Wayne Rooney definitely grew up playing these games, but did he ever have to face Red Arse?

Heads & Volleys, Wembley Doubles, Red A*se… A guide to UK childhood football games

In the U S of A you might grow up tossing a pigskin in the garden with your dad or playing catch with a baseball glove, not so in the UK. Football is in the blood over here, and there are myriad variations of the beautiful game played up and down the country.

And most of them involve corporal punishment for the loser.

Halcyon days. No prize for winning, just physical pain for losing. We’d play with tennis balls, rolled up socks, empty cans of pop (fizzy drinks), and we’d play anywhere.

North American friends and people of the world, welcome to your beginner’s guide to UK childhood (and adulthood, if we’re honest) football-based games.


The most accessible of games. One for the budding goalkeeper, and one you could play with your kid sibling. The rules of Kerby are simple:

Stand on opposite sides of the street, and aim to throw the ball at the opposite kerb so that it bounces back toward you.

The ball may not bounce before hitting the kerb. If you succeed, you take one step toward the opposite kerb and go again.

The first one to reach the other side wins. Classic.

Knockout/Wembleys/World Cup

Many of these games have a different name depending on where you grew up, but if you grew up in the UK, you played this game.

It’s every player for themselves out there in a game of Knockout. One willing volunteer or unlucky f*cker goes in goal, and all other players shoot at the same goal, each trying simultaneously to prevent the others from scoring. Sort of 1v1v1v1v1v1v1… etc.

The first round requires each player to score one goal to progress, and whoever is last is eliminated. That first player to be knocked out usually faces a forfeit (more on that later).

Every round, the number of goals required to progress increases until you’re left with two players battling it out.

Wembley Doubles (aka Marras)

This one is identical to the aforementioned Knockout, except that players are in pairs, as opposed to playing solo. Having a partner means that there’s a slightly lower risk of a major cardiac event here, in contrast to the ultimate bleep test that is Knockout.

You’ll hear it called ‘Marras’ in the Northeast of England, which means ‘friends’ in the local dialect. Adorable.

This guy became the youngest scorer in Champions League history in 2019.

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You know squash, right? The sport, squash. Imagine that but with a football, and instead of a racquet, you have feet. And instead of a squash court, you have a knackered old garage door. You’ve got the gist.

Heads & Volleys

Also known as Heads & Vods, this one is an all-timer. Just as fun as a fully-grown adult as it is when you’re eight years old.

Again, one player starts in goal, but in Heads & Volleys that player is unlikely to be in net for long. This game can be played in pairs or as one team all shooting at the same goal.

As the name suggests, goals will only count if they’re a header or a volley. And those headers and volleys better beat the goalie, because there’s jeopardy involved.

If you miss the target, you go in goal (note that Heads & Volleys is often played with jumpers for goalposts, and if your shot is deemed by your peers to have hit the post or crossbar, the Post Saves All rule comes into effect, and you will be spared).

If you score with anything other than a header or a full volley, you go in goal, and if the goalie catches the ball before it bounces, you go in goal. You do not want to be in goal.

You don’t want to be in goal because after a predetermined amount of goals has been scored, whoever happens to be keeping goal when the final goal goes in faces punishment.

Physical punishment. As we’re about to explain.

Red A*se/Bums

The most common form of punishment for losing a game of Knockout, Wembley Doubles, or Heads & Volleys, is the age-old tradition of Red A*se (or Bums in certain areas of South West England, apparently…). The concept is quite simple.

The unlucky loser stands on the goal line, bent over, anus pointing to the sky. The other players each take a turn to smash the ball as hard as they possibly can at the loser’s arsehole.

More often than not, the other players let excitement get the better of them and miss the target, but it’s the anticipation that gets you. It’s the fear.

A psychological and physical forfeit for being marginally less good at football than your mates. It’s brutal out there.

Boot Alley

Now, this might just be a Northeast thing. To break the fourth wall in the interest of full disclosure: That’s where I’m from. Often, if you lost one of the aforementioned fun and friendly games, you would have to face the pure, nerve-stinging terror of Boot Alley.

The other players form two parallel lines facing each other. You signed up for this before the game began. You knew what you were getting yourself into.

You must now run through the middle of Boot Alley, as the two parallel lines of your mates do their best to kick seven shades of sh*te out of you. I once got roundhoused in the throat.

Is it barbaric? Yes. Do we condone it? No. Does it force you to get good at football as quickly as possible to avoid potentially life-changing injuries? Absolutely.

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