Our grassroots expert Stuart Grimshaw's blueprint how England can catchup. In Part 1 he focuses on coaching.
With the World Cup looming in just a few months, that means we’re only a few months away from the usual outcry in the red tops, navel gazing from the FA and “Don’t look at us” shoulder shrugging from The Premier League and The Football League, as England inevitably leave Russia under some kind of cloud. And so we look for the reasons why.
There isn’t a single silver bullet to solve all the problems in grassroots football (which is good because it’ll give me plenty of things to write about!). Let’s start with coaches, and coaching, if we had better coaches we’d have better players, better players means more English players for our teams and more English players playing at the top level would mean better players to be selected for the squad.
In Iceland, every junior player has at least 1 UEFA qualified coach, that’s at least a UEFA B license coach, in the UK it’s mandated that each team has at least 1 level 1 FA coach, which is 2 levels below a UEFA B license, and works out at 1 coach per 15 or 16 kids. I can imagine some people saying how much smaller Iceland, with less players, so it’s easier to have more coaches per player. True, but the turnover of Iceland’s governing body, the KSI, was only £7m compared to the FA’s £318m for the same period.
Don’t get me wrong, the FA level 1 Coaching Award is a very, very good course to go on, but by it’s own admission it’s not there to teach you what to coach, it teaches you how to be a coach for young players. It focuses on how kids learn, on safeguarding and running a club. It’s very much an introduction to coaching and will not give you the skills to observe and guide technique, it covers nothing on tactics, formations, reading the game or anything you need to really improve players, it leaves them largely to pick the game up themselves.
The UK, at the last count, had just over 1500 coaches at UEFA A or Pro level, Italy had 2200, France had 3300, Germany 7000 and Spain a massive 15500! Is it any wonder with that many trained coaches they’ve found some good ones to coach their young players?
In the UK it would cost a coach £1200 to become a UEFA B coach (and nearly £4000 if they wanted to take the next step and get their UEFA A license) an astonishing amount for a volunteer to be expected to pay. Icelandic grassroots coaches, like coaches in the US, Iceland & Canada (and may other countries) are often paid for the time they commit to the club, rather than be volunteers
Once you have your basic coaching qualifications it can be difficult to progress any further. Having the qualifications is fine, but it’s only the start. A good coach will have a range of experience across multiple aspects of football, from junior to senior, disability football, womens' football, pub football, futsal, 5-a-side ... either professionally or as a grassroots coach.
Courses can be expensive for individuals, gaining experience at any level other than Sunday League is nigh on impossible, you can get a job with a local academy when you get your UEFA B (or level 2 if you’re lucky) award, but again that takes time & money and the jobs are of course the ones no-one else wants to do, Friday night at the centre of excellence that’s furthest away. I believe local clubs from the semi-pro level upward could benefit themselves and local coaches by sponsoring them to take the higher badges and then employing them afterwards to work with their own teams. It’s an easy solution to the problem of the cost and lack of coaches.
I’m a software consultant by trade, one of the most valuable things I do outside of actually working is “networking”, meeting and talking with other people who do the same job, other people who hire consultants like me. It’s a great way to stay up to date with what’s happening in the industry, but it’s also a great way to advertise yourself, get your name known. One of the best things about being a coach, in South Yorkshire at least, is the local Coaches Club and the CPD that they provide. It’s £10 a year and each month we get the opportunity to go and watch & learn from some of the top coaches in the professional game today. They travel the length and breadth of the country to come to Sheffield and show us sessions, ways of coaching, different formations and the basics of coaching them. It really is a fantastic resource and I urge any coach to go to as many of them as they can.
So there we go, I’ve put forward my thoughts on how to start fixing.
Football on TV – the good old days ?
On this FA Cup quarter final weekend, I was reminded of bygone days when all the ties would of course kick off at 3pm on the same Saturday; BBC would have the rights for highlights of two of them for that day’s “Match of the Day” and then on Sunday, ITV would show highlights of the other two – a rare opportunity for Granada viewers to see the LWT-produced “Big Match” with Brian Moore.
There is a strong whiff of nostalgia here of course as it harks back to my childhood, bringing with it a temptation to proclaim that everything was better then and the inexorable march of progress has served only to undermine the quality of football on TV.
My Saturday nights were mapped out for years; BBC 1 – light entertainment – usually Mike Yarwood, Two Ronnies, or Cilla/Lulu – crime drama – Ironside, Cannon (“a Quinn Martin production…”) or Starsky & Hutch - the news (“if you don't want to know the score…look away now..”) then Match of the Day followed naturally enough by Parky. I’m sighing now just typing this.
Match of the Day was absolutely essential viewing. It set the standard for all TV coverage of football. Jimmy Hill, as so many times in his mercurial career was ahead of the curve by introducing analysis, once memorably castigating Rovers’ Glenn Keeley for a challenge on Luton Town’s Lil Fuccillo which only just stopped short of GBH. The clip is available on YouTube and is well worth your time and energy in seeking it out.
The baton passed from JH & Bob Wilson, to Des Lynam to Gary Lineker – each Dr Who like reincarnation bringing something new to the mix. My personal “fantasy MOTD” line-up was probably Des Lynam assisted by Gary Lineker and Trevor Brooking…not Mark Lawrenson…NEVER Mark Lawrenson.
ITV on the other hand…there was always something of the “amateur talent show” vibe about their coverage, the imperious Brian Moore excepted. Gerald Sinstadt was a more than capable commentator but when presenting I half-expected him to set me some history homework.
In an attempt to revamp the coverage when ITV first won the rights to Saturday night football, a young Elton Welsby (real name, ask your parents/grandparent kids) took centre stage. Elton was young, hip and trendy, the coming thing and he was to be the studio-based anchor for Granada’s attempt to usurp MOTD.
“Match Night” was Granada’s answer to MOTD. Produced out of Quay Street by the late Paul Doherty (son of the Man City & Northern Ireland inside forward Peter) it tried to be innovative and creative but seemingly on a tight budget. It was the love child of “Kick Off”, the Friday teatime football magazine show that would not be entirely out of place on Sky Sports 3 even now.
It was a series of errors on an episode of “Kick Off” that started a chain of events that ended up with me, three days before my 17th birthday, sipping vodka & lime with Ray Clemence.
Rovers were having a great season. Hot on the heels of promotion from Division 3 the previous season, momentum had continued and the prospect of a second successive promotion to the glorious hinterland of Division 1 was a real prospect. But… The problem was, “Kick Off” kept getting vital facts wrong, league tables, line ups, highlights incorrectly captioned…but only to my (unbiased eyes) when it involved Rovers ! I did what any righteously indignant (read…pompous) teenager would do at the time – I wrote a letter of complaint. That’s right kids – a LETTER – paper, ink, envelope, stamp – addressed to Mr Paul Doherty at Granada TV.
I expected to hear nothing, but a few days later a crisp, typed envelope addressed to yours truly landed on the mat. Inside, a reply from the very same Paul Doherty acknowledging every item on my charge sheet, apologising profusely and inviting me (& a guest) to attend Granada TV studios to watch how the programme was put together and to meet the studio guest that night.
Saturday 28th February 1981 saw me and my compliant (Burnley-supporting…I know) uncle sat in Granada TV studios watching the editing team select the “highlights” from the game at Blundell Park that afternoon as part of their round up. Trust Rovers to deliver one of their standard away, Howard Kendall defensive displays but this time fail to score and register the usual 1-0 away win. I could hardly press the case for a 0-0 game to figure front & centre.
The main attraction that night was Liverpool’s 2-0 home win over Southampton and so the studio guest was the England goalkeeper Ray Clemence who was accompanied by the charming Mrs Clemence. I was allowed to be in the studio whilst the pre-news trailer was broadcast by Elton and was up “in the gallery” when the actual programme went out.
It was absolutely amazing. I loved EVERY second but it got even better when after the closing credits, we were invited to have our photographs taken on the set…I sat in Elton’s ACTUAL chair but, there was more.
“Would you like to join us in the Green Room ? Elton & Ray will be there and we can take your photo with them ?”
…and so it was dear reader, that I was ushered in and shown a cocktail bar and offered whatever I wanted. That was the only time in my life I think I have ever asked for a vodka & lime. The chap next to me (presumably from the production team) had asked for one and well, I didn’t want to rock the boat and more pertinently, I had not a clue what to order.
Elton was lovely, Ray was lovely, somewhere in the loft in my memories crate, I have a manila envelope with several photos in it, one of which is signed by Ray Clemence and of course; I have the memories, which more than 35 years later still make me glow warmly inside.
Is football on TV better now than it used to be ? Well, yes AND no. A little part of me will always belong to Paul, Elton, Gerald & of course Ray.
Rovers boss Tony Mowbray is expecting his team to fly out of the blocks against Oldham after the players were given a few days off from training this week. At his pre-match press conference Mowbray said
“This week has been a pretty down week, there has been a lot of rest, they have some days off, the training days have been pretty good. Because the players are coming back on the grass that has increased the excitement and intensity of that. It hasn’t been a normal week, the players have had a couple of extra days off and that’s my call really.
“Some days you have to recharge the batteries and understand the reasons you are giving them a rest, only so that they can burst out of the blocks and show everyone how dynamic we can be and how exciting we can be. Hopefully the next few teams feel the energy levels and the quality we possess and we can get back to winning ways pretty quickly. We’re looking forward to the weekend.”
Rovers are third in league one and face Oldham at Ewood on Saturday followed by a long midweek trip to Portsmouth on Tuesday.
The Evolving Nature of Fandom
I can still recall, clear as day, what it was like to walk into the old Nuttall Street Stand; the smell, the sounds and when I was lucky enough to have a pie bought for me, the flavours too. The creaks and groans from the wooden beams and staircases, the unique whiff emanating from the gents loos and the gloom around the snack bar. Even the low wattage light bulbs had a role to play, doing their bit to save a few pennies on the club’s electricity bill.
My first visits to Ewood actually were to the Riverside, sitting in the seats above that famous old terrace or more accurately on the bench seats in the wings. The admission was cheaper and frankly me wanting to go to the football was seen as a fad that would soon run its course. Not the first time, I confounded my parents with my unique take on the world and here we are more than four decades later, I’m still proving my point. Nothing if not tenacious, that’s me.
Football supporting back then seemed to be a whole lot easier though. As a kid I would have a fixture list sellotaped to the inside of the wardrobe door. Within a couple of days I would have pretty much memorised it, safe in the knowledge that fixtures would be rearranged only in the event of a postponement following bad weather or if we were to be particularly lucky, an FA Cup run.
It was cash on the turnstile, rarely a need for tickets in advance and in fact as a very small boy; it was not unheard of to be hauled up and over the stile with a modest cash adjustment (adjusted for inflation) being passed over in the other direction. This tactic seemed to work well especially at away grounds and made it more economical for me to be taken to a number of local away games. Terraces were not particularly welcoming to the diminutive me, barely able to see over the wall, so sitting in the stand was a treat that at least meant I could see the game.
I was taken to the likes of Gigg Lane, Spotland, Bloomfield Road, Deepdale and Burnden Park. Soon my tastes craved some exotic flavours and a trip to the Old Showground in Great Harwood to watch Ronnie Clayton, Bryan Douglas and Roy Vernon turn out for their new club gave my elders and betters a chance to regale me of their history and what a privilege it was to see them first hand. They were of course entirely correct, but it was a little while until I realised quite why. Some years later I would play on that very pitch in an U15s cup final* and the memories came flooding back.
Replica football kits existed even back then, but the great thing was, you could buy one shirt and have about 23 kits instantly. A red shirt with white round neck collar and cuffs was good for Liverpool, Manchester United, Barnsley, Swindon, Crewe, Doncaster and even Great Harwood if so inclined. Paired with an all white one, this opened up international options, England obviously; but also domestically, Leeds Utd, Spurs, Fulham, Millwall, Bury, Preston and so on. For a child with a vivid imagination, background kickarounds rarely featured the same two teams but no costume change required.
These days I really like to people-watch at football grounds but especially the young kids…oh hang on, no; not like that, what I mean is, I want to feel reassured that they are as excited by the whole experience now as I was back then. I am not one of those people who believes that “everything was better in the old days” but I wonder what our youngest fans make of the whole experience of being a modern day football fan ?
I would have relished the wall-to-wall availability of information, statistics, video clips let alone the amount of live TV, which sees games from all around the globe being available 24/7. No waiting for that week’s Shoot magazine to check up on the line ups of divisional rivals in last week’s games !
The state of modern grounds has improved beyond measure since the terrible tragedies at Bradford, Heysel and Hillsborough caused football to re-evaluate its principles and practices. Almost all grounds now have family sections and dedicated facilities for disabled spectators, although these can always be improved.
I can only imagine how over-stimulated the five year old me would be walking around a club megastore these days. The thought of personalised kits, matching training gear, tracksuits, coats and even boots would possibly have blown my mind. I was never short of anything as a kid but these places tempt me now !
The only real area of concern for me is the cost of all this. How do we ensure that the next generation is able to enjoy the match day experience, home and away ?
Their footballing future is obviously the future of our football – it therefore relies on all of us to do everything we can to pass on the baton. It relies on footballing authorities to use the TV millions to keep ticket prices sensible and stadiums full – with the average spectator age reducing, not as it is at the moment.
Football-supporting these days in some respects is fundamentally different to the experience I had as a kid but in so many other ways; the visceral excitement, the passion, the noise, the joy, the despair; that remains unchanged - long may it remain so.
RED ROSE ROVER
*we lost 2-1 but thanks for caring enough to read to this footnote. I still have the runners-up medal.
Rovers boss tony Mowbray is pleased with the way his squad is shaping up as Rovers head into the final months of the season.
Talking to the press ahead of the Northampton match Mowbray said “Not just in numbers or personnel but also an understanding of what it takes to win football matches, the camaraderie in the group”
“There was an uncertainty at the start of the season of whether this was the right environment for them to play their football, for reasons like having families and being able to earn money in the league up but as we’ve talked many times before I’ve said that if you played a part in us finding ourselves in League One and I felt you were good enough you should stay to help us get out of League One and back in to the Championship.
“Moving forward hopefully they can play in the Championship with us again.
“The strength of character, the team spirit and the camaraderie is so much stronger than it was at the start of the season when there were a few doubts and uncertainties about whether they would still be here at the end of the summer window.
“At this moment I’m happy with the group, they’re working extremely hard to try and get in to the starting XI.”
Paul Downing has signed a permanent deal which will keep at Rovers until June 2019 with the options of a further 12 months. The 26 year old defender joined Rovers in August on loan and after some impressive performances Rovers have decided to sign him on a permanent basis.
Talking to the club's official website Downing said "It’s a great feeling," I’m over the moon for it to all get signed."It gives me and the club some stability moving forward and I’m hoping for many successful times in the future. "It's one of the easiest decisions I’ve made. Ever since I signed on deadline day, it’s been an aspiration of mine to try and make it permanent."I’ve said many times how much I’ve enjoyed my time here so far and I just wanted that to continue, and I’m delighted it will do now. "I’ve been pleased to play as many games as I have and to have an impact on the team and to help them on a Saturday."There’s a long way to go for me, I still feel there’s a lot of improvement. "There’s a lot of competition for places here, so I can’t stop working hard and keep improving and trying to keep my place in the team."
Downing added "I think it’s definitely gone above my expectations, Obviously I wanted to be at the top end of the league, like the football club did, and we’ve managed to do that. "We still want to try and get into those top two places at the end of the season, but from my point of view, personally, getting in the team, helping them win and climb up the table, everything has gone really well for me. "It did help, obviously, getting off to a good start and the fans, and your team-mates, taking to you. "Going on that run, without conceding and helping us win games, it was the perfect start for me to then kick on and carry on in the next couple of months. "It’s a great football club. The people behind the scenes and the dressing room welcomed me from day one, so I thank them for that, and the fans for how they have taken to me. "It’s been really easy to settle in, on and off the pitch, which has been a big thing in helping me to play my part."
Rovers are back in action in the league as they host second place Shrewsbury Town at Ewood on Saturday.