John arrives some forty five minutes early. His favourite bit is helping to inflate the goals.
He is nine with severe behavioural problems. His is a sad but not uncommon story. His dad left when he was young and his mother is embarrassed by his behaviour and is never seen out with him. The week before at an organised kid’s event he had tried to stab some older children with a pair of scissors and swore at the adults in charge before being taken home by the police.
His school have been notified, but they are well used to his behaviour as he has bitten, punched and kicked some of the teachers there.
The time putting up the goals and getting the equipment from the coaches’ cars is a chance to talk one on one with a bloke. Just chatting about what he did that day, but with their undivided attention.
He makes for the pitch where the younger ages play from 3-7. He helps out and organises the games and is fabulous with the younger ones.
One of the mums who help from the estate has started to take him to church on Sunday. The local community are beginning to look after John.
We had no referee to apply the rules of the game. When a goal was scored we restarted the game with a kick off from what passed as a centre spot. When a foul was committed, a free kick was taken and no one took umbrage. We seemed to accept that if anyone did not play by the rules of football, the game would be spoiled for everyone. Those games played without supervision taught us that you can’t go about doing just what you wanted because there are others to think of. Of course it was not a conscious thought at the time, but these kick-abouts on the bomb site taught us the rules of society and prepared us for life.”
Tommy Smith – ex Liverpool FC
Mike is the youngest on this pitch with players as old as 19.
This pitch is for the serious players. They play flat out for 2 hours, taking individual water breaks when their team allow.
The coaches never need to interfere here as they look after their own game.
The offer of bib’s are shunned as the kids like to play in the kit worn by their heroes or whatever they want to wear.
What has actually happened is that they have often merely instinctively carried out an act from the archives of tricks and instincts built up over the years of playing football with no boundaries in their formative years."
Oscar Egbogu - (Grew up playing street football in Africa and now plays 5-a-side in London)
Later the mums come from the estate with the little ones ages 2-3. They look after themselves and have the time of their lives kicking the balls around and making structures with coloured cones. The mums usually end up in goal or playing against the little ones. When the mums sit down for a rest and a natter the little ones invent their own games.
I watched one two year old build a semi circle of coloured marker cones before putting a ball on each. She then proceeded to kick the one at the end to try and topple the one opposite and so on.
One of the mums is Ania who is originally from Poland and sadly has no family left. She comes each week with her twin three year old son’s.
She has found it difficult to integrate into the local community but she and the boys have already made new friends through football. She is a big reader and other parents have been bringing her books for her and the boys’ home library.
At the end of session all the boys and girls help put the gear away and beg for a ball to be left out so they can then get in another 10 minutes play.
Dr Lynn Kidman, University of Worcester
Author of ‘Athlete Centered Coaching’
The job is as an Inclusion Support Worker at the local secondary school.
I have few qualifications and there were many good candidates, but they were very impressed with the work I have done with the community football and hope that the skills I have learned from that will help with my job trying to keep pupils that would normally have been excluded, in the school system.
A number of the boys at the school with behavioural problems are already at the GUBOG football scheme playing and coaching, linked in with a local club and primary school as well as the GUBOG sessions.
There are no facilities so it is a case of having to use one of the big trees to spend a penny, which is very rare as they get so lost in play.
This is all about the community and using the equipment and space as they please. There is something for everyone and they just select who and where they want to play with some younger children playing with kids more than twice their age.
Learning social skills and football go hand in hand.
The twenty football development community coaches were in agreement but health and safety and child protection issues don’t allow this to happen.
So John won’t come early and put the goalposts up and help and coach the younger ones. Mike won’t be ‘megging’ the teenagers and his older brother will not be bringing him on the crossbar of his bike. The mums will stay at home and a chance to play footy with the tots is lost.
Meanwhile organised kids’ football is getting further and further away from how children socialise and play.
I had an email from one of the mum’s last night. She said she had been crying for the last hour. Her son of 11 who comes to the community sessions has just been dumped by the local club after playing in the same team since six. She was informed by text and had already paid the seasons fees.
No community, no play, no development and the adults get to decide.
The time has now come to take off the shackles and let them manage themselves.
That includes places where kids can just go and play as well as proper community clubs where all children are catered from and have a cradle to grave policy where football becomes a healthy lifetime obsession.
What we are doing with the community scheme, which is being adopted by others around the UK, was a normal scene in parks, playgrounds and recreation grounds a generation or so ago. Sadly it is now deemed too risky for many organisations to adopt. These organisations are the ones that get the grants and have the power and the money but are only allowed to deliver a heavily diluted version of what is really needed.
Sue Palmer, author of 21st Century Boys and GUBOG supporter