Fielder: I've had my chips after egg and Chinese episodes
You know what they say about reaching the top . . . the only way is down.
If you cast your memory back to my last under 14 update, you'll recall how we were brushing teams aside with ease. We'd become the talk of the county: racking up 27 goals in our first four games, tackling ball carriers ferociously and making them pay once possession had been turned over. This group of so-called underachievers had broken the mould. Something had clicked. The fresh, lively approach to coaching which myself and two other senior players had brought was the final vital ingredient. Our methods had been the final cogs in the machine, turning potential into performance. But someone had forgotten to screw those cogs on tight enough . . .
Lads began to lose interest; though the players remained enthusiastic. It's a sad state of affairs when you're devising excuses to miss your own team's training sessions. We'd completely underestimated just how much of our weekly schedules would be swallowed up by the gossons. It was like playing for another team yourself.
I pin the blame for our downfall solely on the chairman. My strategy of recording each man's tackle count and making the man with the least carry out a forfeit wasn't well received. One particular incident involved the least-frequent tackler ordering a Chinese delivery under the alias of a rival club manager. The chap didn't hold back, ordering 15 portions of beef and black bean sauce, all with chips, to our rival gaffer's abode. Anyway, word filtered through the school (so much for keeping everything in house; Jim McGuinness would have had him out the door like a shot) and I ended up in oceans of trouble. So we were forbidden from using this forfeit.
Fair enough, we replaced it with a new one: an egg cracked on the head. Logistically much tidier; or so you'd think. I wasn't aware that children could be allergic to raw eggs; but by god I am now. You haven't felt fear 'till you've seen a furious, 18 stone GAA-mammy marching across a car park towards you, growling like a chubby Rottweiler. "My little Colin is in hospital with two eyes like doughnuts you stupid idiot!"
I wouldn't mind, but this is the same Colin who wouldn't kick his way out of a cloud of smoke. For most of the season I'd left him on the bench. The poor lad had zero interest in playing but a pushy father was making him. Finally, Daddy approached us and asked us to throw him on in the next game. We agreed but unfortunately when the next fixture came round I forgot, and was only reminded by a member of the backroom team with time almost up.
"Oh shit, Colin . . . run on there . . ."
"Because your Da . . . because you're going well in training."
"Oh, do I have to? How long is left?"
"Yea come on! Just get on t'fuck gosson!" I said, grabbing him by the scruff and pulling him towards the field of play. Poor little Colin wasn't ten yards across the white line when the referee blew it up. The tears began to flow as everyone laughed at the poor chap; I'll admit I chuckled too. One person who wasn't smiling, however, was his father…
"Was that some kind of joke!?"
We didn't see Colin again, which was probably a good outcome in the long run. On a farm you cull the under-performing animals, after all.
Anyway, after 'egg-gate' I was forced to give up my forfeits. My cunning ruse to encourage tackling and work-rate was buried. The players became lazy again; the element of fear was no more. Teams started to run through us. The school holiday season kicked in and unfortunately, at 13, there is no justification in missing a trip to Disneyland for a division two summer-league game.
I began to curse the gumshield rule too. When an overly-fussy referee sent a player to the line for a failure to wear a mouth-guard, I'd simply gesture for one of the subs to spit theirs out, rinse her off and shove it into the offender's gob. In fairness to Colin, his gum shield really did the rounds. It was undoubtedly his biggest contribution all year. But . . . there's always a 'but'.
Mr Chairman's whingeing began again. "Unhygienic . . . parents giving out . . . more harm than good in a collision. . . blah, blah, blah…" Oh how I've grown to despise that man.
We had big plans for the tactics too. I put our fastest players in the full-forward line and pulled them all out to the 45. Then we kicked ball over the top into space which meant that balls were collected at full pace, in full flight towards goal. But as the laziness crept in, the lads lost interest in this high-intensity, energy sapping style. The old 'Let it in t'fuck' system crept back in like a fungal infection. Unfortunately, at under 14s the full-back is almost always a 6'2" man-child with a full face of stubble. Donaghy would get it hard to make hay against some of them.
I tried too to introduce a Cluxton-esque kickout system in which the wing-backs would switch wings just as the keeper walked out with the ball, bringing their markers with them. The idea was to leave gaps for the ball to be popped into. Alas, I'd inherited two butterfly-chasers at five and seven. I've seen better reactions from coma patients.
In the end I gave up. We became the league's whipping boys and all agreed that we had no chance of doing anything. For the last couple of weeks our training consisted of headers and volleys for an hour. We peaked at 231 keepy-uppys on a sunny Tuesday evening last month. Worryingly, it was the most enthusiasm they'd shown in a while.
My notice was handed in and received with open arms. It'll be a while before I go down the management road again but I'm glad to say I tried. If we're going to go back, a major makeover of our methods will be required. Big changes are needed. I hear Thai food is less expensive.
Sunday Indo Sport