Why primary colours just fade away

30th September 2005 at 01:00
here is great excitement among our primary 7 boys and it's all due to a remark I made when I should have known better. The coast was clear when a teacher told me that some items from our football strip were missing and we could not kit out the whole team.

"Why don't we just buy a new strip?" I asked. I swear the corridor was deserted when I uttered the fatal question but, minutes later in the playground, I was surrounded by a clamour of footballers desperate for news. "Is it true that you're going to buy us a new football strip?"

I didn't discourage the idea that the purchase would be my personal gift since I need a deposit of goodwill for the rough times, but I had the eerie feeling that our walls have ears to compete with the best of the KGB's Cold War hotel rooms.

The teacher is new to the football team business. Her coaching certificates and enthusiasm are excellent, but she is not experienced in the realities of running a school side - hence her innocent and generous remark about kit being mislaid. I know fine where the missing items are - in the bedrooms of last year's primary 7s.

There was a time when a football strip was a once-in-a-decade purchase. Now we buy one every two years. This is not because of changes in fashion, but because it has become acceptable to pilfer your top and shorts as a souvenir. I have tried to stop the shirt drain by ticking off names as kit is returned, but I don't have the persistence to carry a tick chart through to its conclusion.

Despite noble intentions, my interest wanes, I find better things to do with my time, or I fall prey to the plea: "You weren't in, so I left it outside your office. No, I can't think why it isn't there now." It's only in September, when I get round to counting, that I realise what had disappeared in June. Former pupils, some of them well through secondary school, still remind me that they owe me their strip from primary 7 days.

"I'll bring it in next week," they say, but the strips stay under their beds and it's not as if they still fit.

So the sneakiness of some of their predecessors ensures that our present primary 7s have the buzz of choosing a new strip. And what a palaver that is. Football clothing catalogues are high-gloss productions where products with snappy, cutting-edge names like Max Tec and Orion Pro are modelled by tanned young men with gelled hair and stubbled chins.

Yes, the con is on and no more so than in the informality of a lunchtime classroom where boys huddle round to drool over the images. They feel the message: "You, too, can be like this when you buy our product." They believe it.

The final choice stayed with the school colours, but in a combination I would never have considered. However, schools are supposed to be democracies now and I remind myself that things could be worse, like imitating the Bolton Wanderers team of 1894 who wore white shirts with red spots. There is a special request for numbers on the shirts, not for identifying positions, as you might think, but so that each player can boost his already healthy self-esteem with a personal identification like Beckham or Owen.

They haven't asked for their own surnames on their backs. Yet.

Today, I came across a group of footballers still in class after the others had left. There was the usual laughing huddle. On seeing me, the group broke up but the triumphant remark of one boy - "it's in the dictionary" - as he tossed his Collins Gem into his bag signalled the arrival of the looking-up-four-letter-words stage.

Beckham and Owen I can accept, but Wayne Rooney is a step too far.

Brian Toner is headteacher of St John's primary in Perth.

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