Junior Football: Why so serious?

As a referee, junior football tournaments are seemingly the only way for us to keep our cash topped up throughout the close season, by officiating dozens of small sided games across plenty of age groups. And where you see junior football, you are pretty much guaranteed to come across these types of people:

  • The well-wishing parents that are there to watch their child have a bit of fun
  • The pushy parents that believe their child is the next Lionel Messi and say that they’ve already had trials for every Premier League team under the sun
  • The parent that’s happy to step up to be the manager and have a laugh while enjoying the company of other parents, all the while seeing their kids enjoy themselves

And last, but probably the most important (and irritating!)

  • The supposedly helpful FA Qualified Coach who has it set in their mind to turn an innocent bunch of 11-year-olds into World-Beating superstars by any means necessary…

Now, I admit that these categories are sweeping generalisations of the junior football community, but the fact is that the higher the skill level of the team, the more you see of the person mentioned in my final category of people you will see. However, while I think their shouting at a bad first touch or a shot off target from an 11-year-old is disgusting and deplorable, it’s unfortunate that they do tend to make better teams. Look at Sir Alex Ferguson, he succeeds at Manchester United because of his atmosphere of fear being everpresent in his changing rooms, improving discipline immeasurably no doubt. This is coupled with the fact that the referees dare not go under 10 minutes of added time when he’s behind: Also known as “Fergie Time”, for those unfamiliar with the concept.

If I’m brutally honest, junior football teams are getting more and more serious each year. The matching tracksuits, the rack of water bottles with the club’s logo on, the initials of each player on said tracksuits; You didn’t even see that with the world’s best teams as recently as 30 odd years ago! And I can only pinpoint this to the growing footballing business. It’s just getting out of control, the new broadcasting rights for the Premier League for this season have just been sold for just over £3billion. An absolutely indescribable amount of money.

But I’m going to finish this rather blunt piece with an aptly blunt point: Leave the anger to the professionals, and just let the children enjoy themselves, they’re only young once and I’m sure that they wouldn’t want bad memories of their childhood hobby.

Euro 2012: How will England do?

The European Championships in Poland and Ukraine starting in the next week have already stirred up the headlines with racism fears in Ukraine in particular, highlighted in BBC’s Panorama programme with shocking scenes emerging from the country. But this post isn’t about all of that, you’ll be glad to hear! This is all about the football, as it should be and hopefully will be in the tournament.

First, the teams:

Group A:

  • Poland
  • Czech Republic
  • Greece
  • Russia

My tip to go through: Russia through quality, Poland with home advantage

Group B:

  • Germany
  • Portugal
  • Netherlands
  • Denmark

My tip: Definitely the “Group of Death”, but my money’s on Germany and the Netherlands, just.

Group C:

  • Spain
  • Croatia
  • Republic of Ireland
  • Italy

My tip: Spain to ease through, Croatia to spring a surprise on 2006 World Champions Italy

Group D:

  • France
  • Sweden
  • England
  • Ukraine

My tip: A tricky group for England, but I’d have them to go through as runners-up to France.

To avoid a potential quarter-final with all-conquering Spain, England would need to win Group D. And to do so, the first game against France on June 11th is key. If they can pull off the victory, their confidence will be improved in their own ability as a squad, especially as new Manager Roy Hodgson has taken over the national side at a time when expectations are much lower, after the passing of the so-called “Golden Generation” that critics say that had its last chance in South Africa two years ago. Also, winning the group would see a much less menacing prospect of playing anyone out of Croatia, Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland or Italy. This being said though, England did pull off an impressive 1-0 win in a friendly back in November against the reigning World and European Champions at Wembley, so the result being repeated may not be too far out of reach.

The Squad:

Goalkeepers:

  • 1: Joe Hart- Fast becoming one of the world’s finest after a sterling season with Man City, England’s rightful #1
  • 13: Robert Green- Everyone may now associate him with that error in South Africa, but has recovered well after a season in the Championship with promoted West Ham
  • 23: Jack Butland- The 19-Year-Old has spent his season on loan at League Two Cheltenham. Called up as a replacement for the injured John Ruddy

Defenders:

  • 2: Glen Johnson- A so-so season with Liverpool, some question whether Micah Richards was a better choice
  • 3: Ashley Cole– He may be a love cheat and has an interest in shooting interns with air rifles, but a damn good left back and regarded as one of England’s only truly World-Class players
  • 5: Gary Cahill– Has impressed since joining Chelsea in January, is likely to start alongside club team mate……
  • 6: John Terry– The debate goes on as to whether exiled Rio Ferdinand should’ve been taken intstead, but has remained an England ever-present
  • 12: Leighton Baines– A solid season with Everton, however is more likely to be cover for Cole
  • 14: Phil Jones– A versatile young player with lots of potential, has a good chance of featuring in some capacity
  • 15: Joleon Lescott– Has played in a variety of positions for Man City this season, useful as cover
  • 18: Phil Jagielka– Originally on the standby list but has been called up to replace the injured Gareth Barry

Midfielders:

  • 4: Steven Gerrard (C)- Inspirational Captain for club Liverpool and can do the same for country, is having to adapt with age but remains a potent attacking force
  • 7: Theo Walcott- Has provided good services to Robin Van Persie for Arsenal this season, but has lacked composure in front of goal, will be jostling for position with club team-mate Oxlade-Chamberlain
  • 8: Jordan Henderson- Called up as cover for the injured Frank Lampard, hasn’t had a good start to life at the Anfield Club after his £20million move from Sunderland
  • 11: Ashley Young- Has consistently impressed for Man United this year (when he hasn’t been diving!), has also contributed with important goals this season as well
  • 16: James Milner- An established member of Mancini’s Man City side this season, isn’t afraid to defend as well as attack
  • 17: Scott Parker-England have been left sweating over his fitness, but will be likely to be the midfield anchor if he is able to perform, another fantastic season so far
  • 19: Stewart Downing– Yet to score a goal at Liverpool after moving there, but he has had the most shots without scoring a goal this season (74), so it’s not through lack of trying! Will need to prove himself
  • 20: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain– Potential by the bagful, he has speed and awareness beyond his years, definitely one to watch

Forwards:

  • 9: Andy Carroll- Form has improved dramatically in the latter part of the season, his inclusion has been deserved on that basis
  • 10: Wayne Rooney- Suspended for the first two group games, competition will be fierce for starting spots while he isn’t there
  • 21: Jermain Defoe– Not a regular in Harry Redknapp’s Spurs side, but has still managed to score 17 goals this season, also has big tournament experience which could prove vital
  • 22: Danny Welbeck– Good early season form perhap fizzled out slightly as the season wore on, but is a natural goalscorer

Well documented absences include veteran Rio Ferdinand, Micah Richards, Daniel Sturridge and even Peter Crouch. But in honesty, everyone’s England squad is different, as is everyone’s England starting XI. But most people’s squads probably won’t have varied too much from the 23 that were selected out of who was fit.

Newly appointed coach Gary Neville has already said that expectations for the Championships are “realistic” inside the England camp. And rightfully so to be honest, while the squad is very good, they still don’t have much experience as a team together and that may tell against the likes of Spain because their team has stayed pretty consistent over the course of a few years.

So finally, my prediction for England will be to get to the quarter finals, but if they win the group, that may be an attractive prospect for a possible semi-final against Germany, Netherlands or Portugal, so in all: Quarter Finals is most likely, but 3rd place is also achievable.