Poetry Blog: Assessment

This is a poem I wrote on a whim. It came from boredom, if the truth be told. I’m sure I was suitably inspired by the company I was keeping at the time, but essentially it was the boredom that made me start scrawling on a piece of paper.

My Year 11 class were completing an assessment. I’d done about an hour’s input, fielding questions, giving reminders, making notes and then when the time was write set them off writing. After about 10 minutes of enduring the silence and trying to keep busy I realised that I just wanted to sit down. I couldn’t sit at the computer and do work because the screen that it was linked up to would show everything I was doing and I didn’t want my group getting distracted. So, I kept the title of the assessment on the screen and thought about what I could do.

It was a Thursday afternoon and we’re based in a fairly cramped room on a Thursday, so space and social distancing meant that I couldn’t just wander. I couldn’t really just stand either as the only place to stand would have been by the door and I felt sure that it wouldn’t be long before someone absent-mindedly opened the door and knocked me into next week. Hilarious for my class, I’m sure and not the fault of the door opener, as who would expect someone to be stupid enough to stand right in front of the door. So, a quick scan of the rom told me to sit at the one spare desk available.

After a whole five minutes I was bored, so I grabbed a sheet of paper. Perhaps I could practice my autograph? Instead, having sketched for a few moments – my current favourite is to draw myself as a Charlie Brown character – I found myself thinking about the group. And what started as a few rough lines of a potential poem about an assessment became something of a poem about how much they mean to me.

Assessment

In an unusually silent room the creaking desks are a constant source of annoyance.
Every so often a stare is accompanied by a sigh as another realises that there's nothing to be done about the noise.
The dimming of the lights adds an eeriness to the tension and I am helpless; the pigeon fancier who opens the loft to the flutter of wings that he can really only hope he'll hear again.
He can only pray they stay safe.
This is our first race. A journey that we have trained for and will repeat again until the future beckons
and I can no longer help, cajole or comfort, but still make time to worry, 
despite the reality that I may never see you or hear of you again.
We are left to count down the coming weeks and spread our wings a few last times, turn circles in the air, swoop, arc dive then return to the loft each time until it's time to fly the rest of the journey alone.

I’ve mentiond this group before. I’ve taught many of them for the majority of their school lives. I remember most as fresh faced, quite naughty Year 7s. In short – and not to insult them in any way – they’re a bottom set. My bottom set. Their language skills are at best, weak even at the top end and their knowledge of the world often leaves a lot to be desired. Sample fact to prove this? When I taught them for intervention English in Year 9 it took more than a few minutes of an hour lesson to convince at least one of them that Roald Dahl’s The BFG was not a real person. He wasn’t dead. He wasn’t alive. Roald Dahl had just made him up.

Studying Shakespeare, Dickens etc can be a challenge, both for them and me. But then one of them will offer an opinion or just remember something obtuse about the text and it feels like a huge win for all of us.

The group are currently enduring a series of assessments put in place to enable me to award them a GCSE grade in lieu of not being able to do the real exams due to Covid-19. I never really let on to groups how much I care, but as I sat and watched them write, witnessing every grimace, every pause for thought and every tongue slipped out of the side of the mouth in concentration, I couldn’t help but think about them in previous years throughout their time at our school. Of course I care. I care deeply, especially about my weaker groups and I found that I was just hit by how little I can now do for them. I genuinely worry about what some of them will end up doing once high school is finished and I desperately want them to get some kind of English GCSE to help them along the way.

As for the poem, I’m not really sure where the image of the pigeon fancier came from. But I was struck by how wondrous it is that these pigeons come ‘home’ to their loft after every race.

I was aware of pigeons and their owners from an early age. I was brought up in the North East of England where racing pigeons can attract some quite fanatical people. I have memories of several ‘uncles’ (not real family, probably family friends or neighbours, but always called uncles or aunties) who kept racing pigeons when I lived at home. They’d spend ridiculous amounts of money and time making their birds as comfortable as possible in the hope of winning races and it always held a bit of a fascination for me. On the afternoon of the assessment that was how I felt. Like I’d lavished time and energy on my group and that soon it would be time to let them go. In truth, I don’t want to.

As ever, I hope you enjoyed the poem. I think the subject matter might inspire more in the weeks and months to come! Feel free to let me know what you thought in the comments.

Poetry Blog: ‘On teaching those that aren’t really listening…’

I wrote this poem after a particularly trying lesson with one of my lower ability English groups. Please don’t get me wrong when you read the poem – I love teaching these groups and I certainly don’t mean to be disparaging in any way. It’s the students that are struggling, the ones who’ve been in and out of trouble for years, the ones that can’t stand the subject and the ones that want to push your buttons, that I enjoy teaching the most.

I seem to have become a bit of a specialist in this area of my job and I’ve lost count of the number of bottom set GCSE groups I’ve been handed over the years. It’s definitely an aquired taste, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So here’s my poem

On teaching those that aren't really listening...

On teaching those that aren't really listening,
the disengaged and disenfranchised and those who would, quite frankly, rather be anywhere but here 
you must make like a boy scout; be prepared.

Because, make no mistake; no task is ever simple.

Although each lesson will start the same for hundreds in a row, your simple instruction - 'Date, Title, Learning Purpose'
will still be met by at least one motionless student who may well imagine that the pen will write itself.
There will also be at least another who will ask, "Do we write the date?" and another who simply ignores what's on
not one board, but two to ask, "What's the title?"
You're allowed to sigh. It's fine to indulge in some eye-rolling. But.
Stay calm. Your sarcasm will fly through the nearest window, so be prepared to repeat
or at the very least, to point it out again.
Even your request to write even a bullet point list will be questioned.
"Do I need to use bullet points?" or "Can I do a Spider Diagram?"
Then, when you've spent the best part of an hour prepping them with every detail of every feature of how to write A REPORT,
showed them an example, got them to label the features and look for language examples, told them how to start,
told them how to finish and showed them the types of things to write in between, given them example sentences, 
and done everything you could apart from write the actual thing yourself...
you walk around the room, peeping over shoulders to see one will not start because, in their words, "Eh, what we supposed to be doing?" 
and, I'm not exaggerating, when I say that
32 out of the 14 in the class will not have written anywhere near enough
and that still half of the class are writing A F***ING LETTER. 
 

I’ve taught many of the members of this particular group for a number of years now. Some of them for every year of their high school careers. So it’s safe to say that I know what to expect and that nothing at all will come as a surprise. But I have to admit that the lesson that inspired this poem was a particularly trying one. Any copying out was met with at least one, ‘Do we copy that?’, any task was met with at least one, ‘So are we (and then they’d either repeat the task back at you or just ask if we were writing a letter!) and almost every period of silence was punctuated by a silly noise and a fit of giggles.

It didn’t make me angry at all. Well, not particularly. I’d like to think I have some patience in these scenarios. I certainly should do as I’ve taught these groups for over twenty years now. But the fact that it still left me a bit exasperated gave me the idea for the poem.

It was an unusual process for me in terms of how I wrote the poem in that I just sat down at the computer and wrote. Or typed. Where usually I’ll sit and write notes and maybe even the odd few lines that might pop into my head and then knit them all together later, this was pretty much a stream of consciousness. There were one or two bits of re-ordering made, but this poem was pretty much just written as I thought of it (and I’m not very sure of it as a result.)

As ever, I’m genuinely interested in opinions, so let me know what you think in the comments.

How do you motivate a team who aren’t allowed to play?

If you read my blog regularly then you’ll no doubt be aware of my sideline (although I’m sure my wife would call it more of an obsession) as a football coach. If this is a first read, well then you just found out. I volunteer with a local youth team and coach one of their Under 12 teams. It’s the team that my son plays for and I ended up doing it when the original team coach was removed from his post. I’ll be honest; although I knew I’d be able to do a better job, I was also very much the only candidate!

I’ve written about my coaching before on here. It can be an absolute joy and yet can be a right royal pain in the backside too! At the moment it’s definitely on the latter end of the scale and this is largely down to the fact that we’re unable to actually do any training at the moment.

We last played a game on Sunday 6th December of last year. We trained a weekend later and then as January approached we were told that rising Covid cases meant that junior football was being suspended and that no one would be playing or training until further notice. That last training session had been a minimal affair as we tried to deal with low numbers, social distancing and Covid paranoia. It was undoubtedly a sign of things to come. However, we’d had a great session and were still optimistic that there would be a game the following weekend to look forward to. The optimism was short lived.

Well, we’re now half way through February and still waiting for that further notice. There has been a flurry of activity on social media lately, after the chairman of our league asked our opinions about how to move forward and this has led to a whiff of optimism, but still, there’s nothing concrete like a way forward or even a date. I’m not being critical in any way. I can see clearly that running these leagues and keeping everybody happy is a horrendously stressful job that I would not want. But I’m missing football and like lots and lots of other coaches, finding motivating my team a tough old job.

A little bit of background on my team. I think it’s safe to say that not everyone in the 14 strong squad is actually that interested in football. I’d even say that for my own son, who hasn’t kicked a ball for almost 2 months. There are easily five or six others in the squad just like him. I think football is just a means to an ends here; a way of getting lads away from screens and into the fresh air.

My lads are the second team in our age group at the club; often referred to as the development team, but not by ourselves. We play in Division 7 of 8 in the league, so perhaps that tells you something about ability. Please don’t get me wrong, I think we have some brilliant little footballers and excellent athletes, but when you watch some of the teams in the higher divisions it gives some perspective. I’m not hugely interested in ability. I want to develop footballers and help create good people. I love to win, but I realise that it won’t be possible every week. I don’t accept it, I don’t like it, but I realise that there are better teams than us and also better coaches than me. As long as my players are enjoying what they do, that’s enough.

And that fact leads me nicely on to what I wanted to look at with this piece. I think I’m a good coach, who tries to set a good example, tries to have fun and tries really hard to look for areas in a kid’s game that can be improved. I think, over the last few years of coaching the team, I’ve been successful in doing that as well. What worries me though, is how to keep players motivated when I can’t see them, can’t work with them and am juggling a busy work and family life in amongst all of the stress and pain of a global pandemic.

We have a WhatsApp group for coaches and parents in the team. This has been our exclusive avenue of dialogue over the last couple of months, but I feel like it’s failing. I’m failing. I worry that the majority of my team will not have kicked a ball over the whole of lockdown. I worry that they’ll not have worked at all on fitness and that when they return to football they’ll be ridiculously unfit. And I worry that some won’t return at all.

We’ve tried a number of things to keep our squad engaged and motivated during the lockdown. But I don’t think they’ve worked.

During the previous spell of lockdown in the U.K. we started a running challenge, setting up a Strava group for the players with the challenge that they try to run 5kms per week. Over half of the players and their parents signed up and things looked good. I felt optimistic. However, the results were sketchy at best and most of those who signed up simply stopped running or walking after a few weeks. I found it incredibly sad that a group of 11 and 12-year-olds couldn’t bring themselves to walk or run 5000 metres across the course of a week, especially when it could be done in stages and was going to help them represent their team. It was disappointing, but in actual fact, they maintained enough fitness to be able to win the game that was arranged when we came back to football. It was worrying though and a sign of things to come.

Another lockdown was always inevitable given the instability of the times we find ourselves living in. We added a skills challenge as a means of keeping the boys involved while also having a bit of fun. It felt simple. Attempt the skill, film it, post it and we’ll choose a winner each week. Two of the players posted a video of themselves taking on the challenge and then, nothing. One of those players was my son, and I’d be lying if I said his participation wasn’t almost wholly motivated by me! Another failure.

We even introduced the incentive of a prize for both the running challenge and the skills challenge and both fell flat. Clearly mobile phones and X-Box were winning out!

Our club committee, recognising that this could be a terminal problem, then got involved. Unfortunately their first idea was a running challenge and we know how that one had already panned out with my lads! But then Zoom football quizzes were organised and despite having spent the best part of three lockdowns avoiding these things like the they themselves were contagious, I promoted it and duly entered myself and my son. I mean, I had to be the one setting the example, right?

Come the morning of our Zoom quiz and I was full of optimism. The squad would be ‘together’ once again and it would be great to see their faces and to find out how everyone was doing. I was confident that given my own knowledge of the sport, me and my son might even be up for the win. And then, after one or two technical problems, the gallery screen came into view. Apart from me and my son, there were three other players. Two of the three were twins and the other one was the son of my assistant coach. So essentially, one household without a direct club connection had joined in! We’d failed again. In fact, only three players from the other team in our age group joined in as well. Seven players from two squads numbering 28 players. And to top it all, me and my son didn’t even win the quiz!

So we’d tried to embrace technology and a world that 11 and 12-year-olds were familiar with and couldn’t make it work. The whole thing was becoming incredibly frustrating. As a kid – and frankly still as an adult – I was obsessed with football. I wanted to be outside with a ball at my feet as much as possible. In fact, on the day that I was discharged from hospital having undergone open heart surgery, aged 6, I attempted to cry my heart all the way back out again because my parents wouldn’t let me go outside and join in a game that was being played on the patch of grass opposite my house. For a kid not to want to be involved with football was almost beyond my comprehension, especially when said kid was actually part of a football team.

I’m not stupid. I understand that there are a lot of distractions nowadays. I know that football – whether it’s our national sport or not – has a lot to compete with. But I don’t buy the idea that it can’t compete. While I was obsessed with football as a kid, I did other things too. I – don’t judge me – spent hours sitting in the library (the local one, not the one in the east wing of our house or something) reading books. I collected records, I played other sports, I had a PC and played games on it. But football was my ultimate love. There was never any trouble engaging me and I always found time to play. So, I don’t buy into the idea that we should blame other distractions.

All of this makes the lack of engagement of my team all the more puzzling and frankly, upsetting. I’ve questioned myself, my sessions, my relationships with members of the team, my enthusiasm, my manner with the kids. But even as my own harshest critic, I can’t simply blame myself.

So it’s a question of where do we go from here? I must admit that this week we’ve had a bit of a breakthrough. Having re-visited the Strava group and the idea of a fitness challenge, I came up with the 50 Mile Challenge. The simple concept is, can we all walk or run enough in a week to get to 50 miles between us? I was inspired by the Proclaimers song ‘500 Miles’ and then began reducing the mileage when I realised how far I was expecting each of us to run or walk! I’m saving the idea though and might try to turn it into some sort of sponsored event in summer, if Covid allows. I mean, I had plans to make a video and everything!

When I put the idea on the WhatsApp group I had to wait 24 hours before anyone even reacted. Again, I was left feeling down, especially in those first 23 and a bit hours! But then when we recorded our own first run, I scrolled down our club Strava feed. People had been running! Not everyone, not by a long way, but people had been running. Our team were engaged and working on their fitness! By the time a day had elapsed we’d combined to run or walk nearly 16 of our 50 miles. And now, at the time of writing, 8 players, 2 coaches and our referee have recorded a grand total of 56.16 miles in just four days. My response? A congratulations note on the WhatsApp group followed by another challenge! I’ve asked if we can make it to 100 miles by Sunday night! Well, I might as well exploit that momentum!

The next challenge will come with next week. I’m keen to keep these shorter challenges going, so I’ll be posting on Sunday evening and asking if we can at least outdo whatever amount of miles we manage this week. I’ll be challenging those that haven’t joined in as well. I’m tempted to set a challenge of 150 miles, but might stick to 100, just to be on the safe side and step things up gradually. Experience tells me that initial enthusiasm doesn’t always last!

The lack of enthusiasm has really made me think about how to engage the team when we’re finally able to play again. I’m already sketching out ideas for simpler training sessions where we mix the right amount of fitness with a bit of competition and a short sharp game at the end. I’ve tried to cram as many drills as possible into sessions in the past, in order to work on various aspects of the team and players, but I’m definitely going for a leaner, meaner approach. Hopefully, they’ll be sessions that can cut out the messing about and keep every player engaged enough to want to be there every week.

I also have a couple of much grander plans for later on in the year. Firstly, I’ll be trying to get a group of players and coaches together to do some kind of sponsored activity. I’ve a couple of causes I’d like to help, but I’d also like to try and do something to raise money for the club as a whole. Above all of that though, I think doing something like that as a team will help to build some sense of identity and spirit within a squad that is made up of kids from 4 different high schools and that is still very cliquey.

Alongside that, I’d also like to do something that helps within the community. I’d hoped to do something over the Christmas period, but Covid got in the way. It’s still not a very well developed scheme, but I hope that with the involvement of our coaches and parents we can come up with an idea that makes a difference to people in our community and of course, our team. It might just amount to delivering supplies to the elderly or collecting shopping or donations for a foodbank , but I think it’s the kind of thing that young people should do in order to help build a bit of character and just open themselves up to what’s actually happening in their community and the kind of difference that they can make. Whether people will get on board with any such ideas, who knows?

I’ve found it really tough to motivate or engage my team over the last two months. It seems that the default approach at the moment is to take to a screen and that makes me feel really unhappy. And it’s disconcerting – and I won’t lie, a bit of a blow to the ego – when you feel like you’re doing your best and no one seems interested! We might just be getting somewhere though, but if you’ve enjoyed reading and have any suggestions, I’m all ears!

Poetry Blog: Transition.

This is a poem I wrote a while ago now, late August in fact. It was around that time that we were preparing my son – our youngest child – for the step up to high school. In the U.K. schools had been closed for months, but he had gone back to primary school for the final half term, as the government opened them up again to Year 6 students in a bid to make transition to high school that little bit easier. It didn’t work, but that’s besides the point.

I happened to be looking through some photographs and found one that my wife had taken of our son at the start of primary school, as he headed to his first day of Reception class. She’d stood behind him and having let him walk a few steps further down the path and – no doubt crying – had taken a photo of him as he walked off. Every visible piece of uniform is just too big and his backpack takes up his entire back. He looks tiny and vulnerable and not ready for school at all. Suffice to say that while the image always makes me smile, it still makes me feel sad too.

At the time, we’d briefly debated not sending him to school. We genuinely didn’t feel he was ready for it at all and so we’d even gone as far as tentatively researching moving to Scandinavia where children don’t start school until later. I think (my wife especially) we just didn’t really want to let go. In the end, we relented and sent him. But every time I see that picture I can’t help but feel we made the wrong decision!

As I looked at the photograph last summer it brought the memories flooding back, but it also made me think about how quickly both my children seem to have grown up. Within a few weeks of that moment they would both be high school students and essentially a large chunk of their childhoods were over. And specifically where my son was concerned, my precious little boy was no longer the tiny child in the photograph. With time on my hands, I wrote the poem you’ll find below.

Boy

That picture will stay with me as the summers fade into autumn. You, walking ahead of your mum, in a uniform that you’d grow into eventually and an over sized backpack straining at your shoulders. Your jumper a red light telling us to stop and let you go into a bright new adventure.

We’d thought to avoid this moment by moving somewhere where the monster didn’t want you for another couple of years, but stayed, defeated by normality and a system that we did not like; school became an enemy that we felt we couldn’t fight.

Your mother returned to her car and cried that day, her body inert as the tears tumbled silently down her face, mourning the loss of her sunshine. I spent the day thinking of the three of you – my big, brave boy, his sister there, determined as ever to look after you and your mother; robbed, cheated, bereft. How could I protect you all?

For years from this moment you’d tell us, ‘Did you know?’ tales at the table, your new found knowledge taken, processed, committed to memory, worn like a brand new suit and then shared generously like your cuddles. Parents’ Evenings revealed what we already knew; everybody loved you, fell under your spell, like insects stuck in a web.

Years later, and a day after my heart broke down, I sat weakly watching you perform in your school play, expecting to cry uncontrollably, but instead mesmerised by your voice, your courage, your talent, and as our eyes locked I wondered if my wounded heart might now burst with pride.

Now, you prepare yourself to face new questions, leaving your cocoon to become a magnificent butterfly one day. Your mother has already shed the expected quiet tears, sought solace by burying her head into my chest, while I held her tightly without possession of the balm of words that might soothe.

Before we know it there will be another photograph and it will hurt to look at that too, You, in a new uniform that still won’t fit, walking headlong into the next five years of your future, stoic despite the nerves, wiser and still eager for more ‘did you knows’.

I will fret daily until I know you’re safe, drift off thinking of you and your new experiences and race home nightly to steal a kiss or lie beside you, clutching your shoulder while you let me in on your brave new world.

I have watched, awestruck as you’ve grown, felt my heart ache as you blushed at your achievements, daydreamed about the impact you might have on the world. Now, I urge you, with every ounce of strength I have, to conquer new worlds, open yourself to those new experiences and grasp at all of the future offers that may come your way.

My son didn’t seem ready for high school, unlike my daughter who three years previously had been desperate to move on. I worried about them both though, fretted through minute after minute of my working day, desperate to just walk back through my front door and see them, ask them how it had all been.

Both have had interesting ‘rides’ through high school thus far, as probably any kid does. They’re doing well though and both survived those first days! As did their parents! My son isn’t quite so full of wonder as he had been at primary school and is perhaps finding the transition quite tough. We suspected as much, given that he missed nearly all of the last 6 months of primary school and Year 6 and didn’t get any real transition between the two schools due to Covid-19. So all the worry that is conveyed in the poem wasn’t misplaced.

It’s a very personal poem and although I talked about him heading to high school quite a bit with my wife, my son and some friends, this was my main way of opening up about it all and probably where any actual emotion came out. I think my wife showed enough devastation for both of us at the time, so it felt important that I stayed strong. I can’t remember too much about it all now, but I imagine, writing late at night that I must have shed a tear or two. It’s such an emotive photograph!

I hope that if and when other parents read it they’ll perhaps recognise their own feelings and experiences in there too. It’s a longer poem, but I’d like to think that’s alright, given the subject matter. I won’t explain any intricacies of the language in there as some of it is personal to both my wife and son and their relationship and it’s probably not my place to share so fully. On a similar note, I’ve not used the photo that I tried to build the poem around, as again I don’t think it’s one that needs to be shared with the world (or the few people who’ll read this!). So the child in the image accompanying the poem isn’t mine! He just looked small enough and vulnerable enough to represent the subject matter!

Most of all, I hope you enjoy the poem. I hope it doesn’t bring back too many traumatic memories in any parents who read! When a child moves up to ‘big school’ it really is quite the event and I felt it was just too much to deal with unless I got it down on paper. Feel free to let me know what you thought in the comments.

X-Box, YouTube edits, Minecraft? Sorry, I’m just not game.

I’m starting to think I’m living in the wrong house. The more I hear the shouting, the stamping and watch the levels of concentration and frustration that go into looking at a mobile phone, the more I feel like an alien in my own home.

So what’s the problem? Has lockdown found us out? Are me and the wife no longer compatible after 25 years together and has everything just run its natural course? Have my children decided they want a cooler, younger dad and have I decided that, in fact, I just don’t really like them? Have they been mixing with the wrong crowd? Do they all resent my accent, my north-east roots and my football team?

Well, although my daughter especially would like a younger, cooler dad, the answer is no. In fact, it’s just a question of creativity and a difference of interests. There’s no major crisis; a marriage won’t end, there’s lots of love still to share and I’ll be dadding around these parts for a while yet. It’s just that I don’t understand all this gaming and YouTubing!

While I don’t live in a house of what you’d call obsessive gamers it’s fair to say that the other three occupants (wife and two children) play their fair share of games. My son especially, is worryingly keen on his X-Box. He’s ten and into things like Minecraft and Roblox, as well as being a fan of FIFA. My wife, while also enjoying the odd game on X-Box, is far more likely to be found scrolling around and tapping away on her phone playing Hay Day or word games, while my daughter is obsessed with making video edits. None of this makes any sense to me.

I think I probably gave up all things game related in my twenties. At that time I was hooked on Football Manager and would gladly spend hours buying and selling players and taking teams from non league through to European glory. I would spend so long playing, sometimes into the early hours, that it would cause arguments. And it became a real bone of contention in my relationship. So I stopped. Simple. I still have the odd urge to play, especially when a friend mentions the game, but I know that the demands on my time really won’t allow. And dabbling with such addiction is a dangerous game to play.

It’s not, however, the act of playing the game or making the video that I don’t understand. It’s the games and videos themselves. I don’t know as much about the kind of video edits that my daughter makes, so can’t really comment in any detail. I will though, of course! I’ve watched them and they made me feel unnaturally old! Images were cut together so quick that I couldn’t really tell what was going on, let alone see the point. The gaming however, is another matter.

The first thing that strikes me when I watch my son playing Minecraft or Roblox is just how primitive it looks. In an age where computer graphics look like scenes from life itself, these games are put together with blocks and they look like the kind of graphics and games I grew up with. But I can get over that. The thing that really puzzles me is what he’s actually meant to be doing.

Socially, it’s a nice thing, really. He’s there, headset on, controller gripped tightly, conversing with several friends and rampaging through some kind of landscape. But why? From what I can gather, on Minecraft if he’s not building something, he’s killing something. Unless of course he’s just running away from something that’s trying to kill him. And then there’s the fact that sometimes one of his friends might just try to destroy the thing he’s built, because that’s funny right? Nope, you’ve lost me. It’s like getting some IKEA furniture, but with added – and made up – jeopardy.

Then there’s Roblox, which seems to have several hundred different varieties of game to it. Sometimes he’s in a world – building, of course – while trying to find other gangs’ eggs and break them. Egg Wars, apparently. No, really. He’s just running around trying to smash eggs. He’ll be simultaneously trying to keep his own eggs alive. At other times he’s earning money to buy cars and then drive them down a hill, in what seems to be a huge garage, and crash them into the wall at the end. His character will just bounce out of the wreckage ready to do it all again. I’ve stood and watched this, transfixed, for a good quarter of an hour, and nothing changes. Drive, crash, drive, crash ad infinitum. I don’t understand. I watch, waiting for something to happen and yet it just doesn’t. And he keeps on doing it like it’s the greatest thing man has ever discovered. Weird. I usually walk off feeling like I might be going mad.

And then there’s the noise. The gaming noise. We have a wooden floor in our living room and when he’s playing X-Box the noise is just incredible. He doesn’t seem to be able to stand still. If his character is moving then so is he. Literally bouncing around the room, thudding off the floor with every step. While he’s doing this he’s invariably shouting nonsense into his headset’s microphone. Sometimes it’s sentences, commands, sometimes it’s just words, but more often than not it’s simply tortured noises. Like someone’s invited a zombie or a bear into the house. Or a zombified bear. Recently I made a video – a poetry reading – and while it wasn’t something deadly serious that I was doing, I didn’t want peoples’ main reaction having watched to have been wondering about phoning Childline because someone in Graham’s house was torturing a child or an animal. But despite the fact that I was in another room, and the fact that he’d been asked to try and keep the noise down for just a few minutes, there he was “Nnnnnghhhh”ing and “Aaaaaarrrgggghhhh”ing on in the background.

My eldest child also baffles me with her gaming choices. She’s a fairly avid player of the game BitLife, a life simulator where the aim appears to be to become a model citizen. Because of course actual life – not a simulation – is simply not enough when you’re thirteen. Again, I just don’t get it. She seems to spend her time on it aiming to become anything but a model citizen. If she’s not telling me that she’s got eight children by seven different dads, then she’s declaring that she’s lost her job or some other worryingly negative achievement, like having mudered someone. This is literally always accompanied by a huge grin.

I suppose some of the attraction here comes from the fact that teenagers need to feel more grown up. And we all wanted that when we were younger. Maybe BitLife should add a paying your Council Tax section or a ‘the top of the tap’s come off in the bathroom and there’s water everywhere’ bit. Add some more of the humdrum of actual real life in and let’s see how attractive it all is then!

Her other obsession is with video editing. Now I totally see the point here. It’s creative, it’s a skill that may well be useful in later life and given that she’s quite artistic it serves to sate some of that appetite. But then I watch some of her videos and I’m absolutely lost. When she was a lot younger they used to just be her dancing and flicking her hair to music. Not exactly interesting, but harmless all the same. And also ones to use during the Father of the Bride speech at any future wedding that she may have.

Nowadays, she seems to specialise in pictures of celebrities edited together with captions and music. People actually watch them! She’s also edited stuff together about celebrity news stories. And when I say celebrities, I mean absolute talentless nonentities. I watch them and, as well as being disorientated by the speed of the edits, I’m utterly puzzled as to who these people are. I never recognise anyone! My daughter just laughs at her middle-aged dad, face screwed up in concentration and failing to see the point, once again.

Lastly, we come to my wife; also a bit of a gamer. Now some of the time she plays what she calls ‘educational games’; things where you have to make words or do a bit of maths. She’s also topping up her German language skills via Duolingo. All fair enough. However, then we come to some of the other games that she plays. (And reading this back, that’s quite the terrifying sentence about one’s wife).

Now, to be fair, she plays each of the following games with one of our children. So, it’s a nice thing to do. A parent playing with their children. No problem. Until of course you look at the details.

I shouldn’t have a problem with this gaming. I could easily go somewhere else and do something else. You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But in our house, that’s impossible, because gaming tends to take the form of sitting in the front room, using the big TV, clutching a controller while shouting at the other person in the room. Teamwork, in our house, certainly does not make the dream work. I have never heard arguments like these. Just the other afternoon, I had to stop making a series of work-related phone calls such was the noise below me in our front room. At one point, as one player let the other down and probably got them into a position where death was the only outcome possible, there was the most blood-curdling scream I think I’ve ever heard. I gave it a few more minutes and then just gave up. No one’s actually listening to what you’re saying when there might be a serial killer at work in the background.

The games have no appeal to me whatsoever. One of them is a Jurassic Park game – I have no idea which one. I watched them play a little bit of it just the other day and after a while just had to walk off bewildered, as usual. For a good ten minutes all they did was manoeuvre a jeep around a landscape – probably called Jurassic Park now I come to think of it – before stopping to take pictures of dinosaurs. It seems to be that these photos could be ‘sold’ for money in the game, but as far as I could tell no one had any idea what constituted a good photograph and thus the value of them just kept coming up way short of what was needed. What a waste of time and effort.

Next, we have two more games – Plants vs Zombies and Garden Warfare II. (I had to ask for the names, by the way – as if I would’ve known about the existence of Garden Warfare, let alone the follow up!) Now, I’ll confess, I don’t know what the latter one is. But a part of me hopes it’s the battle to get plants in to the garden in order to annoy your neighbours. The other one is simply plants fighting zombies. They seem to just take a side and then shoot at each other. Again, it usually involves my wife and son and again, more than anything, it seems to just be a case of screaming at each other for doing it wrong. Meanwhile, a zombie has just killed one or both of them. Now maybe I’m too practical, but when I see them playing it I just can’t get past the fact that plants can’t run around and zombies don’t actually exist, and that even if they did I’m not sure they could fire a gun.

I suppose this just shows that, in terms of games and gaming I’m very much a fish out of water. This often leads to our front room being very much a no-go zone for me. Really, I shouldn’t criticise as in a way the gaming that goes on in my house is just another form of creativity. It could be worse. The rest of them could all hate football or music and then I’d be truly lost. So, I can be thankful that it’s just a small difference. That said, I don’t think it’ll ever be a world that I really set foot in. And that includes as a plant, zombie or a strange figure made up entirely of squares.

Things My Parents Used To Say

photo of a boy covering his eyes
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

I miss my parents. There’s no panic, they’re both still with us and in fact are on the end of the phone should I need them. But the global Coronavirus pandemic and the fact that we’re in lockdown has meant that there’s not a hope of actually seeing them. I can’t visit as I live over 100 miles away and while the frequency of phone calls home has increased over these last few weeks, I still miss them. This is weird because, if I’m honest, the distance between us has always felt quite convenient before now.

The whole situation has made me think about them a lot more than usual. I guess, if I’m being honest, part of that is to do with having so much time on my hands. I certainly don’t normally think so deeply about my parents and for so long. In fact sometimes, with a busy work and family life balance, my parents can seem a bit of an irritation. And while I feel guilty typing that and reading it back, I doubt any of us could look at it and not think the same for at least some of the time. If you’re busy, stressed out, hitting deadlines ad trying to be a good husband and father, checking in with the parents can feel like a bridge too far.

My mam and dad are getting old now. My father is eighty and my mother, despite her dogged attempts to keep the actual number quiet, is in her late seventies. In short, they’re vulnerable to this virus. And so, worrying about them, thinking about them, talking about them and even almost succumbing to random acts of abandon like driving up to stand outside their house and chat to them have come quite naturally of late.

One of the things that I’ve thought about most – and one of the things that automatically makes me smile – has been the kind of things they say or more accurately, said when I was growing up. You see, parents speak a different language. As you grew up they seemed almost alien and even now, in middle age I can say that they still speak a different language. So let’s have a look – in no particular order – at some of their stock phrases and hopefully it won’t be just me who’s transported back in time.

  1. It’s reasonable to assume that every child will frequently ask ‘What’s for tea?’ (or dinner, if you’re posh or just plain wrong). My parents never seemed to tire of not giving me the correct answer. As a pair they seemed to have one stock, prepared answer each; a personal favourite, if you like. Firstly, my mam would regularly reply to said question with ‘Shit, with sugar on’. Often, if he was around my dad would then add to this nonsense by informing, in a posh voice ‘but divinely cooked.’ His own answer, for the times mam wasn’t around or found herself too busy to answer was to tell me that it was Dried bread , jammed in the door.’ Hilariously here, not only was the bread stale, but he was insinuating that the nearest I’d get to jam was to stick it in the door. I didn’t even like jam! It’s safe to say that I was often a confused child around meal times and as a fussy eater, disappointed too.  Why wouldn’t they just tell me the answer? And why, oh why give such a bizarre response. Frankly, if Childline had been around when I was growing up, I think I’d have had more than enough reason to give them a call.
  2. Closely linked to number one is the fact that because my mam didn’t like to swear in front of us (apart from when she was giving a witty answer to the tea question) she’d often substitute words for swear words, especially when exclaiming in frustration or anger. The stupidest I can remember is her habit of saving our delicate ears from foul language by shouting ‘Tish’. It’s a tough one, but can you guess what she was really wanting to say?
  3. A stone cold favourite, possibly in every house up and down the land next. Imagine the scene. You’re out in a shop, possibly you’ve been in many more than just the one. At some point you will have seen something that takes your fancy. Tired out, bored and probably fed up, you forget manners and exclaim ‘I want insert item here’. What were you told? Altogether now, ‘I want never gets!’ Every. Single. Time. And always said with total and utter enthusiasm and smug self satisfaction.
  4. Another that has caused much beffudlement over the years comes from a different source, but a parent all the same. This one comes from my wife’s late grandmother who was as Yorkshire as they come. When I first noticed her using this expression she had got to that age that some people get to where they no longer care what people think of them or what they’re saying and so this expression would come out in all sorts of places, to the amusement and sometimes mock embarrassment of my wife. I never knew what it meant or even, it transpires, what was being said. It was only in thinking about this blog and doing some loose sort of research that my wife explained it. The expression in question was ‘warn o’ my arse’. Warn would have been pronounced waaaaan, by the way. Apparently it means ‘worse than my backside’. So when someone would ask her what she thought of something, Nelly (the grandma in question) would often – just it seems for the fun of it – reply ‘warn o’ my arse’. So, for example a meal might be ‘worse than my arse’. Charming.
  5. A response to the question ‘What’s up?’ was always one that left me frustrated. It showed how desperately uncool my parents were. So to place you at the scene, so to speak, imagine a young lad asking his dad ‘What’s up?’ It may have been a question of concern or just one making a general enquiry. Either way, let’s see it as the intended starter of a conversation, remembering that it’s good to talk. So imagine the mounting teenage angst when the response to my ‘What’s up?’ was regularly, ‘The sky…do you want it down to play with?’ My response of a groan, a thousand yard stare and leaving for another room probably said a lot about my relationship with my dad!
  6. My dad however, provides the final two of the memorable things my parents used to say. This particular one is one I’ve to this day never been able to explain. My dad has explained it but it still makes no sense at all. Let’s try it for size, shall we? If you ever got something wrong and tried to explain your mistake away by saying that ‘I though it was…’ you’d be met with the following. ‘You know what Thought did, don’t you? Followed a shit cart and thought it was a wedding.’ Poor old Thought. Left with so many questions, not least ‘What on God’s green earth is a shit cart?’ And let’s not even think about the wedding in question.
  7. Finally comes a tale of short trousers. And by short trousers, I don’t mean shorts. I mean trousers that are too short. Half masters we call them. A boy on my street was notorious for his short trousers. He just never seemed to have jeans that reached down to his shoes. And so, whenever he walked past the window he was like a magnet for my dad and one of his favourite expressions. Dad never seemed to tire of telling us that Jamie needed to ‘put some jam on his shoes and invite his trousers down for tea.’ Much to the embarrassment of my own kids, I have adopted this particular phrase and still use it to this day.

So there we have it. Parents, especially mine, are a curious breed who at times have a language of their own that appears to be mainly made up of absolute nonsense. Feel free to leave any of your own parent’s sayings in the comments box or let me know via Twitter, where I’m @grahamcrosby and Middle Age Fanclub.

 

Lockdown Cravings – What I miss most about grassroots football.

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It’s got so bad I think I even miss washing kit!

Having studied both world wars in my time in education I never thought I’d see the like of such change across the planet. I never imagined that my life – about as typically suburban and dull as they come – would ever be turned upside down in such an unexpected way. Sure, we all face family crises and unless you’re under the illusion that you’re part of the Marvel universe, you know that death will come knocking at your door at some point, whether it’s for you or someone close to you. And similarly, while I was aware of words like ‘pandemic’ I never expected to be part of one. This was the stuff of Hollywood as far as I could work out.  But then came the rude awakening. Corona wasn’t just a foreign beer. A pandemic was actually happening and life was changing beyond all recognition.

It seems trite to start writing about football. I’m classed as vulnerable to this virus. I have elderly parents who are even more vulnerable, as well as being quite a long way away. I have a family to support and many vulnerable students to care for. Away from my own personal circumstances thousands are dying not just in our country, but across the globe. But then maybe trivial things like football are the kinds of things we need during such a stressful time.

I never thought I’d miss football, especially if it was taken away to help save lives. Sure, it’s a huge part of my life and always has been, but I’ve found that taking it away also removes the amount of stress that it causes. It’s simple when you think about it! As such, I usually quite enjoy the international breaks because they take away Newcastle United related worries and just allow me to watch some football that I largely don’t really care about.

On 23rd March, via a WhatsApp message from the chairman of the league, the coaches of the Garforth Junior Football League were notified that our season had been voided. It was inevitable and we were probably all prepared for it, but it was definitely very sad news. There were still about 8 or 9 matches to play. As much as it was expected, I imagine that there wasn’t a coach among us who hadn’t hoped it wouldn’t happen.

Us coaches are all probably of much the same mindset. As volunteers we have to be! Optimists, that’s what we are. Maybe not in terms of football as a whole – I mean I’m a Newcastle fan, so optimism does not come easy – but in terms of the teams we coach, we probably all feel the same. Optimistic. Hopeful. Positive.

From my own point of view it hadn’t been a great season. Satisfactory, but not great. I’m the coach of a team called Glen Juniors Whites Under 11s in Morley, Leeds and it’s been a season of upheaval for us. We’ve lost several good players from last season and brought through a number of new players with not a lot of experience. As such, we’ve had ups and downs. However, it’s generally been enjoyable and as a result, it’s not taken long for me to realise that I’m really missing football. So I thought I’d write a blog and compile a bit of a list. It’s a not quite top Ten, and I’ve been unable to put it in any sort of order. These are just some things that I really miss about my involvement in football and I thought I’d put them out there and see who felt the same.

First up come Saturday Preparations. We play on a Sunday, but over the years I’ve got into the habit of being prepared on a Saturday. That way I know that despite an early start on Sunday mornings, I’m almost certain to be ready. I say almost certain, because my son can often be found, oblivious to the warnings he’s been given to be ready, absorbed in a YouTube video on his iPad, with bits of kit missing, no water bottle and no boots on! Dad’s ready to leave, but the kid that’s actually playing won’t be ready for another five minutes or so! It’s always a good look to have turning up late as the coach. And so, I prepare on a Saturday as much as possible. The bag is taken from the shed and put in the car overnight. The practice balls for warm-ups, the same. The boy’s kit is out, my kit is laid out. My boots are in the car. I’ve filled in my team sheet, written up the team, written down some notes as to what to mention before kick-off. Sometimes I’ve even thought about substitutions too, as I have a bad habit of getting a bit confused on the sidelines and suddenly everyone becomes a right sided midfielder in my head! Needless to say, if it’s an away game I’ve had a good look at the route and either written stuff down (I’m still a bit old school!) or programmed the sat nav, regardless of how much I know it’ll irritate me.

Preparing on a Saturday means that I have longer to savour the whole experience as well. So, while no football means I have free weekends back, given the amount I put into it all, I really miss those Saturday preparations. It’s a routine that I wasn’t quite ready to get out of and it’s made me feel at a bit of a loss.

Next up, I miss the sheer obsession of being involved in grassroots football.  And I know that every coach who reads this will feel exactly the same. To illustrate exactly what I miss I thought I’d write up an anecdote that might just go some way to helping explain. It concerns grass.

At Glen Juniors, although we have our own pitches, they are actually council playing fields. Thus, everybody is allowed on them. And when I say everybody, I mean everybody. It wouldn’t surprise me if one day a coach pulls up and it’s full of people and their dogs come to sample what it feels like to empty their bowels on a different field for once – the dogs that is, not the humans. This is a massive source of frustration for me, but that’s something to vent about at another time. My obsessiveness is shown well – and at its most embarrassing – if I tell you about recent events on our pitch.

Our pitch hasn’t been cut for months. It feels like years. The council only cut it at certain times of the year and because of the wet weather the private company that the club have employed won’t cut it because their vehicles can’t get purchase in the inevitable mud. Further to this, despite several pleas, we’ve not even been able to get use of a petrol mower. So, as a result, for what feels like an endless amount of time, our pitch has been allowed to grow. And grow. And grow. Subsequently, in lots of places it’s several inches thick, meaning that we’ve played games where it’s been difficult to make the ball roll at times!

Cue me. The least that I’ve been able to do over the last few months is to make sure that the lines are kept fresh. If the grass is far too long, at least I can make it look as much like a football pitch as possible. But I haven’t been able to let it end there. Oh no. When I can, I’ve been getting there very early to mark the lines, but with an ulterior motive. Some days I’ve sank low enough to find myself on my hands and knees ripping grass out of the pitch, especially in the corners. I’ll kind of crawl along, ripping handfuls of grass out and throwing them away quickly so that anyone watching me from nearby houses might just think that they’re seeing things. Because no one’s that ridiculous right? Wrong. I have indeed been giving our pitch a kind of hand cut, if you like. Sadly, when my son has accompanied me, I’ve had him doing it too!

At other similarly shameful times I’ve taken our garden shears down – both the lawn edgers and the actual hedge cutters – and furtively stood there cutting as much as I could without taking so much time that I look too stupid and get caught by loads of dog walkers. I’ve genuinely considered just taking scissors to it, so that there was a bit less grass, but also a bit less chance of being seen! However, I’m not quite daft enough to imagine that several householders have watched me, intrigued, from their bedroom windows while slowly shaking their heads. I have no explanation to offer them or you other than to say that I’m obsessed by my part in grassroots football (and I know that there’s a joke in there somewhere), but it’s a level of obsession that I genuinely miss.

And while you try to rid your mind of the sight of a bloke on his hands and knees crawling around yanking grass out of a massive patch of grass, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the fact that about a week ago, around a week or so after the season was actually stopped, the grass was finally cut!

The third thing that I miss horribly about grassroots football is the social side of things. I’m a quiet, shy lad, but while I’ve been a coach I’ve been forced to talk to parents. And I’ll be honest, I don’t always enjoy talking to my own parents, let alone anyone else’s! But I genuinely feel that the social side of the game has really helped me as a person. The parents of my team have become quite a close-knit bunch and they are incredibly supportive of me, something that I appreciate hugely. I try to make a point of speaking to as many people as possible on matchday, time allowing, and I love just getting round people and saying ‘Hello’ and asking about their day or their week. Who knew this actually bothering with folk could be so nice?!

This season, as a group of parents – my son also plays for our team – we’ve sat in meetings planning various next steps for our team as well as fighting their corner within the club and the support has been genuinely heart-warming. Having been deprived of their company, I’m finding I miss them terribly! And I really barely know any of them, but this thing we have in common has absolutely united us over the last few years. It’s been a real surprise to find out how much I miss this social aspect of my grassroots life.

I even miss the social side of preparing for a match. I’m joined for every home game by Nigel, one of the other parents who coaches and helps me out. He’s invaluable. But we chat and laugh and joke when we’re putting up the goals – mainly about our inability to put up the goals – and it’s something I find I’m really missing about early Sunday mornings.

On a similar social note, another thing that I find I’m missing is the WhatsApp groups! During the season it would feel like my phone was almost constantly buzzing with notifications. As a member of several football related groups there was always someone wanting to relay a message and this multiplied when trying to cope with the constant rain and storms we seemed to be having earlier in the year. At that point it was rare that a day went by when you weren’t updating the opposition on the state of the pitch or letting people know that as far you knew the game at the weekend was still on. Or more likely, that the game at the weekend had been cancelled, yet again.

Now, these groups are eerily quiet. If there is a message on one of them, I invariably get a bit of a shock. Thoughts turn to next season and then you open it up and it’s nothing of any real consequence.

Strange how things change so dramatically. Sometimes, being so snowed under with messages to read, respond to or just send got a bit much. There were times when it was just an irritation, something that while trying to do a job and be a dad and husband, I just didn’t really have the time or patience for. Now, in the midst of a lockdown and with the prospect of any football still a long way beyond the horizon, it’d be lovely to send the weekly message about our game at the weekend, where we were playing and when we should get there!

Of course one of the main things to miss about being involved in grassroots football is the actual coaching. Watching the progress of my lads when at times they’ve been so up against it this year has been great. And it’s always a pleasure watching players develop. However, I think what I mainly miss about coaching  is watching it all go wrong. And that’s easy to say now when I’m not in amongst it. I certainly haven’t enjoyed it while it’s been happening. But now, when every day can feel a bit of a matter of life and death, it’s just funny to remember the things that can and will go wrong.

Picture the scene. You’ve checked they’re all listening, got them quiet and you may even have made them all sit down, because that’s when ears work best of course! You explain the drill, maybe even three times because you want it to sink in, right? You’ve even given it a run through with one of the kids or another coach to demonstrate how it should pan out. And then you tell them, “Right, off you go.”

The responses at this point vary. But I’m sure we’ve all heard or witnessed every last one of them. Take your pick from,

  • At least one player is stood, stock still, blank faced before asking, “Wait, what’re we doing?” And when I say at least one, we all know that it could be every last kid.
  • A selection of kids or even every kid just does the drill completely wrong and much to your amazement some of what’s going on bares absolutely no resemblance to what you’d talked them through. With my team there’s even a chance someone’s pulled out a rugby ball. They might even be hitting it with a golf club.
  • You realise that you explained it wrongly. You might even consult some kind of notes and see that what you’ve got them doing and what you’d drawn out and written down are two completely different things.
  • A dog walks past/plane goes over/crisp packet blows by/literally anything happens that isn’t at all football related and one by one your players stop to watch.
  • It’s a difficult drill – these ones usually don’t involve a football – and suddenly an abundance of kids needs either the toilet or a drink.
  • Literally any scenario you can think of.

We know it’s not all like that though. I obviously miss the sessions where it all goes right – and we do have some of them! Some nights we’ll run a session where from minute one they’re all giving 100% effort, the passing is sharp, everyone’s eager and there are smiles on every face. You then have a practice game and everything you’ve worked on for the previous 45 minutes is there for all to see.

I miss making mistakes. And boy can I make them. We have a squad of 15 and there’s rarely a session or a game goes by when I don’t get names wrong. On more than one occasion I’ve sent a team out short of at least one player. Sometimes at the start of the game, but more often than not, for the second half. I’m an absolute master at losing track of the changes I’ve made at half-time and sending out a team of 8 for a nine-a-side game. Sometimes I’ve eve watched in horror as we have two players lining up in the same position before realising I’ve sent out one too many. The game’s never actually started like this, but there will inevitably be a time when it happens!

In the past – although I seem to be learning my lesson here – I’ve turned up for a game with no match ball. Luckily, I live around the corner form the pitches and have time to nip home, but it’s an interesting mistake to make. I’ve put the goals up wrongly, only to stand back to admire my handy work and find a ridiculously sagging crossbar or just some ridiculous shape that I’ve created. One of our players even managed to turn up without shorts this year, so I think my influence is clearly having an effect!

The final thing that I miss has to be game related. But I don’t just miss games. I miss the adrenaline involved. There can’t be many other feelings like this; not that can be related on a family friendly blog anyway. It’s that feeling as your keeper makes a brilliant save. Ours seems to specialise in saving penalties and it always feels amazing to watch. For me, it’s when my son scores a goal or even when he plays a pass that leads to the same for one of his team mates. It’s in the last ditch tackle from the kid you didn’t think would get there and it’s there in the minutes leading up to a kick-off, when optimism is at its highest.

This season we’ve had a lot of adrenaline fuelled times. During one early home game though, the adrenaline got unusually high. We were 1-4 down at half time and to be honest when we got them in to talk there weren’t a lot of positives. The lads were told in no uncertain terms to go out and prove a point in the second half. I knew that the game wasn’t beyond us and said as much, but what happened over the next half hour was stunning. We grabbed the first goal of the half and the second, but then conceded again to leave the score at 3-5 with around 15 minutes to go. However, my lads simply reacted once more and used this setback to push themselves further. Now, I’m usually reasonably calm on the touchline, if probably a bit too involved in terms of calling out instructions. However, my adrenaline levels were far too high at this point and as we scored again I was a parent more than a coach, just shouting encouragement as much as I could while trying not to jump up and down too much!

Amazingly, with around 5 minutes to go we’d levelled the score and our opposition looked out for the count. By this point I’d regained some composure and was able to look at the game from a more tactical point of view, but once we went ahead I was back to simply bouncing up and down and screeching.

We won the game 7-5 in the end and I found myself apologising to the opposition coach at the end, conscious of the fact that I’d been like Zebedee for the previous twenty minutes. I’ll never forget the following moments however as the adrenaline coursed through my system. My son nearly knocked me over as he came over at the end and it was an enormous dad and son hug. As we got everyone in afterwards – parents, family and players – it was like one enormous smile and although I couldn’t tell you what I said, it was all positive and felt fantastic to say. I miss those levels of adrenaline hugely.

So there we have it. In the midst of a global pandemic and with life as we’ve known it changing by the day, I find myself still missing football. Ridiculous when you think of it with your sane adult head on. Yet I know that many of you reading this will feel exactly the same.

 

 

Crosby Academy: Adventures in home schooling.

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Having been teacher for the last twenty years I’ve experienced a lot of challenges in the classroom. From earth-shattering breaking news like the attack on the Twin Towers to teenagers breaking wind that could well have cleared the classroom out for the day. However, this week I’ve been facing up to perhaps my biggest challenge yet. Home-schooling my own kids.

Monday 23rd March 2020 witnessed the birth of a new place of learning as Crosby Academy opened its doors for the very first time. We’re a small school. Tiny, in fact with a cohort of only two pupils and two teachers. We’re also a bit of a through school with students in Year 9 and Year 6. And with school closures meaning that students may not return to their actual place of learning this academic year, it leaves us sat between two stools, so to speak. Our Year 6 boy could well have seen his last Year 6 action, leaving us wondering if we should simply be preparing for, and getting ahead with, his start at high school.

But enough of the boring details. Let’s get to the fun stuff.

Following a non-existent consultation process I installed myself as Executive Principal of the academy. No interviews needed; I am absolutely the man for this job. I have literally no experience of this level of management, but figure that having worked with various SLTs in the past who seemed under-qualified to collect the trolleys in Asda, I’d be alright. That said, I wouldn’t know where to start if I had to start collecting the trolleys in Asda. Especially that bit where they stop the traffic by wheeling about a hundred of them out in a big row. Never mind, I’ll tackle that in my pensionable years.

Our main aim at Crosby Academy is to make learning fun for our kids. That’s a genuine sentence by the way; there is no punchline. From my point of view, it’s going to be a bit of a culture shock for all of us – we’re all out of our comfort zones, so let’s make sure we can cover lots of the skills the kids will need, but try to relax and enjoy ourselves at the same time.

With fun in mind, we start the day by taking part in Joe Wicks’ live YouTube PE lesson – a kind of aerobic workout, but I’m guessing, designed to be little more child friendly. Our Year 9 student opts out, as she does with most exercise these days, but other than that the whole school – staff and students – are ready to workout. We take our places in the ‘gym’ – our front room – and tune in to Joe’s YouTube channel ready to feel the burn, as they no doubt still say in gyms up and down the land, while staring at themselves in big mirrors and thinking about muscles like abs, quads and glutes.

At 9am Joe is in position, all skin tight top and a pair of shorts. He is enthusiasm personified, which is normally a bit much for me to take, but I remember our school motto, “It’s like getting an education on the Vengabus.” and put it out of mind. I make a mental note to start writing a school song though. My life is nothing without a futile exercise that will amuse me and me only.

We start with a five minute warm up. Some stretches and stuff to get the heart rate going. I am so busy focusing on bending my body into unnatural positions that I forget the 5 minute part and when Joe tells us we’ve finished our warm up I let out an audible “Whaaaat?”, having already worn myself out. But there’s no time to feel sorry for myself because after wittering on about ‘shout outs’ for a minute or so Joe launches into the first proper exercise. I think I might have to employ a new PE teacher; one that just does football and doesn’t ask for shout outs and then do things like tell the whole of New York, ‘We love you, New York’. We don’t. I mean, you’re alright but there are loads of things I love before you, like chocolate, Sam and Cat on Nickalodeon, Army and Navy sweets and almost everything from Greggs.

Despite my post warm-up fear, the next 20 plus minutes is actually really enjoyable. We speed through various exercises, including things called Jumping Jacks and Climbing The Mountain and there is even more talk of shout outs. At one point I find myself staring in some kind of fascination at Mr Wicks, whose abs are clearly visible even though he’s wearing a t-shirt. It’s like his clothes have been sprayed on and sculpted to him. Meanwhile I’m wearing the kind of loose top I wear for running that should hide a multitude of sins and still my little pot belly is shamefully visible. No matter – I still manage to stumble through the exercises. We seem to do more squats than is humanly necessary and at one point I fear that we should have set up a safe word beforehand, but I get through it. We all do. It feels like the toughest PE lesson ever, but as Executive Principal, I feel like I’ve sent an important message to my staff and pupils. It may well be that lycra and strenuous exercise is to be avoided by a man of my age, but I’ve sent an important message all the same. I might have to go and have a lie down, just while I figure out what it actually is though, you understand.

I decide that we’ll keep Mr Wicks at Crosby Academy. In my head we have the conversation about it. I tell him, “Mr Wicks *then I pause for dramatic effect, because I’m a man of great power now* we’d be more than happy to keep you here at the academy” and he looks at me a little bit in awe but all the while really chuffed, and says something like “wicked” and then gets carried away and calls me “geezer” before apologising. I tell him it’s OK and laugh while I ask the kids and the wife to ‘give a shout out to r Wicks!’. I think we’re having a bromance.

After our PE lesson, as we’re yet to go into lockdown, we go out for a walk, just as a sort of warm down. It’s a beautiful early Spring day, we’re keeping a safe distance from the very few people we encounter and we’re trying to keep the fun in education, remember?

Once we return to school Year 9 settle down to do some Art, while I take Year6/7 up to the Key Stage Fluid Suite (Dylan’s bedroom) to do some English. My daughter is studying for GCSE Art and with a lot of encouragement from us is beginning to believe in herself. She’s in fact very talented and is nowadays happy to just sit and draw or paint. Me and the boy leave her to it.

We’re doing some creative writing so we incorporate some of the ideas from Dylan’s school such as starting with an IQ, which it turns out is some sort of question where neither of us understands what the ‘I’ stands for. This is a bit of a worry given that my Year6/7 student will have had a lot of experience of using them, but I tell myself, it’s OK and that ‘school’s out’, so none of it matters. Learning on the Vengabus, remember? We work out however, that it seems to be a kind of learning purpose, but in the form of a question, so we muddle on through and settle on ‘Can I use interesting vocabulary in my description?’ Secretly I’m thinking more along the lines of ‘Can I get through this next hour without throwing his books out of the window?’ but I don’t let on.

I try to bring a bit of a flavour of high school to his work by making sure his writing is planned and making him stick to a timeframe. I also mark it soon after he’s finished and give him areas for improvement; what we call EBI (Even Better If) points. I’m not sure he likes it, but I try to be as positive as possible, given the fact that he’s my son and of course the only student in the year group. I’m thrilled to see that his first effort is pretty damn good. He’s a little bit shocked to discover that he’ll be re-drafting his work in tomorrow’s lesson though!

Following our English and Art lessons it’s break time and I decide to head out on duty. Our Year 9 student is out in the yard (our garden) so I decide to go and check on her. I think it’s important as the most important person in the academy, who it all revolves around (it’s all about me, not the bloody students), that I get out and mix. However, when I look for her she’s not there and I’m sent into a momentary spin. I’ve lost an entire year group!

It turns out that she’s channeling her inner Goth and avoiding the outdoors because it’s sunny and therefore not the kind of place for vampires. She’s in the room we use for messy play. Actually, let’s just correct that – she’s in her own really messy room doing her best impression of a tramp, in amongst all of her worldly possessions strewn about a 9ft by 9ft box room. She’s OK though and her mostly independent learning seems to be going well.

I decide to do what good leaders do next. I go and check up on my staff. I’ve done plenty of learning walks in actual schools, but not one in a home-school environment. That said, my home-school career is only hours old. However, I feel, given her inexperience as an educator, it’s time to pop into one of my wife’s lessons! Maybe I can pass on a few tips? I’m sure she’d appreciate that…

Obviously, she’s thrilled to see me and spends almost all of the time that I’m in the room with a big smile on her face. Or is that gritted teeth? There’s no pressure here at Crosby Academy though. I simply ask her about 14 different questions about what she’s doing and then, when I feel that I’ve had the answers that I consider the correct ones, I leave.

I don’t do any of this, obviously. But I do pop my head around the door to see how things are going. I haven’t heard any shouting from upstairs so it seems to have been going well and when I enquire that seems to be the case. It’s been a good first day and we bring things to an end rather early in order to give everyone a break and a bit of space away from each other.

For the rest of the week I’m largely responsible for all of the learning at Crosby Academy. Our Maths and Science teacher, my wife, who gets to specialise in all the boring subjects in one go, has to be back at work. In fact, given what is now a lockdown situation, she chooses to work from home, utilising one of our learning hubs here at the academy to make for a home office. Or rather, after a day trying to work at the dining room table with our daughter, she gives up and confines herself to our bedroom for the remainder of the week.

This leaves me as the sole teacher and as a result I give myself a promotion, following a meeting of the school governor (yes that is singular and the meeting amounts to me having a bit of a think). My title is now Admiral of Education – grandiose you may feel, but I’m the fella steering the learning liner, remember. It’s only me that’s responsible for the course of this particular pedagogical pedalo. And thus, admiral seems an extremely fitting title.

For the rest of the week we cover quite a bit of ground. We’re disciplined enough to make sure that we have school every day. Every morning at least two of us join in with Mr Wicks’s PE lesson and every morning I feel like he might be trying to do me an injury. No matter, I manage to stay with it for the week and although it’s difficult, it’s a huge amount of fun too. It feels like a nice way to spend doing some father son bonding time with the added perk that by the time it’s all finished and we’re back to some sense of normality I’ll have buns of steel as well as the possibility of actual abs, rather than just a little pot belly made out of crisps, chocolate and beer.

Our Year 9 student becomes largely autonomous, although I make sure that I check in on her progress regularly. So regularly in fact, that I’m positively wowed by the amount of education one can get from one’s phone these days…

My son – our Year 6 maybe 7 student – needs supervision, however. And so as well as daily Maths and English lessons, we spend time learning Spanish, learning about lines of longtitude in Geography, tuning in to a brilliant live lesson from a World War II bunker in History and then doing some Art outside in the sunshine. My friend and Art teacher Helen has set up a self-isolation Facebook group designed to get people doing art every day and so after our Art lesson I post both of our drawings in the group. It’s to my eternal disappointment that Dylan’s two cartoons from the Dogman books get infinitely more likes than my drawing of a flower from our camellia bush. It seems everyone really is a critic!

As the week ends I realise that despite the sense of dread that I’d had about home-schooling, I’ve really enjoyed myself. We’ve managed to have fun – I’ve only had the one tantrum after all – and I’d like to think that both kids have kept up their learning. Friends on social media have helped with ideas and through sharing things like the World War II bunker lesson and the Facebook drawing group and in the end it’s been a success. So much of a success in fact that I’m considering knocking on my neighbour’s door over the weekend to ask them if they’d like to join in with Crosby Academy. I could have a multi academy trust on my hands by the start of April.

Does anybody know what the rank above admiral is?

 

 

 

 

The lengths we go to: A review of ‘A Christmas Carol’ as performed by the English Department (and a Maths teacher) of Thornhill Community Academy

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Bob Cratchit’s sideline as a gangsta rapper was clearly of no interest to Scrooge who much preferred grime.

Labelled as ‘Laura’s Ridiculous Idea’ and granted its own Facebook Messenger group in order to get things organised this version of a Christmas classic was always going to be a tall order to pull off. But boy, did they manage it!

Late last year and indeed last decade, following a casual phone conversation, the idea was put to staff that the English Department at Thornhill Community Academy in Dewsbury should attempt to put on a version of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. The usual avenue of getting an outside theatre group in had proven far too expensive, but we still wanted our kids to have some sort of theatre experience. In a school that prides itself on doing things our own way and constantly striving to go the extra mile there was nothing else for it. We’d do it ourselves.

A wild idea? Yes. A bridge too far? Well, given that this was the famous ‘Educating Yorkshire’ school, then surely nothing was impossible. Needless to say, following several meetings and conversations as well as a few begging requests for props and costumes on social media, an ensemble cast was put together and a play began to take shape. A script was found, music and scenery arranged and staff put themselves forward for several roles each, some with a great deal more enthusiasm than others *coughs* Mrs Sinclair. (Episode 3 of Educating Yorkshire if the name rings a bell. Believe me, she’d want you to know).

Our production was to be put on twice in one day. A morning performance for the whole of Year 11 – and any staff that could make it along – and then a matinee performance, if you will, for Year 10 during the last hour of a busy day.

By the day of the performances the cast had managed to run through a whole two (count ’em) rehearsals. After all, any English department is a busy one, but let me tell you, the work we do here at TCA takes up an extraordinary amount of time. And thus, rehearsal time was at a premium. However, everyone in the camp – and also a lot of the pupils who would be in attendance – were excited and showing no signs of nerves on the morning of the performance. I say everyone, but personally I was terrified and all I had to do was work backstage and press a button occasionally.

Now although ‘A Christmas Carol’ is quite a serious play it was evident from the time the curtain went up (I mean, we have no curtain, but when writing about theatre, dahling…) it was clear that the objective of the whole cast was to have some yuletide fun. And so, while Scrooge (TV’s Matthew Burton) made his entrance he was roundly, and in an exaggerated fashion, snubbed by those making merry on the stage before we cut skilfully to his counting house – a beautifully prepared couple of desks and a different backdrop.

The pre-Christmas merriment continued as the play went on. The undoubted star of the show, Mrs Sinclair, brought out many a laugh, not least with her portrayal of Scrooge’s charwoman. Bent double, moving like some kind of hunchbacked Mick Jagger and in possession of what can only be described as a hybrid regional accent it was hard to keep a straight face as she asked, “Warm yer bed, sir?” Of course, this was a moment that one wouldn’t find in the novella, but it kind of set the tone for the rest of the action.

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Emma, Laura & Bryonny proving that for actors sometimes words just get in the way.

Other highlights would include the whole cast – those on and off-stage – gesturing furiously towards what we’ll laughingly call the mixing desk – in a vain attempt to get our ‘visual technician’ to change the background when Scrooge tried to talk to Marley’s face in a door knocker that hadn’t yet changed to a door knocker from a street scene. Our ‘visual technician’ was me, left in charge of the clicker for a screen with a PowerPoint on. It had taken me mere minutes to relax and enjoy the performance so much that I forgot my job. A little like my role in the school nativity as one of the three wise sheep (probably) about forty years ago when I got so distracted by concentrating for my prompt that I forgot my one line – ‘baaaah’ – entirely.

Personally, I enjoyed watching the sheer glee on the faces of my colleagues every time they took to the stage. I don’t mean that they were grinning like idiots, but their enjoyment of what they were doing was all too obvious. As a very shy bloke I wouldn’t have dared attempt to act and so the brilliance of the performances in front of me was a joy to watch. The play was worth an imaginary admission fee for the ad-libs alone, but the approach of our actors was just brilliant. Another thing to admire about our talented department.

Later, and much to the astonishment of the audience – and the audible delight of Mrs Bell – Mariah Carey showed up at Fezziwig’s party and the English department gave a master class in how not to dance and how to avoid the actual rhythm of the track. As Scrooge watched on accompanied by a ghost that appeared to be wearing a christening gown on her head, Fezziwig’s Christmas party fairly rocked to the sound of ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’. Nearby, the all female section of the cast involved at this juncture did their best dad-dancing and all of a sudden it wasn’t so clear to see why Scrooge missed his days with Fezziwig so much. Sadly my request that ‘Horny’ by Mousse T be playing was rather criminally ignored. I mean, what kind of party doesn’t feature Mousse T? And what kind of adaptation of a Dickens classic is complete without teachers dancing to ‘Horny’? Oh, hang on…

Further highlights included Scrooge talking like a parrot – and apologising for doing so – the appearance of a child’s unicorn in place of a horse and carriage and a veritable cavalcade of accents, none of which seemed appropriate and some of which seemed to morph from region to region as the lines went on. Mrs Stylianou in particular, with her hybrid Welsh/Carribbean/Glaswegian accent, brought a certain mirth to proceedings that made it difficult not to laugh from the sidelines. Well accustomed to her bad accents, this reviewer just shook his head. Getting back to the appearance of the unicorn by the way, I have no doubt that one will also appear in a student’s written response about ‘A Christmas Carol’ in the near future, just as guns and cars are referred to in essays on Romeo and Juliet as a result of the Baz Luhrmann film. Fingers crossed it’s not a GCSE exam response!

As the curtain went down (we still didn’t have an actual curtain) and the players re-appeared to take their bow there was rapturous applause from those in the cheap seats. The assembled staff and students had clearly enjoyed their hour’s entertainment.

There was a special and deserved round of applause for our director, Dr Laura Price (not an actual medical doctor; a fact we have to confirm at our school on an all too regular basis) who had worked ridiculously hard to make this all possible, as well as taking on at least three roles too.

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And therein lies the ‘thing’ about my place of work. This play was the epitome of what has become our mantra over the years – work hard, be nice. I’ve worked at schools where staff would gladly put on a show, but all too often these could turn into a vanity project. The staff panto at a previous school, for instance, was clearly always just a chance for the head to feed her ego by playing an overblown villain. This was anything of the sort. The people involved certainly didn’t need any more work. In amongst the planning, teaching, exam marking, after school lessons and other extra curricular work that we do, the thought of putting on a play was indeed a ridiculous idea. But the people that I work with will stop at nothing to help our kids. And so, vanity and in some cases dignity were put to one side, in the name of education and in order to give our pupils an experience that they otherwise would be very unlikely to have (and by that I mean a theatre visit, not just a chance to see their teachers dressed up and messing about). As I said, work hard, be nice.

It’s no exaggeration to say that this show was a triumph. It wasn’t slick or enormously polished, but it was a whole world of fun and I have to say my admiration for the people that I work with, already sky high, went up another few notches. The play was put on a day before the end of quite a brutal half term and yet my colleagues couldn’t have been more enthused about the whole thing. Me? I put the nerves to one side, scaled a flight of stairs off stage and pressed a button occasionally, but heroically.

I fear that the performance will now become an annual thing, meaning I’ll feel the pressure to get out there and perform. But, given what I watched at the end of term in December, I reckon my colleagues would carry me through. And if it’s got me thinking of taking the plunge on stage then it must have been a success.

Sniff the air folks…that’s the smell of a BAFTA!

Life in grassroots football: How to turn your Under 11s four match losing streak into a personal crisis!

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Right lads, read this, take it all in and get out there and play like Brazil. Oh, and enjoy yourselves!

Every week, I try to make the last words that I say to my team exactly the same. “Enjoy it”, I say. And I mean it. I won’t lie though. I desperately want them to win because I know that winning football matches is a great deal more enjoyable than losing them. It’s simple really. But I always tell them ‘enjoy it’.

There’s no doubt that there’s a boat load of enjoyment to be had from running a kids’ football team. Certainly that’s what everyone will tell you. It’ll be a tonne of fun. They’re right as well. It is fun. So why am I currently turning our form into some kind of personal crisis then? Well let me attempt an explanation.

“I take it all very personally”

First up – and I know from conversations with other coaches that I’ve got no exclusivity here – I take it all very personally. When I played, as a kid and as a much younger man, I wanted to win. Desperately. Now, as an adult, I won’t ever send a team out thinking that any of us will enjoy it if we get beat. I certainly won’t. I don’t even enjoy it when we’ve got beat and played well. I might tell the kids that it was enjoyable to watch, but that’s a carefully placed white lie. When I played I would brood on defeats or bad performances for days on end. Nowadays, as a coach, it wakes me up in the middle of the night. ‘What could I have done to prevent that from happening?’ I tell the kids that I enjoyed watching them play, but inside I’m already asking myself how I could have changed things in order to avoid that defeat. Or I’m wondering how what we did in training on the Thursday and what we spoke about before kick-off didn’t make it to the match.

Kids don’t enjoy defeat either, especially when it’s a run of them. This thing that was meant to be fun isn’t anything like fun when the other team are laughing at you or celebrating yards away as you sit and have a drink of water miserably at the end of the game.

“I didn’t shout and bawl and I wasn’t cruel.”

And then as a coach, what do I say? I understand the need for positivity, but I think sometimes you have to be human too. Sometimes I just find it really tough to choose my words. And it becomes something that I worry about. Another reason to lie awake on a Saturday night. After our last game, and at the end of the four game losing streak that kind of prompted this blog, I’d had enough. I didn’t shout and bawl and I wasn’t cruel. But I couldn’t tell them lies. Not on this occasion. It had genuinely felt like every instruction given had been ignored. It had genuinely felt like, as coaches, we’d been let down. Of course I didn’t tell them that, but they were left in no doubt that they simply hadn’t been good enough. We’d been forced to make three substitutions because of the attitude of some of the boys and the fact that they’d decided to shout at not just the ref, but their coaches, parents and each other too. Of course, I then worried about that as well! Should I have been negative? Did I need to say anything? Would I need to sit them down again before the next training session and be all ‘cuddly’ and positive? In the end I said no more, but I must have thought it through at least a dozen times in the days between the game and training.

I did end up spending even more hours on football that week coming up with a code of conduct for the boys with some ‘rules’ and sanctions. I gave it out at training still feeling like I might be taking it all too seriously, but then comforted myself later with the thought that I’d taken out the bit where I wanted them to sign it! I’d planned to photocopy each of the signed code of conducts, so that I had a copy as well as the boys! I’m still keeping it in mind for next season though! After all, they’ll be coming up to 12 by then…

As coaches we took that day personally. In the heat of the moment I genuinely considered quitting as it just felt like I wasn’t making any kind of difference any more. As I do on many a Sunday, I found some time to sit and think things through in the afternoon after the game and came to the conclusion that I was taking things a little too seriously. There was no option but to carry on, making sure that training was purposeful and fun and that we worked more towards getting things right in games. After all, it’s an under 11s team, not someone fighting to win the Champions’ League. But it demonstrates how easy it is to become completely obsessed by the small part we play in football. And I’m sure I’m not alone in being this way. I hope I’m not, anyway!

“…I’ve allowed running a team to become too big a part of my life.”

The lengths I go to and the time I put into my team probably pales into insignificance when measured against some coaches. But I still feel that I’ve allowed running a team to become too big a part of my life. In the lead up to a game I can be regularly found scribbling down teams and formation on the backs of envelopes or scraps of paper. I’ll invariably then proceed to lose the envelope and have to search out another one and do it all over again! The trouble is that a combination of a big squad of players – we have 16 kids for a 9-a-side team – and a poor memory means that every team is different again as I forget a player and include someone else. Suffice to say the whole envelope thing can be unnecessarily stressful!

I used to keep a record of every game we played as well. I’d mark each player out of ten, record scorers and write a paragraph or two about how we’d played and things to change. Family life and work has put pay to that particular obsession though as I can just never find the time anymore. Again though, the little orange book is something I’m thinking of bringing back for next year!

When I’ve got time I get out my little magnetic board with the counters that represent players and play about with it, working out who’d be best where and what I’d need to tell them in order to get the best out of them in said position. I haven’t yet had the bottle to use it at an actual match, but the time will come when I finally convince myself that it’s not that embarrassing and that it’s what other coaches do! I’ll stress myself out about that too.

“…please don’t get me started on dog walkers!”

And then, in terms of obsession and crisis, we get to the pitch. Our pitch takes up so much of my time that it’s criminal really. I live quite close to the club, so in times of bad weather I’m forever thinking about it. What will that near side touchline be like? Will the top goalmouth be holding water? Is the grass too long in the corners and is it possible that my lines have disappeared again? As a further consequence of living close, I’m forever checking the weather forecast for the week a well, just in case there’s a few days worth of rain that I need to panic about while being unable to actually do anything about it.

All this is of course before we even touch on the subject of kids using the pitch to ride bikes on. And please don’t get me started on dog walkers! It seems that every time I go over to re-paint the lines someone has let their dog use our pitch as a toilet and then conveniently not noticed! And I swear that every time I’m leaving having re-done those lines someone will proceed to walk their dog over our pitch, even though they can see me coming out of the clubhouse! I’m beginning to feel paranoid; that someone is watching me paint the lines while simultaneously winding up Fido ready to go and run all over our grass!

It gets worse. I can often be found hanging out of my bedroom window, craning my neck to see if I can get a view of the pitch from about 400 metres away. I can’t, but it never stops me trying! Sometimes I’ll see dog walkers or, Heaven forbid, kids playing football and quietly curse to myself while trying not to worry too much. I’ve genuinely become a pitch bore and I fear that I may need to seek some kind of professional help in order to shake the disease.

The final form of obsession can be found on the morning of any match. As a supporter I’ve been ridiculously superstitious for as long as I can remember. Nothing too crazy…just the lucky pants, the lucky socks, the lucky top, not using any plates, bowls or mugs that are the same colour as opposition shirts, the lucky pebbles found on a beach stuffed into coat pockets, buying a programme from the same place week in, week out. Just the kind of things I’ve found as a Newcastle United fan that are proven to work and responsible for all of our success over the years. I mean you can’t always rely on the likes of Mike Ashley, Joe Kinnear and Alan Pardew.

As a coach I’m much the same. If we lose I won’t wear the same top for the next game. I’ll change tracksuit bottoms after a bad result too. I put things out in a certain order when I get to the pitch. I haven’t quite got to the lucky pebble level yet, but I know it’ll happen. I just haven’t found the right pebble yet!

We finally have a game again this weekend after the last four were postponed due to the weather. After what has felt like months and months being obsessed and feeling like I’m in the middle of some kind of personal crisis I have an outlet! I hope that we go out and play well. I hope that the formation I’ve been considering will work and that the changes I’m planning won’t be too much. I hope we can win. And, you know obviously, I hope everyone enjoys themselves. Whatever happens I’m sure I’ll sulk and moan and overthink every last second of it!