This is my last blog before I head for warmer climes.
I had to get this list of gripes and grizzles down on paper as it’s beginning to take up too much of my thinking space. They’re all things that I think any football club whatever its size should do as a matter of course, but generally doesn’t.
1. Small players become ‘big’ players
Bryan Robson, Peter Beardsley, George Best: all players who played at the very highest level, but who were at some point in their career judged to be ‘too small’. Here’s a truism: ‘kids grow’. And here’s another: ‘good enough is big enough’.
2. The local and the global, Part I
Even in today’s globalised world, most kids have their first experience of football with their local team, from watching a match to spotting a player in the chip shop. So if you organise training sessions, school visits, tours of the stadium, presentation nights, holiday playschemes, tournaments, or anything at all for your local kids, you’re making big steps towards hooking them for life in that whole range of engagement from slightly jaded armchair fan (me) to top scorer in the club’s history and so loyal that you turn down Man Utd three times (Alan Shearer).
3. The local and the global, part II
The other side of that coin is the global millions in Africa, Asia, Latin America, London, who only see matches on satellite TV. (Did you know Man Utd and Arsenal fans in Addis Ababa rioted after a particularly tense televised game?) Make a plan to establish some contact with remote supporters. There’s a Coca Cola stand in one area of Monrovia, Liberia that is decorated with Arsenal logos after the club sent some pennants and stickers over to a local fan. Arsenal now have a reputation for having an interest in Liberia, their fans and their players. Whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter.
4. Look after fans
Once you’ve got your fans, look after them. I applied with a friend for two season tickets at St James’s Park when the ground was extended to 50,000+ seats. We were placed two rows and nine seats apart. Every year for five years when we renewed we asked for seats together – even if it meant paying more – and every year our letter was ignored. The only time the club wrote to me was when I didn’t renew my season ticket. I’d learnt from their example by then, so I didn’t reply.
5. My Left Foot – but not Daniel Day Lewis
Grrrr. This is my biggest gripe. How many times does a top level professional muck it up because he’s trying to work the ball onto his favourite foot? What else have they got to do all day, if they’re not practising to strengthen their weaknesses? Going back to Beardsley and Best, they were so good with their ‘other’ foot, it was hard to tell which was the natural one! You wouldn’t go to a carpenter who only worked with one hand, would you? And as for that affected ‘kicking with your good foot around the back of your bad foot’ thing, well leave it for the playground and exhibition matches. If you can practise that, you can practise using your left foot.
6. Practise penalties
I don’t really need to say much about this, do I? Hard and high into either of the top two corners. Every time. That’s all.
7. Practise not losing the ball at set plays
I’m not so bothered about free kicks here. Or even goal kicks, penalties (see above) or the kick off. But can we just work out some plans for corners and throw-ins? Every corner should lead to a goal-scoring chance. Every throw-in should go quickly to a player on your own team.
8. Teach players to receive the ball with a man marking them
I used to play five-a-side with a lad from Colombia. He came to the country as Tino Asprilla’s interpreter (and that’s a whole separate blog…). He would always tear his hair out because the English lads he played with would never pass to him if he was marked. We were rigidly sticking to the ‘get into space/pass to the man in space’ mantra we’d all picked up somehow by eating Sunday dinners or getting covered in English rain or something. But Piri wanted the ball when he had a man on him. Nine times out of ten, he was able to beat the man at his back and the rest is simple mathematics: he’s lowered the number of active defenders by one. It’s a different way of seeing the game – reduce it to mini-duels all over the pitch and coach players to see it that way and revel in it. I bet Maradona, Iniesta, Jimmy Johnstone etc would understand.
9. Don’t let players drive without insurance
Or fake driving licenses. Or when over the limit. Or too fast. It’s the law. Tell them.
10. Grammar and Punctuation
Finally, I think all players should be put through compulsory classes on spelling, grammar, punctuation and how to use an apostrophe before they’re allowed a Twitter account. Not that it would improve their spelling, grammar, punctuation or use of the apostrophe, but none of them would go through it, so it would keep them from making inane comments on Twitter.