Swearing at football on the television from the safety of your armchair is all very well, but there’s no substitute for absorbing a little abuse yourself and getting some cardiovascular exercise at the same time. To this end, I recently took the necessary exam, and am now qualified to blow loudly on a whistle and give a stiff-arm salute without fear that my German in-laws will think I’m taking the piss out of their history.
A few dozen games giving vent to my latent authoritarian streak have confirmed what I always suspected about youth football - there’s nothing wrong with the players, just the parents who watch it and the coaches who coach it. When I played as a kid, you rarely heard from either. The parents were either absent, or quietly observant, and you learnt to tune out the odd hysterical mother until her mortified son banned her from watching. The coaches told you their thoughts before the game, at half-time, and afterwards. This was your 90 minutes of escape from the class room and parental oversight, when you had the chance to run free and express yourself with limited instruction.
Nowadays, children’s lives have to be micro-managed, while many parents and coaches think they absolutely need to be centre stage, all the time (although needless to say, it's the loud ones you notice most). To rescue football from this intrusive plague, I plan to develop a range of referee’s products that will aid in cleansing the game of its brash, loudmouthed egos who think they have the right to control every move of a child’s recreational time. They are as follows:
For the linesman on the spectators’ side of the field
*A luminous shirt that will, when pointless parental shrieking reaches a certain volume, automatically flash the words SHUT IT NOW! And (prevailing winds permitting) trigger an emission from a capsule blasting out a noxious gas that will force them at least 20 yards back from the touchline. The display will alternate with questions like Have You Ever Read The Laws Of The Game? or You’ve Never Actually Kicked A Ball In Your Life, Have You? Or, Do You Really Think Repeatedly Shouting KICK IT HARD Qualifies As Useful Advice? (I’d add some qualifying labels at the end of these too, if this weren’t a family blog.)
*A Retractable, Idiot-seeking Flag that will fly sharply backwards out of the linesman’s hand and poke in the eye anyone who claims to have spotted an offside while standing 40 yards behind the play. Or who insists on telling you that the throw-in should have gone the other way. Or who yells for a foul just because their kid fell over or got tackled. The flag will zip back into your hand quicker than the human eye can see (I have Spiderman’s people working on this), thus saving you from litigation, while disabling the irritant for the remainder of the game.
For the referee:
The pocket-sized Bench Blaster will despatch any raging coach who encroaches on to the field of play back to his or her bench with a single zap. The Deluxe Model will coat them in an adhesive substance to prevent them from standing up or opening their mouths for the remainder of the game. And the Platinum Model will implant a microchip in their brains containing a copy of the FIFA Laws of the Game. Ad slogan: The Bench Blaster - Because Sometimes A Red Card Just Isn’t Enough.
There have been many advances in the science and philosophy of youth coaching over the past two decades that I would certainly have benefited from as a teenager, but I definitely missed the memo that said shouting at kids will make them better footballers. When you shake their hands at the end of the game, you always like to tell them that they played well. But you also feel like adding, “Could I just apologise for my generation too?”