Feb 9th, 2017 by 'holic
My thanks to one of our own, the inimitable Ttg, for telling the story of his grandson’s goalscoring exploits against the Arsenal, no less. A wonderful insight into an evening and an opportunity never available to those of us of a certain age. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
I’ve spent a long time away from junior football. A very long time since it existed only in very rudimentary form when I was playing. Daughters didn’t get involved in football very much thirty years ago, and it is only now that I have grandsons who are learning to love the game as much as I do that I’ve had the pleasure of watching them play.
The facilities that they have are fantastic. Astroturf pitches, floodlights and footballs that fly through the air rather than drop like stone onto your head and proper, intelligent coaches who are teaching them to play with their heads up, taking a good first touch, looking for options and playing out from the back with the ball on the ground.
My eldest grandson Harry is just nine. He has been in love with football since he was able to kick one and when he was seven he spent a year in the Brighton pre-academy. When his time with Brighton came to an end, he began training with a local elite training squad to develop his skills. He is also playing with his friends and on Saturdays in a local team where one of the coaches took the local team to Wembley in the FA Vase. The coaching team show the boys how to keep their positions using drone footage.
It’s a far cry from the primitive conditions that many readers of this blog will be familiar with. I played for my primary school on cinder pitches that cut your legs to pieces if you went to ground and there was little in the way of proper coaching.
My grandsons, Harry and his brother Oliver are football aficionados. Harry has been claimed by his father for the dark side, his brother by his mother to continue an Arsenal supporting tradition in my family that goes back amazingly over one hundred years when my grandfather used to watch the Arsenal at Woolwich.
Imagine then the general excitement when Harry was asked to play in a development match against Arsenal! His initial reluctance to soil his boots on the same pitch as Arsenal players soon turned to excitement that if he played well one day he might be training with Alexis Sanchez, if we can get the Chilean magician to stay with us for that long! The evening was in fact a series of half hour development matches between the elite squad and the Arsenal development squad for lads of that age in Kent and Sussex. The pre-academy players train at Kidbrooke and there is huge competition for young talent.
Harry played as they do at his age in a half hour match. Seven a side on a half-size pitch with reduced size goals. The emphasis is on skill and movement and on this bitterly cold evening the love and loyalty of lots of devoted parents was stretched to the limit. For me it was a delight to see my grandson able to express his love for the game and not inconsiderable talent against representatives of the club I love. Although his brother had threatened to cheer for Arsenal, brotherly love won out and he joined me in wanting Arsenal to lose for the first time in my life – and lose they did.
Harry’s elite squad triumphed 7-0 against a Gunners team. It showed the importance of practising and training as a team. In the team Harry played in three of them play together on a Saturday and I think that helped give them an edge. Harry grabbed a hat-trick and played throughout intelligently and diligently with an attitude and skill level that made me very proud.
On the two other pitches the Arsenal teams proved rather more successful but it was clear to me that at this very early level professional clubs hoover up any shred of talent that they can find. The Arsenal coaches resplendent in very natty tracksuits weren’t unnecessarily harsh on their charges but it was fairly obvious that if we were watching any future football prodigies they weren’t on the Arsenal side.
As the games ended I congratulated a rightly elated Harry and his mates and congratulated one of the Arsenal keepers for an immensely brave double save which would not have flattered Bob Wilson in his heyday. His Mum looked up eyes aglow and asked me which club I was with. ‘Arsenal’, I said, for sixty years! She looked deflated hoping that he might have got a counter offer from one of the many clubs that fish in this teeming pool of talent.
It’s a tough world for lads dreaming of a career in football but ’twas ever thus. But one young man slept contentedly last night, a hat-trick under his belt, in love with the game and enjoying it for its own sake. How delighted I was to see him relish his evening. What a wonderful opportunity it was, for us all.