Tag Archives: Football Association

Chris Green talks about the issues surrounding ‘Every Boys Dream’

In 1997, the FA decided to revolutionise youth development in this country. Doing away with the national football school based in Lilleshall, Premier League clubs would now provide an academy system.

Late last year, Howard Wilkinson – the man who helped transition the league from the old to the new 21 years ago – called for a review and overhaul of the current system claiming clubs are failing in their ‘moral responisbility’.

With young players being churned out at every decreasing ages – do clubs properly care for the well being of those prospective kids?

Chris Green, along with being the late Cyril Regis’ biographer, has previously worked for BBC Radio 5 Live and Radio 4 as a broadcaster.

Along with having written three other books on football, he also charted the trials and tribulations of the academy system since its inception.

Every Boys Dream

‘Every Boys Dream’ is his fourth football tome and was written after years of following various academy systems as a journalist.

He tells me that he decided to write it nine years ago due to the well-being of young players seemingly being a non-issue in football.

“Nobody had really covered what had happened after setting up the academy system in 1997.”

The catalyst for finally writing the book being a local story he had been gathering for Radio 4.

“After I did a really small piece on the FA coming down on a small club in Gloucestershire called Cirencester Town, because they had set something up called an academy and the FA were attempting to take legal action against them for using a word that they deemed in football now belonged to them.”

Howard Wilkinson now believes that the academy system has failed young footballers.

“Cirencester had actually trademarked their academy before the FA had set up the academy system. It was a satirical piece talking about how the FA now think they have ownership of a word with Ancient Greek origin; it was a place where Plato taught his students and now they are claiming it’s theirs.”

This then led Green to writing to the then technical director of football, Wilkinson, to gain a broader knowledge of just what the FA were proposing.

“He kindly sent me the blueprint for how the academy system was going to operate and that was called ‘a charter for quality’.”

Too much too young?

As he began mulling over what was supposedly the new layout for how the future of English football would play out, the journalist was surprised to find that the new regulations meant kids in Primary School would now be scouted.

‘It didn’t take too much imagination to think that this was going to be a big ask for the clubs to now deliver this’

Previously the scouting system dictated that players aged 13 and upwards was the past policy when identifying young talents.

“It didn’t take too much imagination to think that this was going to be a big ask for the clubs to now deliver this. It’s going to be fraught with issues surrounding the education of kids, the distance they travel to academies and the safety standards being brought in – many welcome – some I believed were a distraction.”

“I then found out by speaking to people, that was indeed the case. Although, it didn’t mean clubs were getting more players through or producing necessarily better players.”

Chris then highlights the role the media have played in hyping up young kids – after a newspaper in Sunderland published a piece about a young prospect recently signed by the Black Cats.

“They were parading a child around as the next Wayne Rooney. He was five and they had on him on the pitch before a game against Arsenal signing something.”

Green then detailed a story he had also heard recently of “how a Premier League club had signed a four year old and when he got to training, one of the coaches noticed he was still wearing a nappy.”

He continues, “Anybody who says they can spot a five year old and predict that he can be a footballer at 18 is mad, in my opinion. I think there are a lot of coaches who don’t want to be coaching kids at that age, and I know because I’ve spoken with many.

“They don’t see the value in it, they think it’s all about trying to make sure you have kids signed to your academy; just in case.”

Pay to play?

Based in Worcester, Chris now operates from his media centre where I am speaking to him. He believes that since stepping away from his job as an active journalist recently, little improvement in standards have been made.

“Scouts, as I hear it, are currently being paid to get five year olds to development centres that are unregulated – they are getting paid by clubs just simply to fill up the surrounding local centres.

“I know there are scouts operating in the local area, I say scouts in inverted commas of course. We often have no idea whether these are club officials or qualified coaches due to the lack of regulation.”

In light of the recent case of Barry Bennell at Crewe Alexandra – where young players were sexually abused over the course of many years in the 1990s and 1980s – this kind of dream weaving opportunity could present an even greater immediate threat for young footballers.

With no presence of proper regulation, Green questions how the club can truly protect that child and the motives behind this method of recruitment.

“They can get any number of these kids to a centre and go to these things because there is no paperwork; and to me the whole area is where the money is being spent.”

Mental well-being in youth football

More and more we are seeing cases of players after or during their playing careers, struggling and attempting to deal with personal demons.

However the same level of understanding – which is now afforded to those who have been lucky enough to play the game – is often found lacking for those who do not make the grade.

Chris tells me that he considers it “the biggest scandal of the whole system”.

“The fact that clubs can have such a big influence on young people and then just completely wash their hands of any responsibility.”

Often for those who cannot quite realise their ambition after years within a system, this can prove devastating. It has even led to some former academy players taking their own lives after being released.

Whether the FA decide to take advice from the man who provided Chris with the academy system blueprint in 1997 remains to be seen.

But with the emphasis so far simply on putting academy prospects into a professional setting from early; the other issues within the system seem to still be largely ignored.

Chris finishes with a quote from a man he says was a highly respected Premier League youth coach: “He told me that ‘the child is supposed to be first and foremost in the minds of Premier League clubs and that is a f*****g million miles away from how they think’.”

Photos Courtesy of @ChrisGreenMedia

‘Young British football coaches are not getting career support’

Football coaching in the UK is in the midst of a participation problem – compared to other large footballing nations, numbers are on the decline.

So if coaching and management is how you wish to make your career in football, what support are young British coaches getting in a bid to achieve their goals?

Aaron Blackwood, nephew of Eastenders actor Richard Blackwood, fell out of love with playing the game but sought a route back into football from the touchline.

If you starting playing competitively at an extremely young age, the trials and tribulation of Sunday league kids football can often become exhausting.

Be it expletive-shouting parents on the sidelines or over-zealous coaches roasting kids barely out of nappies for not winning a header; the joy of football can sometimes be lost.

Return and disillusion

Blackwood, 23, found that his passion to coach became his eventual gateway back into the game.

“My interest in coaching developed more and more as I went through a frustrating period of falling out of love with the playing side of the game,” he said.

The Ex-Worcester City youth player started coaching in the sixth form at school

After he stepped away from playing, he decided whilst at sixth form he wanted to realise his new found ambition to coach. He also found that stepping onto the touchline gave him a new vigour for the sport.

“I started to watch the game through a different set of eyes, asking a lot more questions and started to pick the brains of other coaches – I suppose you can say that’s where my interest really sparked from.”

But where to begin if you are a young coach with no coaching badges and lack of ability to pay?

“My experience started in sixth form helping coach the year-9s (U-14s) and organising the sixth form (U-19s) team. At 19 years old, I set up and managed Studley FC U-18s in the Midlands Floodlit Youth League ahead of the 2013/14 season which was a real eye-opener, mainly because of the off-the-field running of the club.”

Building a CV

As with most careers or passions, you often have to try and gain plenty of experience as quickly as possible, which is what the newly-blooded coach set out to achieve.

Blackwood is carving a career in non-league football

“I spent three seasons at Studley FC U-18s, winning the Midlands Floodlit Youth League Western Division (14/15) with a fantastic group, before being asked to take over Highgate United’s U-18s ahead of the 2016/17 season, a good club with a lot of ambition – I was involved at Highgate for a year before leaving to set up Feckenham FC U-18s.”

Playing football in a league which often turns out plenty of academy system players in the West Midlands, helped play a role in setting himself up for a momentary switch to men’s football.

“My experience in mens and senior football came on an interim basis, when West Midlands (Regional) League side Bartley Green Illey FC removed their Manager in January 2015.

“I knew the chairman and he asked me to oversee the team until the end of the season who were rock bottom, we had a good 14 games together and managed to put a string of positive results to eventually finish 12th.”

“My intention was to stay involved with Bartley Green Illey FC for the 2015/16 season, but I was asked in the summer if I’d be interested in taking charge at Midland League Division Two side Feckenham FC, and with the club playing at a better level and closer to home I jumped at the opportunity – which is where I am ’til this day.”

The support system

The problems facing football in this country are varied and plentiful, but and a lack of coaches doesn’t appear to be particularly high on the FA’s agenda.

But plenty would argue that more needs to be done to cultivate a better culture of turning out young coaches. Blackwood believes that badges and levels could be funded just like university.

He argues: “If you were to go to university to study for a degree to pursue a career, you’d spend £9,000 per year, but there’s help in paying that tuition back. In football, earning your badges should be no different.

The young coach believes advice from his peers has stood him in good stead

“The costs are nothing short of ridiculous, but in this country, in my opinion, there is also a cultural issue which isn’t just in football and sport, it’s across everything within society.

“I received no real help directly from the FA, but that’s not to say others haven’t [helped].

“Without the guidance of previous managers and people’s footballing opinions that I hold in high regard, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today and that has nothing to do with the FA.

“They have updated the coaching badges and improved certain facilities and given grants for 3G pitches, which is what we train on, but is that enough?”

A lack of minority managers

Brighton & Hove Albion’s Chris Hughton last month became the first black team boss to win the Premier League manager of the month award.

But, despite black British players featuring prominently in professional football, non-white senior coaches and managers remain a rarity.

‘There seems to be institutionally embedded barriers in this country for ethnic coaches’

Blackwood said: “I’d like to see more people of colour being encouraged to pursue a career on the sideline – those that have ambition, drive, a willingness to learn and be successful will eventually get opportunities.

“But I feel more needs to be done. The figures are alarming, considering the pool of talent out there. I believe at all levels, but at the elite level especially, there seems to be institutionally embedded barriers in this country for ethnic coaches.”

So is positive discrimination needed to make things fairer? “I’m a strong strong believer in people being given opportunities on merit, so for me it’s important regardless of religion, gender or ethnicity people are given managerial and coaching posts because they’re deemed the best person for the vacancy.”

Whether Blackwood will be given chances to further develop a career in coaching remains to be seen, but he is optimistic.

“If it’s something I really want, then why not?”

“I’ll continue in non-league football, which is improving in quality year on year. Each level is becoming more and more professional in regards to matchdays, training, how players now look after themselves, and if I do well and opportunities present themselves, then we’ll see.”

Review: Whites vs Blacks: How Football Changed A Nation

The widespread outpouring of emotion sparked by the recent death of Cyrille Regis underlined the fact that he was not just simply a footballer but an inspiration to so many.

Part of West Bromwich Albion’s swashbuckling ‘Three Degrees’, Regis – along with Brendon Batson and future Real Madrid star Laurie Cunningham – would terrorise defences throughout the late 1970s and into the 80s

Arguably the first real black stars of the English game, they even had racists on the terraces – and there were plenty of them at the time – talking about how good they were.

The sad demise of Regis at the age of 59 gave the BBC another opportunity to screen a documentary made by TV sports presenter Adrian Chiles, a lifelong West Brom fan, in 2016.

It chronicled the testimonial match for Baggies stalwart Len Cantello in May 1979, in which the ‘Three Degrees’, along with other black players from as far down the footballing pyramid as Hereford United, took on a team of white players mostly comprised of the WBA starting XI.

In the cold light of 2018, the very thought of such a contest might make many a person wince.

However former Wolves, QPR and Leicester City defender Bob Hazell, who played on the black side that day, said in the film that it was “fantastic, great memories and a great day everybody wanted to be a part of”.

A galvanising moment

What was noticeable about the differing views on the game was that the black players remembered it with far more clarity than those the white players.

John Wile, Albion club captain at the time who played for the white team, reminisced: “I remember all these kids and faces that we’d never seen before, because there wasn’t that many black players playing at that level.

“The game itself I don’t really remember. I think that year I played something like 76 games. So it was just something else that happened at the end of the season.”

This could well be because the team with Regis and Co. won 3-2 on the day; or more likely, because this simply was an historic moment for black footballers in this country.

“This game, if anything, represented a burgeoning progress which the ‘Three Degrees’ would go on to encapsulate”

Only a few years before this match in May 1979, it would have been impossible to configure a side solely comprised of black players from the English footballing leagues.

This game, if anything, represented a burgeoning progress which the ‘Three Degrees’ would go on to encapsulate.

The film portrayed the feeling that the game brought those black players on the pitch that day together, and in a sense, the entirety of the black contingent within the leagues.

It was an important moment to those players even if it was not for their white counterparts. As former Wolves defender George Berry commented in the film: “We wanted to win.”

Institution of hate

However, the game itself was not the sole focus of the documentary, which in a case such as this would have been far too reductive in nature for the subject matter.

Horrific stories of racist abuse were recalled in the documentary, one of the most striking being that told by Berry about playing against West Brom.

“All I can hear from this West Brom fan is, you black b*****d, effing get back up the tree, you effing gollywog – and I’m marking Cyrille Regis!”

‘Death threats, racism, sexism, homophobia – social media risks becoming its own form of National Front-led terrace before our very eyes’

“I just said to this bloke doing the shouting ‘Who are you talking to? Me or Cyrille?’ Cyrille just shook his head.”

The partners, families and friends of black players were forced to stay away from matches even as the far-right National Front infiltrated the terraces. The higher-ups at the FA even refusing to permit Hazell to dreadlock his hair for fear of a backlash.

This was an age where racism around football was almost entirely unpoliced. According to one former NF member and Birmingham City fan, as huge quantities of bananas were bought pre-match ready to be hurled onto the pitch.

The presence of the NF on the terraces, at a time when football seemed to be a dying sport played in crumbling stadia, exacerbated those weekly displays of hatred and bile.

The documentary captured perfectly how the NF aimed to manipulate impressionable young people into doing their bidding.

One rather rotund National Front leader proudly proclaimed: “There is a lot you can do with a football hooligan,” adding that “football fandom is a form of patriotism”.

Happily ever after?

Today, 30 percent of British footballers are black. So given this, why are there so many barriers that still exist within the game?

And, putting the obvious lack of black and minority managers aside for a moment, has that racially-motivated hatred on the terraces gone for good?

Some would argue that improved facilities, leading to higher ticket prices, leading in turn to the gentrification of football, simply priced racism out of the game.

“In the now immortal words of Regis, ‘you’ve got to overcome’ “

Jason Roberts, nephew of Cyrille Regis and former Premier League striker, suggested as much during the documentary. The question posed in the film was: have the racists simply moved online?

Death threats, racism, sexism, homophobia – social media risks becoming its own form of National Front-led terrace before our very eyes.

People with Union Jack flag headers and a ‘Brexit means Brexit’ profile pictures scour the internet looking to aim internalised hatreds directly at people who look, feel and are different to them. Let’s not pretend many of them aren’t football fans – nationalism and fandom again side by side.

However, in the now immortal words of Regis – “you’ve got to overcome.” Thus the opinions of the faceless few on the internet should not denigrating the progress that has been made and which was sparked by the likes of Regis, Batson and Cunningham.

Achievement

Regis and Batson would prove vital cogs in what was the most successful period in West Brom’s history.

Ironically this was overseen by manager Ron Atkinson – a man who whilst working for ITV in 2004 was accidentally heard describing Chelsea defender Marcel Desailly a “f*****g lazy thick n****r” – a sad reminder of how little some mentalities have changed over the years.

Cunningham would go one better than his fellow ‘Three Degrees’ and become the first British player to ever player for Real Madrid. Given race relations in Spain following the Franco years, this was no small achievement in itself.

Cunningham went onto bedazzle defenders at several other clubs before losing his life in car crash in Madrid aged 32. Dion Dublin and Ian Wright paid emotional tributes to their heroes, as if they were kids again, when reminiscing to Chiles.

Thankfully, we now live in a time in which racial hatred has no place in football, or anywhere else, although issues such as that glaring lack of non-white managers persist.

So much progress has been made, however and for that we have in part to thank the ‘Three Degrees’. They helped pave the way towards a far more beautiful game.

Whites vs Blacks: How Football Changed A Nation is currently on BBC iPlayer.

Lack of English bosses concerns LMA’s Mackrell

British managers are not being given a fair crack of the whip when it comes to Premier League vacancies, according to League Managers Association (LMA) director Graham Mackrell.

As the top flight has grown richer, its ownership more cosmopolitan and fanbase increasingly global, foreign managers have became prevalent – 14 out of 22 teams currently have non-British bosses.

Mackrell told Elephant Sport: “If there’s a vacancy at a top club, is a homegrown manager going to be appointed? Burnley’s Sean Dyche is openly on record as saying that the only way he would manage in the Premier League would be to take a team there.

“We’re not being xenophobic, but one of the disappointing thing as far as we’re [the LMA] concerned is the small number of British managers.”

 

The LMA is also critical of the lack of job security among its members, as impatient club owners across the divisions jettison managers with increasingly regularity if results fail to go their way.

Dismissals

The Association’s latest report shows a record 29 managers in the top four English divisions were sacked in the first half of this season.

Those dismissals between 1 June and 31 December 2015 are the most ever at this stage of the season. The highest number for a single campaign is 53, in 2001-02.

“Everybody wants to be successful, and by very nature football is a sport and you can’t all be successful”

Mackrell’s involvement in the professional game stretches back 35 years, including major roles such as club secretary at Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham United, as well as posts with the Football Association and Uefa.

“One of the biggest problems is managing expectations,”he said. “Everybody wants to be successful, and by very nature football is a sport and you can’t all be successful.

“Also, as a country we are really poor at training and education, not just in football, in general.

“I speak to friends who work in Germany and Switzerland, they’re always on training courses, we’re very very poor at training people and up-skilling them once they’re in post.”

Trustees

With over half of Premier League clubs now foreign owned, some critics argue the game’s traditional values have thrown out the window.

Mackrell said: “I worked for many years at Sheffield Wednesday and the people who were the owners or the director of the club didn’t see it as a vehicle for making money for themselves, they saw themselves as trustees for the city.

“They had no salaries, the only reward was a couple of glasses of wine on a Saturday in the boardroom, but as far as actually taking money out of the club it just didn’t happen.

“It’s the same with Charlton Athletic – new owners came in to take the club to ‘the next level’, they’ve taken it to the another level and it’s not the one they or the fans wanted.”

However, some owners are implementing new and exciting ideas for clubs, and do have the resources to take them to that fabled ‘next level’.

Intentions

We’ve seen it at Manchester City and Chelsea, where billions have been invested to win silverware, expand stadia, improve training and academy facilities and increase revenues, transforming top-flight clubs into a global super brands.

Mackrell said: “You look at the situation at the moment at Leicester City, its a [an ownership model] that’s proving to be very successful.  The club’s Thai owners aren’t trying to run the club themselves, they’ve put a structure in place and let people get on with it.”

Foreign owners can, however, be insensitive about a club’s proud traditions – just ask Cardiff fans about Vincent Tan’s plan for the Bluebirds to play in red because it’s a lucky colour in his native Malaysia.

Does Mackrell believe the ‘fit and proper persons’ test for club owners and directors in British football is fit for purpose?

“If you allege someone’s not a fit and proper person, you will be challenged in the courts by somebody who has a lot of money, but yes I do think [the test] definitely can be improved.”