WELCOME – This blog is a collection of my personal thoughts on coaching.
My intention is to inspire thought and debate in how we develop football players and teams.
My aim is for the blog to be a light read that allows you (the reader) to challenge yourself to improve. There is little time or respect for science or the awarding of a degree to understand the content. The intention is to remain simple and to the language of football that we all understand.
I make no excuses for being thought provoking and opinionated. I want to shake up imagination in coaches and coach development.
To start this process, I want to give you an insight into my own childhood memories of football
My youth was a story that many can relate to. It is a story of growing up on a council estate in the 1980s and playing endless hours of football until your legs burned, until your mum called you for dinner or the evening darkness brought your game to a premature end.
To give an example of the volume of kids in the space of four or five roads
Londsdale Close – My home until the age of 15.
Me, Adam Hamilton (fellow Chelsea fan), Leonard Savin (Liverpool), Tom and Mark – the Cowap brothers (Tom was a good player), Eddie Hanlon (Millwall fan and had a trial there as a kid), Errol Tenyue (dad was in the band UB40), the Registe brothers (Jason, Paul and Marc) and finally Jamie Smith (Man United fan) – 12 lads in one street alone that were street footballers and all born within 3 or 4 years of each other.
The street that lead to mine was called Lions Close and on this street lived Colin Hartigan and another older generation of the street football gang Dean Fowler (who was also a young boxer at the Marvels Lane boxing club).
Henry Cooper Way ran parrellel behind my street and was just as competitive, there was the Spurs fans David and Danny truss (there older brother Rob is lifelong best friends with my uncle Billy), James Gibson, Kevin Eagen (a good goalkeeper) James and Robert Anderson (when you could get them away from there Nintendo), Sonny Whotton, Perry Burgess, Tony Forsyke (west ham fan), Barry and Lee Rawlings, Danny Inwood (whose older sister was best friends with my mums sister Hetty as kids), Sam Nicholas, Constance Williams (the only female footballer on the Chinbrook Estate), Tommy Gunnell, Danny Lawrence and on the adjoining road (Grace Close) there was my close friend Daniel O’Farrell and a former team mate of mine at Charlton Athletic – Kevin James (Kev went on to play professionally with Nottingham Forest and Gillingham in the football league) and not to forget the older players such as Darren Howe (big Charlton fan), Marlon Phillpots (he had some swagger back in the day) and Kieran (the best unihoc player in the world – well at grove park youth club anyway).
That wasn’t where it stopped either; it sprawled out onto the streets surrounding the estate. Just off Dunkery Road that ran horizontal to the estate lived my good friend John Beazley (had a spell at Millwall as a kid) and his brothers Paul, Mark and Lee. On the Marvels Lane Estate you had a host of kids that came to play such as John Badham, Wayne Tanner (always had a football), Danny Hannah, Daniel Brailey, Jon bell, Craig Marshall (the worst tackler of all time), Steve Kippin, Rory Hines (excellent player) and Darryl Hines, Gavin (very skillful), David Rose (another good player), Steven Dillie, Paul Savidge, Mark Penfold (inventor of many games), Danny Marney, Mark Morgan (Chelsea fan), Anthony Coliver (national volleyball champion), Lee miles, David and Matty White, Dean Donovan, Billy Clifford (played at charlton with me), Edwin Appiah (Spurs fan who had a spell working as a coach for WBA and is one of my oldest friends), James Falzon (Italian boy who pulled his younger sister from their house when it was on fire and made the local newspaper). Around half a mile north of my estate was Mottingham estate and here my good school friends lived, Steven Stock (Millwall fan and his brother Gary was a good player), Terry Moss (Arsenal fan) and Barry Stevens (who was at Wimbledon as a young player).
The list is endless and just showed the sheer amount of young boys living within half a mile of each other and with 4/5 years age difference. The majority of us all went to the same primary school, Marvels Lane and therefore you had so many friends to play football with that you were never short of a game.
For instance, if you came out of your front door and there was not a game going on, then you knew that if you walked through to the next street that there would be a group of lads playing or if you walked to Foxes Field and you were surprised to see only a few lads, well you knew that Chinbrook Meadows would be hosting a mammoth 22 aside match or that the grove park youth club would be an indoor 4v4 frenzy. It sounds crazy but my childhood was just football, football and more football.
And I loved every minute of it.
The strange thing about the Chinbrook Estate was that all the streets were named after boxers or boxing suppliers. For instance, Londsdale Close named after the Lonsdale belt, Henry Cooper Way named after the great British heavyweight (who famously rocked Mohammed Ali in their fight). This link to boxing was particularly significant to me as both my grandads, William Hudd and Fred Beale were boxers.
The way the estate was built was as if the builders were football crazy. The architect of the estate had without meaning too, given us many makeshift pitches and goals.
For instance, the entrance to the car parks had concrete width barriers that were ideal, ready made goals. The entrance to the residents garages were the same and due to the garages having a big wall at one end they were perfect 40x30yd or 30x20yd pitches.
We literally didn’t have to do a thing; the pitch was already marked out for us and the cars on one side and wooden garden fences on the other gave us the perfect sidelines (much the same as a goals or powerleague 5v5 court).
However, the home of all our football dreams was at the residents seating area that was located outside the estates community centre (named W.G Grace after the famous cricketer who lived in the area) . The seating area was like a mini stadium that had stairs coming down on all four sides like terraces . This area became home to “square ball“ the most addictive game I have ever played. The three alcove seating areas made perfect goals, the two goals opposite each other made the pitch with the 3rd seating area acting as a sort of substitutes bench of players eagerly waiting their turn to play the game and Commentating on the match in progress.
The rules were simple, you had to shoot from your half of the pitch and into the opponents goal to score. The small hurdle of the centre flower bed monument was just another obstacle that required skill and accuracy to bend, curl or drive the ball over and into the makeshift goal. Players could dribble around the sides to the half way point but a misplaced shot could mean being out of position and having to race back and defend your goal. Balls that fell into the flower bed were a free for all where tackling and even pushing your opponent off the monument were legal in order to win possession and score a goal.
Finally, our last piece of magical architect was the actual community hall building itself. The outside of the building was decorated with big arches and a walk way. At each end of the walk way was another big arch approximately 30yds apart. Therefore, this design was perfect for games of goalie to goalie.
Goalie to goalie was a simple game where you were allowed one touch to save the ball and another touch to shoot the ball past your opponent at the opposite end. The only other rule of the game was that you could only go as far as the 2nd arch before shooting (around 20yds from goal). This game became an art of learning to play longer passes, lofted shots and curling balls into your opponents top corner. No training sessions, no coaches, just a simple game and repetition of technique.
Other games we used to play included;
- Football Knockouts
- Football Knockout doubles
- Football Kerbsie
- Heads and volleys
- Wall ball – (if you missed, you had to run and become the goalkeeper)
We were not a fussy bunch though and most of the time we used to just play full on matches of 8v8, 12v13 it really didn’t matter as long as we were playing the game.
These matches went on for hours, you would lose your best player to dinner or to run an errand for their parents. You would argue like crazy over which team would get the new comer or when to rotate goalkeepers, the time for each half, to dispute whether it was a goal or not, when to rest and even when to agree on home time and to continue the next day.
It had the time of my life and learnt so much just on my own by kicking the ball against a wall or by challenging myself to go up against the older boys on the estate. No adults, no coaches. If there was I don’t think we would have played, it wouldn’t have been as much fun.
They were great days – each of them were invaluable to me both as a football lover but also socially and helping me to grow up. The Chinbrook Estate was not always an easy place to live, it was a tough place but like most council estate there is a big bond amongst the people where families have known each other for generations.
Sadly, these days passed. Around the age of eleven, I had been doing really well for my local Sunday league team (Valley Valliants FC – a team that included Scott Parker who was a big friend as a kid) that I was offered a trial for Charlton Athletic and within a few days I was signed for the clubs school of excellence and now getting one or two nights a week advanced coaching. I absolutely loved it at Charlton and we had all the best players in the local area training and playing together. The coaching was excellent and was still very much about playing the game. It was the first time that I had to fight to be one of the best players and I think I developed so much from that.
I still combined this with my street football but the move to secondary school around – 7 miles away on a bus – and a group of new friends see the Chinbrook Estate days end and I now began a new adventure of playing matches for my school team (Ravensbourne), the district (Bromley), the county (kent) as well as my games on a Sunday for Charlton.
I was doing really well in all the teams and I suppose at this point I started to hope or have a small belief that I had a chance to play football professionally one day. Before this, I was just exploring with the ball whenever I could and when I think back – wow!! What a childhood I had and I am disappointed that my children and other kids wont have that.
The hours spent at my secondary school in the playground with a tennis ball helped me develop my technique, close control and skill far more than any coach could. It was a passion and a love for the game that drove me to train and compete with my friends. Winning was not an ugly word, we all wanted to compete with each other and ourselves to be better, to do more keep ups, to create a new skill. It was a FOOTBALL HEAVEN.
Nowadays, everything is so formalised.
“We coach before we look, we judge before we analyse and we play to win before we develop any techniques to play the game well”
I hope you enjoy the blog – I will try to post as much as my schedule allows me too.