Football v Fightball

Last week I witnessed two games from the same league at different age groups. It again reinforces the point that environment drives behaviour.

Firstly, I took our 2004 squad for a couple of 7-a-side games. They are going to 11’s next season and I was keen to see how they were getting on. I was pleasantly surprised in the way they played. Having been away from sevens for a few years it was great to see how things have developed. The team tried to play the right way with good passing and movement. There were 11 players on the day but that wasn’t a problem as we continually cycled the players round in order that they all got a good proportion of the game. At the end they all came off sweating and smiling having enjoyed the game. It is no coincidence that the conditions for success have been set up by FVFDA. The game took place on a good 3G surface. A ref was in place (to be honest, was never really required). Parents were kept well away from the pitch in the stand. Coaches were at the side but only encouraged the players and made the substitutions. Scores are not recorded and leagues are not kept. All in all a very pleasurable experience for both players and coaches.

I would like to contrast this with a game 4 days later between one of our sides at u15’s in a clash with a local rival. The game was highly competitive with both teams going for it. All in all a 3-3 draw was just about right and the game could have gone either way. Now let’s look at the environment at this game. Firstly, the match was played on grass and on a very bumpy pitch where players were tested, to say the least, on their first touch. Good passing football was forsaken for long balls where it is safer to play in the other teams half in case mistakes are made. Secondly, and probably the biggest impact on the game was the parents. Both sets of parents were lined up along one side and all standing right on the touchline. Some of the language that was coming from the parents was shocking with encouraging shouts to kick players was plain out of order. The ref did well under very trying circumstances with parents constantly questioning his decisions and trying to put him under pressure. As the game went on, you could see that what was going on at the side starting to transfer onto the park. Tackles were getting heavier and players were getting mouthier. I am pretty sure a few were booked for abusive language. All in all, a very unsavory environment.

So, we have two teams which are only three years apart yet the differences are so dramatic. Is it because the latter is a competitive fixture where points are at stake? Is it because the pitch is poor and doesn’t encourage good passing football? Is it just because the boys are getting older and more physical? Is it because the parents are so close to the pitch? Is it because they are told to play this way?

I think it is all of the above (although hopefully not the last one) but we are creating this environment. We are really letting ‘Fightball’ win over ‘Football’ If we are to save our game then we really need to change the environment. I like competitive games, there is nothing wrong with that but it needs to be done by playing football, if we are to have any chance as a nation to close the gap. Our culture is steeped in Fightball but it is doing us no favours. I recently listened to a podcast featuring Joe Jordan (a boyhood hero). Joe was a warrior but with a fair amount of skill where he says he was ‘brought up with working class values that never leave you.’ We should acknowledge our past but it should not define us. Keep these strong values but don’t rely on them solely. Lets’s try and change the environment to give our youngsters a chance to develop their skills on a decent surface, with good coaching and supportive parents.

Lets’s support Football over Fightball every time.


Football v Fightball

7 thoughts on “Football v Fightball

  1. yorkieriley says:

    Thanks David
    I agree with your comments and believe that some parents have to take responsibility.

    In some cases so do the coaches. Instead of enjoying the game pressure is put on the youngsters and they end up with a must win mentality, which then leads to them putting more pressure on themselves.

    If they don’t win or are deemed to be a contributing factor to not winning, they will be subbed at the next game

    Liked by 1 person

  2. @imitch65 says:

    We’re a bit constrained on what we can do about the pitches David, but all of the rest is in our control. The league (FVFDA) and governing bodies (SFA / SYFA) are clear on what they want to happen, so I think this comes down to the clubs to set the right approach – and then seek support from the league if that doesn’t work. Coaches & committees for each age group / team set the tone here. We can do what is right for our own teams, controlling players AND PARENTS appropriately. We can take measures at our home matches – eg. create a spectating area back from the touchline. We can ask spectators to leave if they don’t behave appropriately. We can set the right relationship with opposition coaches by the right behaviours & discussions in advance and throughout the season. I’m not naive – there will always be some friction, and some better / some worse relationships – but I’m convinced that consistently advocating and doing the right things will work in the end. It has to!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally agree Ian. We are working hard to do this but clearly got a long way to go. We tried to put cones out to keep parents/spectators back but it looks like that is now being ignored. Sadly, it looks like it may have to be some kind of barrier. We need a joined up approach from all clubs where we raise the standard together.


  3. I did my referee training about 8 years ago. I refereed a handful of local boys’ club league games (and I mean two or three) and thereafter knew that it wasn’t for me. I have been sticking to doing school or BB matches since then, because there is perhaps less in the way of niggle at those. But recently I’ve noticed even in those, the way boys wind one another up verbally (and quietly) as the game starts, is really worrying. It’s stuff that you can almost tell has been heard from the parents. ‘Tell him you’ll burst his face after the match if he’s hacking you’ and that kind of thing.
    There will, inevitably, always be a greater degree of ‘niggle’ in teenagers’ matches, with testosterone and bravado taking a bigger role in their systems, but I agree that it’s probably quite disheartening to see the change in attitude to the opposition that seems to happen in the teenage years. Perhaps we do need to keep parents further from the park and not just for the reasons in today’s post, but also some you’ve mentioned previously.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks Fraser. I guess there is an element of teenage boys where they like to wind each other up. The more cynical element came from parents at the sideline who should really know better. I don’t know what happens to some people at the side of a park but they turn into someone else and feel they can take out all their own frustrations here. Would they act this way in their own workplace? Of course, they wouldn’t get away from it there as the culture created is different. We seem to have created an environment where this type of behaviour is regarded as acceptable.

    As for being a referee, anyone who does this has my absolute admiration. Some of the abuse towards a ref I have witnessed is plain shocking. I have never criticised a ref and never will. People forget we can’t play the game without them and just like players they don’t always make the correct decisions.


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