A chance to tell Sir he's rubbish

Playing football in front of a crowd that includes your pupils can leave you feeling as sick as a parrot, or over the moon, says Chris Conway

A recent article in The TES (The Issue, November 11) on teachers moonlighting set me to thinking about my own experiences and the rather unusual circumstances involving my own pupils in which I sometimes found myself.

For many years, as well as having a hugely enjoyable teaching job, I also had a part-time career in non-league football. As a semi-professional player I was able to maintain my love of the game alongside my chosen teaching career with only occasional conflicts occurring.

When I started my first teaching post many years ago I also signed for the local non-league club. Many of the pupils would go along to support the club on a Saturday afternoon or come to floodlit midweek games and then there would be a complete change of roles.

As paying spectators they could justifiably shout anything at me from their place on the windy terraces.

"Come on Sir - get closer to that number 11" was one of the first pieces of advice I received from a pupilsupporter. Now, if ever there is incentive to "get closer to that number 11" it is the knowledge that your performance will be dissected publicly in the school playground the next day by your pupils and they will let you know what they think.

"You had a bit of a nightmare last night Sir" was a cheery Year 9's comment after one particular match. I mumbled some sort of begrudging agreement, wondering if I might be better seeking a transfer to some distant club where my day job was not known.

However, there were times when this dual role would work in my favour; if I did happen to strike good footballing form then I definitely felt that my pupils viewed me in a new light - perhaps even admiringly - and my status went up.

There were occasional problems; every Saturday morning I would be refereeing a school football match, before having a quick shower, donning my club tracksuit and setting off to play in the afternoon. It is difficult to be the referee in the morning berating some youngster for a breach of the laws of the game if by 3.30 I was then involved in a similar breach on the field in front of my own pupils. Care was always needed.

In a new job in another part of the country, I signed for one of the local clubs again, and the news made the local paper.

My new headteacher, kindly showing interest in my football career, asked who we were playing on Saturday. I rather shamefacedly had to reply that I was not able to play as I was suspended for having accumulated too many cautions in the previous season. I left him chuckling as I excused myself to go and lead an assembly on the implementation of the school's behaviour policy.

In later years as I moved into football management and coaching I signed a number of ex-pupils for my team as players. This was easy enough for me but some of them had difficulty adjusting to our new roles.

On one occasion, I remember having to tell a player in the dressing room before a match, "Lee, you're 28 years of age, you're married with three kids and you've got your own business. Honestly, you don't have to keep calling me Sir!"

Chris Conway is an assistant head and PE teacher at a school in Solihull in the West Midlands. He is currently player-manager of a team in the premier division of the Birmingham Amateur Football Association

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