No more jumpers for goalposts
December 19, 2010 2:46 AM   Subscribe

But street football doesn't really exist any more, Cooper admits. "Many children have never played outside. And in some cases their parents haven't either." He cites a 2009 survey by the charity Living Streets which found that only half of five- to 10-year-olds had ever played in their street, whereas nine of out 10 of their grandparents had. How the increasing professionalisation of soccer at all levels in the UK has led to the death of park and street footie for ordinary kids.
posted by fearfulsymmetry (24 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This article touches on it briefly, but I would suggest it's not the professionalism that's causing the lack of street football, but the lack of street football that causes the professionalism. If the only football playing outlet available to children is as part of an organised structure because they're not allowed to 'go outside and play' then they're going to conflate the structure with the game.
posted by robertc at 3:45 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Flimsy excuse to post this ace video of Lech Poznań Ultras making a game between the Under-12 side of their club and the kids from Tottenham Hotspur one to really remember.
posted by Abiezer at 3:57 AM on December 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

Did love the Lech Poznán vid.

Soccernomics (and whatever it's called in the UK) spent some time talking about why the game has suffered so much in England. And, their belief is that playing the game has become firmly seen as a working-class/new-immigrant sport, that the middle-class won't touch it.

They'll watch it, but they won't play it. It's similar to how basketball and football work in parts of the US. The Soccernomics authors suggest that, as the UK is becoming a less-and-less working class place (thanks, Globalization, right?), that new players will have to be recruited from the middle and upper-middle-classes (as is commonly done in the Netherlands).

Their suggestion is that the top 4-5 clubs deal with such a dearth of English talent, that they're almost required to find African and Eastern European players to fill their rosters.

I'm still fence-sitting on their analysis, but it seems to dovetail with this article nicely.
posted by The Giant Squid at 4:04 AM on December 19, 2010

Some of it's to do with traffic. When I was a kid, just one family owned a car in our street. Today, most own at least one. Some own two, and if they've got adult children, there may be more.

Cars occupy most of the pitch and continually disrupt the game.

That said, next time those little fuckers in my street whack their ball into my living room window, it's getting punctured.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:50 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's not true at all that the UK middle-classes don't play football, but they don't seem to take it seriously enough to become professionals. I think it's largely to do with traffic, but in my street the kids used to play football in the road until the council put notices up telling everyone it was forbidden, which seemed a little bit harsh. It's elf'n'safety gawn mad!!! etc.

Also haven't councils/schools been selling off playing fields for housing developments since the 1980s?
posted by criticalbill at 6:26 AM on December 19, 2010

It's not true at all that the UK middle-classes don't play football, but they don't seem to take it seriously enough to become professionals.

Which is kinda surprising because they're the only people who can afford to go and watch it these days.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:31 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Anecdotally, I do get the feeling that kids are playing less football at school now. At my primary school twenty years ago, we had a big field next to the playground that allowed multiple games - perhaps two or three - to go on at every single break, often involving 15 or 20 a side. Unfortunately, ten years ago (post-Dunblane) they built a metal fence around the entire perimeter of the school and playground which severely reduced the amount of space for games.

At secondary school, people still did play a lot of football, but we were pretty lucky in having computers that people could use during breaks, and so quite a number of students just played games or surfed the web. Back then, it was only the older kids who could do this, but now the younger ones have access to TVs and games and such (and iPhones, of course) so I wouldn't be surprised if football was becoming less popular.

Is this a bad thing? Well, if people want to play football and they can't - or if the opportunity simply doesn't exist because of lack of space/facilities - that's a shame, but we have to be realistic about the fact that videogames are really very fun and more than enough competition for footie.
posted by adrianhon at 6:49 AM on December 19, 2010

their belief is that playing the game has become firmly seen as a working-class/new-immigrant sport, that the middle-class won't touch it

My annecdotal evidence doesn't bare this out at all. My nephews, 7 and 5, both play football every weekend and I really don't think it would be possible to find a more solidly middle class group than them and their friends (I'm talking about the parents here not the children...).

Certainly in London I've not seen any evidence of the middle classes turning their backs on football, very much the opposite in fact. The two teenage sons in the stupidly expensive house opposite me appear to go and play almost every day.

We love football in the UK, except the few who rather peverseley don't. Weirdos.
posted by ciderwoman at 7:51 AM on December 19, 2010

"It's all down to the sheer amount of money that has gone into football. Before, it was a healthy pastime, a way of getting children out of the house. Now some parents see it as a road to unlimited riches."
god this is depressing. when did everything become about money?

and this:
"They have to go looking when they're at least eight years old. The reality is they go looking well before that. You're quite a veteran now if you're seven and they haven't identified you." [...]
"And so now we have classes called things like Socatots, Footie Tots and Kiddikicks signing toddlers up to "learn the ABCs of football: Agility, Balance and Coordination" from as young as 18 months."
is truly horrifying. Hell, I'm still not sure what I want to do with my life, so the idea that you can start training a child from 18 months old for their future career is just absurd.
posted by rubyrudy at 7:55 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

The immigrant/working class thing rings true to me. As a boy growing up in Brooklyn I remember some old rebel teaching us the bottle cap game "scully" and as we chalked up the street started to play an 80 year old woman walking down the street screamed at us to stop playing at once, "what do you think you live on Mulberry Street!?" That was the 80's and we had no idea what she meant. These days I like to imagine that we had the honor of being the last people ever threatened with that term.
posted by any major dude at 8:48 AM on December 19, 2010

Soccernomics (and whatever it's called in the UK) spent some time talking about why the game has suffered so much in England. And, their belief is that playing the game has become firmly seen as a working-class/new-immigrant sport, that the middle-class won't touch it.

It's called Why England Lose (though that particular topic is only one chapter of the book). The class thing is backed-up pretty solidly in terms of the England team, where basically all the players are from working-class backgrounds. Which is obviously problematic for the success of English football, due to the declining size of the working class.

The book is an absolutely essential read for anyone interested in this topic. It's the product of some serious research and statistical analysis over a number of years, by a sports economist and football writer.
posted by Infinite Jest at 8:59 AM on December 19, 2010

i haven't got a stufy to back this up but i would gues that the middle classes play football pretty frequently but that they tend to have wider options when it comes to making a selection for a career and that they are encouraged to go with the greater certainty of a higher education than the lottery of succeeding at high level professional football.
posted by biffa at 9:12 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

A chunk of my local park is almost certainly going to become a "Goals Soccer Centre" (pay to use, naturally) - replacing the free-to-use fields that are currently there.
posted by idiomatika at 9:13 AM on December 19, 2010


Do they play in a park/field/empty lot with a gang of other youth?

In the US, our problem is that we've got two separate pools. Immigrant youth who play the sport and enjoy it, and youth from the middle and upper middle class, whose parents view it either as a 'socialization tool' or a 'good way to get a scholarship', and pay through the nose.

The immigrant kids do play it in parks/fields/empty lots, but the middle-class kids only play on for-pay teams and leagues.

Needless to say, most of our middle-class kids have little to no interest in the sport, long-term, don't follow it, and are happy to shed themselves of it at/around 12.

Some become quite good, to be sure.
posted by The Giant Squid at 9:29 AM on December 19, 2010

I think an interesting comparison in my mind is hockey in Canada. Growing up there my parents didn't want to get on the equipment/getting up at 4am treadmill, and so it was never even a thought. I probably wouldn't have taken part anyway if I was encouraged, but my point is there are significant barriers to entry just because the sport has to be played in rinks and the necessary equipment is expensive. It certainly isn't seen as sport-destroying for the kids to have it 'professionally' managed. If anything I think that the communities themselves tend to coordinate and manage their own games. It is self-organization and investment based on a common interest.

In New York I took up soccer as just something I could tool around doing with friends and wasn't very good, and I see that as what he's trying to portray in the article. When I later moved to south Texas with a largely Hispanic population and hotter climate, well I just couldn't compete with the kids that had been playing since they could walk.

I eventually found something of a nice relatively recently by doing adult leisure leagues of hockey in Texas. Mostly it's people that don't seem like they were raised in tanks to play like in Canada so I have a chance to learn in a fun environment.
posted by BurnMage at 11:02 AM on December 19, 2010

This is the opposite of the argument that used to made - we didnt have any coaching schools therefore the dutch were going to be best forever. Now we do have coaching schools, theyre not quite dutch enough. A lot of tabloid hysteria about letting kids out of the house is a factor I think as well.

People also have the chance of being spotted in an academy - very few were there when sgt.serenity went on his year long-world-beating-goal-every-school break/lunchtime run. Had he been picked up, who is to say the Jules Rimet Trophy would not be swathed in tartan at this very moment ?

posted by sgt.serenity at 11:48 AM on December 19, 2010

I played all kinds of shit in the street. Whiffle ball, football, stoop ball, suicide, foot hockey with electrician tape as a puck, never played skelly thought, nobody could agree on rules. I came home every day when the streetlights came on with knees torn to shreds from the sidewalk. The best was when it got cold and the old guys lit a fire in a garbage can in the park, we could use their bocci balls while they drank homemade wine. In the summer we would turn on the Johnny pump, some kid would get a 10 gallon can of tomato sauce with both ends removed. One guy would direct the pressure while you sat with your back to the water, grasping the pump. When you let go you literally few across the street in a torrent of water. Everyone would scatter when the cops showed.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:13 PM on December 19, 2010

There's definitely been a formalisation of football for kids. Some of it is down to the fact that there are fewer opportunities for kids to have unstructured play. There are many reasons for this, including the disappearance of play areas (to be replaced by pay-for-use facilities dedicated to formal sports), the increasing unsuitability of the streets for play due to traffic, and the reluctance of parents to allow anyone south of the age of majority out of sight for more than a microsecond.
In addition, football clubs have taken note of the fact that sports such as tennis, golf, swimming and track and field are dominated by athletes who have been in semi-formal or formal training from pre-school age. This kind-of-used-to happen in football with the plethora of boys clubs and school teams, which have been much diminished in the last couple of decades. (The reasons for this are also complex and subject of some dispute). When this informal farm structure disappeared, it took a number of years for the clubs to recognise the diminishing supply of talented youngsters. When they finally did, they responded slowly but have finally arrived at a structure that provides a quality coaching structure to support the kids.
The obvious downside to this is that the kids are now assets, are treated as such by the business that 'owns' them, and are subject to restrictions and obligations in return for their place in the system. For example, most are barred from playing football for school or youth club teams, or from playing any other contact sport at all. It's one thing for the Cleveland Browns to bar Kellen Winslow from motorcycling after they paid him $6M dollars. It's quite another for a multi-million pound organisation to restrict the free-time of a young kid based on the fact that they provide him with a share of the time of a community coach a couple of times a week.
posted by Jakey at 12:38 PM on December 19, 2010

Also, traffic, infill housing, the internet, more sedentary lifestyles, lower perception of public safety re: playing in the street, etc.
posted by doublehappy at 1:39 PM on December 19, 2010

is truly horrifying. Hell, I'm still not sure what I want to do with my life, so the idea that you can start training a child from 18 months old for their future career is just absurd.

I was visiting a friend of mine in small-town Nebraska a few years ago.
He was telling me a story about how all the dads go down to watch the kindergarten kids play football(American) so they can start dividing them up and setting them on the right course to play defense, offense, whatever.

Crazy, I thought, but it seems the craziness isn't limited to one side of the pond.
posted by madajb at 2:09 PM on December 19, 2010

Also also, people don't know their neighbours any more. When I was younger, I played backyard cricket and football with other kids from my street. My family moved to a different city when I was in my late teens and they still don't know their neighbours. I think this is one of the reasons (there are other factors of course) that my youngest brother isn't much fun to kick a ball around with. He cares about the rules and the score and the result. He doesn't like the uncertainty of using a pair of shoes as a goalpost. He has never broken a window. He's a better footballer than I am, but he doesn't enjoy it like I do.
posted by doublehappy at 2:17 PM on December 19, 2010

hockey in Canada...there are significant barriers to entry just because the sport has to be played in rinks and the necessary equipment is expensive.

Don't forget street hockey. There's no barrier to entry -- you just need a small ball and some beat up sticks. Maybe a baseball glove for the goalie, Rockefeller. To the extent that there are any rules at all, the kids negotiate them for themselves (no slapshots if you're using a tennis ball, and a shot that's over the goalie's head doesn't count).

Car! Car!
Game on! Game on!

The best predictor of national greatness in a sport is the game(s) kids play when there are no adults watching. This is why Team Canada owns hockey, Brazil dominates football, and why America does so well with basketball, baseball and firearms.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:15 PM on December 19, 2010

I played heaps of soccer and cricket in Australian streets from the late 70s to early 1990s. I honestly think it had a lot to do with a lack of game consoles, lack of tv stations, lack of Internets and a lack of stupid laws.

Back then, if were a promising player you'd be asked to trial for the regional representative side. That's where you'd get the more professional coaches and win mentality.

I'm sad to say I rarely see kids playing street sports these days.
posted by Bubbles Devere at 3:59 PM on December 19, 2010

She mentions briefly that other boys are the problem. Her son wants a kick around but he's no good so they don't want to play with him.

their belief is that playing the game has become firmly seen as a working-class/new-immigrant sport, that the middle-class won't touch it

Anecdotally I reckon the Australian Olympic team is becoming more boganised. And you see their parents being interviewed on TV and they're bogans too. With the good old redneck yard sale happening in the back ground.

AFL can't seem to do a thing wrong over here. The median footballer's salary is still pin money compared to the USA and Europe. That's gotta help. It's never been a street game coz it doesn't seem to lend itself to modified space. The AFL itself dominates coaching Australia-wide with their brand called Auskick. Structured coaching is only available from age five, it's only one day per week for the first three years, "game days" consist of 80% skills coaching, and scores aren't kept for the first two years.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:41 PM on December 19, 2010

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