Football has always played a huge part in my life. It’s an addiction, a love, a nuisance, a hindrance, an obsession. I let it control my emotions and sometimes even my way of life far too much. I really need to grow up! Even so, in the past year or so, as I’ve taken on coaching a team, it’s only really got worse in that aspect. So I decided to do something about it. I decided to make a fresh start and make some resolutions that, if I’ve any sense, I’ll endeavour to stick to. Let’s hope I can find some sense in the coming year then.
So, football-wise, in 2019 I will be mostly doing the following. A little late, I know, but better late than never. Life-in-general wise the resolution stays the same; be as happy as possible…and stay alive!
As a Coach…
Resolution 1 The first thing I’ll try to do more of is to make use of the skills I’ve acquired on my recent Level 1 coaching course. These range from trying to use a whiteboard to get tactics across to encouraging my boys to eat more healthily.
When I started on the coaching course the idea of using a whiteboard to get my point across seemed laughable. However, having used one to talk a group of adults through what was required of them in drills, I can see the benefit. Players learn through seeing how the play will look…it doesn’t matter if I look like a bit of a tool standing at the side of the pitch referring to a whiteboard!
In my head the idea of getting my lads to bring a piece of fruit to every game seems great. However, the idea of that actually coming out of my mouth seems ludicrous. Bashful as I might be though, it’s a change I’d like to make. Maybe it’ll focus players at half time if they’re munching on a banana or a handful of grapes, rather than kicking a stray football around or gazing at the other team listening to their coach! And focused players listen more!
Resolution 2 *Crosses fingers* I will endeavour to rotate my team. The FA preaches this message at junior level. They’ll tell you, without any sense of irony or even a knowing wink, that matches at this level are essentially friendlies. If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard this in the last few months, well, truthfully I’d probably have about £16, but you get the point!
Speak to other coaches however and it seems that the majority are still giving an ever so slightly different message. Coaches want to win. Speak to your players and it’s the same. The kids want to win. It’s fun running coaching sessions and going through the games on a Sunday morning, but coaches, players and spectators will all tell you that they feel better after a win. Even at my age, if we win on a Sunday morning I feel much happier for the rest of the day and I’m unlikely to sit wondering how I could have changed things. I can only imagine for the 9 and 10 year olds that coach, winning feels better too.
So where does that leave rotation? Well, it’s a nice thought and definitely something to work towards. This season, where possible, I’ve started games with my best 7, or at the very least the best 7 available. I’ll sub players off so that everyone gets some time on the pitch, but make no mistake about it, I’m trying to win the game.
A little background might clarify and help with any outrage for anyone reading this and wondering where the modern-day spirit of just taking part went to. Last season my team won 1 game, drew 1 game and lost all of the rest. I think that amounted to around 16 losses. We got more and more competitive as the season wore on, but still kept losing.
Hence, the best 7 starting this season. It’s worked. We’ve won a lot more than we’ve lost and made it to the Quarter Finals of a cup competition. As a result – I hope – it seems that everyone is happy. However, I’d still like to think I could change my team a little more. I’ve experimented at times and we’ve survived. I won’t make wholesale changes, but I think I can manage to continue the tweaks.
One thing I think I’ll steer clear of though is the FA message that we should rotate player positions. For me, and for other coaches I’ve spoken to, it’s clear whether a kid is a defender, midfielder or striker. I’m certainly not going to play a different goalkeeper every week. I won’t change positions purely for the sake of it, but I will try to give everyone a go.
Resolution 3 Confession time. Until about four months ago I hated putting on training sessions for my team. OK, hate is probably too strong a word, but it’s safe to say I didn’t enjoy it at all. I often felt time pressured due to work and family commitments and it was a struggle to think of anything useful to come up with for our Thursday training sessions. Furthermore, the mad scramble to finish work early, pick up my son, provide tea for both kids, get changed, make sure my son has everything he needs for training, packing equipment into the car, going back out and then setting up drills before supervising it all for over an hour was providing me with a lot more stress than I would have liked. It was in danger of becoming an exercise in just filling in time for an hour, rather than doing things that were constructive. In short, I was out of ideas and way too short on time.
And then, over summer I found some time. I spent some of it wisely, thinking through drills, drawing diagrams and scribbling down instructions – building up a small bank of resources to use. Miraculously, training was better received and I was actually enjoying it. But again it wasn’t to last and when work got in the way again, I began to run out of resources. However, gaining my Level 1 badge has helped and now, not only do I have access to more resources, I actually feel like a coach.
Which makes this resolution quite easy. I will do my very best to become more creative and innovative with my coaching. We’ve already experimented a little bit with exercises brought in from athletics and sprint training and, given time, I’m going to explore different areas to see where we can learn from. I’m planning to bring in more stretching and warm downs, but that has to just be a start. Recently we’ve worked on some strength-based stuff, incorporating core strength, balance and an almost yoga type approach. I’ve discovered that you haven’t lived until you’ve witnessed the sight of a group of 9 and 10 year olds working on balance exercises! It’s undeniably much more fun running training sessions when the squad is smiling, so being the natural smiler that I am, we’ll continue to give it a go.
As a fan…
Resolution 1 There can be no doubt about it; as a fan of Newcastle United times have rarely been darker. In fact, in many ways, this is as dark as it’s been. I was born into the era of a man named Lord Westwood, an owner who had an eye patch and a vice-like grip on our finances, both factors that made him seem like some kind of Bond villain. I’ve lived through years of trophyless drudgery under narrow-minded chairmen and a succession of under-achieving managers. Luminaries like Gordon Lee, Jack Charlton, Willie McFaul, Jim Smith, Sam Allardyce, Alan Pardew and John Carver signing average footballers to play cautious, functional football. Or worse still, somehow signing fabulous footballers and then not knowing quite what to do with them. All the while this seems to have been accompanied by an almost constant stream of excuses and an often embarrassing lack of personality.
Despite the years under Keegan and Robson and the relative success that they brought, my 40+ years as a Newcastle fan has been painful, to say the least. I am yet to see my club win a major trophy. And yet, I’ve carried on blindly following.
I idolised the club from an early age, pestering my dad to take me to games. Then, I fell ill and a heart problem was discovered which ultimately led to me spending a lot of my early years in hospitals. After several operations I found myself in the Heart department of Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital being readied for a major operation. What I really remember though is being surrounded by cards and gifts from family and friends; after all I was only 6! One such gift came via one of many pretend aunties and uncles (if you’re a child of the 70s and 80s, you’ll understand such extended family). ‘Auntie’ Sally and ‘Uncle’ Roy had written to the club to tell them all about me and incredibly the club wrote back and arranged two free season tickets for the following season when I’d be fit and ready again! And so began a life-long love affair that unfortunately would often leave me feeling cheated.
And then, eleven years ago we were bought by a billionaire and initially things looked like we were about to go all Manchester City flavoured. But then we learnt the truth about Mike Ashley. Or rather we learnt that Mike Ashley tells lies. Without going into too much detail (I sense another blog), Ashley has overseen a shambles for the last 11 years, refusing investment, ambition and creativity. We’ve sold star player after star player and replaced them with bargain basement bores. Dissenting voices have been cut dead and fan dissatisfaction ignored.
In short, I gave up my season ticket years ago. This was partly down to having children, but partly down to the future I foresaw for my club. Matches bored me and I resented the drive to and from Newcastle. Ashley promised much, but gave very little and when Keegan walked for the second time, so did I. I continued to watch games on TV, but visits to the stadium were more and more rare.
Now, with a third recent relegation looking more likely and the chances of Rafa Benitez staying getting slimmer by the day, I think I’m done. Even blind loyalty has to end somewhere. I know that my resolve will be tested, but I can’t take a great deal more disappointment. The penny-pinching, the image of the club being dragged through the mud, the lack of investment in players, training facilities and even the stadium; enough’s enough. My first NUFC related resolution has to be to say ‘If Rafa goes, I go.’ This will break my heart, but I have to face the reality that what I’m presented with at the moment is not my club. It’s a façade for a budget sports shop under the guidance of a man who couldn’t care less about the club, the people or the region. And I can’t support that.
Football is no longer the same sport that I fell in love with. The terraces I ‘grew up’ on are no more and the grounds have a sanitized, one-size-fits-all feel. There is an undoubted disconnect between fans and players with players now earning untold millions per year and relying on media training to get them through any interaction encountered. Fans have changed too. I can stomach all of this, but I can no longer ignore the blatant disregard for my club that is shown not only by the owner, but by a certain bitter section of the media too. At least in the short-term, I want out.
Resolution 2 Write a blog. I’ve invested a great deal in a football club over the years and I’d like to share at least some of my feelings for and about that club. Newcastle United has given me some of my greatest highs and lowest lows. There’s more than one story to be told.
Whether you follow football or not I promise there’ll be something in there for you.
Resolution 3 Find something to fill a Newcastle United sized gap. Quite close to Elland Road there is a structure that has caused me mild excitement for a number of years now. They’re building an ice-rink! I say building, but it’s been very much an on-off affair. However, recently there have been signs of life and the building work has clearly resumed.
Now, before anyone thinks I’m going to fill my NUFC void by going ice-skating, think again. The idea of attempting to stay upright on a veritable knife-edge is simply not me. I’ll walk, I’ll run, I’ll shuffle…I won’t skate.
My hope is that Leeds is about to get an ice hockey team – I think I read something somewhere, a while ago. It’s a sport I have a bit of an interest in having watched matches over the years, most notably while on visits to Toronto and Vancouver some years ago during the Stanley Cup play-offs. The sport is huge, the following passionate and the action non-stop. And if Leeds does get a team, I assume they’ll start off at the bottom of the pile, won’t be successful and maybe without a great deal of idea of what they’re doing. I mean, how much more like Newcastle United could I want? Clearly, I’m hell-bent on replacing one kind of misery with another! However, it might be just the kind of thing I need to make the break.
Like any resolutions these ones are only any use if I keep them. And it’s not something I’ve been much good at in the past. However, maybe 2019’s the year of the football resolution! Let’s hope so.