The GoatyGav Column
One of my best ever football playing memories was one from the streets. My good mate and I used to play footie together often. We developed quite a good understanding. If we weren’t down the rec we were playing jumpers for goalpost games. We also played small sided matches on the road outside our houses with tennis balls. The particular memory was triggered by a Facebook post by Graybo in which there was, of all things, a link to a Daily Mail piece on ‘The West Ham Way’ developing, in part, in the Stadium car park in the early ‘60s and onwards. You can read it at the following link https://tinyurl.com/y9wxjehk .
Some preparation for those cup adventures came from the club car park – Harry Redknapp
- Mail Online Article, 14th Sept ’17.
On a hot Summer school holiday afternoon my mate and I were challenged to a game by three lads who all played for their respective school teams. Despite becoming a reasonably good, and definitely quite lanky and quick, winger, I never got a game for my school. My German teacher ran the team from the first year through to the end of the fifth and, let’s just say, we didn’t get on very well. Despite both male games and PE teachers putting pressure on him to play me the German teaching football team manager never gave me a single minute. Got on the bench once against Alsager school where our lads played out a frustrating 0-0 draw. A half decent and quick winger might well have made a difference but, nope, not a sniff of an appearance sadly. Anyway, enough of my baggage/issues, back to the ‘overload’ game.
My mate and I stroked the tennis ball around and moved well. We’d played footie together countless times and developed a good understanding along with the difficult soft touch needed for the smaller, difficult to control, ball. We absolutely smashed it in the, first to ten, game. Barely gave the three players a touch. Ended up winning by ten goals to seven. Ok – so we made ‘extra men’ with wall passes against the kerb but that was all part of the game that we’d developed. Thinking about this now I’m pretty sure those games contributed to my preference to a quick, slick pass and move style. I try my best to coach it in to the U13 team that I manage (another challenge altogether).
There’s something to be said about the link between the lack of skill developed by British players, over the last thirty to forty years, and the disappearance of ‘Street Football’
The above anecdote is, no doubt, one of millions of ‘stories from the street’. “That’s great Gav but where are you going with all this?” you might ask. Well I’m convinced that there’s definitely something to be said about the link between the lack of skill developed by British players, over the last thirty to forty years, and the disappearance of ‘Street Football’. Anyone who has read Paulo DiCanio’s autobiography, published in 2000, will recall the fond memories for street football that the mercurial Italian recounted. He put a good deal of the skill he developed down to having to dribble the ball on concrete and up and down steps whilst avoiding concrete bollards, walls, kerbs and the occasional washing line of the Quarticciolo district whilst taking on opponents one on one. Don’t get me wrong. I fully understand the reasons for Street Football disappearing. Compare the picture of the street above with the one below and one of the key reasons becomes obvious.
Playing small sided matches with tennis balls on concrete, or tarmac, surely developed touch, awareness and intelligent movement. The kids who used to play in these games didn’t need to be taken to clubs to train. There was no cost for fees and kit involved. When they finally got to the clubs many of the raw materials were already in place – the clubs developed and adapted those skills in to the eleven a side game.
When my two lads started their school days I soon found out that playing football in the playground was a weekly privilege. I guess this was for health and safety reasons. Now around GCSE age this hasn’t changed much. The playground Football games were simply an extension of the street football games – often played with tennis balls as well.
So how much did playing in the street help develop ball skills in the last century compared with how kids can develop today? Personally I feel that, in today’s game, there’s higher level skill development for the elite only. I accept it. After all Sir Trevor Brooking was a strong advocate of this ‘skill affluence’ during his time in charge of development at the FA. I once had a sniff of making this point to Sir Trev, who I idolised, but didn’t get the opportunity at the annual Pro Am Golf day the company I worked for used to organise as others were monopolising the conversation with him. Sadly the one and only time I’ve ever had the opportunity to chat with the great man.
As a youth team manager myself I endeavour to give the lads I coach the best I can. I do need to do more FA courses which I’m determined to complete but on reflection there’s no way they could get the Football education that many of us who grew up in the last century had. It’s a lament, I know, and the only constant is change which leads me to wonder what environment the kids playing the game in thirty to forty year’s time will be in? Whatever or wherever that may be the over-riding aim is that they keep ‘Loving The Game’ even if they never get to the affluent elite level.
COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!