Reforming English football: ideas, plans and theories

By Tony Attwood

Last night I watched the TV movie Castles in the Sky.  It tells the story of how radar was invented and what a huge impact it had on the ultimate victory of the allies in the second world war.

It also contained a lesson for the FA and journalists alike for at its heart is the issue of ideas. plans and theories.

I had a particular interest in the film in that it was directed by Gilles McKinnon who I knew many centuries ago when we both travelled with four other friends across Morocco together.  An image or two from that trip became part of Gilles’ film Hideous Kinky – which is also occasionally shown on TV.

The movie about radar pitches two opposing forces against each other – the man with the theory and the man with an idea.   The man with the theory was Sir Robert Watson-Watt – the theory that you could detect incoming enemy planes by bouncing radio waves off the ionosphere, and his nemesis in the film who thought Britain should simply build more planes.

The point of it all was that the building more planes approach is just an idea – and not a very good one, since the enemy at the time had three times as many planes as the allies and Britain was not geared up for such production.  But radar was a theory, based on some evidence.  (Incidentally there is a memorial at the site of the first tests of radar at the field in Daventry where it all took place – I found it quite remarkable to stand there a few months ago when I was reading up on the story).

Now there is a point in all this.  Anyone can have ideas.  I might have an idea that if I jump up and down a lot I might touch the moon.  The idea can turn into a plan (that if I install a trampoline I might jump higher and be more successful in my quest).

But to develop this into a theory you need something more – some understanding of more than the notion that the moon is “up there” and a trampoline allows you to jump higher.  The theory might include an explanation of the phases off the moon, and the issue of gravity, for example.

The Dyke Commission – that strange body within the FA that often seems to be made up of people reaching for the moon, tries to make football in England better is, I fear, still stuck at the idea stage.  It has the idea that we ought to have lots of 3G all-weather pitches.  Now there is a bit of a plan at the edges, in that it suggests that these can be run and financed by local authorities.  But it is way short of a theory, because we all know the authorities don’t have the money.  The theory would suggest a way to by-pass this problem.   There isn’t such an theory, so it is just an idea.

Indeed the idea isn’t even new.  In 1972 the FA put the notion to Parliament encouraging local authorities to buy land for football pitches.   It was an idea.  Nothing happened because where authorities can suggest that someone else should pick up the tab, it will fail, and in this case, they did.

Even as a plan there isn’t much going for this for it would only give us half the pitches we need by 2020 – we’d still be way behind.

The issue of our lack of qualified coaches which is also part of the FA approach is however an explanation that leads to a theory.  That ultimately was a theory that was worked out on Untold, as I’ve shown in the last two articles.  The theory was that coaching staff were the key, and  then that theory was applied to the figures from other countries and found to indeed predict achievement levels.  It’s not as profound a theory as that behind radar, and not nearly so important, but it’s a theory, and it has been shown to be valid.

So, let’s end this series of three articles by looking at what the FA has proposed in its mishmash of ideas and plans and theories.

1.  The introduction of Premier League B teams into English football.

This was another Untold idea – although we thought of having Arsenal’s reserves playing in the Scottish League if the Conference wouldn’t have them.

2.  Change of visa system to reduce number of “mediocre” non-EU players.

Unlikely to make much difference.  It’s a political idea, not a theory.

3.  Maximum number of non-homegrown players in matchday squad reduced from 17 to 12.

Same as two.  There is no real explanation as to how this would help.  It could equally just result in everyone going overseas.

4. Invest £230m over five years in 150 new football hubs in 30 cities.

A bit like Britain building the same number of planes as Germany in 1939 – it might work if it happened but it won’t happen because the infrastructure is not there and nor is the money.

5.  50% increase the total number of full size, publicly accessible 3G pitches in England to more than 1,000.

Same as point four only more so.  This is not just an “idea” this is a “wild idea”

6.  More than triple number of youth coaches within next three years.

That could work as a way of improving grass roots football if it ever happened – but it needs the political will and the money for the 3G pitches, and that is not on the cards.

7.  Increase number of pro-licence holders from 200 to 300.

That would work – it is part of the original Untold plan – but it needs the rest of the theory to be put into action to make a plan that works.

So there we are.  The crisis in grassroots football and a collection of ideas, plans and theories.  Will anything be done?


30 Replies to “Reforming English football: ideas, plans and theories”

  1. The main problem I have with organised youth footbball is, it takes the individualism away from the kid. we are teaching our youth how to play safe, 5 yard triangles but where is that one player who gets you off teh edge of your seat?

  2. Who would benefit with the 3G pitches? I mean who would get the contract? Who is actually pushing this idea? FA or the manufacturer of these pitches.
    I have completed my level 1 FA coaching and since I train the U8s, I looked up the cost for the next level is £375.00 and that’s a lot of money.
    I live in Harrow (London) and in the past few years I have seen pubs suspiciously getting burnt down and appartments being constructed in its place. Its a miracle that we still have open spaces for parks, which is where 90% of grass root football is taught. It’s all very fine to go an get these coaching badges, but have you played enough football to understand the game? I have seen some coaches of similar teams and shocked to see how they coach. I used to play with a team called Rayners lane FC and even when they played the 442 apart from kicking up and chasing they could not manage 5 decent passes among themselves. If the politicians and builders would have eaten up these spaces a long time ago. I have seen it happen in Pune (India). As u have rightly pointed out, this is all smoke and no fire. Lovely article.

  3. Kids need more places to play football and generally have fun. In cities like London every space is being filled with expensive housing, and council youth services have been pared to the bone by public spending cuts. Even green spaces on housing estates are threatened with what’s called ‘infill’ – yet more houses, nearly all expensive, crammed in on the same space.

  4. @ Will I agree. We have a players who is under 8 and is clearly miles ahead of the others and he would benefit from the next level. He’s a player who as you say, puts you at the edge of your seat. I was instrumental in moving him to the next age group as he was too good. I mean TOO good. Once that happened, the other parents made big fuss about the fact their children are left behind and this boy is treated differently and how their own kids wont listen to them and cause tantrums at home etc. To a stage where there were heated arguments against on the ground with the management. Finally that boy is back in our age group. My son asked me the same question and my answer was “can You play like him and do the things like him?”. His answer was “no” so I asked him what should he do? The answer was simple, I will practice more.

  5. When I was a kid, you learned the game by playing on the street againat all ages and all sizes. You learned how to avoid the bigger boys trying to kick you off the ball. You learned when to pass, how to slip a tackle etc etc. For me now, the learn how to pass the all 5 yards and keep the ball.

  6. We have all been kids (some of us still are) with football in hand.

    The most football is played at school level…I can’t see where all the fuss is, when we have a consolidated all the potential future football players in one place (schools/colleges). Grass roots should be based there. Schools have decent enough facilities.

    If schools had staff (Specialized people) who would identify potential in certain kids whilst developing and training the teams available to them – organizing leagues under the banner of school football would be streets ahead of what FA will do!!!

    As it is all top flight clubs take on into their academies children who would still be at school.

  7. Better to invest all these millions of pounds each year directly into SCHOOL FOOTBALL.

    Improve facilities at schools/colleges

    Fund better organized tournaments where by schools/colleges can compete amongst each other at National and International level.

    There will certainly be less corruption there when FA and the likes are NOT involved!

  8. When you hear the word “hub” then you know that you are listening to worthless management consultant gibberish. All this hot air is just an exercise to allow some to overcharge the FA for such half-arsed rubbish.

    Everyone who has at least two football brain cells to rub together knows the score. Which is why the FA have been ignoring the likes of Keown who have offered to assist them in order to pay an arm and a leg so that someone can advise them to use the word “hub”.

    It is, what it is. I can’t imagine those who give the consistent impression that they think of players as unskilled cattle in the abattoir carriage of the gravy train deserve better officials.

  9. Dyke (FA) and ALL their collaborators (Contractors/Construction companies etc…) have only one interest – to complicate things, create a bubble filled with money from tax payers and whoever else stupid enough to pay into it, so they can skim as much as they want whilst building ghost facilities and having no end product!

  10. Having lived in Germany for over 18 years, i saw how football, and indeed most sports are available to children.
    The schools all seem to have excellent facilities for sport, both indoor and outdoor.
    Both my daughters played football throughout their school life. There are both male and female teams of different sports, all representing the school and they play in their school leagues.

    Because of this think that many more gifted youngsters get a chance to pursue their path.

    I have long since wondered why England does not take good functioning ideas from other countries and implement them, after all, they have pretty much taken all else from across the world, why the resistance to taking ideas now?

    I have this weird thought that England is being abandoned, don’t know why, but it is one of those feelings. Everything seems to be shifting towards Europe, and England is holding on to the last vestiges of Greatness, football being one of them (that is, the “invention” of football, for the last greatness in football was, how long ago?).

  11. Yes Para England is being abandoned. Ozil is off, tired off being kicked to pieces. Ibrahimovic won’t come here, period.
    The top teams are German and Spanish, as evidenced by Suarez going to greener pastures.

    As the Media launches another fact-defying assault on Wenger, (he didn’t enter Mourinho’s technical area, as is patently clear from the video), you realize that Art, Media, Politics, Life all come under the same umbrella of warped illusion in this country.

    Sadly, England is such a mess, destroyed by years of libtardism, (Marxism in a liberal frock), it will take many years of introspection, hard graft, upheaval and turmoil to put right. Football is just one freaky mythological creature on the crazy carousel.

    Whilst most of the world is running from the UK/US alliance, disgusted by the illegal wars of the petro-dollar and deliberate impoverishment, Britain remains cro-Magnon man, bombing other sovereign nations back to the stone age

    Germany looks a sensible option.

  12. But I would like to add…Top flight and second tare English football players should have a part to pay back into such a school-based system.

    There must be more than 200 English players in the top two divisions in England – averaging some serious money PER WEEK (excluding bonuses).

    These lads (some of them still very young; have a dept to their development to the English system (whatever that had been for them) UNLESS of course they all came through private academies where they/their parents had to pay for everything (which in my opinion is also the wrong way to go about it). Football was meant to be a ‘working mans’ sport and a working man shouldn’t have to pay through the nose so that his 8 year old kid can have a kick around just so that the FA can pick out some future star!!

    Development of kids should be paid for from the system that ultimately benefits from them as Professional footballers. Not suck them dry through every stage of their football experience!

  13. There is a real shortage of space in the South-East. I would be interested to know how more densely packed cities than London find space for recreation? One other issue in the south-east is NIMBYs who seem to believe that football pitches are some kind of violation of the green belt… (trust me – I’ve been on the wrong side of this!).

    Schools offer kids a small opportunity to play lots of different sports. Football is one of many. In general, far more coaching/game time is through the clubs.

    However, no reason why clubs can not rent pitches from schools, although this is a bit hit and miss.

    As noted, the Councils really have no money. Which means pitches are either sold for development or increase rapidly in price.

  14. Hey, umm…

    Is untold really auto redirecting to the appstore upon opening?
    Sorry for the unrelatrd comment here…

  15. apo Armani, I agree fully with your points about school sports.

    Unfortunately, while private schools have wonderful sports facilities, fewer and fewer state schools even have decent sized playgrounds. New schools in London where I live are squeezed onto smaller and smaller spaces.

    And for the last two decades and more, school sports grounds have been sold off bit by bit.

    The last government at least put some money towards providing sports coaches to schools. This was cancelled when the current government was elected.

    It is a sad truth that Britain does not value her children. Football is only one of the things that is affected by this neglect.

  16. I think football is suffering what other major sports team around the world is suffering. Capitalism. There will be greedy or arrogant already billionaires and millionaires, directly or indirectly who want a piece of the pie. The problem arises when such dishonest participation is done not because of love for sports but for publicity stunts, political influence, race propaganda and for over-hyped imperialism act. Humans have been very individualistic and tribal in nature that art has become dull and boring. There is no more romance and chivalry, just mediocre and stupidity. There is no freedom and bliss, just tyranny and ignorance. I have seen and experienced animals being treated better than human beings by the very humans who think they are better than everybody else. Thus, I have lost hope and faith that the world is ever gonna change. What I can do is to still celebrate the brightest shining light in the dark world that is Arsenal FC and other similarly run sports association. At least, I stay as a proper human being til the day comes. Go gunners!

  17. @Pat
    October 12, 2014 at 11:18 pm


    Of course its no surprise that private schools have better facilities…they are better funded! They would need to come on board in order to maintain their license to educate sports. Being private companies – such schools are very well accustomed to providing a better product (in this case football as a sport carrier).

    As for space inside London; I totally understand that it would be unrealistic to expect full size pitches in such areas, however, I believe that in order to teach our kids TECHNICAL football (as opposed to kick and run), then kids must learn to operate in smaller areas. Confined – restricted spaces; so they learn how to pass fast, one touch, hold the ball and avoid tackles. These skills are easily ignored when kids have acres of space to kick the ball and then run after it.

    Most 5a side artificial surface pitches are ideal for this, and in my opinion should work until the kids are 16 years old. By that time their technical level will have reached a very high standard and can move on to larger pitches.

    As for Governments and Politicians – its a Global problem which unfortunately comes back to us as individuals since we are the ones who VOTE them in time and again!

  18. @apo Armani
    “since we are the ones who VOTE them in time and again”

    I really do not think that this is the case any more.

    In reality, our votes have absolutely nothing to do with who wins the election.

  19. @para
    October 13, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Yes quite right too…so much for that word ‘democracy’!!

  20. One thing that would help the English Football Association would be if they showed some interest in asking their officials to act like Association Football referees. I’m thinking of Arsenal games in particular here.

    Is it too much to ask?

    Games like the FA Cup Final, which everyone saw, or the first game of last season where the England manager lost Chamberlain for the WC thanks to a very questionable “performance” from an offical who was happy to lose control of a game. As a professional referee. Or the game against Gazprom last week, where the offical seemd to be on a Gazprom sponsored holiday during the game, as opposed to the offical yesterday who sent off an Estonian player at home for doing simply what numerous Gazprom players were doing with impunity last week.

    Were Gazprom playing a different sport last week? What is going on here? How can there be such a large contrast?

    This contrast in the application of the rules of the sport (ignored in one example, applied in the other) is not an opinion, it is an undeniable observation.

  21. Of course we note that Chambers was given his yellow last week during that very game, of course he was, Hazard had not been enjoying the game up till that point. Poor lad, twenty two appearances for Southampton last year, not one yellow. Wenger really does teach his players to play dirty, eh?

    The contrast is there for all to see. Make of it what you will but it is undeniable.

  22. Finsbury

    I could add Per Mertesacker to that list like Chambers.

    In 221 Bundesliga matches he got 2 red cards and ONLY 8 YELLOW CARDS!! For a defender!!!!

    In 95 matches in the PL he got 1 red card and ALREADY 9 YELLOW cards.

    Is the Per from Germany another player? No, but he is playing for another team. Another team that faces different rules it seems….

  23. If the contrast was only between international games or different leagues we could apply some kind of coherent reason or rational behind such observations.

    However we can see these contrasts within the same league. Or indeed as witnessed last weekend, in the same game, where one set of rules is applied to one team, and another to the other. And it’s not the first time (e.g. FA Cup final). These are the observations, not opinions, that have been quantified in the research data collected by the Untold referee reviewers. This is why the Friends of Untold, when they attempt to discredit this study, that refuse to use any numbers of any value or meaning. Yet all sports depend upon statistics, and data analytics is a key component of modern football clubs. Arsenal have their own software! Ahead of the he curve in this area, I believe.

    IMO you can’t watch the football and not notice this contrast in the officals. I watched the Gazprom game in the Gunners Pub and it was clear to most watching the game that the offical was tilting the pitch. And no, it’s nothing to do with the size of the players (even if you try and ignore that Diaby and Song had a few seasons together because it doesn’t suit the ‘they don’t like it up’ meme) because the 04/05 squad had exactly the same problem!

  24. @finsbury
    October 13, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    You know from my past posts re BIAST refereeing against Arsenal, and not only the cost to our club with points lost, but more importantly – PLAYERS lost!!

    I suggested it before and will do again; IMO, BANNERS (LOTS of them) at every home and away game to make sure the fans are heard loud and clear…just in case some (who run football in England) THINK we have no idea at what has been going on – even though its blatantly obvious – so should the banners be…BLATANTLY telling THEM to STOP CHEATING.

    Would that be a logistical problem to achieve?

  25. Home game coming up against Hull…I am sure we will be in for more kicking!!

    Lets have some banners at the game…would be interested to see how the BROADCASTER deals with the banners…will they even zoom in on one??!!!

  26. So we start a conversation about the development of children and the coaching or lack of it they receive ( very interesting )but then end up with reverting to type expounding the Cassandra like comments ” Woe is hard done by me “.
    Whilst it may be true that refereeing is severely biased in this country and in all probability influenced against Arsenal , could we not have had one thread that didn’t go down this track.

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