A few months ago I posted some comments on twitter regarding local junior football and the number of individual clubs there were in just a small 3 to 4 mile radius. This is in a city of over 300,000 people.
There are 5 clubs in a 3 to 4 mile radius with 43 teams from Under 8's through Under 16's. This is something that would probably be seen as strange in continental europe. What about creating 1 large community club for this area? Pool the financial and other resources, improve the development structure across the age groups and probably, more importantly, have one consistent philosophy on youth development and coach education. Ultimately there could be economies of scale with finances, less competition and greater co-ordination of grant funding, more money to use on facilities, education, kit and equipment and all involved would be singing from the same song sheet. Many people talk about the loss of 'community' in England, well maybe this could provide a relatively simple answer to the problem. Personally, to make it stand out and be that bit different I would not limit the idea to this type of community club being football based alone. Football could be it's starting point and at it's core but it could easily be expanded to incorporate other sports and other community activities. The 'Big Society' in action. The problem, of course could actually be the opposite, inaction and unwillingness to become involved, and of course government intransigence.
Some may say what about teams to play against? Well, first of all, in the area referred to above there are approximately 75 other clubs with around 355 teams in the whole city. Relevant opposition would be maintained but what about the potential for internal games across age groups (sometimes playing up or down a year) and doing something different? The flexible formats the FA have referred to in it's review of junior football would fit ideally into a more community focussed football club rather than maintaining these disparate local clubs. Arguably it would put the focus firmly on youth football development rather than the traditional us against them, league tables and mini-mourinho's prowling the touchline with socks tucked in tracksuit bottoms.
The problem at the moment seems to be the culture of rivalry, bordering on tribalism that is engrained in English culture and is yet another example of the wish to have a league structure that mirrors the adult professional game. Now, of course it can enrich the experience of professional football, rivalries such as Liverpool v United, Arsenal v Spurs, even North v South. But a Local Team Under 8's v another local team Under 8's?
Other signs of inward looking and selfishness can be seen in the perennial arguments over clubs releasing players for England international duty, the tripartite bun fights of the FA, Premier League and Football League about the governance, co-ordination and control of the game.
Sometimes junior teams split and set up on their own as a result of internal politicking, sometimes because of genuine concerns on how the team is run (usually players not getting games because of the 'win at all costs mentality') but, sadly, it seems to me some just have the need to have control and power of these little empires.
Just to put into context the difference between local junior football here and in Holland (probably the best example I have seen) I thought I would use a few examples I have read about recently in Chris Green's book.
Dave Parnaby at Middlesbrough recalled that during a visit to Vitesse Arnham FC in Holland he asked a coach how they were doing . 'Very nicely, thank you,' was the reply. What Dave meant was to ask how the club was doing; the coach assumed that he was talking about the Dutch football system. 'He spoke in a national sense rather than about his own club,' said Parnaby. 'That is how they see the technical aspects of their programme - in a national framework. That is why Holland has one of the best reputations for youth development in Europe.
Now whenever another country is mentioned with regard to youth development, many say, to some extent, quite rightly that we should have our own identity, our own playing style, do things our way using the strengths of our own culture and not try to copy Barcelona or Ajax or their national youth structure. However, I don't believe this means we should simply ignore something that just simply seems to be good practice. The Dutch community based football system just seems to be so logical. Of course we could adapt it to local needs and local systems but at least try something different.
Another example was given about this very system of community football in a small village in Holland and I challenge anybody to say this wouldn't be a good idea to at least try, even if it were a 'pilot' project:
To understand the difference between English and Dutch football let's have a look at Heijman's (Dutch coach working in England) home-town team, OJC Rosmalen. The club is based in Rosmalen, a small town with a population of 35,000 in the southern province of North Brabant.....The club has nine pitches, including five match pitches, two with floodlights and four floodlit training pitches. In total it has 22 sets of dressing rooms, 1,600 club members and 976 youth players. An amazing 100 teams play at 11-a-side, 7- and 4-a-side matches from Under 5's to over-50s, including girls and women's teams each weekend. The whole operation is run by 400 volunteers mostly made up of the club's 2,000 parents, who are described as the 'engine of the club'........The club is an intrinsic part of the local community and is linked to the national football programme.
Is the fact that we are tribal and less community focussed part of our culture? Do we actually quite like it that way? Is it going to be the reason why we don't see a change in the junior football structure in this country? Ironically, is the wish to be different, the desire to have our own identity going to result in inaction and ultimately stay as we are and not change anything even if the example from another country does seem to offer such a logical solution. Are we going to be 'Little Englander's' or be a little bit creative?