Junior leagues show they can be as bad as professionals

Pushy parents, screaming coaches and children who won’t shake their opponent’s hand, Kane Fulton reports on the ugly side of junior football

From Wayne Rooney’s rant into a television camera to Manchester City’s £250,000-a-week striker Carlos Tevez refusing to play, recent events have brought to the surface the issue of respect (or the lack of it) in football.

In 2008, the FA launched its Respect campaign in a blaze of glory. Three years on it doesn’t appear to have been an unqualified success and as parents who spend Sunday mornings pacing the touchline know, tantrums aren’t just confined to the Premiership.

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“Most clubs do things to teach kids respect at a young age,” says Chris Kirkham, a qualified junior-level football coach and author of Show Some Respect: The Sound and the Fury of Junior Football. “But there are the odd ones that slip through the net and they’re the ones causing the problems.”

It’s those clubs, Chris stresses, that make the headlines, unable to stem the weekly torrents of abuse hurled by coaches, referees, parents and the even the children themselves.

“Kids not only mimic players’ celebrations but the bad stuff too,” he says. “They watch the repeat of Match of the Day on a Sunday morning before they come out to play and copy incidents they’ve seen. I read a story a while back about a kid who saw Cantona’s kung-fu-style kick from a few years ago and then did it himself that following Sunday.”

The book’s opening pages contains a guide to the FA’s Respect campaign, set up to combat unacceptable behaviour on the pitch and the sidelines at both professional and junior level clubs. The reader is asked to refer back to the guide at various points throughout the book, which only serves to highlight the indifference of certain clubs where squabbling fathers throw punches on the sidelines and where games have been called off following mass brawls.

In one match, a particularly unlucky seven-year-old ended up taking refuge in a tree after scoring an own goal, in tears after being screamed at by his coach.

“These incidents are still happening because the campaign is being treated as a yearly thing,” said Chris. “At the start of the season the FA and the leagues hammer it down and people talk about it, but by January or February time it’s almost forgotten.”

Even coaches who ensure that their clubs follow the campaign to the letter face the challenge of ensuring that players follow their commands rather than those of their parents shouting from the sidelines.

“Kids respect their parents – if they’re told to do the washing up or move their shoes then they’ll do it. If their parents shout at them to pull out wide or stay back then how can they ignore them?,” says Chris. “It’s especially difficult as the pressure some parents put on their kids is enormous.

“If your child is good enough to earn a quarter of a million pounds a week then you’re going to push them to the hilt, but at the end of the day there’s a low percentage who make it.”

Chris started his own club – the Burlington Jackdaws – in his home town of Bridlington in 2006. Inspired by clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City who have introduced a silence policy on their sidelines, Chris now erects a barrier for people to stand behind when watching matches.

“We’ve introduced hand-shaking before a game like in the Premiership, although not all of them ‘get it’. Kids seem to think it’s daft – they don’t realise why they’re doing it. To be honest with you, some kids don’t even know how to shake hands – it’s not something they’re familiar with,” he says.

“We have better luck trying to get kids to referee. They enjoy doing it – taking the whistle and not being told to do this or that. It makes a massive difference in the way kids play and in 10 or so years time they’ll then be able to push the idea of respect onto their own kids.”

Copies of the book have been sent to Gareth Southgate, the FA’s Nick Levett, Preston North End’s Clarke Carlisle and David Elleray at the Referees’ Association in the hope of raising awareness of the issue which still plagues grassroots football.

“It’s early days,” says Chris. “The book’s had a really good impact and I want it to go out to people and clubs who need it. I’ve always said to some people that if you come across a ‘gobby moron’ or a pushy parent, get a copy of it, shove it in their lap and tell them to have a good read of it. You never know – it just might work.”

Show Some Respect! The Sound and the Fury of Junior Football, £9.99, is available to order through the Yorkshire Post Bookshop on 0800 0153232 or online at www.yorkshirepostbookshop.co.uk