THE familiar sight of 22 primary- school kids chasing the ball around a full-sized football pitch looks set to become a thing of the past.
From September all children up to the age of 10 will be barred from playing in 11-a-side school games under a new ruling from the Football Association. Instead they will play seven-a-side mini soccer with a smaller pitch and goals.
The mini-game is part of the FA's blueprint for youth football, which includes measures to curb the antics of screaming, sometimes violent, parents.
The FA hopes to make football more enjoyable for both sexes and encourage children to play on into their teens. Research shows a massive drop in participation after the age of 11.
England manager Kevin Keegan said at the launch: "If we produce a new generation of Michael Owens then it will be an added bonus, but ultimately Coca-Cola Mini Soccer is about maximising the fun for the 99 per cent who will not become professional footballers."
Mini soccer will receive pound;13.5m over the next three years from the FA and Coca-Cola to provide facilities for schools and youth clubs. It is part of the FA's Charter for Quality, which also introduces chartermarks designed to help schools and clubs keep parents' touchline tantrums to a minimum.
It is aimed at what Howard Wilkinson, the FA's technical director, described as "the small lunatic fringe which wants to turn every game into a European Cup semi-final. Some of the things that go on, if they happened at a professional match, people would end up in prison."
It is relatively common for spectators to shout abuse at children during school games. There have also been fights between rival supporters, and even assaults on players by their angry parents.
The proposals follow research which took soundings from teachers and clubs. The FA believes that many children are being turned off football because their early experiences of the game are negative. On big pitches young players have few touches of the ball and smaller children find it hard to kick the ball over long distances.
Martin Keown, who plays for Arsenal and England, believes mini soccer will help to improve skill levels.
"When you're a youngster on a big pitch, it is the kid with the biggest kick who takes the corner. Now they all have the chance to work on technique," he said.
Some local authorities such as Leicester and Nottingham are already introducing the new game for all primary-age groups and the Football Association hopes more will follow.