If you've ever wondered what the definition of 'a thankless task' is, you've obviously never coached or managed a kids' football team.
Some of you might think ‘parenting’ is a worthwhile definition, but at least with that you get (hopefully) presents on your birthday and at Christmas from your little darlings
Coaching and/or running a kids' football team involves not only probably your own children – if not you really are a glutton for punishment – but also those of many other parents too. Some might be your friends' sons and daughters. Depending on your team selection, some might belong to your former friends. And you don't get multiple birthday/Chrimbo presents either.
A few years ago I managed my son's Fordingbridge Turks team in the Testway Youth League, which takes in a large part of Hampshire and south Wiltshire around Salisbury, Andover and Winchester. There was even a Basingstoke team in our league one season, which meant a round trip from Fordingbridge of more than 100 miles – just for 70 minutes of under-13 league action. I remain unconvinced that any youth football team has ever made a longer round trip for a league game.
The two seasons provided a fascinating portal into the characters – of the parents, that is, not the kids.
Anyway, with that in mind, a poster in north-west London a few weeks ago caught my eye. It was attached to the fencing around some football pitches outside Barnet FC's The Hive stadium (I was there covering Eastleigh's visit for the Non League Paper – I wear many hats).
This got me thinking: would these 'rules' work on the grassroots pitches of Portsmouth and surrounding areas? As we’re now a few weeks into the new youth league season, let’s have a look...
The decisions of the match officials must not be questioned
The very best of luck with this one! There is more chance of splitting an atom using a page of a Pompey programme than there is of a group of parents watching their offspring playing football not questioning a referee's decisions.
At regular intervals they question a hell of a lot more – their eyesight, their ability to keep up with play, and their parentage. Imagine going to Fratton Park, or any other football ground, and not hearing a single negative comment aimed at the referee? You will need a fertile imagination, put it that way.
Remember also that in youth football all linesmen (oops, sorry, 'assistant referees') are generally parents – I don't recall many Fordingbridge games where there weren’t some grumblings about the opposition lino and either his ability to keep up with play or ability to be totally impartial. I've done the job myself numerous times. Believe you me, it's not the best way to have fun while watching your son or daughter in sporting action.
Is it good that the much-maligned ref (and linos) cops so much grief at all levels of the game? No, of course not. Listen, football may be the greatest sport in the world – yes it is, I'll argue the case if you really want me to – but it's not perfect. I give you theatrical diving in the World Cup and the obscene wealth of the Premier League as two examples, and ref-baiting is a third.
Rugby lovers will forever point to the fact that there is hardly ever any on-field criticism of the referee in their sport. Though rugby fans can be immeasurably smug about this, they are right. But if we are to ever have such a situation in football, the parents of kids in youth leagues throughout the country have a major role to play. From personal experience, I doubt if they are capable of playing such a role. I include myself in this too.
Parents and spectators must not become involved in arguments with match officials, opposing players or supporters
Again, no doubt a rule made with the very best intentions, but would it work on the grassroots pitches of Portsmouth and surrounding areas?
I saw a few disagreements during my time in the Testway League, which has a large variety of teams from semi-rural or rural communities and, therefore, less – how shall we put this? – 'big mouths' that you find in urban areas.
Am I, therefore, reducing this argument down to social class? Possibly. Of course it shouldn't happen, of course adults shouldn't get involved in shouting matches with other adults over a kids' football game. I'm not condoning such behaviour; such incidents shame those involved.
In fairness, I don't recall a single incident involving Fordingbridge parents arguing with opposing players or managers – just as well, as I'm talking under-12 and under-13 level when I managed – but some opposition parents could have very large mouths under their rose-tinted specs.
Opposition managers too. On one occasion, an under-13 manager refused to shake my hand after we'd beaten his team 3-0. During the game, while complaining that our linesman was cheating by continually flagging his players offside, he was so angry he kicked a water bottle on the touchline. ‘You’re not Arsene Wenger, mate,’ I wanted to tell him.
Parents and spectators may positively comment on play (eg 'well done') but please keep quiet regarding any mistakes that are made
Nice to see an example given in brackets in case anyone reading the notice wasn't aware what constituted a positive comment!
As with the previous rules, it depends very much on the constitution of a parent's psyche. Let's put it this way – some dads (and mums) are quicker than others to voice their opinions. If you have ever been involved in kids' football, you will no doubt be nodding your head now. If you're not, the odds are the loudmouth is you.
A few years ago, the Hampshire FA trialled a Silent Weekend, asking youth leagues throughout the county for their support. The idea was a simple one – that managers, coaches and spectators in matches within the leagues that had signed up to take part in the trial would be quiet throughout the entire game. They could obviously talk among themselves, they just weren't allowed to shout instructions to the players. No, not even constructive, positive ones. Not even a 'well done'. If you think this was a classic example of the snowflake society we are increasingly having to live in, I think the same as you.
It wasn't mandatory for every league to take part and, to no great surprise, the youth leagues in Portsmouth and Southampton – the main two urban areas within the county – chose not to.
The Testway League did, however, and the subsequent 'silent' match my son's Fordingbridge team took part in was a distinctly strange affair. While I had no real qualms with the fact spectators could not shout out – at times they would bark their own tactical instructions which were totally opposite to what I was asking – I couldn't see the point in gagging the coaches. If the Portsmouth league had taken part, how successful would the experiment have been with regards to the coaches and parents keeping their mouths shut?
Please refrain from speaking to the coaches directly after the game regarding your child's development. Please make an appointment with the coach and any questions you have can be discussed at a parent/coach meeting
I would be interested to know how widespread this policy is within local youth football clubs.
I would like to think it is, but I would also like to think our Brexit deal will be widely applauded by all and that Shergar had a nice retirement in a lovely grassy field.
In two years of running my son's team, not one parent asked politely (or even impolitely for that matter) for such a meeting but several were quick to give me their opinions after matches.
You can please some people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time. That's how the saying goes, doesn't it? It sums up a youth football manager/coach's job to perfection – unless you've only got 11 players to pick an 11-a-side team from. And even then some parents will complain their son or daughter is playing out of position ...
Actually, taking training, picking the team and standing on the touchline during games shouting instructions is the easy bit for any manager/coach. It's all the other bits that are draining – the administration, the filling in of forms, the meetings, remembering to bring the linesman's flags, having to find a referee, cajoling parents into helping to put up the nets before a game and take them down after, persuading a parent they have to run the line – really good luck with that one – liaising with the opposing manager re kick-off times, liaising with the league if any problems, remembering the first aid kit, remembering the corner flags, retrieving balls that are kicked into hedges (invariably really brambly, prickly ones) in the pre-match kickaround. If you've ever done the job, I salute you. I understand all your frustrations, even if some of the parents of your players have no idea about the hassles and workload you take on your shoulders every week during the footie season.
Do not give them the wrong kinds of food and drink before and after training and games
Right, I'm guessing that the stops we used to make at McDonald's and KFC after some away trips would fall foul of this rule.
Perhaps the sign at Barnet was in sight of pitches only used by the club's own youth teams and therefore all players would have dreams of a professional or semi-professional career. In that instance, if you're that good at football at a young age, it could well be that your diet doesn't involve the ‘wrong kinds of food and drink’.
Here in Portsmouth, though, how many youngsters have been treated to a celebratory (or consoling) Big Mac or Bargain Bucket after a match? And how would some respond if, after a great victory and 70 minutes or so of constant running, they were told 'well done, great performance, fancy a large plate of butternut squash, pomegranate seeds and halloumi fries?'