrived, I queried if they had been the type he had specifically requested. She confirmed they were. And so on Christmas morning, no.1 son once again became the proud owner of pink boots.

pink boots

Poor weather has meant the boots are yet to make their competitive debut. But we did have a kick-about with my Touchline Pal and his son. On seeing the boots, my friend said to no.1 son, “They’re nice. You’ll have to play well in them, you know.”

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Filed under kit and caboodle, young shoulders

Christmas holiday games

A wet Christmas holiday, spent at home. The biggest challenge to our status as out-sourcing parents: no school, sports clubs or music lessons. There were large quantities of screen-time, but in between we managed some fresh air and games.

Most difficult was finding activities that all three children were happy to Xmas bootsparticipate in. On Christmas Day, sons no.1 and 2 headed with me to the local park for football in their brand new boots. The 1&onlyD came along to play on the exercise equipment. Earlier that day, no.2 son had taken his new World Cup football to the back door and drop kicked it over the fence into our neighbour’s garden. This turned out to be fortunate as our game in the park was brought to an end by a dog running off with our ball between its teeth. We are not a family of dog lovers.

Other outdoor action was engaged in by the kids singly or in pairs. The Xmas goalback-garden, boasting a pristine, new “colossal” goal, sustained a few skirmishes with the boys before the grumpy groundsman (me) took umbrage at the damage to the sodden lawn and cancelled play.

Xmas skatesThe 1&onlyD and no.2 son came out roller-blading. My daughter practised nimble turns; the boy went for speed.

No.1 son and I, on days when parting from his PS3 had been just too difficult in daylight hours, went running through the dark, wet streets of our town. It’s interesting how he can manage 70 minutes of football (which I cannot), but the steady exercise of jogging brings on stitches.

Xmas hulaBack indoors, no.2 son developed abdominal muscles of rock. Practicing with his mother’s weighted exercise hula-hoop, first he completed one minute of continuous gyration. The next target achieved was five minutes. Taking a short break, he then set out to scale ten minutes. This he did and did not stop, until after 25 minutes of continuous hip-sway, he was persuaded to let the hoop drop for his own safety.

Less physically draining, the 1&onlyD learnt card tricks to fox us with. She Xmas pianopracticed the piano conscientiously, particularly Chim-chim chiree. Even no.1 son played some piano when an audience assembled.

On a visit to friends, the boys and I crossed the road to a park and took on England’s 10th ranked girl sprinter (aged 12). We must have been hampered by the cold and the wind, which strangely didn’t seem to hold back our opponent.

Xmas gym 1In the house, the sprinter’s younger sister worked with the 1&onlyD on a gymnastics routine. Their display of agility, strength and co-ordination had a Christmassy back-drop.

The arrival on New Year’s Eve of cousin F (age 5) did unite the kids. While the adults ate and chatted, they occupied themselves with games of hide and seek teddy. And a trip to the pool, accompanied by a couple of friends, also occupied the three – in ferocious battles to control a foam float.

Tomorrow brings school, football practice and a return to the routines of finding uniform and kit, giving lifts and entrusting our children to the hands of others.

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Filed under play time, social animals