As I’m shouting through my son’s bedroom door, I’m glad I was sensible and am only feeling a little weary and not hungover.
I’m yet again trying to remember where the bloody game is. As I go to check the phone, a text flashes up from the manager:
Could parents please put up the nets prior to game and are any of you willing to do teas and coffees at half time?
I can’t imagine Daniel Farke sending such a message out to his squad!
It’s early, 9.30, on a cold wet Sunday and having to lose the gloves to tie up the goal nets is painful and, if that’s not enough to start you off on the wrong foot, the council have failed to re-mark the white lines and the opposition are refusing to play!
Thankfully the ref calms things down and the game goes ahead. The boys all just want a game at the end of the day.
Welcome to grassroots football! Parents giving up their weekends, donning layers of extra clothing to allow their budding Messis, Ronaldos, or Holts to show what they can do, all for the love of the game.
If you have ever been involved in football at this level it’s woefully different from the highs of the Premier League; the difference between sharing an old one-man, leaky tent and a life of luxury in the Ritz!
Safe standing at grassroots is a prerequisite after leaving the car in a makeshift parking space (hoping the local farmer isn’t needed to tow it back out) and you have to remember to move your feet occasionally so as not to succumb to the quicksand action of the side-line mud.
As for our little darlings, all of them trying to score in a goalmouth that resembles a mud wrestling ring; as well as amusing to watch, it’s also possibly a safety hazard.
Once the teams emerge from the changing rooms/portable mobile/shed, to see your chosen XI (plus subs) line up in their mismatched colours is a proud moment (who needs a complete matching kit – that’s so last season). The momentary joy turns to horror when the opposition appear in the same colours and there’s that last-minute hunt for bibs.
Eventually, the game commences and if you’re lucky you have an official referee but one thing is for certain, you always have the opponent’s cheating linesman that flags every time your team goes forward!
Every Sunday…every team…the same… Of course, our linesman wouldn’t do that.
The tackles flying in, the parents shouting at the ref, the manager shouting at the ref, the dissection of every decision, the coaching from the sidelines, the respect line being breached.
But let’s not forget the exuberant, well-rehearsed goal celebration – to the lads, it’s all part of the game.
When’s it’s all over, I’m waiting, thawing out in the car and the boots have been given a bang together. The mud-covered boys eventually climb in either despondent or full of joy, reminiscing the Ronaldo-like thunder-strike (a scuffle on the goal line) and Fred Bloggs’ aerial tackle and how he managed to escape a booking.
But there are smiles all round and we will go again next week – weather permitting of course.
This is grassroots football at its lowest level and it’s slowly dying as each season goes by and another team drops out of the league; managers having to rely on players paying subs, local businesses sponsoring kits.
When we turn up to games the facilities are often poor, the boys (and girls) get changed in freezing, damp conditions, yet the millions pumped into the Premier League is staggering.
But, grassroots is where football starts; it’s where all players come from: the streets, the lower leagues. Kids need to showcase their talents in order to be discovered and become the next Beckham.
They could also become coaches or managers of the future.
Ady Gallagher, former manager of Lowestoft Town, took that very route after suffering a serious cruciate ligament at the age of 22. His injury meant he had to stop playing and so he studied to become a UEFA B’ coach.
His first management role was with Waveney Youth men’s team (an oxymoron if ever I saw one – Ed), winning the league and gaining promotion in successive years, winning a Suffolk County FA trophy in the process.
Off the back of this success, Ady moved into youth football, taking on the Waveney Under-10 B’ team and staying with them until they merged with the A’ team at under-16 level.
Ady then took on his biggest challenge: Lowestoft Town. Alongside former Lowestoft legend Micky Chapman, the pair guided them from the Eastern Counties League (sponsored then by Jewson), through the Isthmian league North (sponsored by Ryman) and then to two seasons in the National League North (the highest level the club had ever competed at).
As part of the management team, and individually, Ady can boast 14 major trophies in 18 seasons; losing out in three play-off finals, a loss to a last-minute goal away to Wrexham in the FA Cup first round proper and losing 2-1 in the FA Vase at Wembley to Kirkham & Wesham, where there were 16,000 Lowestoft supporters! Truly memorable.
Individually, Ady relishes his achievements as being Manager of the Month in the National League North and taking Lowestoft Town to Edgeley Park and beating Stockport County 2-0 in a league game; something he could only have dreamed of in October 1999 when he joined the club.
Managers and coaches give up so much.
My son’s team managers are a young couple who take mid-week training, organise games, organise the sponsor’s end of season awards etc. And all done in their free time.
Ady gave me an insight into his responsibilities and they were innumerable. *Deep breath*…
- Team ethos and team selection
- Welfare of all players and staff – mentally and physically
- Responsibility for the technical, tactical, psychology and physical behaviours
- Organise travel, times, food etc
- Help and advice on personal issues
- Identify talent
- Observe the opposition or arrange someone to do it for you
- Negotiate contracts/ signings
- Deal with media, such as radio interviews, TV, newspaper, club programme and website
And all this while holding onto a full-time job and juggling family life.
‘When you manage a team like Lowestoft you have to cope with high expectations, These have varied over the years but, generally, success brings a high level of expectancy, sometimes warranted, sometimes not!’
Lowestoft as a club is now suffering, a big part of their current struggle being the National League’s decision to plonk them in the Northern section, plus having to contend with a high wage bill coupled with dropping attendances when the going got tough. Their success has almost been the cause of their current demise.
On a different scale, Lowestoft’s tale is a little similar to Norwich City’s; currently releasing their top earners, bringing in players from lower leagues, restructuring and calling for support from the locals to attend games and keep the club going.
I’m sure the Trawler boys will play at Amber Dew Events Stadium (Crown Meadow) for a long time yet – let’s hope so – and let’s also hope a few of us can go along and offer our support.
Grassroots football gives youngsters and adults a platform to play the game they love. It has a positive impact on health and fitness in what can be a sedentary life of gaming and TV watching.
Football joins communities, gives a sense of belonging and friendship, as well as breeding talent.
And this is why a thriving grassroots is imperative, Not just at lower league level, but everyone who is involved in football (coaches, players, supporters) should start supporting their local teams. It’s where it all begins.
Perhaps our next star did do it on a cold wet Sunday morning at Aylsham Rec.