Gary Lineker: Pushy parents screaming abuse from the sidelines are killing their kids’ love of football

It’s the pushy parents screaming at little Liam from the touchline, making him feel clumsy and putting him off his stride, who are partly to blame for the decline of English footie, says Gary Lineker.

There are three questions that I am asked on a regular basis: what is your favourite flavour of crisps? What were you doing when you pointed at your eye and looked at the bench when Gazza cried in the 1990 semi? And why do England always disappoint in major tournaments?

This is no place for brand endorsement but: salt and vinegar. Second, in the West Germany game, I looked at Bobby Robson and pointed at my eye, meaning “Watch him” because I knew that Paul was a very special and vulnerable footballer and needed care.

Finally, before I begin with my reasons why England disappoint in major tournaments and the possible fixes, let me point out that this is not going down the “Things were so much better in my day” route. They weren’t!

We have never produced, proportionally, as many technically efficient players as most other countries. There was a time when our indomitable spirit and work ethic saw us through. Alas, the rest of the world now more than matches us in the less than beautiful side of the game, while we still linger exasperatingly behind when it comes to skill, flair and that most necessary of footballing basics – maintaining possession.

Yes, there are exceptions, and some eras are more productive than others. Italia ’90 immediately springs to mind, with Gascoigne, Waddle, Beardsley et al; 1996 was another vintage group, with Gazza still hobbling around alongside Teddy Sheringham and friends. Then there was the “golden generation” that never quite managed to grab even bronze.

These wonderfully gifted individuals came through in spite of the maligned and archaic system of development we’ve had in this country, certainly not because of it.

And here we come to the crux of the matter. Until very recently, we never taught our youngsters properly. We have never taught our coaches to teach our youngsters properly. And we wouldn’t have had enough coaches, even if we had taught them how to teach our youngsters properly. Countries such as Spain, Germany and the Netherlands (the ones that consistently produce fine footballers) all have ten times the number of qualified coaches as England.

I am writing not to crush you with pessimism but to offer some degree of hope. Change is afoot. In very recent times, the FA has made some long-overdue but crucial changes that should make a drastic difference to the kind of player we develop.

In this country, since footballs made from pigs’ bladders were whacked into goals without nets, we’ve played on full-size pitches. Whatever our age. This is ludicrous. Sevenand eight-year-olds valiantly trying to cover the same acreage as those grown-up chaps in the Premier League is absurd. To add to the lunacy, a little goalkeeper, barely out of nappies, has to stand between posts that are eight strides apart – adult strides – and under a crossbar more than twice his height.

It’s obvious, then, why we have a long-ball culture: the big lads who can kick it furthest are the ones that stand out. What chance for the diminutive yet gifted midfielder? No chance of him developing his tiki-taka football. The only way to get to the other end of the pitch is to belt it and then belt it again.

This madness is only exacerbated by the maniacal parents on the touchline spouting nonsense at their children. The competitive nature of most mums and dads is astounding. The fear they instil in our promising but sensitive Johnny is utterly depressing. We need a parental cultural revolution. If we could just get them to shut the fuck up and let their children enjoy themselves, you would be staggered at the difference it would make.

Having four boys myself, I have stood on the sidelines of countless games, spanning many years. Oh, the drivel I have heard, the abuse I have witnessed, the damage I have seen done. Promising young players barked at by clueless dad. “Don’t mess with it there.” “Just kick it.” “Stop fucking about.” I could go on. I have seen a father pick his son up by the scruff of the neck and yell in his face: “You’ll never make it playing that crap.”

Occasionally, I’ve intervened and expressed my view that they are being a hindrance. The reactions have varied from acknowledgement and genuine interest to complete disgust that I should stick my nose in.

Incidentally, I never shouted anything other than encouragement from a touchline . . . to both teams. My father was generally reserved on the touchline but he did lose it once after I swore at a referee when I was about 14. He got the coach to take me off. I learned a lesson that day.

Some of the academies around the country have introduced a rule that parents must be quiet and only applaud. This has allowed talented young players to express themselves on the field, to take people on, to try a trick, all without the dreaded, predictable rubbish cascading into their ears. This is a very good thing. Who cares who wins an under-eights game? Who cares if a youngster makes a mistake? It’s how we learn.

We are creating a generation of players who are living in a world of Fifa pixels, who think they know everything about the game, yet who have never enjoyed the explosion of joyful emotions that comes with the scoring of a goal, the immense satisfaction of a defencesplitting pass (midfielders assure me that this is true), the feeling of power that comes with the winning of a crunching tackle (I made that bit up), or the agony/pleasure – depending on your disposition – of standing in a wall and getting one in the bollocks.

Things are gradually changing. Academies are silencing Mum and Dad; the FA has brought in smaller-sided games with smaller pitches and goals (oh, how the parents moaned at that); the coaching is improving. The revolution has begun.

We must keep an eye on the delicate aspects of the beautiful game, the nuances that make it beautiful: the inexplicable moments of grace created by vulnerable geniuses such as Paul Gascoigne. We need to view our young players like Sir Bobby did Paul, with patience, nurturing and understanding. Then perhaps we will see a revolution in the way England play and we might get beyond tearful semifinals against well-nourished Germans. One day, one day, we shall rise again.

Now where did I leave that packet of salt and vinegar?

 

Gary Lineker says pushy parents are partly to blame for the decline of English footie. Photo: Getty

This article first appeared in the 23 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Russell Brand Guest Edit

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.