Touchline dads shown red card

27th October 2006 at 01:00
Many have warned that the beautiful game is losing its shine. But has the world of football become so poisoned that even the enjoyment of 6-year-olds is being ruined by pushy parents and ruthless coaches?

Paul Cooper, a sales manager from Cirencester, thinks the answer is yes, and has launched a national campaign to put the fun back into primary school football.

He said the behaviour of parents on the touchline had deteriorated in recent years to the point where some have ordered youngsters to kick opponents or walked onto the field themselves and punched them.

He accused coaches of putting victory above everything else and turning youth leagues, even for the under-seven age group, into mini-premierships.

"I've never had a day's coaching in my life," Mr Cooper said. "I just remember how great it was playing football when I was young, compared to how awful it is now."

Through his website, "Give us Back Our Game", he is trying to involve as many primary schools as possible in a less competitive, more inclusive version of the game.

"The key to it is that everyone who turns up, gets to play. Teams are small, so that every player gets lots of touches of the ball, and the children referee their own games."

Mr Cooper said that his teams were mixed ability, and made up of boys and girls.

He recently introduced his "children-centred" version of the sport to a primary school in Cirencester. "It was fantastic," he said. "The kids thoroughly enjoyed it, and we're looking to involve more schools in the area."

Mr Cooper hopes to involve many more schools across the country in a national fun day in June, where most of the games will be four players against four.

Matt Beckingham, a football coach who works at schools and clubs in Southampton, said he agreed with Mr Cooper's approach.

"The 6- and 7-year-olds are not ready for 11-a-side football. By playing in smaller teams, they get more dribbles, more tackles and generally enjoy themselves a lot more. Football has to be fun, otherwise kids just give up and play computer games."

Sir Trevor Brooking, director of Football Management at the Football Association, said last week that England's youngsters spent too much time playing matches, rather than developing their skills by playing informally.

An FA spokesman said: "Children should be allowed to develop their skills in a way that means they enjoy what they are doing. They shouldn't be bellowed at, sworn over, or told they're useless."

Back in Cirencester, Mr Cooper is coaching Cirencester Town's under-18 side. He concentrates on creating skilful all-round players, for example by putting them in different positions for every game. But what does this mean for the town's performance in the North Wiltshire under-18 league?

"We came bottom last year," he admitted. "But we played the best football.

We played the beautiful game as it should be played."

A stouter defence, 19

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