Football's revolution must start here

With England failing to qualify for Euro 2008, the spotlight has once again been thrust on the grassroots side of the game.Over the coming weeks, the Evening Star's GrassRoots supplement will provide an in-depth investigation into the bottom end of the game and ask how can we 'Save Our Game'? By Stuart WatsonEnglish football is dead.

With England failing to qualify for Euro 2008, the spotlight has once again been thrust on the grassroots side of the game.

Over the coming weeks, the Evening Star's GrassRoots supplement will provide an in-depth investigation into the bottom end of the game and ask how can we 'Save Our Game'?

By Stuart Watson

English football is dead. Long live English football.


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But where are the long-term successors to Messrs Beckham, Gerrard and Rooney's throne going to come from?

The failure of the national team to qualify for a major tournament for the first time in 14 years has sparked a great deal of soul-searching in the so-called 'home of football'.

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Why can't England keep the ball? Why does the ball always end up going long? When will we ever be entertained by our national side?

The suggested solutions are endless, however simply changing the manager, cutting the domestic fixture list, or even reducing the number of foreigners in the game, are all simply short-term, superficial fixes.

Now is the time to get to go back to basics, back to the root of the problem. Now is the time to finally address the too long neglected grassroots side of our beautiful game.

Think about it. You wouldn't let an odd job man lay the foundations of a new house and then spend hundreds of thousands getting it built professionally because, eventually, there's a chance the whole thing could fall down.

That would be false economy of the very highest order, however essentially that is exactly what is happening with English football.

Like most odd job men, the coaches in charge of our six, seven and eight year-olds are enthusiastic volunteers who should be well-commended on their efforts to get something done.

Nevertheless, if you return to the house building metaphor, you wouldn't entrust an odd job man with the crucial first stages of a build, so why are we allowing this to happen with our footballers?

If you follow the comparison through, you end with the same problem - by the time the professionals get their hands on the product they are simply working with damaged goods.

Over the coming weeks, this supplement will tackle many of the issues faced by the grassroots game, including:

Competition v Fun

Visit any local football pitch on a Saturday or Sunday morning and you can almost guarantee that you will hear a parent or coach hollering from the sidelines.

Are these pushy adults turning young children off of the game and leading them to quit?

In trying to combat this, some parts of the country have experimented with trails where results are not recorded in tournaments in order to take away the competitive pressure.

The argument here is that too much emphasis on 'just having fun' takes away a desire to win. Too often English sportsmen and women are criticised for being too gracious in defeat, so perhaps we need to be training a future generation of winners?

The small-sided game

The FA may have cited the development of the small-sided game as a key objective in their 2001 review, but the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of children are still playing on full-sized pitches.

Should a player be told they are a defender at the age of seven, years before their body and style of play has fully matured?

This particular issue is best illustrated by the foreign approach to the game. The traditionally technical Dutch team are brought up on small-sided, ball retaining games, while the Brazilians are famed for their skills nurtured in the indoor futsal game.

The result is that every player is a 'footballer', no matter what their position and as a result prove far more versatile to their coach.

Facilities

Is it any wonder that youngsters are used to punting the ball up field because that is the only means to work their way forward 100 yards in the mud?

If the small-sided game is to be embraced, then appropriate sports halls and astroturf pitches which aid the passing game need to be made available and embraced.

Safety

Many footballing legends talk about how they would go straight from school down to the local park or simply in the street and kick a ball around until it got dark.

How many parents would be happy about their children doing that these days?

Distractions

In days gone by, having a kickabout after school would have been one of the few things children could do to keep amused.

Now, with the internet, computer games and digital television vying for a child's attention, it's no wonder fewer youngsters are taking up the game.

This series will look at all of these issues within each stage of the grassroots ladder, speaking to schools and local clubs, before progressing to professional academies and eventually putting these findings to those within the higher echelons of the game.

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