The ‘Unconscious Uncoupling’ of Grass Roots Football

Grass roots footbal in decline in the UK

I coached kids football for five or so years with my mate who was one of the other parents. Together, we took our team to win their league at Under 12’s. It was quite a proud moment.

The reason I stopped was that in that same season I had a genuine death threat from an opposition parent (who our team had beaten) which was a little unsettling to say the least. It’s kids football, it’s not really that important is it?

But football is now in general decline at grass roots level for exactly that reason. The fun has gone and for many parents it’s a desperate chance for a ticket out of poverty. Winning is everything and if their son or daughter is the next big thing, they’re made for life. Statistically, football is the sport that it’s easiest to get rich at. Assuming the top two leagues are generally pretty wealthy, then you have around 500+ players earning mega money in the UK alone. Add in the other European Leagues and the rising Far East markets, and it’s comparatively easy. In golf or tennis, this may only be the top 50-100 in the world.

But this week, Sport England announced it has cut FA funding by £1.6m after a grassroots decline. Football is in trouble. Never before has the professional game been so completely disconnected to the grass roots game. Unless they address this, the game will just slowly wither and die. There won’t be the players coming through to feed the national teams and there may not be those growing up with football as part of their life as were were.

So, the solution?

Simple for me.

1. Make football fun again. Don’t play competitive football until they get well into their teens. Kids want to play football with their friends, they don’t care whether they win or lose, It’s the parents who do. They’ll play their competitive games in the playground anyway, without their parents screaming at them and taking the fun away.

2. Build respect into the game from the outset. The FA are now attempting to teach this to the kids, but they need to keep the parents away as normally that’s where the problems lie.

3. Keep the game sizes small so all the kids get lots of time on the ball to raise their overall skill levels. The more they play the more they will improve and in theory the more they should want to play.

4. Stop players in the professional game from swearing on the pitch and saying anything AT ALL to the referee. Look at rugby for a model here. It’s flawless and everyone calls the referee ‘Sir’ as they have ultimate power on the pitch and off it.

I don’t really care about England games anymore, I’m not even that bothered about the Premiership. I’ll always be an Oxford fan, but my love for the game and more importantly, it’s future as a national sport is in jeopardy unless they change the way the game is played at the very bottom of the footballing pyramid.

ps, Thanks to Ruby Lyle for the image of Charlie G.

Place Branding needs a dramatic sense of place

One of the things that has struck me since living in Nottingham is that there are very few world class landmarks for people to use in their iconic shots to sum up their visit. We all know it should be the castle, but i’m afraid that will never happen.

London’s images are ever changing, but the London Eye, the Swiss Re, the upcoming Shard and maybe Canary Wharf are amongst the most the most used. This shows that modern stuff can take over from the more traditional images of  Big Ben, Whitehall, Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.

I grew up in a suburb of Oxford called Headington (close to my beloved Oxford United’s old Manor Ground) and we had one amazing one, which was this massive pair of kicking legs coming out of the roof of the Moulin Rouge Cinema.

The Moulin Rouge Cinema in Oxford - Sadly no more, but the legs were amazing
The Moulin Rouge Cinema in Oxford - Sadly no more, but the legs were amazing. Photograph: © Graham Paul Smith

And then in 1986 the now famous Shark arrived and it’s now 25 years old.

The Shark in the roof in Headington, Oxford
The Shark in the roof in Headington, Oxford

So what has this got to do with branding?

Well, it’s partly a nostalgic look back for me, but it is also a reminder that creating a brand for a place is more than just using pictures of dreaming spires, or lush meadows by the Thames, it takes some brave design and an inspirational character (or two) to make it happen. And this is the same for any brand too.

To stand out in a crowded market, you have to stand out, just like my favourite shark.

Living without an iPhone – a social and business experiment – Day -1

Probably not the best start to the day when I discovered that I have managed to lose the micro sim converter that I bought earlier in the week in preparation for the switchover tomorrow AM. This is the little device that you need to make the iPhone 4 sim (which is essentially a cut down version of a normal sized sim) usable in normal phones.

I am actually looking forward to the thought of being on a normal phone again but one things strikes me already.

I am going to watch my boys footie team this afternoon and it will be the last day I will be able to ‘watch’ the scores of the other matches on Sky Sports App. Actually it is a bit like watching it on teletext anyway – like we used to do, so maybe i’ll be able to concentrate on the kids match rather than what is going on at Oxford v. Hereford.

Okay, so i’m off into town to by a replacement micro sim adapter. iPhone at home on divert to the new number.

Not nervous yet.


That was a wasted trip. The man in Victoria market didn’t have one, the man in the little mobile unit didn’t have one and neither did the Apple Centre. Hmm. I’ll have to order another one on Ebay. It is maybe another sign that Apple are trying to control their customers a little by forcing them to use a unique sim card in order to make it harder to move away from them. Maybe they’re not the cuddly giant we once thought.

Not an efficient start. But I did get my first call on the new phone diverted from the iPhone.