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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

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Family united could win the next world cup

UNLIKE many women over the past month I haven’t hidden from the World Cup.

While I know I should be watching re-runs of Gok, I have been sitting on a sofa with my youngest footie-mad son screeching about off-sides, gaps in defence and poor ball control.

Lasses, let me tell you, it ain’t rocket science analysing football matches. After three years of watching small boys running around you become an expert on strategy and team-work. Alan Hansen, eat your heart out.

I told my husband at the beginning of the competition that it would be those teams who cared about each other and who played together who would win. He gave me the “whatever, woman’’ look.

And yet, you only have to look at the teams who failed (England included) to see that skill and multi-million pound contracts matter not if your face is tripping you up as you walk on the pitch.

The BBC’s coverage of the World Cup has included some sublime films explaining the history and culture of South Africa. My favourite was the story of Sir Stanley Matthews who travelled to Soweto in the 1950s (a very courageous act) breaching all the barriers to teach youngsters to play football.

Fifty years on, they remember him with deep love (the first white man they didn’t hate) and are still using his techniques. It was a stunning reminder how sport can transform lives, and not through multi-million pound contracts.

You want to witness the power of sport, simply watch a handful of kids mess around with the ball. Playing football at that age isn’t about planning a career, although having a dream doesn’t hurt. It is about the buzz of the endorphins, pulling together, supporting each other, the achievement of scoring or stopping a goal, believing in yourself, learning to bounce back after a defeat and riding the thrill of a win.

As a mother, I couldn’t care less about my son playing professional football, but I do know that being part of the team is one of the greatest preparations for life.

George Best developed his skills kicking against garages and many of the greatest footballers came from poor backgrounds, blessed simply with a talent and the drive to succeed, attributes money can’t buy.

Last weekend, my son and two of his U10s’ team-mates spent nearly three hours playing football at St Bees. They stopped only twice; to take their tops off for goal-posts and to go for a Hartley’s ice-cream. The rest of the time was spent dribbling past each other, taking shots and practising headers.

Forget Messi, Rooney and Ronaldo. My son and his mates played their hearts out, were almost demented in their attempts to score, laughed like drains at each other and exhausted themselves running through their gamut of skills. It was a joy to watch.

At one point my husband turned to me and said: “This is the sort of spirit which wins World Cups. Shall we send this lot to the next one?’’

If we are ever to win a major championship again then we need to encourage youngsters to play for enjoyment, develop their own styles and remember that playing football for a living and representing your country is a privilege, not a chore.

Surely it can’t be impossible for a 10-year-old English lad who runs with ice-cream around his mouth, mud on his knees and tears in his eyes from laughing to eventually lead his countrymen out in the World Cup final. The dream is still alive!

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