The best little team on the park;Opinion

12th March 1999 at 00:00
OFTEN IT rained; generally it was cold; sometimes there was sunshine. For the past four years on winter Saturday mornings I have graced the playing-fields of south Edinburgh as one of the dads running my son's primary school football team.

They say you have to be slightly mad to be a goalkeeper, but it surely takes a special form of lunacy to be a goalie's dad, standing behind windswept goals, muttering a weird mantra that is part coaching, part tender loving care, part quiet desperation.

I have watched Patrick and his mates grow from P4 aspirants to glory to hardened old P7 pros with a well developed sense of their own place in our beloved national game. Being a small school our boys were never going to set the heather ablaze, but they have matured into an acceptance and attitude which is wonderful to see.

A game last December will provide an illustration. The opposition, boys' club players to a man, ran out of the dressing room purposefully, kit immaculate, even to the sponsored training tops. The pi ce de resistance was provided by their coaching staff, who came out in perfect step, with matching tracksuits and, wonder of wonders, a case of energy giving sports drinks for half-time. The team then went into a pre-match warm-up straight from a course at Largs.

How could we pick up our own team's shattered morale? The two girls in the side were huddled together, shivering, in a corner, no doubt wondering why they had volunteered in the first place; two boys had discovered a mud heap and were painting each other's faces; another three were jumping up and down in a huge puddle, seeing how wet they could get.

The only one with any pretension to sporting activity was the lad with the giant Coke bottle who was spraying it about in the manner of a Grand Prix victor on the podium. The boys were, each and every one, awfully happy.

Far from "the lad done good" and "taking each game as it comes", their post-match cliches are more likely to be "held them to eight this week", or "I think we tired after the 10th went in".

However, in an era when the popular press tells us that extracurricular activities have either disappeared from our schools, or are being overzealously run by retired members of the Politburo, it has been a privilege to spend Saturday mornings with a group of players and parents focused on happiness rather than success, and sportsmanship rather than "professionalism".

Our lads and lasses may not have a store of medals or cups to look back on, but I'd be willing to bet they will treasure memories of those happy days playing for St Peter's. I certainly will.

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