Missing kits, flat balls & sh*t pitches – 21 reasons why we love grassroots footy
Grassroots football is back and we could not be happier. So happy, in fact, that we’ve come up with 21 reasons why we love it.
March 29 in England was a good day for lots of reasons, but none more than it being the day we were allowed to play footy again.
We’ve missed it more than we can possibly explain, but here are just some of the things we’re most looking forward to having back in our lives.
The WhatsApp group
Grassroots football clubs’ WhatsApp groups are a truly wonderful mix of almost exclusively p*ss-taking, the gaffer pestering people to let him know if they’re playing and someone complaining there’s only nine shirts in the kitbag. Oh, and…
“Can anyone give me a lift in the morning?”
We wouldn’t swap it for the world.
Grassroots footballers fall pretty much exclusively into two categories: your taped-up black boots, never let you down-types and then the players who fancy themselves a bit. Sometimes those players are indeed your match-winners. Other times they’re new players. Unknown quantities.
“He’s got to be a player to pull them off.”
It doesn’t matter if you played a week ago or a year ago, there are two certainties about your team’s ball bag: a good three-quarters of the balls in there are flat and it’ll arrive late with someone who was stupidly trusted to take it home the previous week because no one else wanted it in their car boot.
“Have we got a matchball?”
There isn’t a grassroots football club in the world with a full complement of net pegs. Where they go, nobody knows.
Still, you’ll always take sticking the pegs in over hooking the net up. Hamstrings…gone.
Around six or seven players per team use sock tape. A maximum of two have their own.
“F*cking hell, these absolutely stink.”
And there are only 10 again. “Bring your own shorts and socks.”
We don’t have squad numbers at this level. In fact there is very little regard even for wearing the shirt to match your position. There are simply two objectives: get a shirt before they’ve all gone, and get one in your size. Cue the No.10 at left-back.
Most of the time the manager is someone who’s been playing for a long time, turns up most weeks and has always done his fair share of taking kits and ball home. Good player. Good egg. Everyone likes and respects them. Tough job, too. Chasing players for subs, chasing players for kits, chasing players about playing, attending league meeting on a Thursday night. We’ll say it again, tough job.
That doesn’t necessarily make them Fergie when it comes to inspirational team talks or tactics, but we don’t play grassroots football to win. Not really. Otherwise most of us would have given up a long time ago.
No, we play because we love it, love being part of the team, love having a big group of mates to meet up with once a week. And it’s the gaffers who make it all happen so make sure you remember to thank them.
Because, remember, football can transform lives. Like Francesca Brown, founder and CEO of Goals4Girls, told us about her work with girls and young women, many black or Asian, many from families and communities where opportunities, aspirations and praise are not always forthcoming.
Football can help change all those things.
“When you see the girls on the pitch, they’re completely different from when you see them walking around the school,” Brown told us.
“They just let go – they completely let go. They’re having a laugh, they’re talking. Learning new skills and supporting one another in a fun and safe environment, that’s the beauty of sport and grassroots football.”
Have you ever seen a professional football player doing knees up, heels up and side-to-sides in the warm-up? Us neither. Bet you’ll be doing it this weekend, though.
How’s your touch?
Before the warm-up, of course, comes 10 minutes of long passes – ping! – and big boots up into the air. “How’s your touch?”
It’s actually a bit of a disgrace the state of most grassroots football pitches in the UK, but that’s a debate for another day. Because as much as we all have a moan about the facilities, we’ll play anywhere. Mudbaths, ice rinks, slopes, holes, long grass – in the cold light of day it’s a nonsense that we even consider playing on half the pitches.
But you’ll still get pretty much a full complement down on a freezing-cold January morning absolutely adamant it’s fine to play. “It takes a key.”
toss up between Bretons Park (Rainham's premier lumpy pitch emporium) where i first started playing in adult leagues, and Sara D. Roosevelt Park in NY (Bowery's premier lumpy pitch emporium) where I played for the @mundialmag issue 19 cover story.
— Sam Diss (@SamDiss) March 31, 2021
As much as love grassroots football, that’s certainly not to say you get 100% commitment from 100% of the people. 4am messages that “I don’t think I’m going to make it tomorrow” are common. Which lead to frantic calls the next morning to find a mate who can play.
Pretty much all they’ve got to do is not be terrible and be happy answering to another name for 90 minutes. Before you know it they’re in the WhatsApp group and part of the squad. New friendships are built on the back of those 4am messages.
Genuinely would love to know if “we’ve gone quiet, lads”, “where was the shout” and “box ’em in” get used in pro football, too. It’s speaking for the sake of it and we love it.
There are very, very few injuries on a grassroots football pitch that haven’t been solved by a drink of water followed by a squirt onto the affected area.
You don’t see many pre-planned celebrations at grassroots level. You’d think you would, but you don’t. No, celebrations fall almost exclusively into three categories: the casual hand slap with several players from the striker who scores all the time; the manic, way over-the-top guttural screams of someone who hardly ever scores; and the last-minute, come-from-behind-in-the-cup-final-type celebrations where even the ‘keeper runs up to join in.
All three types are equally wonderful.
Win, lose or draw, that time spent with mates after a match is wonderful. Beers, chips, tactical analysis, laughs, p*ss takes, next-game-planning, night-out-planning (remember them). Just friendship.
For Romance FC, football is not just about the game but providing a safe space for women and non-binary folk just to be themselves and make some friends.
“The main thing I noticed was the need for safe social spaces for women,” player-manager Trisha Lewis told us. “I think it has always been difficult for women to find social circles outside of work or university friends.
“More teams are popping up because, well, where else can you meet other great women where you can just ‘be’ and it’s nothing more than that?”
Football really is wonderful.
We’re going to go out on a limb here and say it’s not just us who imagine ourselves scoring goals during the week. Chances you missed the week before hit the back of the net, the chances you took are replayed over and over, and the chances you’re going to get this week, of course, fly in off the bar.
For most of us, football is played for 90 minutes once a week. But it can absolutely get you through the other six days, too.
Playing in the Manchester Saturday Morning Football League might not sound like a big deal, but to those who play in it – and to all the players in all the other leagues – it absolutely is.
Never mind goals, players can recall shots they had at a ground three years previously.
“Remember that effort I had down here?”
Nobody does. But you do. You bloody do.
Scoring a 25-yard half-volley about three minutes into my first game back after a double leg break was decent!
I only went for the warm-up. But @hewlettfc were gonna start with 10 so I said I'd be a body for five mins.
I subbed myself off immediately after scoring. Glorious. https://t.co/ZT5e83wnzd
— Mark Holmes (@Homzy) April 1, 2021
As with going to watch a game of football, it’s about much more than the 90 minutes. It’s about friendship, community, being a part of something. And that friendship, that camaraderie can mean the world to some people.
And even if your team isn’t intentionally trying to help people manage their mental health like FC Not Alone, if you’re a nice person and there to listen, you’re probably doing more for someone than you might ever realise.
As Ian McKenzie from FCNA told us: “People might not think, ‘I’m going there to work on my mental health,’ but I think that’s a by-product of being in a football environment where you feel welcome and the coaches are nice people. They’re empathetic, they care about you, and you know your peers are all there for a common cause.
“Naturally, a by-product is hopefully that people will feel better about themselves and make friendships because of it. That’s truly the focus of FC Not Alone with the return of grassroots football.”
No matter what’s going on in your life, a game of football is a release. A way to clear your head and do something you absolutely love for 90 minutes. Cherish it. Don’t give it up until you absolutely have to.
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