Fitba? It's no contest

7th July 2006 at 01:00
On Sunday the final ball will be kicked, the viewers can return to Corrie and the Tartan Army can look forward to visiting South Africa in 2010 - if Trinidad and Tobago qualify again.

But one World Cup is already over, played by primary schools from North Lanarkshire. The schools wore, as near as possible, the strips of their designated country. Mexico went one better - they all sported large moustaches.

One of my school's teams was South Korea. They turned out looking suspiciously like Hamilton Accies (many thanks to Heather's dad, who runs a local team in Hamilton, called, I assume, South Korea). No one won the cup.

I'll rephrase that. Everyone won. No one lost. There was no cup. It was a football festival.

Dozens of teams were involved, playing seven-a-side. Games last about 10 minutes, a hooter sounds, and the teams move on. Start again. "Oh no," I hear the diehards cry. "It's that political correctness gone mad, i'nt it? No trophies, no medals. Taking the weans out of competition - they'll never learn to play fitba."

Here's a phrase for the die-hards. You can take the weans out of the competition, you can't take the competition out of the weans.

What it does, thankfully, is take most of the parents out of the equation.

That's the parents who proffer advice from the touchline, useful advice, too, that they've obviously learned from listening to John Motson's commentaries. It's known as bollocks.

I've heard some bollocks in my time, which is about 25 years of helping look after my local primary school football team. I say "look after", but not coach. Coaching's for the experts. I let them play, and proffer advice - not bollocks.

As well as a dearth of bawling parents at our mini World Cup, there was also an absence of one country's strips. Scotland. We could take the easy way out and simply blame Italy. Well, the Italians laid the template for fast-food outlets, tempting our children into obesity and. . . No, only joking. We could just blame Italy for beating us in the qualifying stages.

Or we could blame the Premier League. Two games played at the start of the season, the team has lost both. Relegation is staring us in the face. Can't afford to play youngsters. Must bring in some seasoned pros from Monrovia.

Blame the Old Firm. Once the backbone, arms, legs and heart of the Scottish team. Now the backbone etc of Poland, Croatia, Tunisia, Trinidad and Tobago. . .

Blame all the clubs. They were years behind other teams in Europe in following the likes of Ajax with youth academies, teaching small-sided games.

Blame the SFA. See above.

And, of course, blame the teachers. Everything else is their fault: illiterate students at yooni, chewing-gum on the streets, the cult of Noel Edmonds. The famous teachers' action, and then the introduction of planned activity time, is often cited as the loss to football of many talented children.

There is no doubt it was a huge factor. The gap was filled by boys' clubs.

The more successful they were, the more they attracted the kids. And you could tell they were successful. Local papers carried pictures of the teams, surrounded - or even hidden - by trophies as big as the children themselves. My trophy is bigger than yours: therefore I am a better coach.

The spots on the page, dear reader, are my tears, falling like the Scotland team's position in the world rankings.

The same "coaches" were also giving of their services to local primary school teams, bringing the same ethos of winning above all else. It produced constant volleys of advice (abuse) from the touchlines: "Don't play fitba in yer ain half (what, they should play peever?)", "punt it"

(now we're at Oxbridge), "out, out, out" (a flipping Maggie Thatcher rally).

I spoke to my rival coaches. Look, what's the point of your players running up to the halfway line to spring an offside trap? You're producing sprinters who can't even trap a ball. I got stared at as if I'd said I was supporting England in the World Cup.

I made the point it was during school hours, and you're bawling at the kids. Would you run into the classroom shouting: "Never mind basic sums, do astrophysics"? I got stared at as if I'd said I'd also supported England in 1966.

But do not despair. The tide is turning. At last, small seven-a-side festivals abound, where touch and skill are the thing. The fruits of this, and the new enlightened approach of the clubs, are appearing. Talents such as Maloney, Burke, Riordan, Smith et al are blossoming. Scotland is in the European under-19 Finals.

I must check if my passport is valid until 2010.

Mark Bratchpiece

Mark Bratchpiece briefly taught maths, reached the heady heights of Airdrie reserves (once), survived years of Lanarkshire junior football, and is now a stand-up comic.

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