All posts by Hansen Bangala

Amaluzor is rolling with the Stones but still aiming high

Sometimes you play alongside someone and you just know there is something special about them.

Former Dartford youth player Justin Nwogu (these days known by the surname Amaluzor) was snapped up by Barnet in 2015 and quickly broke into the Bees’ first team, then playing in League Two.

Loan spells at Hayes & Yeading, Hemel Hempstead, Hampton & Richmond and Bognor Regis followed before a permanent move to Braintree at the start of last season.

He made 20 appearances for the Essex club before being signed mid-campaign by National League South outfit Maidstone United, who attract an average of attendancr of over 2,000.

Maidstone’s head of football John Still has had nothing but praise for Justin and his campaign so far. Since arriving at the Gallagher Stadium, he has made 33 appearances and bagged 10 goals.

“Justin is quick, bright and has got a goal in him. He can play wide on either side – he likes to play on the right and cut in on his left foot, and he can play off the main striker” – John Still

Justin and I go way back. Same schools, same Sunday league team growing up, same friends. When I think about the status that comes from being good at football alone, especially whilst in school the benefits are large.

Leaving school early. Skip lunch queues. Teachers love you. The “smart kids” never got those benefits. The light is constantly shining on you. You’re an untouchable, he was untouchable.

I was also untouchable, in case you were wondering. But less out there, and not charming or boisterous enough to get away with things; maybe that’s a reason why our careers took different paths.

Justin, 23, was loud and still is – upon meeting up, nothing had changed after all these years. You’d know he was in a room before you even got there. Back of the bus type. Tall, freakishly strong, quick, a phenomenal dribbler with a wand of a left foot.

Having shared a pitch with hundreds of talented footballers Justin ranks amongst my  top 10. To this day, I still call him ‘Justin Tech’ (as in technique). After an electric start to the current campaign I was able to sit down and have a chat with the exciting forward.

How are you enjoying your football at the moment?

It’s going well. I’ve been performing well and the gaffer likes me so I’m in a good space at the moment. I have targets to hit, but I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been, and I want us to climb up the table and fight for promotion.

I saw you on Fifa 19: what was that like?

Bro, it’s mad. It’s what we’ve dreamed of since school. Not just for me but for you and everyone back home and anyone that knows me. I want us to be an inspiration and show others where we’re from that you can do great things if you work hard.

Are you playing for a move? What level do you think you can reach?

No, definitely not playing for a move at the moment. I’m taking each match as it comes, going to training and staying focused on the team.

Come on, how high are you aiming?

I think it’s good to be realistic but at the same time I’m aiming towards something, I still have to hold onto a dream so I need something to chase. Champions League? That would be great, but I definitely see myself in the Premier League one day. But right now I’m only focused on my season, whatever happens happens.

How has your game changed since sunday league football?

I’m a lot more mature with my game now, its no longer just get the ball and dribble past everyone. I like to play off the right coming in linking up, getting goals. Obviously. I need to add more goals its just not about the link up for me, I want to get goals as well.

How committed is committed?

Actors love to test themselves to the limits, demonstrating their ability to transform into different people and live in that skin for however long it takes – months of preparation and then shooting a film.

Whether it’s a chance to bulk up and get shredded or slim down to frighteningly low weight, this is the physical side of method acting, and down the years it has yielded some amazing performances.

For example, Adrien Brody basically went homeless for a year in preparation to play a Holocaust victim in The Pianist, helping him to win an Oscar.

Sports movies are fertile ground for actors going to enormous lengths to inhabit the characters they are playing, and the boxing genre in particular seems to lend itself to these amazing transformations.

My two favourite performances come from two of my favourite actors.

Christian Bale, The Fighter (2008)

Bale plays Dicky Eklund, a former boxer who had great sucess in his younger days but is now a drug addict. Mark Wahlberg gives a strong showing in the lead role as Micky Ward, a promising fighter trying to find his feet.

The real showstopper, however, is Bale’s gripping performance in this thought-provoking film. The Fighter, won him his first Oscar nomination and win. The actor dramatically transformed himself from Batman vigilante to “stick thin” cornerman, shedding 30lbs in the process.

It was not the first time that the 6ft Welshman had gone to such extreme lengths. For The Machinist (2004), in which he played an intense insomniac, he dropped an incredible 63lb. For the 2019 movie Vice, in which he portrayed former US vice-president Dick Cheney, he added 40lbs.

Robert De Niro, Raging Bull (1980)

One of the very first instances of sacrificing body mass for art, De Niro added 60lbs to his already built frame to play an older version of boxer Jake LaMotta. No risk without reward, apparently, as he won his second Oscar for the role.

These performances and movies show that in order to tell authentic stories, authentic approaches all round must be taken to have the most organic response.

Audiences aren’t easy to fool and can tell when things aren’t ‘real’ enough. Method acting is a proven way of delivering ‘real’, and sports movies will continue to feature tremendous performances by dedicated craftspeople.

Football, fights and fashion

There are only so many events and special moments that require you to be suited and booted. When that moment comes it’s usually your Sunday best. The James bond special.

My love for football is as much about the people in the stands as it is about those the players on the pitch. The heart of any club is its fans, and fans love to represent their clubs. One thing we haven’t focused on is the history of English supporter culture. And in particular one incredible movement that’s started in the 70s and still resonates today.

Enter the football casual

You can wear whatever you like. Football casuals aren’t quite as prominent as they used to be but the essence still remains, the history, clothing etc. I didn’t go to proper football games. The ones I did go to were Sunday league sides where clothing was just a means to stay warm. 

Starting in the 1970s, football fans who would wear designer casual clothing – no scarves or colours – to go unnoticed by rival teams to infiltrate firms for fights in which it became associated with hooliganism and danger.

As these organised contests became more of an occurrence, the term football hooligan entered the game’s lexicon. Fans from rival teams would purposely meet up and settle disputes and arguments.

When watching films about these ‘firms’ – Green Street, The Football Factory – I realised just how important terrace wear and football casual clothing has grown to become a prominent part of British culture over time.

Italian brand Stone Island, founded by Massimo Osti, started as a high-end luxury product but became a staple part of the casual wear ‘uniform’ worn by football hooligans.

Osti, also founded CP Company, was another brand beloved by football hooligans and those who love the casual movement.

Italian menswear designs were popularised in the 1980s, when hooligans would wear clothes that did not feature the colours or insignia of their clubs in order to go undetected by the police.

The demand for designer gear and pricey sportswear to avoid police attention made brands such Ellesse, Paul & Shark, Fila, CP Company and Stone Island the look for any match day. But as it became more prominent, it became easier to spot football fans around Europe.

“Being a casual is a way to separate yourself from regular supporters through your clothing and lifestyle,” 

Notable faces

As much as the clothes looked nice, UK football fans had to find clothing suitable to our unpredictable weather and switched to brands which made clothes better suited to the wind, rain and freezing temperatures.

By the 1990s, casual style was epitomised by the likes of Oasis singer Liam Gallagher, sporting the same designer brands the hooligans wore as his music being played up and down the country.

We live in an age now where these brands are worn as actual leisure wear. I now see Stone Island on my daily commute. Young, old, man or woman these clothes are now outside of the pitch and in unis, bars, libraries and anywhere else people wear clothes, too. This is a movement that will never die, I hope to join it. I’m still saving up for my first Stoney…

Abandoned city

The Streets are silent, but they talk. Taps lightly at my door, inviting me out. Grab your skateboard, let’s go around.

The Coronavirus outbreak has forced the masses into to self isolation. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned people to be wary and avoid social contact, stay indoors if you can or work from home to stop the virus spreading.

The government has said to stay away from pubs, bars and restaurants, but has held back from shutting them completely. A lockdown would be the most effective way of handling this.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has announced that the Underground and various bus routes will be running a limited service after the number of passengers took a dip in recent days.

At a government press conference earlier in the week It was revealed that the coronavirus outbreak is at its largest in London and is a few weeks ahead of the rest of the UK.

On top of that there are no sports on TV. Not even a week has passed of self quarantine, and finding ways to entertain myself are running empty.

London is not on lockdown – but people are definitely attempting to keep a social distance.

The outbreak is causing people in London to do things they’ve never thought of doing; staying indoors involuntarily, stocking up on food and supplies. No insight on what to do next. Being fed a bunch of theories by Twitter and conspiracy analysts.

The roads however, are so silent and free. I’m a fan of cycling and skating. The feeling in the air may be eerie and apocalyptic, but I’m in heaven when I skate. No traffic, free roads. Sign me up.

Oxford circus, Moorgate, Bank, Buckingham Palace. All these places are void of people. it’s weirdly beautiful, barely any tourists, the ones that are here are masked up, pointing out landmarks. How long they’ll be here for, I don’t know

These places are also spaces that usually banish skating. Naturally when I went there a was greeted by fellow skaters who had the same idea in mind.

I spoke to some young skaters and asked them how the corona outbreak is affecting them and how they plan to see out the foreseeable future.

One told me: “We used to have to be so careful skating on roads now everything is free to use. If they lockdown then its peak, but ’til then I can just skate.”

We’ve seen schools shut, exams cancelled, graduations postponed, streets become silient. No one really knows how this will pan out. Stay vigilant but don’t be afraid. Maybe grab a bike or board and get out and about while you can. It’s beautiful when its quiet.

Skateboarding photo by indrarado via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Fifa is shaping the next generation of football talent

Parents won’t thank me for this. We hear a lot about how video games are bad for kids’ development and a whole load of other stuff I never listened to like “you’ll fry your brain playing that.”

But what if coaches used these same games to improve and inspire young players?

Football is a simple enough game. From youth level, we see kids instinctively getting to grips with systems. You get the round thing and put it between the sticks. In coaching, we tend to overly focus and idealise teams from the past and their success in certain systems and haven’t tried thinking of new ideas that can match the speed and intensity of the modern game.

But the way they kids play of Fifa is incredible. Already familiar with all the positions on the pitch as well as being able to choose selected players to fulfill certain roles in the team, tracking back, man marking, etc.

Not to mention the plethora of formations at their disposal. They vary from classical systems like 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 to all sorts of more flexible line-ups.

New school

The truth is the world isn’t the same as it was 20+ years ago; the streets have changed. There’s USB ports on benches now. The parks aren’t littered with kids playing football anymore. I’m old enough to know about the freedom that comes with having a football and hours to kill, but also young enough to be a part of and see the effects of the gaming influence on the kids of today

We’re no longer in the era of Wayne Rooney-like street strikers or Nike Academy, but while children are now restricted in ways previous generations were not in terms of outdoor play, they will find things and be able to explore in many different ways online.

So why not use that as a means to improve instead of an activity that is seen as something that is holding them back from progression?

I could show you my room. You look across my shelf and you may be impressed at the fancy CD cases and books. The collection alone is a wonderful sight, but it’s nothing to get excited about. You’ll see the usual suspects. GTA. Call of Duty. Pacman. And then Fifa09 to Fifa20. Some of them in double because we’d scratch the disc quite badly. Quite a few duplicates, actually.

Growing up, Fifa was a part of life. At school, people looked at things on a pure Fifa ability basis, and you’d have a certain level of respect depending on how good you were at the game.

It wasn’t a place for the timid, no-one was safe from being drawn out for being rubbish and young 13-19 boys need to brag about something. But without fail I’d force (beg) my mum to get me the latest Fifa, until I got a little older with my own money and only had to beg for the remaining £15.

How can it help?

Fifa introduces young players to the technical, tactical and analytical side of the game in a way the previous generations could only dream of. Ultimate team allows you to buy and trade your own players. Put together a team based on a random selection of players from packs, like an online match attax, This builds on players having high football IQ as you have to pick players based on chemistry with others and take their special attributes into account.

It doesn’t just stop at football. The influence of video games is strong in other sports and helped young Formula 1 driver Max Verstappen. He had been racing on simulated F1 tracks to master overtaking techniques, most famously at the Belgian Grand Prix in 2015, when he used a move he had perfected in a sim racing programme to overtake Felipe Nasr around the outside of a high-speed corner.

Coaches should be more up to date and modern in their methods as they are truly going to inherit a generation unlike any other. Using language that they will understand, If that means allowing the next generation to play a bit more Fifa with the purpose of learning the advantages of pressing or positioning, why not.

If you take those ideas on to the training pitch and use them productively, why not? Kids are already playing this game; it is renewed annually, and will be around when they’re adults, make use of their knowledge to help them develop quicker.

Why Pepe is shaping up to be worth every penny

Having arrived at the Emirates as Arsenal’s record transfer, costing £72m, Nicolas Pepe had a point to prove. Could he be the player to help restore the Gunners to glory after some of the darkest days in their history?

The French League is known in Twitter football circles as the Uber Eats League, a takeaway for some of Europe’s biggest clubs. In recent years, many of the Premier League’s most celebrated talents have arrived directly from France.

Eden Hazard, Fabinho, Bernardo Silva are just some of the stars to have hailed from French football, and Pepe joined the exodus last summer after registering 20 plus goals plus 11 assists in his second season at Lille.

Pepe had every top club in Europe vying for his signature. Arsenal were the ones who secured his services with that club record fee. A winger by trade, he can play along the front three and is a constant goal threat.

However, the early stages of his Arsenal career were perceived as being a little underwhelming, given his breakthrough campaign in the previous season. But is that a fair assessment?


Down to the stats

How does Pepe compared to other top wingers in their debut PL season:

Saido Mane: 10 goals, 3 assists

Heung Min Son: 4 goals, 1 assist 

Raheem Sterling ( first season at Man City):  6 goals, 2 assists

Riyad Mahrez: 4 goals, 3 assists

Nicolas Pepe: 4 goals, 6 assists (to date)

Even Alexis Sanchez in his first season registered 16 goals and 8 assists in 35 games as a starter. Pepe has been in and out of the side, playing for three different managers whilst still trying to acclimatise himself to the English game. Despite this, he has already become one of the most feared players in the league, with opponents often double-teaming and triple-teaming him.

Stone cold

Known for his ice cool demeanour in defiance of all the haters, Pepe said when asked which Premier League defenders he has struggled against: “Honesty, nobody,” garnering even more hatred from opposing fans.

I love it. A bit of arrogance never hurt anybody, especially when he’s shown it in every game he has played. Even if he’s not scoring or assisting, he is affecting the outcome. The only Arsenal player to get voted man of the match more than once (four times in fact), essentially he has been Arsenal’s best player this season

Learning curve

My only criticism of Pepe’s game is that although he has shown on many occasions that he is Arsenal’s most effective and dangerous weapon with the ball at his feet, he also has a tendency of overplaying. He wants to do too much with the ball and is heavily dependent on his favoured left foot.

Although being new to the league, Pepe has made quite the difference to the way Arsenal play. Manager Mikel Arteta has taken a liking to him and has been won over by his obvious quality.

In a team that is going through a process of rebuilding, the best of Pepe is yet to come. With a bit more fine tuning, he could turn out to be another one of the Premier League’s great players.  

Arsenal crest image by cactusbeetroot via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC 2.0

Two friends chat over coffee about old times – and bikes

Alex Duffill is a young photographer and short film-maker specialising in cycling photography. Currently based near London, he is originally from Bedford and an old schoolfriend of mine.

He has set up his own freelance photography studio, and meeting him after a few years produced a mixture of feelings, but mostly excitement. He won’t admit this, but Alex is one of the top cycling photographers in the UK, with a client list which includes some of the biggest companies in two wheels.

Rapha, British Cycling, Harley-Davidson, Subaru,  Johnson & Johnson, Rouleur Magazine, Cyclist Magazine, Browns Fashion, Leigh Day, the Neon Velo and Vitus professional cycling teams have all hired Alex in what was a very busy 2019.

One thing that is underappreciated in life is the moments that are not captured. If only I’d have taken a picture. A picture can tell a thousand stories, victory, defeat, happiness, sadness. They hold a special place in our hearts. Whether they are digital available or physically held. 

Talking with Alex, I was impressed at his professionalism and obvious passion for his craft. The origin of his decision to pursue photography isn’t out of the ordinary but was filled with curious intent. 

What was it that made you pick up the camera? 

“I was always into media growing up. I loved cameras and everything about them. I knew I was going to go into photography but I think I just started for fun and just kept going.”

Did you ever think it would lead to so much so soon?

“No, not ever, funnily enough. I just started taking pictures of the things I liked and my surroundings and then I started specialising more in cycling.”

Last time I saw you was on set for a short film. Is that something you see yourself doing more of? 

Yes! My days! Yeah that was such a good project. It’s good that we were able to collab on a proper project knowing where we’re from and now we’re in London and whatnot. But, yeah, film-making is definitely in the pipeline. At the moment, I’m working on building my photography portfolio up and just getting my content out there to bigger brands.”

What, bigger than Rapha?

He laughs and continues  “I just keep doing what I’m doing. I’ve done alright so far and I’ve been to so many places I wouldn’t have without this camera. So I’m glad I’m able to do that and have fun at the same time.”

“You didn’t really steal bikes did you?”

Cycling is one of my vices. The feeling I get when I’m freely pedalling, whether it’s in the sun or the rain, is unmatched. Cycling mimics the feeling of freedom. You’re not just sitting down and pushing pedals and shifting gears. You’re working constantly building a relationship with your bike, cleansing the body and getting healthier as you ride.

Alex and I share a love for bikes I told him I wouldn’t have stolen his bike. He says I wouldn’t have got past the lock; the pie was therefore left on the windowsill.

Favourite bike?

“Road bikes, man. Carerra, all about the elegance. I was in Austria for an event last summer and the views there were insane. Those bikes can really roll, such open smooth roads.” 

Carrera, a man of talent and taste. My last bike was a Carrera, and I miss it.

Feature image courtesy of Alex Duffill; visit Alex’s website here. He is also on Instagram.

The rise of activewear

Fitness has now become cool, and attitudes towards fitness attire have changed in just a few short years.

If I had been told in Year 11 that most of the clothes I wear in 2020 would be some sort of hybrid between workout wear and casual wear, or my wardrobe would be full of outdoor hiking style clothing and shoes, I’d have laughed in your face.

And yet, craze or evolution, the rise of active wear is impossible to deny.

What is it?

Activewear and sportswear are two different types of attire for people leading an active lifestyle. “Sportswear” refers to clothes designed specifically for sports purposes, while “activewear” refers to attire or clothes designed for transitioning from exercise wear to casual wear.

Gone are the days when we’d rush home because being seen in public in your gym gear was weirdly embarrassing. Today, people do everything in their gym gear; commutes to work, being out and about – having comfortable and fashionable kit is essential.

The days when Balenciaga shoes and luxury brands were the only way you could boast about shoes. The price, the spikes, red bottoms. But you could never be a nerd about shoes, or go into intricacies of technologies that are being fused with clothing brands. We are seeing a resurgence of high quality shoes and clothing that provide high quality service. With cool names.


Technologies 

Invented in 1969 by Robert W Gore, Gore Tex is a membrane that repels water but allows vapour to pass through. This means Gore-Tex keeps you dry on the rainiest of days but also from the water vapour you make while sweating.

The membrane itself is made up from an expanded polytetrafluoroethylene fiber (also known as Teflon). The stretching of this polymer forms a microporous material with over nine million pores per square inch. This membrane is fused with fabrics in different ways and patterns to make the garments completely windproof and waterproof.

With the way we live our lives constantly evolving, the need of adaptability increases. The need for clothing that is sustainably made and suitable for all sorts of terrain and weather, which can keep you warm but is also enough comfortable enough for everyday use.

The majority of us don’t fight in wars, climb mountains, or take trips to the Arctic but our love for things that put us in touch with nature or speak of earlier, more physically active times, runs deep. North Face, Columbia, Arcteryx – the list of brands goes on. We don’t prepare for battle, but with the functionality of activewear it can feel like wearing a uniform and boy does it feels good.

Popularity

Seeing it on the runway at fashion shows and being worn by popular folk such as Drake, Kanye West and Virgil Abloh, shows that this sort of clothing has become fashionable. And because it is such a niche part of clothing there are endless brands that make activewear with their own unique twist.

Japanese brands are becoming the new hot names, with the resurgence of mountain wear and hiking clothing. It’s not all Gore Tex, but from the sports casual page where it’s a nice mélange of sporty and presentable, Stone island, CP Company, Sergio Taccini, Ellese etc.  often sported by the likes of Liam Gallagher.

A Riversider for the day

“It’s okay, my mate will be there so you won’t be the only black lad.”

She says it with a smile. If I’m honest, I was more surprised she has another black friend, but I brush off a questionable joke with a shake of the head and accept the invitation to my first Championship away day – Brentford hosting Blackburn Rovers.

Daisy lives in London but is a die-hard Rovers fan, tattoo of the badge and all. Blackburn are based in Lancashire, and with only five London teams in England’s 2nd tier, there are only so many games she can go and watch in the capital, and this was one of them.

I said no initially for three reasons. Firstly, it’s Blackburn; couldn’t name a player if you put a gun to my head. A team I have no ties to in any way, and I don’t think I’ve ever watched them play on TV before. Secondly, its Blackburn… I’ve never seen or heard about any trouble from them, but still… Thirdly, I don’t succumb to peer pressure. Except this time, I did.

When we arrived, the atmosphere was already quite hostile, and winding up the Brentford fans seemed to be the main item on the agenda for the away contingent.

Stunning volley

Adam Armstrong gave Rovers the lead against the run of play after 10 minutes and added his third in as many games from the penalty spot shortly after the restart to put Rovers in control in west London.

But a stunning 25-yard volley from Ollie Watkins reduced the deficit for the hosts in the 62nd minute, before Said Benrahma tucked away a spot-kick of his own to earn the home team a deserved share of the spoils.

I was pleased to see a good game with lots of goals, and after calling the Blackburn players by their first names all game, I felt obliged to clap them off as if I too was a Riversider.

Scenes

As for Griffin Park itself, no seating arrangement like at the Emirates or the occasional snoozefest once the game loses its intensity. This was constant, and my voice really couldn’t hack it, with more shouting, screaming and swearing than I’d ever done.

The terrace we were on was directly behind Brentford keeper for the second half, and we did not give him a moment’s peace. I also used this opportunity to practise my football chants. “It’s all gone quiet over there” at 2-0 up was started by me.

The home fans weren’t just letting this happen, of course, and were doing their best to quieten us down. After Benrhama had equalised, a local lad ran the length of the pitch from the stands to come to the away end to give us a piece of his mind.

I felt at home, one of the lads. I got laughs out of people with my slightly odd (and if you ask me effective) but imaginative way of trying to get into the Brentford players heads. “He doesn’t want it” “Let them come and get it”.

With the match done, it was time for a drink. I lost my friends in the wave of supporters flooding out but, nonetheless, I found the pub they had headed to and caught up with them there.

Post-match

Man of the match – Ollie Watkins: A constant thorn in Rovers’ side as he scrapped and fought for chances all game. After Brentford sold Neal Maupay to Brighton in the summer, Watkins was entrusted to play up top, coming in from the wing to be a fully-fledged striker.

The frontman bagged goal number 21 of the campaign in sensational style at Griffin Park and rightly changed the course of the game with his venomous second-half strike; probably his sole meaningful contribution but what a contribution…

The managers

Brentford’s Thomas Frank: “I’m annoyed we didn’t win but immensely proud of the boys for their attitude, the way they stayed together, kept going and worked hard to the end.

“In the end, Blackburn looked so tired and that is a huge credit to our team. We have big togetherness even after going behind in the first half when we really should have been in front.”

Blackburn’s Tony Mowbray: “For the majority of the game we managed them pretty well and we know what talented individuals they’ve got and how they can build pressure.

“We got to the point where the crowd were about to turn on them after a few misplaced passes and then a bit of magic from their centre forward changes things.”

Photo courtesy of Emily Coruna under Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Flair comes from les rues

“ONLY WHEN BRAZILIAN KIDS REACH AROUND 14 YEARS OF AGE DOES ANYONE START TALKING TO THEM ABOUT TEAM SHAPE AND TACTICS. UNTIL THEN IT’S ALL ABOUT TECHNIQUE, TRICKS, SHOOTING, DRIBBLING AND SPONTANEITY. WHAT IS THE POINT OF TALKING TO CHILDREN ABOUT TRIANGLES AND BLIND-SIDE RUNS IF THEY CANNOT EFFORTLESSLY CONTROL THE BALL, PASS OR SHOOT?”

Football crazy

As a boy, when I wasn’t playing football, I was watching it, and if I wasn’t playing or watching then I was playing Fifa. During school holidays, there would be 20-30 of us with silly grins just looking for a pitch. A space. We’d boost each other over fences in a search for somewhere to play.

A good game of knockouts, the rules are simple. Whoever is out first keeps watch; for the others, it’s free for all. Allowed out during the day with a lot of time to kill, in an an age where we couldn’t stay indoors and didn’t want to. But unfortunately, there are no such spaces like that anymore. So where do kids go?

Walking through Mile End, I passed the astroturf football pitches and saw a bunch of kids get kicked off an empty pitch, although they were willing to pay a small fee they were denied and told to leave. Guess where those kids will now be instead of playing football? Most likely, on the road.

The Difference

It’s been a thing for a long time in England; youngsters not being allowed to play in facilities that aren’t actually being used. Not letting local kids use these community resources. This is in contrast to the freedom that communities in France afford them.

,Having lived in both places, I’ve realised their vast differences in approach to football. In England, its very structured, and if you show enough talent, you get picked up by an academy when you’re very young and stay in the system until you’re scholar age (16-18).

In France, clubs tend to pick up young players when they’re older (14-18) especially amongst the lower leagues. This doesn’t happen all the time but it is a frequent proven method when scouting players in central Parisian areas. This gives the players the freedom to develop their technical skills before becoming part of any system of tactics, formations and styles of place.


‘Concrete football’

In Paris, football starts at sunrise and only finishes as all the mothers of the area can be heard calling their kids home one by one. The culture of street football in France is much more alive and beneficial than in England.

The effects of this can be seen if we delve deeper into the quality of players that hail from France and England. We never really praise English talent for having excellent technique or ball control and when we do it’s rarely at the same level as truly world-class players. There isn’t an English midfielder that would get in the French national team, but why is that?

French documentary Ballon sur Bitume (‘concrete football’) celebrates the culture of families in estates called les banlieues. These estates have dealt with a lot of neglect and are largely populated by immigrants so are rich in different cultures. Ballon sur Bitume tells the stories of young people growing up in such places. 

Somehow these areas have become the perfect breeding ground for football: a large number of young players, open spaces and gymnasiums free to use by locals creates a culture of fast-paced, intense but informal matches on small pitches. That’s where the flair is born; technical quality and individual expression is allowed to roam free.

I like to say that as a child all I did was play football but it wasn’t until I went to France that I realised that there are levels to this, and my countrymen were on a whole other level. Not only would they play all day but everyone was extremely technically sound. No matter what size or age, everyone was able to control the ball and manipulate it beautifully

They allow their youth the opportunity to do what they all love to do, even if it’s only a few out of a bunch that will make the step to become professionals. In England, we aren’t given the same freedom nor do we have the same facilities available for us to use, let alone any free pitches. 

“Our parents aren’t that strict and so they let us play, and playing all day every day really helps you improve your dribbles and technique. I think that’s why the best technical players come from the streets.”

Creativity

I think the main reason England doesn’t produce a lot of world-class players is because our football is too structured. It gets kids to do everything by the book, whereas in countries such as Brazil, Spain and France, they have fun first and foremost and that brings out their creativity. So, when they grow up and add structure to their game, the creativity is already instilled.

Manchester City forward Riyad Mahrez, one of the most electric players in the Premier League, has said: ‘’I was a street footballer. I was improving my technique every day. As a youngster, you saw me in every photo with a ball. That’s why I’m such a skinny boy. I missed dinner sometimes. My mother left me some food to eat when I got back from the streets.’’

Players such as Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Paul Pogba, Benjamin Mendy and many others have all hailed from the concrete courts. These are players who have led their country to world cup glory.

Downward spiral

Britain’s youth,is feeling increasingly marginalised and worthless. They feel they have no future and don’t believe they can achieve anything. Their role models are ephemeral and their values therefore skewed. By trying to keep up with phony images of perfect lives – designer clothes and get rich quick attitudes displayed on social media, it’s all about likes, rather than being real and being themselves.

They’re frustrated, insecure and resentful, which can lead to anger, crime and violence. Given the void that now exists thanks to government cuts, it is incumbent on us to do something about it – and to stop this downward spiral and hopefully prevent more young blood being spilled on the streets.

Perhaps encouraging – rather than discouraging – the culture of street football can play its part.

Photo courtesy of Emily Coruna under Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0