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A Few Words on Anthony Gordon.

So, after a bit of a wait and a great deal of disagreement among our fanbase, the signing of Anthony Gordon from Everton was announced on Sunday.

While we were linked with the player – both in Summer and in this January window – there were a lot of dissenting voices. It seemed that the experts among our fans knew better than Messrs Howe, Nickson and Ashworth in terms of the player’s ability, temperament, potential and even his looks and fashion sense.

For what it’s worth I’m very much in favour of this transfer. I think he’s a fantastic player and one I’d rather have in our squad than a one we have to face. So, if you take it at face value, what have we bought? Firstly, a young English Premier League player. Gordon has in fact made just under 80 appearances for Everton, 65 of which have come in the league. So, he has experience; not a vast amount, but valuable experience, all the same. For a little bit of context, Sean Longstaff has just over 120 appearances (98 in the league) and Gabriel Martinelli at Arsenal, 111 (78 in the league). Both would be classed as established Premier League players and Gordon isn’t exactly a million miles behind them.

I’ve read a lot of comments on social media referencing the fact that there is better value to be had, but does that value come with the amount of first team, Premier League experience? If we buy from abroad, then no it doesn’t. And I still don’t believe that the people who recommend these players on social media have even seen them play!

Given what we perceive to be a Newcastle tax as well as an English player tax, I think the fee isn’t bad value at all. Yes, £40m is a ridiculous amount of money, but not in the present climate. Again, we’ve payed a realistic fee, keeping to our stance of evolution not revolution.

In terms of his ability, I really don’t understand the doubt. As far as I can see, he’s a very talented footballer. He’s not afraid to take on a defender, he’s got the odd trick and he’s got a goal in him. Furthermore, in keeping with the demands of the modern game, he seems to have the kind of tactical awareness that helps him sense danger from the other team as well as a chance of nicking the ball when on the attack. He tracks back, covers his defender and can pass. Add in the magic ingredient of Eddie Howe and his team and I think we’re signing a player who will only get better and better. The lad is going to be a real crowd pleaser in my opinion, whether he’s played on the left, right or down the middle.

Gordon’s pace is an obvious asset. Put simply, he’s one of the fastest players in the history of the Premier League. I’m not sure why we’d be too opposed to that. So again, what is it that people want? It’s not as if he’s like an Adama Traore type player where there’s pace to burn but it would seem nowhere near enough end product. And again, I’d hope with the kind of coaching that he’s going to get on a daily basis, his crossing and his assists will improve greatly and Eddie will find a way to exploit the pace that Frank Lampard couldn’t.

For me personally, whenever we’ve played Everton in the past couple of years, Anthony Gordon has felt like the only real danger. When they beat us last season at Goodison – and frankly, we threw that one away – Gordon was excellent, playing centrally in behind Richarlison and looking like a constant danger. Even when we beat them at home this season he looked their likeliest threat and certainly ruffled a few Toon feathers. By the looks of some of the photos I’ve seen online however, all has been forgiven!

It was good to see Anthony wearing a pair of black trousers in the photos that emerged of him at St. James’ Park on Saturday. It didn’t bother me, but I hoped that it would appease the readers of Italian Vogue in our fanbase, who seem to have been outraged at the lad’s pair of brown patchwork strides shown in a photo from summer. It certainly seemed to be a major reason why so many disapproved in our interest in the player, so hopefully his choice of what looked like a black, slim fit trouser put minds at rest.

In all seriousness, it amazes me what becomes a concern for some people. The lad is 21 and most likely already a millionaire; he’s probably not going to dress like your average football fan. Why people are taking such offence is beyond me. As long as, when he’s wearing that black and white shirt, he’s giving everything, I don’t care if he wants to dress up like Mr. Tumble occasionally.

There’s also been criticism of the way he looks, with our own fans posting memes of people like Claire Balding and Ellen DeGeneres photoshopped into a Toon shirt. While I’m sure some of this has just been lighthearted, I feel certain that some are doing it because they’re so opposed to the signing. The weird behaviour of the modern football fan, eh?

Finally, it appears like lots of people didn’t want Gordon to sign because of his temperament. They just didn’t fancy this snarling, angry young man representing our club. I say, let’s have more of it. Play with that anger and fire every time you pull on the shirt, lad! Many have pointed to our signing of Craig Bellamy, in order to validate the Gordon deal. He was horrible at times, wasn’t he? But what a player! Bellamy was one of my favourite players to ever wear the shirt. And he wasn’t the only player we’ve had in recent history with a bit of a temper or who could be perceived to be some sort of trouble. Hatem Ben Arfa had a real attitude problem, Laurent Robert too, Bowyer started a fight with his own team mate and Asprilla was absolutely bonkers! All of them gave everything for the shirt and all of them entertained. All of them, also, had the backing of the crowd.

We revel in what we term ‘shithousing’ and then complain when we sign a player that we might well label a shithouse! It beggars belief. Anyway, none of it matters – he’s our shithouse now and I say welcome to The Toon, young man! Let’s get behind him and leave the rest to the player himself and of course, Eddie Howe! I for one, think he’s going to be a genuine success.

Another FA Cup nightmare: About last night…

If you’re a Newcastle fan of a certain vintage, you’ll have half expected that result last night. Similarly, if you’re of a certain mindset when it comes to our club, nothing really shocks you anymore. So crashing out of the FA Cup in an early round to lower league opposition is all part of the deal really. But it doesn’t make it any more palatable.

If the truth be told, I’m gutted. In fact, I’m almost thankful for my present health worries, otherwise I’d have really fixated on what we all watched unfold last night. At least I’ve got genuinely better, more important things to think about, even if they are a right royal pain in the arse.

I love the FA Cup though. Despite the many changes over the years, for me it still feels special. Newcastle United have played a big part in the history and the drama of the cup over the years, with a chunk of that being hugely positive. In my lifetime though, it’s been largely negative and at times it’s felt like a competition where we actively strive to plumb new depths. As I said, I was gutted to go out early again.

Last night was the just latest in a long list of underwhelming episodes. After all, we’ve won only four of our last ten third round ties with three of those victories coming after replays. It’s not even a new phenomenon for Eddie Howe, having watched his team go out with a whimper this time last year against Cambridge United. And oh, how football fans loved that one as the ‘richest club in the world’ were beaten by a team where the city is more well known for its university than anything else.

For me, there’s no need for anger after this latest failure. Embarrassment, yes but no point in getting irate and filming yourself shouting at a phone or a webcam all red faced, sweary and reduced to making noises rather than forming sentences. Please, leave that to fans of Arsenal or Everton or that daft mackem that dresses like an 11=year=old and spends lots of time in his videos with his head in his hands making noises like a tortured animal. If you insist on being that Toon fan though, then maybe up your life insurance premium and do some reading about heart health. Shouting and screaming like a child isn’t going to change what is really just a bump in the road.

Eddie Howe said that he thought “the performance was ok” and was of the opinion that we had more than enough chances to win the game. He was right, as he is most of the time. We had a number of good chances that on another night we would have converted and gone home happy. It’s still a worry that we missed so many sitters though. It was the same story against Leeds and to a lesser extent Arsenal and it’s to be hoped that it doesn’t continue.

For me, a bigger worry was the passing. We gave the ball away far too much and wasted possession on a number of occasions. Given that we made eight changes that might be expected, but changed team or not, these players train together every day and most of those who came into the side have been regularly involved this season. It wasn’t like Eddie had thrown a load of kids in. Even the bench looked solid last night and personally I’d have liked to have seen the likes of Turner Cooke and Stephenson given another chance. However, as the coach of an Under 14 team that are currently bottom of their league with no points and a heavily negative goal difference, I have no wish to offer Eddie Howe and Jason Tindall any footballing advice whatsoever. If only certain NUFC related Twitter accounts would take note…

A few players stood out and strengthened the argument for greater squad depth. And while not wishing to dig people out and come across like one of the ‘I told you so’ brigade that lurk around every corner of social media, it’d be remiss of me not to mention them.

I love Matt Ritchie. He’s been my favourite player since Nobby Solano and I think he’s been absolutely vital for the survival of the club in recent years. He’s one of those lads that’s come in and shown that he gets it. He understands the fans and loves the club. However, his presence in the starting eleven last night was indicative of our lack of depth. I actually thought his performance was pretty solid, but having steeled myself for his departure over the last few windows, I was surprised to see him starting.

It’s a similar story with Jacob Murphy. I actually rate him and I think he’s done well when called upon this season. Last night was pretty much an abomination from him though. He just didn’t seem to be able to do anything right. It felt like he gave the ball away far too much and as ever there was a huge question over his decision making with him repeatedly hanging onto the ball for a few seconds too long when there was an obvious pass just yards away. As for his finishing, let’s just say last night wasn’t his first rodeo in terms of missed one on ones. He was a young player that promised much when he signed. He’s not anymore and I for one haven’t a clue where his future lies.

Jamal Lewis was another that promised much when he signed. And while I have sympathy for a player that was so obviously ruined by the previous regime and its emphasis on neglecting training and tactics in favour of days off, it saddens me to say that he just doesn’t look good enough. The lad just looks terrified every time he sets foot on the pitch and it’s just not working out for him as a Newcastle player. I thought he might turn into one of those players that Eddie performed an Eddie miracle on, but sadly, it doesn’t look likely. And if he can’t cut it against League one opposition, then he’s never going to cut the mustard.

I was also disappointed with Elliot Anderson last night, but I firmly believe that his time will come as he seems to have obvious quality. Prior to the game I’d read some of Eddie’s comments about Anderson and the fact that he’s had niggling injuries and illness this season and maybe that was exactly what we watched last night; a player struggling for consistency in a stop start season.

And then there was the elephant in the room: Chris Wood. I’m not keen to say anything too bad and his history in the Premier League suggests that there’s a player in there, but maybe we all have to admit that he’s not got the quality we’re going to need if this team is to keep evolving. It feels like there’s a glaring miss from him with every appearance and perhaps it’s a confidence issue. But perhaps that’s just me being kind for the sake of it. Last night’s glaring miss felt horrible and on the end of a sweeping move like that one was, what you want is a clinical finisher. It wasn’t a particularly difficult finish and if we really are going to win something in the next few years – or ever again – then we need a quality of player that doesn’t miss sitters like that.

So, when push comes to shove, last night just wasn’t good enough. But a bit of perspective is clearly needed here and thankfully I’m not the only one who can remind you that we’re still in the Quarter Final of the Carabao Cup and that we’re third in the league (third, man!) and firmly in the hunt for a place in Europe next season. Everything about our club is on the up, everyone is together and we are at the very start of what promises to be an exciting future. Sheffield Wednesday pretty much deserved the win. Let’s leave it at that, not get too down and look forward to what’s still to come.

Eddie’s Mags: About last night…

Tuesday January 3rd 2023 might well go down in footballing history. Newcastle fans may well remember it for the fact that we kept our sixth clean sheet in a row, with Nick Pope equalling the club record for such a feat. We might also remember it for the fact that we gained a hard earned point against an Arsenal side who many are beginning to view as serious title contenders.

Apparently though, according to a lot of what I’ve read online and to an extent from the reaction of Sky pundits last night, football fans will remember last night as the night that Newcastle United invented what some will refer to as shithousing, others will label cheating and a few will term game-management. And let’s not forget that it was also the night that Dan Burn single-handedly (pardon the pun) invented shirt pulling.

In fact, what actually seems to have happened is that we put yet more noses out of joint. Once again, we kept up our record of not rolling over in the face of one of the top clubs (you know, the ones that didn’t want to stay in this league not so long ago). We showed grit, determination and grafted like tigers. And yes, we employed some tactics that you might say weren’t in the spirit of the game, but then who doesn’t do that these days? I’ve watched football for a long time and if someone’s going to tell me that shirt pulling doesn’t happen at corners, goalkeepers don’t regularly take their time with goal kicks and that players don’t bend the ear of refs in order to gain an advantage, then I’d seriously question their eyesight.

It can’t be that we can happily let Manchester City get away with those ‘tactical fouls’ we’ve all heard about. We can’t just be expected to allow the likes of Salah and Kane to throw themselves to the floor at even the hint of a touch from an opposing player. And you surely can’t believe that VAR should consistently favour the bigger clubs and that pressure can only be put on refs and fourth officials by a select group of managers and players?

Last night, Newcastle United did the kind of things that teams have been getting away with for a long, long time. I know that some of our fans were outraged at Leeds doing it against us just the other day too, but they need to approach the season with a little more realism as well. Everyone does it. We’ve had to grind out results for a long time now. Pardew’s teams did it, as did Rafa’s. And let’s not forget that it was Plan A, B and C for Steve Bruce as well as for Dalglish and Sounness on a regular basis.

Before the game, I think many fans and pundits imagined that Arsenal would make quick work of us. They’d put us in our place. And that feeling would have increased substantially given how quickly they started the game. But we defended like…well, we defended like Newcastle United this season. It was funny to hear Dan ‘ShirtPuller’ Burn intimating that we can’t be expected to just let big clubs beat us because that must be exactly how a lot of us fans feel. Before kick off, Sky reminded us that we’d been beaten 7-3 at the Emirates not too long ago. Plucky Newcastle, having a go and getting precisely nothing out of the game, then being laughed at for conceding seven. I think I prefer the kind of team display that got us a point last night. It was a joy to watch. Sorry, Arsenal fans.

Let’s not forget that Arsenal committed their fair share of fouls. Dan Burn was furious that we weren’t awarded a penalty when his shirt was pulled and he was hauled to the ground in the box in the first half. This of course, was highly mysterious, given that Dan himself hadn’t even invented shirt-pulling yet. Our law abiding opposition also picked up a number of yellow cards, with Granit Xhaka being fortunate to stay on the field after one foul too many. Lucky for him that the ref had lost the plot a good while previously.

If these big clubs and top teams are so good though, they’ll surely be able to play through whatever they’re faced with. Yet, I don’t remember Arsenal cutting through us too much last night. Nick Pope made one save of note, our defenders made blocks, but that is simply a group of footballers doing their jobs, surely? Having watched a bit of Arsenal this season the song they sing about centre half William Saliba hasn’t escaped my attention. Do they sing that on repeat because he’s a good defender who defends well or just because his name fits a song and they’re happy enough to pat themselves on the back because they think they’re funny?

As it happens, Eddie’s Mags showed a side we actually all knew about last night. Six clean sheets on the bounce and the meanest defence in the league suggests that defensively, we’re very good. We haven’t just defended well against Arsenal. We’ve defended well everywhere we’ve been this season. So the outrage that I’ve seen online this morning and on the touchline last night is laughable really. They said that Eddie Howe couldn’t organise a defence and now that it seems they were wrong and that he can, those same people are crying. Grow up.

What happened last night was that one team adapted to get something from the game, while the other team didn’t. No outrage required.

Newcastle United: What did the takeover ever do for us?

As I write, it’s been almost a year since our beloved Newcastle United was taken over by the Saudi PIF group, Amanda Staveley, Mehrdad Ghodoussi and the Reubens brothers. Almost a year since #cans became a reality. So naturally, and I imagine like many, many others, I found myself sitting reflecting.

I think we’d all share the view that it’s been an incredible year. And while there have been some nay sayers and doom merchants, I’d prefer to just file them under the headings of either ‘Idiots’ or ‘Attention Seekers’. So, if you’re sitting there still quietly seething at the fact that we haven’t bought Haaland, Mbappe or Neymar or even that we didn’t just fund the invention of robot footballers so we could win the league by Christmas, this isn’t the blog for you. Maybe shout down and tell your mam to get a wriggle on with your tea or do something else that you class as productive. Anything that makes you feel right, I suppose.

So, what did this takeover ever do for us then?

Well, I think the first thing we got was hope. As the saying went, ‘we don’t demand a team that wins, just a club that tries’. It was never all that much to ask really, was it? Surely the whole point of any sporting club is that it tries to compete? And yet, for 14 years we clearly didn’t have that. Cup competitions were deemed a waste of time and the stock line that came – infrequently – out of the club was that our season was about survival and that we couldn’t compete.

The takeover changed all that. And while the talk is quite rightly of evolution, not revolution, it would be easy to argue that after so long without hope and belief, to now have it once again is pretty bloody revolutionary! A year ago, the majority had decided that this was the year we’d be relegated again and almost all hope had gone. In fact, all we had left was the hope that it would all be over quickly. Now, by contrast, we simply hope it will never end! Many of us have rediscovered our love of the club, having had that feeling numbed by a bored owner who had more interest in balance sheets than anything positive like entertainment, love or glory.

The arrival of the new owners basically booted the club awake. Changes were made more or less immediately and the owners showed that they knew the value of easy wins. So surfaces were re-painted and what felt like 15,000 gaudy Sports Direct signs were consigned to the skip. A smart move; as a fanbase we were now even more onside with the owners.

No one can describe us as sleepwalking anymore. We are very much alive and one of the benefits of the last year has been that all of us can dare to dream again. However, it’s better than that just being something for the fanbase. The management have bought into the dream, the players sense incoming success and the owners are backing these dreams on what feels like a daily basis, while also living the very same dream and backing the team regularly, in person. Our owners are no longer reminiscent of the Ghost of Football Past.

Suddenly, there is a renewed professionalism about the club, a drive and a desire from everyone connected to it and these ingredients have built up over the past year, leaving even the most hardened cynics having some sort of tangible sense of belief. I’ve experienced too much Newcastle United flavoured heartache over the years to get too carried away, but even I’m beginning to think that given time we could be a trophy winning football club once more.

The past year has witnessed the addition of a certain level of quality and class that had been absent – or at least only ever seen fleetingly – over the previous 14 years. The most blatantly obvious sign of that has been the players that we’ve signed, with seasoned internationals like Kieran Trippier being joined by the likes of Bruno and Alexander Isaak; the like of which we all probably thought we’d perhaps never see again in black and white. But class comes in different forms too and so while we’ve signed some excellent players, Eddie Howe has brought in some excellent people too. Think of players like Dan Burn and Matt Targett and I can’t be the only one who thinks they seem like great blokes too?

This idea of class and professionalism extends to the bench and the backroom too where sometimes it can feel like we’ve appointed someone new on a weekly basis. Dan Ashworth was the classic example. A man at the absolute top of his game, in a great job who we decided we wanted and went after patiently but with focus, until we got him. The biggest compliment I can pay that particular appointment is that it’s a whole world away from the likes of Kinnear, Jiminez and Wise. And then you think about the owners. I mean, can you imagine them taking the players out for cut price pizza and then giving fans the sly Vs as they leave in the back of a car?

The coaching team seems big too. Only this week I read an article where Craig Bellamy pointed this out – there’s just more staff, which, when you think about it, makes perfect sense given the size of the squads involved in football these days. Then behind the scenes. the medical team has grown as well as areas like the Sports Science team and while I have very little idea of how it all works, the impression that I get is that it’s a whole lot more professional these days. Again, you get the feeling that the club is being run properly once more. And when you think about what the future might hold in terms of the playing squad and staff involved in helping them out, the mind might just boggle!

Those of us of a certain age might remember The Fast Show and a character played by Paul Whitehouse called ‘Brilliant’. His thing was to walk across varying landscapes extoling the brilliance of anything and everything, usually beginning with a line like, “Aren’t *insert brilliant thing here* brilliant?” And then he’d be off on an enthusiastic riff about said thing being brilliant and the many, usually inaccurate, reasons why it was brilliant. He’d end by simple shouting, “Briiiiiiilllliiiiaaaaaaannnnttt!” Funnier than I’ve made it sound, I assure you! Well, supporting Newcastle United for the last year has been just like being ‘Brilliant’.

Aren’t Newcastle United brilliant?

Imagine you’re ‘Brilliant’ and then just have a think about what you could shout about. It could be an endless sketch, couldn’t it?

“Aren’t Newcastle United brilliant? Black and white stripes like zebras, brilliant! Kieran Trippier over the wall, Amanda Staveley, Wor Flags, Jason Tindall’s tan, brilliant. Team photos, laps of appreciation where they walk around the pitch…appreciating. Bruno’s f***ing magic, Alexander Isaak, so many As in his name, it’s brilliant! Full stadiums, Maxi’s volley against Wolves, mackems fewmin’, who’s that team we call United? Brilllliiiiiiiaaaaaannntt!”

The takeover has also managed to bridge a gap that was embarrassing, but could have got to shameful levels. The womens’ team was left to their own devices under Mike Ashley and as a result it looked under-funded and it under-performed. There seemed to be a general lack of interest in the whole thing. In fact though, it was a team that had been going for ages and been ignored and neglected by the club for most of that time.

It’s to the owners’ credit that they have now brought the womens’ team under the wing of the club. It’s something that could easily be viewed as a PR exercise, but you get the impression that our owners are actually fully behind the team and want it to work.

It brings back memories of Sir John Hall’s ideas about Newcastle United Sporting Club and I personally see it as a good thing. It’s certainly managed to add to the general good feeling about the place and earlier this year the Lady Magpies, as they’re known, smashed their own attendance record when playing at St. James’ Park. The interest is clearly there so it’s just another good thing that we’re all operating under the same roof, so to speak and also another sign that the penny-pinching of the previous regime, has gone.

Speaking of penny pinching, the arrival of Matt Targett got me thinking about the benefits of the takeover in a slightly more subtle way. Matt is not the star name that some would have wanted. You’ve only got to cast your mind back to the summer speculation about Renan Lodi to see that, with social media pundits going mad for a man that probably 80% of them had never heard of. However, we signed Matt Targett. Now, some of us will remember that Targett was meant to sign for us when he was a Southampton player, but we missed out on him and he ended up on loan at Fulham. A familiar tale, sadly and no doubt another last day of the window rumour put out as a smokescreen for our usual level of inactivity. Once again, this was down to the owner’s unwillingness to spend money and we’d have been fed the usual line about ‘just not being able to get it over the line’, so it’s a subtle reminder of the changes that we eventually got him after all, regardless of what some may have made of the signing!

I’d find it hard to believe that anyone could have any real problems with how things have changed in the last year. We may feel conflicted by moral issues connected to the owners, but looking at what they’ve done for the club in the last year, any complaining would be churlish. Where a storm had been raging over Newcastle for years, these new owners have been a breeze that cleared the clouds and brought sunshine where there had been rain. It’s safe to say that it’s been a hell of a year, but it’s almost as much of a sure thing that the next 5 or 10 years promise much, much more.

So, after a year of living the dream, it’s definitely time to look forward, but also to say thank you, because we’ve got a hell of a lot to be grateful for. So far, it’s been an amazing ride – here’s to the future and whatever treats it might bring!

Grassroots Football: Back on the grass once again…but it might be a very long season!

I half recognised the feeling both when I went to bed on Saturday night and then while I was having a shave on Sunday morning. With the whole house silent, other than the noise of the swooshing of my razor in the sink, I tried to pin down what it might be. I showered – always a good place for thinking – but still it didn’t come to me. Breakfast presented no breakthrough either. And then, as I closed the front door and ventured out into the brisk chill of the early Autumn morning, it hit me.

Excitement!

Of course! This was the first Sunday of the grassroots football season and despite the fact that my team had finished rock bottom of their division last season and then subsequently lost around half of its squad, I was definitely smack in the middle of a bout of excitement.

I’d packed the car, as I always do, the previous afternoon. Kit bag, footballs, nets, Respect line, corner flags, step ladders for putting the nets up and a smaller bag with my match book and a few other things in. I’d got up slightly earlier than usual, having also lost an assistant coach, whose son was one of those who departed at the end of the previous season, which meant that I’d be starting to set up on my own. And now, I was getting into the car to drive the two minutes up to the pitch. To add to my by now rather distinct sense of excitement, it wasn’t even raining! Today would be one of those rare occasions where I would be able to set foot on the grass without getting soaking wet feet within about 3 minutes!

My excitement continued, but was dulled ever so slightly when I walked across our pitch and saw the state of the grass. It was easily a good three inches long and therefore not really very convenient for football. So, not ideal then! When one of our parents arrived, we decided to change to an adjacent pitch which appeared to be slightly shorter. That buzz of excitement was still hanging around and the fact that an adult pub team might turn up later looking to use the same pitch added a sense of jeopardy too!

Time always seems to fly when you’re setting up for a match. It can seem like one minute it’s just you, your corner flags and the odd dog walker and then the before you know it, players and parents are arriving and the whole pitch is surrounded with people. It’s always at this point when you realise that all of this is your responsibility and sometimes, especially when the opposition seem to have a number of players who look like grown men, it can be quite daunting!

Still though, the excitement hung around. I spoke to some parents, to some of my players, to the opposition coach and still the flutter stayed. As we warmed up and closer still to kick off, as we conducted a team talk, I was optimistic and looking forward to the game to come.

Sending your players out onto the pitch at this level can relieve you of any control that you thought you might have had. And this is where the excitement can begin to dissipate. It certainly did on Sunday. I sent my lads out onto the pitch on Sunday we some simple instructions, I’ve decided this year to try and think of games in terms of 3 Golden Rules because this should mean I’m never over-complicating matters for my players. I may then speak to people individually, but as a team I want them to all think in terms of these golden rules and trying to do a few simple things as well as we can.

After making a decent enough start on Sunday, we then conceded 3 goals in quick succession and the game was almost already out of our grasp. Worst of all was that they were avoidable goals, meaning that my excitement quickly turned to tension, dread and a real feeling of helplessness. I ask my team to enjoy playing and stay positive, but for them and for me it can be difficult when nothing’s going your way.

At 3-0 down I could see heads dropping and I could hear one or two of my players sniping at each other and arguing a little bit. Obviously, I tried to encourage them to stay positive and to keep playing and pushing forward, but by half time, we were 6-0 down and I knew that it was going to be a difficult half-time team talk!

That earlier feeling of excitement now disappearing somewhere over a local hill, I tried to stay positive. I pointed out the mistakes that were being made, but also reminded my team that they were a far better team than both the last 35 minutes and the score were showing. I repeated the three golden rules and pointed out some positive aspects of our performance, but made sure that I didn’t give anybody any excuses to relieve themselves of any responsibility for what was happening. I made sure that we all understood that every one of us was part of a team. No one person was responsible for this scoreline.

To cut a long story short, we were better in the second half, but we still lost the game 9-1. We had 7 new players in the squad, so it was always going to be a bit of a learning curve as these are 13 and 14-year-old kids getting used to new people.

At the end of the game I ramped up the positives and made sure everybody knew that in the second half we’d been far, far better. We train again on Wednesday evening, when we’ll try to tweak a few things about how we play in order to cut out the kind of silly errors that cost us dearly this weekend.

Then, we have another home game next Sunday. Same time, same place, different opposition. Hopefully I won’t allow myself to get too relaxed and too carried away then, because as I found out at the weekend, it turns out that excitement’s not always what it’s cracked up to be!

Always look on the bright side: Things that made me smile.

Almost two weeks ago, it was time for me to head back to work. A new academic year has now started and having spent the whole summer free of this particular stress, I never take the return very well at all. Despite 22 years as a teacher, I never get used to going back and I never look forward to it.

That first week would also later turn into the week when Queen Elizabeth II passed away and whatever your feelings about the monarchy, it seems to have hit large swathes of people really hard, especially here in the UK.

While none of this made me hugely emotional, it all combined to make me feel low, quite sad and just a little bit like I could do with a boost. So, rather than wallow in the doom, I thought I’d think – and write – about some more positive aspects of the last few weeks, something that I started to blog about early on in August. Here they are in no particular order.

A few weeks ago I chanced upon an article on the BBC website, something that I make sure to have a look at every day. The article was about a restoration project with a difference – the re-planting of seagrass off the Welsh coast. Seagrass is, as the name would suggest, a type of grass that grows in the sea. Bigger than the type of grass you’d find in your garden, but grass all the same. Brilliantly though, a single hectare of seagrass can be home to 80,000 fish and 100,000 invertebrates. It also absorbs and stores carbon dioxide, making it a really important plant to have in our seas.

The project is taking place off the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales, which is somewhere we holiday every year. Its aim is to plant seeds that will grow into a 10 hectare seagrass meadow by 2026. In the sea off our favorite beach, there is already an area of seagrass, which is revealed every time the tide goes out. So the story really resonated with me and I must admit, the idea of its benefits just really made me smile.

The next smile giver is a little simpler than the serious, but exciting eco-project I’ve just written about. We’re big telly watchers in our house, viewing a whole range of things from terrestrial channels, Sky, Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon. We even have ‘Family Telly’ time every day in our house, where we all sit down to watch something appropriate together. But it’s not a family friendly piece of TV that has made me smile recently.

‘All Of Us Are Dead’ is a South Korean high school zombie horror show and to be frank, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds! We started watching it around a month ago and, despite its obvious flaws – blood stains on the kids’ uniforms that have clearly been scribbled on with a marker pen, for instance – it is just a fantastic piece of telly. We’re big fans of anything apocalyptic in our house, so it was onto a winner from the start, but its jeopardy and originality really make it stand out. It’s dubbed, which might spoil it for some, but still if you enjoy the odd fright and a bit of a rollercoaster ride of a programme, then I’d highly recommend tuning in.

While not wanting to go into too much specific detail and attract any unwanted – and frankly unwarranted – criticism, my daughter’s GCSE grades really put a smile on my face. Our faces, in fact, because it was a boost for all the family. She’s worked incredibly hard over the last few years in preparation for them and in the end got very much what she deserved. It’s a set of grades that should help open some doors for her and hopefully help with her progress as she enters further education and even when heading into the world of work eventually. She has a habit of asking, shall we say, ill-thought out questions, as well as just saying ridiculous things, but it turned out that we have a very, very bright kid on our hands and her success made me immensely proud.

Football can be a very cruel sport. Especially when you’re particularly invested in it, as I am. In fact, football was very cruel just a couple of weeks ago, when my team Newcastle United lost a game in time that had been added on to the time that was added. In essence, we lost a game because the referee seemed to revert to playground rules, allowing play to continue until the home team scored the winner.

However, just before this game we had rescued a point in an away game at Wolverhampton Wanderers with an absolute wonder goal from Alain Saint Maximin, our maverick Frenchman. The ball was cleared from deep inside the Wolves box, going so high I expected it to come down with snow on. And what did Alain do? Volleyed it straight into the back of the net from around 20 yards out! Smile? It made me leap around our front room like a giddy teenager again!

The final thing that has given me a bit of a boost over the past couple of weeks has been the surprise I’ve had upon going back to work. Two weeks ago I was dreading returning back to work after 6 weeks of summer holidays. I always do and wrote a post about it.

Teaching: That first week back.

However, although I still can’t declare myself happy to be back working, I’m surprised by how smoothly it feels like I’ve got back into the old routines. I suppose, having been a high school teacher for quite a while now, I should expect just to be able to do my job with the minimum of fuss. But there’s still anxiety at this time of year, every year. Still though, although I’m tired beyond belief at the end of every day – age can be a cruel mistress, dear reader – I’ve not encountered any problems at all and have just been able to take up where I left off a couple of months ago. Definitely a reason to allow myself a bit of a smile!

More again soon on this topic. I’ve enjoyed writing about the things that have made me smile and I think it definitely helps with my mood! Feel free to leave a comment if you enjoyed reading!

Tracking, swooping and discussing: Welcome to the world of transfer window jargon!

As fascinating as it is, the transfer window can be a frustrating and baffling place. As a fan of Newcastle United, during the Ashley years I lived in hope, despite the fact that every fibre of my being told me that it was a fruitless exercise. As if any of us didn’t learn our lesson after we signed Shefki Kuqi!

Yet still, we feel our hearts skip a beat at the mere sight of the yellow ticker at the bottom of the Sky Sports screen and we can’t stop ourselves from refreshing Twitter (and especially the NUFC hashtag) every minute of every day at certain times of the year! And don’t get me started on ITKs! I’m guessing it’s exactly the same with all clubs at this time of year though.

Although things have very much changed for my team on the transfer window front, one thing has stayed very much the same; the amount of hilarious jargon used in the reports relating to the window.

Recently, while I was having a scroll through the BBC Sport gossip section, I found that it was out of hand. And then when combined with places like the Chronicle Live website and listening at any length to Talksport, the language just seems to enter an entirely new dimension. Here’s a selection of what I found.

‘Tracking’ was something Newcastle did a lot while Ashley was owner and as far as I could tell, at most it meant watching a player and generally it seemed to just mean building your hopes up a bit but not buying a player. The verb tracking though brings to mind some kind of cowboy film scenario where native americans are using special skills to find the foot marks from a player’s Gucci trainers on a pavement outside a nightclub somewhere or a broken branch in a hedgerow where the player they’re searching for has passed. At best though ‘tracking’ seems to have meant scouting, which if I’m not mistaken has been going on for years! But, reading newspapers and websites, the amounts of players being tracked was quite something.

I also read a lot about clubs having ‘made contact with’ various players. Now firstly, I thought that was kind of against the rules. ‘Tapping up’ they called it. You’re not supposed to just make contact if a player has a contract with another club. I get it that clubs do, but it’s actually against the rules. Secondly though, it’s funny, because making contact could mean almost anything from sending a letter, a text, an email or even just shaking his hand when you played against him. Sadly, I have a feeling that during the Mike Ashley era, we probably attempted to make contact with players via carrier pigeons…blind ones.

Some new jargon seems to have emerged in recent years with phrases like ‘maintaining an interest’. Another ridiculous one for me, this. Basically, it sounds like a club have said they’re interested in a player and then a bit later, when they’re ‘maintaining an interest’, well they’re just still interested. So, all in all, a pointless report to make really. Great for those ‘clicks’ though eh?

Staying with matters of interest, it amuses me when I read that clubs have ‘cooled their interest’ in a player. How is that interest cooled? Does the coach get forced into a very cold shower? Are they subjected to the ice bucket challenge or just asked to make their minds up while sitting under the shade of a nice big parasol? A weird phrase really. Sadly, again I think that Newcastle’s interest was often cooled in the past when it looked like that carrier pigeon hadn’t been able to make contact with a player. Or just when Mike Ashley realised that he couldn’t sign said player for a bargain bucket price or traded for a box full of Lonsdale tracksuits.

One of the more vague expressions I read concerning transfers was that a club was ‘weighing up a bid’ for a player. Almost like a manager would go to the chairman, let him know that they’d been ‘tracking’ a player, had ‘maintained an interest’, but didn’t know whether to actually sign them. So the two of them were just going to sit their and ‘weigh up a bid’, looking quizzically at each other. Similar to this in terms of vagueness was reading that a club were ‘discussing the possibility of a deal’. Not the deal, but the possibility of a deal. Weird.

It amused me to read that a club was ‘exploring a deal’, conjuring up images of Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola in a big canoe going up the Amazon or Ralph Hasenhutll wandering round the jungle in the Republic of Congo, looking for a right back. Come to think of it though, Ralph Hasenhutll sounds way more like an old time explorer than a football manager so maybe it’s a more accurate phrase than we imagine.

Similarly vague is the new kid on the block as clubs are now often described as ‘preparing an offer’ for a player. I mean, how much preparation is needed? It makes transfers sound like one of those property shows where the house hunters really want the property but are encouraged to make low-ball offer after low-ball offer, pushing the money up by a thousand pounds every time until they get to a ;point where the seller will actually let the house go. Or is it just that so much money is involved in transfers these days that everyone at the club is encouraged to search down the back of their sofas to club together any pound coins they can find? Or do some managers just not really know what to say when it comes to transfers? Maybe there are some painfully shy bosses that we just don’t know about yet.

Some of the more old school phrases still get used around transfers today. One of them revolves around the idea that clubs have ‘swooped’ to make a signing. Again, it’s ridiculous, implying as it does that there is some kind of eagle-like quality to managers or even football clubs. Personally, I’d love to see some managers being urged to run off the side of a cliff wearing some home made wings, but that’s got nothing to do with the transfer window.

With a day or so still to go in the summer transfer window there’s still time for someone to invent some new jargon with which to entertain us. It’s certainly allowed me to conjure up some strange scenarios over the last couple of months. Anyway, here’s to my club Newcastle pouncing tiger-like or maybe even ambushing their way into one last signing before midnight on Thursday.

Grassroots Grumbles: Here’s to a new season!

It’s that time of year again; we’re approaching another season of grassroots football. Nothing particularly remarkable about that, but given that I’ve felt like quitting on a number of occasions recently I’m a little surprised that I’m writing this blog.

Last season was dominated by a feeling of joylessness and repeatedly asking myself the question, why am I bothering? Of 24 games played (22 league and 2 cup) we won 2. We drew a few and really didn’t deserve to lose in others, but largely, and for a number of different reasons, standing on the touchline during games of football last year was simply horrible. And so, the thought of doing it all again for another year wasn’t one that I approached with any optimism at all.

The sound of the last referee’s whistle of the season may well have still been lingering in the air when the first of several players said that they were leaving. This was followed by another and another and before I knew it, I’d lost 5 players. In fact, from the squad of 18 that we’d stated the season with, we’ve actually lost 7, while another seems to have disappeared (and he’s not even the first to do that). So we’ll call that 8 then! And whatever your knowledge of football, you’ll probably realise that 10 players doesn’t make a squad.

There has been some good news since that point. We’ve been helped out by our A-team coach – nothing to do with Hannibal, Face, Mr T etc, just the other team in the club at our age group – who’s sent 6 players our way who weren’t going to be good enough to play for his team, given the division that they play in. Further to that, our advert for players has gained us a couple of other players, including a goalkeeper, which was the position that we struggled with last year. So, in many ways, that signing alone means that we’ve struck gold. All in all as I write, we have potentially (so far nothing has been made formal) 18 players for a squad for next season. And who knows, the lad who disappeared might well pop up out of nowhere again!

We also have a little bit of hope elsewhere too. Firstly, our best player from last season – one of those who left – is considering coming back to us. I’m not building up my hopes at all, but also can’t ignore the fact that he came and played in a friendly match for us and has openly said that he just misses being part of our team. At the moment, he’s thinking about exactly what to do next, but he knows that he’d be welcomed back with open arms, so we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed as he really would make a difference.

We also had a response to our advert for players just this week that has intrigued me. It was from a girl and we’ve been trying to encourage girls to join us for years. In the developmental sense, I just think it’s good for the game that more girls join in, but also we’re just very aware that there are some excellent female footballers out there that can’t always find a clear path into a team. England’s Lionesses winning the recent European Championships has undoubtedly helped with that pathway, so I’m hopeful that we can find our first female player soon! Again though, it’s really just a case of keeping fingers crossed!

We played our first pre-season friendly match a couple of weeks ago and in contrast to how things felt at the end of the season, this was a really positive experience. We only played against our club’s Under 13 team to help them out as they adapt to playing at 11-a-side, but we had 20 players available, including our best players from last season, who as I said earlier had only just left!

It was difficult to juggle the numbers and we ended up splitting the game into quarters and just using almost separate teams, but it worked and we were able to try players in different positions and get a sense of where new lads might fit in. Since then we’ve struggled for availability because of holidays and so we haven’t had another game, but we’ve kept training chugging along, albeit it with smaller numbers.

The next step is to start registering players. So far everyone seems keen, so it’s only the notoriously difficult internet registration site to get round. It took several visits and around a week to get it all done last year, but I’m hopeful that with some players returning from last season, at least their registrations will represent minimal work!

Another big job will come with trying to get a new kit. We need a new away kit, as a lot of lads just haven’t got one as they joined the club late while others have simply grown out of theirs. We need to attract a sponsor and while in my head that could be difficult post-Covid, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that our old sponsor will simply give us the go-ahead – aka money – to get another set of kit ordered. If that happens and the registration of players is at least quite straighforward, then we can just concentrate on training and organising friendly games. It would be nice just to stat being able to work on building a team, given that we’ve lost four who were regulars in the team for the last four years. But in the ever complicated world of grassroots football, I’ll stay just a little bit cynical about those prospects!

One of the bright spots of the last couple of months worth of scrambling around trying to get new players was the offers of help. Other coaches at our club have said they’ll keep their eyes and ears open for any possible players and as I said earlier, the other Under 14s coach has sent players our way. But the one that was most positive was the offer from another coach at a different club in our division. One of the teams at our age group had folded due to lack of numbers and despite the distance between the two teams, he actually passed my details on to parents of players left without a club because in his words, he knew I’d look after those players.

As it turns out, I’ve not heard from any of those parents, but I’d like to think that’s because it’s a good 30 minute car journey to get to us and there are probably other clubs that they can go to that are a lot closer to where they live. It didn’t matter; it was nice to know that your hard work gets recognised and that there’s respect between coaches. It was something that helped make up my mind about carrying on coaching the team this year and it was nice to be reminded of the good that’s out there in grassroots football. (So thanks Rich, if you ever stumble across this blog).

So we’re just under a month from kick off in grassroots football here in our corner of Yorkshire. There’s a lot still to do, but I feel like I’m approaching it with at least the tiniest bit of optimism!

NUFC Season Tickets

So, another new era NUFC milestone was reached this week as the club put around 1000 season tickets on sale. It was reported that over 30,000 people were sat in an online queue at one point, all patiently waiting, Willy Wonka-like for the chance to get their hands on a golden ticket.

Given the hysteria around the club for the last year or so, the numbers weren’t that much of a surprise. If you take into account the whole feel good factor created by things that range from being as small as team photos and painting the concourses in the stadium to being as big as signing world class players or indeed any players in what I’m reliably informed is called a ‘transfer window’, then it’s no wonder people want to watch their team again.

However, while it might seem simple that people want to see attractive football again, a lot of people still aren’t particularly happy.

For me, it seemed a simple equation. If you sit in a massive queue – nothing like the numbers that Everton get for Under 23 games or the launch of new mugs at the club shop mind, but massive all the same – trying to get something that’s available in a limited amount, then you might well miss out. And yet, still people seemed outraged.

Some said that they had a greater right than others to getting season tickets, while others bemoaned the size of the stadium. So here’s my take, for what it’s worth.

First of all, I’m not that sure that anyone has a greater right to watch a football team than anyone else. I’ve always been a bit of an advocate for supporting your local team, but even then I realise that people from other parts of the UK and the world have a connection to the club. And that connection makes it perfectly natural to want to go to St. James’ Park and see your team. It might not be perhaps as obvious a connection as being local, but it’s a connection all the same.

I was born and bred in Newcastle, growing up in Blaydon while spending a considerable amount of time with family in both Byker and Walker. I never thought I’d leave, but then a combination of university and Margaret Thatcher deciding the region didn’t deserve investment or jobs happened and I moved away, first to Stoke and then back north to Leeds. So was I only passable as a season ticket holder or even a supporter to some while I lived in Blaydon? It’s a silly argument really, but I guess some people are a little blind to real life at times.

Then we come to the question of what some see as loyalty. Some will tell you that season tickets and indeed any kind of matchday seat should go to those deemed the most loyal. But then, how do you define loyalty? Is it a simple matter of attending every game home or away? It can’t be, surely because again this is an area where life can get in the way. What if you work shifts or occasional weekends? What if work takes you away for periods of time or what if you live too far away to make it practical to get to every game? And what about the fact that there’s only a finite certain amount of people that can fit into the stadium or an away allocation. What if you can’t be ‘loyal’ because of that?

And as for loyalty, what even is it? If you’re going to every game because we’re successful – probably difficult to imagine, I know – then that’s an easy version of loyalty. I’d hope I was loyal during enough of the awful football that I’ve witnessed over the years to be able to be respected for boycotting when I’d had enough of seeing how badly my club was being run and the foresight, perhaps, to see it was going to get worse. So while I’d salute (not literally, that’s be daft) those who stuck with it, I’d argue that the reasons myself and many others had for stepping away were equally admirable.

Lots of people have had a real issue with those of us who boycotted because of Ashley’s ownership. It was an early and reasonably easy choice for me to make. Having held a season ticket for years, I was driving up from Leeds and my first thought on taking my seat was often, ‘What am I doing here?’ I was getting more and more frustrated by the lack of ambition and by what I felt like I could see was going to happen to the club. To paraphrase a now famous banner, I didn’t want a team that won all the time, I wanted a team that tried and from the owner downwards, I couldn’t see that. Everything came to a head for me at the fateful home game versus Hull, just after Keegan had resigned again. Here was my childhood hero being roundly abused by Ashley and his cronies. In fact, we were all having the piss taken out of us. I’d had enough. That was my last game. Even during Rafa’s time, despite the pull of something a bit brighter, Ashley kept me away.

Staying away has genuinely hurt. There’s something missing in my life every time we play. Tears have been shed over all manner of issues – various protests, Rafa leaving, Wor Flags displays, the takeover, Wilson’s goal against Spurs after the takeover was done, sometimes even just the sight of someone like Justin Barnes was enough to bring a tear to the eye! I’ve missed the social side of games, I’ve missed the atmosphere, the expectancy, the hope, the sight of The Angel signalling that I’m nearly home again on the drive up, Local Hero…all sorts of things. But I knew it was important to stick to my guns.

For people to now be telling me (or us, the ones that walked away, heartbroken) that I have no right to a season ticket is a bit of a joke. In walking away, what we did was incredibly difficult, but it had a purpose and I’d argue it had to be done. I couldn’t continue to give my money to Ashley and the thought that if he was denied our money he might sell up seemed reasonably sensible to me. So, I gave up one of the biggest things in my life and something that I’d been utterly in love with from an early age. It wasn’t a simple matter of having had enough and waiting for us to start winning and signing big names again. It felt like it had broken my heart.

As it happens, I’ve not applied for a season ticket. Somehow, I’ve got to the age I’m at and found that I lead a bit of a busy life and the thought of driving up and down the motorway to get to games just felt a little bit too much at the moment. My health hasn’t been fantastic over the past few years and so this was an extra strain that I felt unwilling to put myself through. I suppose I’m finding out that sometimes in life, the time just isn’t right, no matter how much you want to do something. But, I’d defend anyone’s right to try and go back, who’s been in the situation I’ve been in. Ashley’s season ticket giveaway of a few years back suggests that there’s a lot of us too. Like me, a lot of those will have been long term season ticket holders when they decided to boycott. Like me, a lot of them would have done plenty of time following Newcastle home and away over the years. That love, that loyalty and that history can’t just be switched off. Nor can it be ignored or cheapened.

As Newcastle United fans, it seems odd that so many are determined to have us divided. I understand that everyone has a view, but I’d also suggest that people don’t criticise or judge too much when they haven’t walked in the shoes that they’re so eager to denounce. Everyone has a view, but everyone has a story too, whether it be about why we love Newcastle United or why we had to loosen our grip a little bit. When it comes down to it, we all want the same thing; the hope and the pride that comes with supporting a competitive and ambitious Newcastle United.

Grassroots Grumbles: Preparing for the season that might even not happen.

When I last wrote about the junior football team that I coach, we were really struggling. Come to think of it, I’d probably written along the same lines with the time before that as well as it’s a subject that I blog about reasonably regularly! Well, we’re still struggling, which is quite some feat when the season has ended! So, it’s safe to say that last season was nothing short of an absolute nightmare in terms of results.

We eventually finished at the very bottom place in our division; division 6 of 7 divisions in our league. I say eventually, but we were stuck there from around January. Now I don’t know the exact protocol as I don’t think there’s necessarily automatic relegation, but I still suspect that we’ll get relegated to division 7 next season. I believe there’s a bit of a consultation process, but I’ll be honest, I don’t think we have much of a case to see us stay in our present division. We had huge problems with Covid and injuries, but we still managed to play all of our games eventually and the results don’t lie.

During the final couple of months of last season I began to hear rumours of certain players being unsettled. And let’s get this straight, by ‘unsettled’ what I mean in a couple of cases was that they were sick of losing and happy to blame anyone but themselves for the results. I was hearing that at least a couple of players were planning to leave our club and worst of all, that while we toiled and struggled for numbers, these kids were training with other clubs at times. Sure enough, now that the season has ended, they’ve left. But it gets worse, another two have gone and one of them was clearly our best player. Add in the two that just stopped coming from around December time and we’ve now lost 6 players from an 18 man squad that clearly wasn’t big enough in the first place! I also fear that there might be one more considering moving on as well.

So, to put it bluntly, we’re in real trouble! There’s a genuine chance that the team could fold, hence the title of the blog!

At the end of the season I was sorely tempted to quit coaching the team. It was taking up far too much of my time, I wasn’t particularly enjoying it and due to the weekly scramble to get a team together because of injuries and just a lack of reliability in some cases, my mental health felt like it was suffering slightly too. As a football obsessive and a keen competitor, seeing us turn up with no substitutes once again or even not enough for a full team and suffer the almost inevitable defeat was getting me down. There were times when we were competitive, but they only ever seemed to lead to a false dawn before hopes were dashed once more. I’d often spend hours on a Sunday brooding about results and trying to figure out where we were going wrong.

Despite all of this we’re continuing to train over summer. I think we’ll take a break eventually, but at the moment the focus is on attracting new players. I don’t dare take a break in case we get an enquiry and I have to risk losing a potential new player because we’re not training for a couple of weeks! We have actually gained a couple of new players though as two have dropped down from our ‘A’ team, with the promise of another on the way once he’s recovered from a knee injury. That still only leaves us with 15 players in the squad, which is still short of the maximum number allowed on a match day.

We’ve just put a new advert out on social media and hope to attract people from that, but it’s an avenue we’ve explored in the past that’s not always been very successful. Despite repeated adverts, we didn’t have a goalkeeper for the whole of last season and it cost us dearly. We still just have one of the lads filling in as a goalie even now. I mean, am I asking too much for a 6ft 13 year old with hands like shovels to step forward? I’ve had several promises that kids will definitely be coming to training to try out, only for said kid to never show. It can feel like such a let down when you’ve built your hopes up! However, such is our desperation this season that my assistant coach even put last year’s advert out a couple of weeks ago, despite the fact that it was the wrong season and age group! Predictably, we got a response, but we’re still waiting on the player showing up! We’ve got everything crossed in the hope that someone, especially a goalkeeper turns up any day soon though!

I really want to do my best by the team this year. As with every year, I suppose. There are boys in the squad – including my own son – who I’ve now coached since they were 8 years old and I can’t let them down. So, although it was tempting to call it a day and perhaps hand the reigns to someone else, I became more determined to carry on and do my utmost to put together a more successful and competitive squad of players. But even that, with the best will in the world, is problematic.

In the majority of cases our squad are limited in either ability, attitude or both. I hope that doesn’t sound disparaging. Like I mentioned, we finished bottom of our division and some of that was simply down to the ability of the players. (I’ll crash into the thought process of some readers here though and add that, yes, I understand that some of this comes down to me as a coach as well).

We happen to have a lot of small, slightly built players too and were easily the smallest team in the league last year. And when you’re coming up against teams that look like they’re fielding 5 or 6 18-year-olds it must be quite daunting when you’re less than 5ft tall! As a coach I found myself frightened on their behalf at times! It often meant that we were simply bullied out of games last year though.

A lot of our training last season and so far during this pre-season is dedicated to time on the ball and becoming more comfortable with the ball at their feet so that they could take a touch, control the ball and then pass it on or drive forward with it. But even then, training was regularly disrupted by poor behaviour or kids with bad attitudes just wanting to either mess around or simply do what they wanted to do. So when the instruction was to limit yourself to 3 touches before moving the ball on, we’d have the West Yorkshire Mbappe trying to dribble round a whole team and taking 104 touches into the bargain amidst the soundtrack of two coaches shouting “Touches” repeatedly. (Which when working with children could be seen as a dangerous thing to shout if it’s not heard correctly!)

And this permeated its way into games where we’d find that even when training had gone well and when we thought we’d drilled a message into the team about exactly how we wanted to play, they’d defy all logic during a game! So instead of not panicking on the ball and simply passing to an available team mate who had moved into space, we’d be losing the will to live, watching kids just launch the ball as hard as possible down the field to no one or setting off on a mazy dribble that would lead to them losing the ball or just shooting wildly from 40 yards out! And don’t even get me started on taking quick throw-ins, which you’d think would be a simple one to master!

I think confidence dropped and lots of the boys were just frightened of making a mistake, so just got rid of the ball as soon as possible. So the focus now has to be on praising them and building that confidence back up.

It’s time to put last season and past players behind us though. As a coach, I now need to concentrate on fostering good habits with the ball, building everybody’s confidence and getting my squad as fit as they can be by September. The last few weeks of training have been different and enjoyable. The attitude of the squad and the atmosphere on the pitch has been positive. Training has been well received and drills performed with enthusiasm. There definitely seems to be a determination to do better and I’m hopeful that we can build a decent team spirit in the coming weeks too. Best of all, the boys are training with smiles on their faces.

Ultimately, I want my players to enjoy their football and to feel comfortable as part of the squad. Obviously, I want results to start going our way too and we’ll be arranging friendly games in order to work on just that soon.

We have to hope we’ll pick up more new players, otherwise we may not have a team to put out next year. So we have a bit of a battle on our hands, but after a few weeks of reflection and a bit of sulking about it all, I’m determined to face it head on! If we can pick up more players, improve those that we’ve got and have an enjoyable, but hard working pre-season, I’ll be thrilled. If we’re still short on numbers by the start of August though, we could have a real problem.

I’ll be sure to keep you informed!

As ever, feel free to leave a comment as it’s always nice to hear people’s thoughts.