It's only a game...?!

By Paul Flower on Feb 2, 10 11:42 AM

The goalkeeper quit. Again. Last season he left for a month or so, because he thought he might like to play rugby instead. We were suitably enraged, having put time into nurturing and encouraging him and even picking him up to drive him to certain games. In the end we allowed him to come back as he appeared suitably contrite, and he's a good keeper after all. This time there's no going back.

By now you'll have worked out that I'm not talking about professionals, this is much more challenging - the heady and competitive world of under-11's football. Or should that be the petulant and irritating world of under-11s?

Last year I was co-managing a team in its first season of 7-a-side league football, alongside another dad with infinitely more patience and dedication, and a louder voice. They eventually did pretty well despite, rather than because of, my involvement I suspect. As they moved to 11-a-side with proper rules and scarily sized pitches I had intended to bow out, passing my role onto a step-dad who seemed to have more flair for the role.

This lasted around six weeks until the gentleman concerned had a fall-out with his partner, the mother of the child who plays a central role in our team. She also happens to sponsor our team shirts. Shortly afterwards he was no longer entirely welcome, and I felt obliged to help out where possible - though I have so far successfully managed to avoid the admin and meetings that Andy, the manager semi-graciously endures.

The team members are, of course, an accurate representation of society as a whole with around 50% being of single-parent status or from marriages that have sadly broken up. This provides its own challenges with players occasionally being ruled out of certain matches due to being at the home of one parent who doesn't drive, or lives too far away from away games, or doesn't get out of bed early enough on Sundays.

On the whole our team-members parents are a very supportive bunch. It's the players that are the problem. At the start of the season we didn't have enough. They say that kids have an increasingly sedentary life-style, clearly they couldn't be arsed enough to get off their, er, arses to come and try out for us.

Eventually we scraped twelve together - given that we'd ended last season with ten you'd have thought this was no great achievement. Unfortunately, due to illnesses, school trips and other factors, in our fourth match of the season we only had nine boys show up to play. One of these came without shin-pads, so we started the match with eight on the pitch. Bizarrely we scored first, but it couldn't last and we eventually, predictably, lost.

I'm not sure if it was a key-factor but we were missing our club-captain for that game, and the following five or six, as he'd been 'grounded'. He was banned from all extra-curricular activity (stuff that he might enjoy) by his parents in an attempt to improve his behaviour.

Slowly we started to improve, but then we had an unplanned winter break - enforced by snow, ice and rain - and haven't played since before Christmas. Now the keeper's gone and it feels like going back to square one. Joining us there will be our less-than-hardy bunch of under-11s, so called because they had to be under-11 at the start of the season and non-hardy as many of them can barely be bothered to put the effort in to attend training and when they're there they certainly don't want to do anything tiresome - like running, or listening.

I guess there's one saving grace. Being the age that they are we don't have too many problems with Sunday hangovers - at least not drink-related, there is the occasional 'sleep-over' to contend with - and whilst they might occasionally hate each other for not passing the ball, they're currently not nicking each other's girlfriends. Not yet anyway.

Here every week
Socially mediating - on an irregular basis here and far too frequently here

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