13 Football - our national game, and a national disgrace!

PoorPitch2After the fantastic achievements of Team GB at the London 2102 Olympics and Paralympics, national pride has been restored. In fact, you could say that pride was at an all time high as the medals kept on rolling in. All that investment; lottery funding, Government initiatives, training and dedication paid off, big time.

Just look at the Manchester Velodrome; this training camp produced an array of medals for the cyclists. We also did well in rowing, boxing, equestrian etc; all of which received substantial funding, and the future looks great in these sports. It's no coincidence that we do well when we have the proper facilities. So, why don't we have the same success with our national sport, the richest sport, football?

This is a true story of a young kid who lives in Spain. Playing sport and, in particular, playing football is this kid's passion. He is a very good footballer; his skills are, dare I say, Spanish in style. He has flair, control, and can pick the most majestic pass. However, this kid is not Spanish, he is, in fact, English.

His parents moved to Spain when he was a baby and, at the age of ten, with all his footballing skills, he moved back to England. Of course, this kid wanted to join a football team, so he joined the school team and the local football club.

PoorPitch1There's a huge debate at the moment about youth development in football, and why countries like Spain dominate the world of football. How do they possess so much skill and talent? Why do English players play with such a lack of finesse, when other countries pass and play with real flowing football? Why don't we teach our English kids to play this flowing style?

There is a lot of talk at the moment about who is to blame; coaches, teachers, the FA, even the sports minister and our Government are being blamed for the lack of success and footballing skill in our nation. Well, I am not convinced that any of them are totally to blame. Not yet anyway, not until we can get the fundamentals right.
And excuse the pun; we need to get to the grassroots of the problem, the playing surfaces, the local park pitches that our kids play on.

Let's go back to this young kid who started playing football in Spain, and has moved back to England with all his skill and flair and delicate touches. He now plays on wet boggy pitches with long grass that is cut once a week, if they are lucky! What is the point in this kid possessing such skill when the ball is being caught up in long grass, held up in puddles and mud, PaulLoweor being bounced about on our awful local pitches? He can no longer use his silky skills, no flashy step-overs or tricks. He has adapted to the conditions, he can tackle like an Englishman, he can hoof the ball like an English defender; this kid is now playing English style football. He has adapted to the conditions and, because of these poor conditions, he has lost his Spanish flair, he now plays English style - keeping the ball away from the grass, and playing the ball in the air.

This kid is my nephew. I watch him every weekend and I am dismayed by the poor conditions at grassroots football. Is it any wonder that we, even as a nation of football lovers, are not producing skilful players?

So, what do we need to do? How much investment would it take to improve our local pitches? How much would it take to improve our state school sports pitches? How much investment would be needed to make our playing fields playable, to make them good enough so that the future kids can dribble, pass and use their skills on a firm, level, free draining pitch that is cut to a good standard?

The big question that the authorities will ask is, how much? I am certain there will be a number of excuses why we can't, but let's get to the point, it's not that difficult. It's not even going to be that expensive, we need to change.

We must do more to improve the conditions if we want our national sport to be producing kids with confidence to use their skills.

If we get together with our governing bodies, the experts and the powers that be, we can make it happen. We all want our kids to possess better footballing skills, to encourage kids to get fitter, reduce obesity, to get off the streets and onto the sports pitches, and our future to be trophies and footballing pride. Let's look at it this way, it will be much easier to spot kids with real footballing talent when they play on better pitches, playing better football.

How difficult is it? Well, we certainly have the experts. All we need is an infrastructure, better drainage, better quality and frequency of cut, more maintenance and aeration, renovation and some proper quality control. In the UK we have some of the best pitch advisers, groundsmen, contractors and companies. The elite facilities have funding and they are truly fantastic, but the gulf between the top and the local playing fields is enormous. We need a strategic plan, some proper investment and get some pride back in our local pitches.

So, to summarise, how much sport is being played on the ground? How much skill goes unnoticed because our kids don't have the facilities to express the skill? How many kids get the opportunity to play on great pitches? When do the footballing scouts get the opportunity to see the kids express themselves with flowing football on good pitches?

Let's get better conditions for our kids to enjoy, encourage them away from the streets and help them get fitter and healthier, help the youth to develop passion, teamwork and dedication. There is a very old saying; "Show me the child of seven and I will show you the man".

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