There's so much to do, it's scary

Last week, GrassRoots launched a series of articles investigated all of the issues facing junior football in this country. In the first part of this 'Save our Game' series, Stuart Watson speaks to ex-professional footballer and Whitton United reserve team coach Ian Brown about his thoughts on the grassroots game.

Last week, GrassRoots launched a series of articles investigated all of the issues facing junior football in this country. In the first part of this 'Save our Game' series, Stuart Watson speaks to ex-professional footballer and Whitton United reserve team coach Ian Brown about his thoughts on the grassroots game.

If the term 'eats, drinks and sleeps' football ever applied to anyone, Ian Brown fits the bill.

The FA Level Two qualified coach not only watches as much football as he can, but also listens to radio debates, reads extensive football literature and travels to foreign countries to take in their approach to the game.

So it is quite a worry that, when asked to pass his judgement on English grassroots football, the 42 year-old solemnly shakes his head in genuine concern before saying: “There is so much to do, it's scary.”

After finishing a playing career, which took him to Bristol City and Northampton Town professionally, as well as a number of non-league teams, Brown soon became desperate to put something back into the game that he took so much enjoyment from.

And, as someone who makes a living as a student support teacher and has three young sons himself, it was almost inevitable that Brown would become a youth football coach.

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Having coached a Whitton United side from under-12 to under-16 football, Brown is now in charge of a Whitton United reserve team that has an average age not much above 19.

But while Brown recognises that a lot of good work is being done across the grassroots game, he believes much more work needs to be done for this country's young footballers, starting with off the lack of facilities available for youth teams.


“When I first started at Whitton I would hear other clubs saying how jealous they were of our facilities and I used to just laugh to myself because, with respect, our facilities were pretty dilapidated.

“We would go to some away games and be changing in a shed or in the car before a game. Then I would talk to opposition managers who said they didn't train their teams during the week just because they didn't have anywhere to go.

“To hire good facilities regularly can be quite expensive, and if you are just a coach on your own trying to run a team, it can be very difficult trying to raise funds as well as running the team.

“I think the FA should be employing someone who can go into local clubs and help them write fund raising application letters.

“These 'funding champions' could help clubs tap into potential funding streams, which ordinarily can be a very complicated process.”

Governing body co-ordination

“Some youngsters are being asked top play for their county, their school and their clubs. They are being pulled in all different directions.

“At the moment it feels like all of footballs different bodies are all trying to do the same thing, but they are not really doing it together. We need everybody to be singing off the same hymn sheet.

“In Holland I think they have got it right, because the KNVB (Royal Netherlands FA), have got complete control over everything.”

“I also think that the top FA panel is so misrepresentative of the British community now. We need different people, with different ideas coming in at the top.

“Both in terms of age and race, the current representatives really do not reflect the footballing community.”

Small-sided football

“When my middle son went from under-11 football to under-12s he jumped from seven-a-side to the full 11-a-side - that's madness.

“All that does is put the emphasis on the bigger boys scoring all the goals and dominating games, with developing technique put to the back of priorities.

“We should have a written rule that all dictates what size games different age groups should play. The sensible thing would be to progress from seven-a-side to nine-a-side and then finally 11-a-side.

“While they are still young the boys are developing and need a good footballing education. They need to experience many different positions and get used to having plenty of touches of the ball.”

Competition vs Fun

“I do think there should be a competitive element to junior football, but that doesn't have to come from the coach, because you will find the boys are naturally competitive anyway.

“I think the competitive edge should only really be coming in at 12/13/14 really. There's a fine line between developing players for the future and gearing them for winning and I think the problem we have in this country at the moment is that we are not getting the balance quite right.

“I know I used to come away from games with my youth team and think to myself, we should have taken something from that, but I realised it was more important that the boys were expressing themselves and the opposition were congratulating us on good football.

“There definitely needs to be a change in culture, which will see much more emphasis being placed on skill development rather than this win at all costs mentality.”

The English style

“I think the English game has been going backwards ever since the FA's former Director of Football Charles Hughes advocated the theory of POMO.

“POMO, or 'position of maximum opportunity', basically says that there are only three main positions from which a team can score.

“It therefore recommends that players get the ball quickly and play in straight lines. There seems to be this thought that getting the ball forward quickly, especially in the Premier League, is entertaining for the fans, but all it has done is sacrifice the development of skill and technique.

“Many coaches teach their players that fans want to see big tackles and flying headers, but I would much rather be watching the passing and movement of Arsenal week-in, week-out.”

Mentoring grassroots coaches

“I do wonder about some of the coaching that is going on, but I don't think it is always the coaches fault.

“I think not only should there be more, affordable coaching courses, but also that coaches who do get their first badge should be encouraged to get even more qualified.

“I know there are thousands of coaches out there, but I would like to see the FA getting their top coaches out into the communities and working with new coaches.

“I know the FA are putting these new skills coaches out there, but I want to see even more of them going about and about and looking over coaches shoulders, including going into schools and helping PE teachers.

“It's like when you learn to drive. When you have just passed it's nice to have someone in the car with you for the first little while.”

Drop-out rates

“We need to focus on retaining young footballers between the ages of 16 and 20. I think that could be done by introducing leagues in between under-18 and men's football.

“By the age of 18 many boys aren't physically ready for men's football. They find themselves playing in Sunday leagues, with a rough Sunday league mentality, and that can put some people off.

“We need to help these boys through that transitionary stage, some are obviously good enough to make the leap, but others need to be helped through it.”

Early years coaching

“Coaching the really little ones is a big skill in itself. It's a real job to keep their attention and make it fun.

“I don't know if I could do it, I think I would try and do too much with them. At that age it's all about giving the really basic skills, the ABC's of agility, balance and co-ordination.

“A recent study by the Department of Education found out that 60% of eleven year-olds do not possess the fundamentals of physical movement.

“If schools can install those basics in children at an early age, football coaches will have a much better level of child to train from the start.”

Sharing ideas

“I try and read about and watch as much football as I can to get new ideas. It shouldn't be seen as stealing other peoples ideas, but the way I see is if something out there is good, why reinvent the wheel?

“There needs to be more, affordable access to the research, DVDs and seminars that exist. Let's encourage people to share ideas. Lets have more grassroots road shows that are not just run in the big cities and don't cost a fortune to attend.”

Money filtering down

“There are huge sums of money going into the Premier League now and I would like to see some of that filtering down into grassroots.

“That money should be being used to employ more coaches at the bottom end of the game and making coaching courses more affordable.

“There is so much money at the top end of the game and I think things should be far more transparent as to where all this money is going.”

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