The Challenges of a Grassroots Football Manager

Walk on through the wind

Walk on through the rain

Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on, walk on

With hope in your heart

And you’ll never walk alone

You’ll never walk alone.

Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and David Moyes all household names, instantly recognisable and lauded across the land.

Samantha Jones, Ali Khan, Fred Smith and Abdul Ali, names that don’t slip off the tongue as easily and nobody recognises them except, maybe, in a 5-mile radius of where they work. These are the grassroots managers, the men and women who keep the game alive for the footballers of tomorrow.

Team selection, injuries and tense match finish these are the things that managers have in common, regardless of the level that they coach at.

The first difference in grassroots football is what people expect within the game, and these expectations are vast and varied. For example, some clubs want all the best players at their clubs and will go out of their way to get them; some coaches want to develop players to help them improve as best they can; some officials want to work their way up the refereeing or coaching pyramid; some players just want to enjoy the game and socialise with their friends; some parents want their child to become the next Cristiano Ronaldo. Managing all of these expectations, providing equal game time and keeping everyone happy is a herculean task in itself.

The other main differences begin even before match day, texts sent out two days ago giving the time of the meeting, asking for confirmation. Only a few replied back, once again tactics and team selection will be decided on the morning of the match. Thank goodness it’s a home match. No begging for cars this weekend. One less worry.

Match Day!  The day of the week where you imagine nothing can go wrong. You have planned for it, talked about it and trained for it. Showing up an hour before everyone else to put the nets up. The freezing cold metal of the post is almost unbearable to touch. Looking for clips to hold the net up where the brackets have been broken off the posts. Finally, all is ready: First aid kit, water bottles, flags, spare shin pads, match ball and respect barriers.

The first cars arrive and the parents ask “what time will the match finish?”

“Twelve”

“Grand we’ll be back then” the car speeds off probably to go home for their breakfast. I was hoping they might stay and give a hand but some people are just too busy.

Finally, the players start to arrive, what can go wrong now? Firstly, Hammad the keeper turns up with no boots or gloves. They’re locked in the car and he can’t get them. ‘Whhaaatttt?’ I hastily ask around the other players and coaches whether anyone has any spare gloves, they don’t. The hunt goes on but I also need to be on the pitch, the players need warming up. I finally get a pitchside. We decide that Shazzeb is our best option for replacement keeper, only he doesn’t want to do it. I can’t blame him; I wouldn’t want to either. Compromise reached, Hammad will play in goal with trainers and gloves 2 sizes too small.

Beep! Beep! A text message flashes up on the screen. One of the best players in the team can’t make it. He is ill. To put this into perspective, this is the third match this season that he has been sick for. All bouts of sickness coinciding with wet weather. Rain, the best weather for ducks, not the best for grassroots footballers. Your best two players finally show up, twenty minutes late, we are kicking off in less than half an hour.

As the team starts to warm up the opposition manager draws your attention to the only source of heat for miles around. A steaming pile of dog mess right in the middle of the pitch. Scooping it up with two nearby cones, trying to ensure that none gets on your hands, all illusions of grandeur are well and truly erased from your mind.

Finally, the match kicks off. Similarities to the professional game are visible here, but so are the differences. Equal playing time, Rotating players on and off, running the line, celebrations and commiserations. The final whistle goes. The field empties in record time as parents show up and whisk their children away. Looking around, you realise you are alone, down come to the nets, away goes all the equipment, minus one match ball which was kicked over a nearby fence by one of the substitutes. All done, time to head for home. Was it worth it? Will I be back next week?

You bet I will!! See you on the side-lines.

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