The Glory of the Street

By John Cartwright

People inside and outside of the game of football are lamenting over the lack of ‘street football’ our youngsters play. How long have I been saying this? However, it isn’t good enough to cry over the loss of the street game and the qualities it once brought to football here, we must accept that street development is a thing of the past and move on… the Dutch did in the 70’s!  ‘Chaos learning’ of the game in streets, playgrounds and anywhere flat enough to allow a small-sided game to be played, must now be reapplied in a modern coaching form.


How can the past be resurrected and so transfer the subtle qualities of street football into a modern learning situation?  Well, it’s not that difficult if one has truly experienced actual street football; the game was played so that whilst playing one incorporated the practising of the game at the same time. Realism in practice is a vital ingredient in the learning process and realism of the actual game was an important part of street football. Our present Government has finally realized that apprenticeships must include more doing than listening—–hands need to be made dirty and there needs to be an increase in ‘trial and error’ methods in the learning process. The ‘University of the Street’ has no equal when learning the essential aspects of life; good decisions-making being an essential requirement —the street game provided the same decision-making opportunities to players for the game of football.    

The gradual loss of the street game and the qualities it had was due to economic modernization gradually ‘devouring’ the old, established playing areas in cities and towns throughout the country; in conjunction with this was the arrival of ‘formal’ coaching methods as the modern replacement of the street ‘chaos’ game. As a dedicated street player myself in London’s East End during the 1940’s and 50’s I later became a ‘victim’ of academic coaching methods when I entered the professional game. When I moved into coaching as an occupation I decided to find a different approach —-  a way of using the old and combining it with a new coaching method; Practice-Playing was my concept of incorporating the past with the present/future in a modern form.



For a footballer there is nothing more enjoyable than playing the game, therefore, practice must ‘imitate’ the game as near as possible. The joy of playing for hours in the street has to be replicated in practises for all ages and all levels of the game. Football has to be taught and practised in a different way to remedy the huge loss of ‘practice time’ that was previously given over to the street game.    I have said for many years that the game of football is a game of skill not technique! The over- use of technical practice has produced players with a lack of competitive awareness — long-term technical practice methods have not produced  individual playing ability allied to game understanding — these are essential ingredients in a footballer’s ‘locker’  if entry into the highest levels of the game is to be achieved. The loss of practice time must be overcome by better use of the time available. Individual techniques must be learned in competitive situations to ‘weld’ it into the skills the game needs. Football is a competitive game and the associated skills to play it must be introduced in a gradually controlled and realistic (competitive) manner so that learning practises satisfy the actual playing requirements of the game.


Football is a game of interference (Competitive challenge) therefore, unless we practice what the game demands (practice what’s played) we will continue to play the game without the necessary skills and awareness to play it well.

Coaching must relinquish the ‘classroom, structured mentality’ that has beset our development methods since the tragic demise of street football and begin to provide players with the correct ‘tools for the job’— a realistic learning pathway forward!             

40 thoughts on “The Glory of the Street

  1. Hi John….
    When I first started doing the Premier Skills courses it was clear that, right from the start, trainee coaches were being shown how to introduce young players into a realistic game situation.First of all in an enclosed area where there was a restriction in time and space, so they immediately had to learn how to find and make space (time). The introduction of, and coaching of, technical skills is gradually introduced into this game-realistic environment. Then opposition, directional play and, finally, game practice is introduced through a gradual, progressive learning programme.
    My question is: do you think that there is some value in technical practices which start off in what is perhaps an unrealistic situation, but are built up into a game environment, with space (time) restrictions and introduction of opposition? Or do you think that right from the start there should always be those ‘interference’ situations of time, space and opposition? I have in mind here the coaching work that Tony Carr in particular, among others, has produced over the years which I know many coaches, myself among them, have found of great value, but in the initial stages a particular topic is introduced in a purely technical form to be practiced before the build up into time, space restictions and opposition as per the Premier Skills method? Tony Carr, of course, is passing on the fruits of his work performed over many years experience, and of course he ‘learnt his trade’ from outstsanding coaches in John Lyall and Ron Greenwood.

  2. Hi Steve. In answer to your question; i believe that the ability to play the game must be learned in a realistic manner. Uncompetitive technique practises should be remodelled with the introduction of ‘controlled interference’ from the very start. The issue of space and time awareness is a vital part of playing the game and should be included from the very beginning of the development process.
    process. The true art of coaching is creating the correct space and interference for players for it
    is the time that must be provided and adjusted according to the ability levels of the players. antheir progression This

  3. Hi Steve. Sorry that the last piece has not been deleted but for some reason my computer will only allow me to type a certain amount of words and i have difficulty in continuing with a piece beyond a certain number of words and anything i type beyond i am unable to finish. I hope i have answered your question.

  4. The street developed skill,balance and decision making.In Brazil the pre dominant develop phase is street football until 14 or 15 years of age, even in modern times.Many F A ,s write about ‘realistic practices’ but then their practical application is drill based!!!! For example the FA Future Game says all the right things and then the early practices are drills.In NZ the ‘Whole of Football’ plan has kids with the ball each who then kick it at the coach as he runs through the grid!!!
    Would it be too outrageous to say that the street has produced more great players than any FA coaching scheme?

    • NZF’s approach is entirely flawed and will produce astounding athletes who will be routinely trounced 7-0 by teams like Uruguay. Oh wait…

  5. It is quite easy to mix technical practices within a chaos game environment. The small area practice with a ball each allows for players to try step overs, zidanes, fakes etc without anyone actually tackling, but still decisions on time and space are having to be made. What is clear that this method appears to take longer to see progress, compared to individual technique work. In time though, those children playing in realistic practices develop a better understanding of the game. The player who develops a better understanding of time and space, does not have to rely on technique as much in the first instance of receiving the ball. We see to often players that are technically sound, but make poor decisions and lose the ball too easily.

  6. You are so right Dave and with the Practice Play Small Group and Small Area methodology the coach can gradually emphasise and develop advanced skill on the ball in realistic situations.

  7. Hi all. The best way of comparing the illogical use of non-interference practises for football is; if i were teaching youngsters adding up in a maths lesson, would i then give them an examination on subtraction? If i did i would be very disappointed with the result. The competitive game requires gradual, progressive, realistic practice or any ultimate ‘competitive examination’ in the game will proove a failure…… in my opinion.

  8. Hi Dave….
    You say – “decisions on time and space are having to be made”. Also – “The player who develops a better understanding of time and space, does not have to rely on technique as much in the first instance of receiving the ball.”
    This reminds me of the criticisms which were made by the FA Coaching hierarchy, led by Charles Hughes, many years ago, when Ron Greenwood was working on the devastating use of the near post cross which resulted in numerous goals for West Ham, and England, in that era because that part of the goal area had been neglected for generations. Hughes said that the effectiveness of the work being done in training at West Ham was reduced because there no opponents put in the practices. Ron Greenwood said that the opposition was time and space at the near post area which the East London club exploited for many years and was copied successfully by many other teams in the League.
    Ron Greenwood stuck a corner flag in the ground in a wide area of the pitch and players like Redknapp, Sissons and their successors, had to curl the ball around it, as if it were an opposing full back coming to challenge, for Hurst, Peters and many others, to time their runs to the near post to finish, leaving the keeper stranded at the opposite end of his goal.

    • Hi Steve. I know as i was at WHU when Ron came and i did the work. The deliveries were not the problem, it was clearing and re-entering the near post area! Timing of the run would then give one the chance to put any contact on the ball that was required.

  9. Once opposition is involved decisions have to made even in the simplest of practices. Decisions related to time and space. The tighter the space, the tighter ball manipulation needs to be. I could be arrogant and say that time is irrelevant in unopposed work, but the stresses placed on players it not the same. However,the proficiency of enacting a skill, such as doing it very quickly and fluently can be enhanced without opposition. Obviously if a player has a ball, but nobody to play with, unopposed work is very beneficial, and always better than nothing, BUT it should be a prelude to the group activity. Premier Skills does have a homework feature that focuses on ‘singular activity’ around cones.

    With coaching time limited, the best and most effective work to develop great individuals is to play with teammates against opposition, which allows individuals to ‘protect and ‘stay’ with the ball’ or in PS parlance to ‘lend’ the ball to others so that the team can ‘govern the ball’.

    Unfortunately the English obsession has been to focus on position and not possession, and I think this is because for them the penalty area, and the goal itself have more magnetic qualities psychologically. Without being smart or obtuse for whatever reason the goal has a greater pull… certainly the crowds seems to want it there more often, whereas the playround areas used by the continental Europeans and the South Americans are neglected. Most probably the reasoning is that in these countries individual skill and ball trickery have always captured the imagination of the adoring public and the upshot is that young players logically will copy their heroes. They will want to be the same as them, so the teenage Brazilian currently wants to be a Neymar, a Frenchman a Zidane.

    Brendan Rodgers apparently said he wants to sign brave players – who “are gifted technically and have courage when it comes to being in possession of a football”. That surely is a significant step in the right direction.

    • Hi Brazil94. The space and time that is made available to young players is defined by the playing ability of those players. The coach must designate enough space and sufficient opposition for youngsters to develop skills of the game under the pressure of ‘controlled’ space and interference.

      • HI Brazil94. Sorry, but my computer only allows me a certain amount of words to reply!— Too often we have seen players with good technique find it impossible to reproduce it under competitive pressure. In my day these players were called ‘Tuesday morning practice game players’. Ok when the pressure was of– their technique did not suit the game requirements.

  10. I think that John is spot on when he says – “The coach must designate enough space and sufficient opposition for youngsters to develop skills of the game under the pressure of ‘controlled’ space and interference.” I remember Charles Hughes being critical of the way Ron Greenwod was coaching the near post cross in the sixties because of the shortage of opposition. However, he went to the other extreme and put too much opposition in and so the practices became physical battles, with players crashing into one another and the object of the exercises became lost in the melee. I started doing FA Coaching Courses around that time and that was my experience of them in that era, i.e too much opposition relative to the abilities of the players with the result that physical power became the over-riding feature.
    Many years later i recall Ron Greenwood, when he was England Manager,putting on a near post crossing session for Surrey Coaches Association at the old Crystal Palace Training Ground in Mitcham. He got us to try and make the ball curl away from goal as it arrived at the near post, to “tease the goalkeeper”, as he tried to claim it but found himself groping at thin air as it drifted away from him at the last moment. We were amazed at how we, attendee grass-roots coaches of limited ability, were able to improve.

  11. I’ve been using the PremierSkills methodology here in Christchurch, NZ (introduced to me by Roger a couple of months ago) during my summer training and it’s working extremely well. The kids love the fact that it’s always a game. We’ve been focusing on a few basic ideas and the results have been very encouraging. I’ve never been guilty of using NZF’s flawed approach – to me it was rubbish as soon as I saw it (coach is encouraged to stop the players and talk a lot at every possible opportunity) – but the more I use PS the more the errors in the NZF approach come into relief. Just so unrealisitic. They learn the HOW, but are never shown the WHERE, the WHEN and the HOW, which PS encapsulates beautifully in one easy-to-use training tool. And I’m not even paid to write this. When are you coming back to take Levels 2, 3, 4 and 5, Roger?

  12. Hi Steve. The topic KICKING VARIATIONS that is part of the Premier Skills coaching method and delivery of the type of ball you describe is covered in earlier sessions and is used in finishing practises with shooting (bending the ball) and heading (near post headers). These kicking and heading skills are learned in conjunction with ‘controlled’ opposition from the start.

  13. Off topic.

    Steve your memory is amazing, I struggle to remember what I did a day ago at 45. Love to read some of the old stories you recall.
    Would be great to have some of the other readers comments once in a while. Where are all the PS converts in the midlands, Stephen, Sam, Mark, Darren. Wayne where are you?

  14. Hi alL. Well, we were party to yet another skillful performance from a foreign opponent at Wembley last night. ALL of the Chilean team displayed high INDIVIDUAL playing skills; they looked comfortable in possession whereas we looked uncomfortable and anxious. I have said so many times that we must realize that football’s a game about developing INDIVIDUALISM FROM VERY JUNIOR LEVELS THAT IS THEN TAUGHT HOW TO COMBINE and not about about WINNING AT JUNIOR LEVELS through brute force and ignorance WITHOUT FIRST ACQUIRING THE SKILLS TO PLAY IT.

  15. Yes John, I thought that Chile were superb at Wembley. Their movement and rotation was far too good for England. The inter-changing of positions is somehting that we have never been able to properly develop in our play. As you have said many times, players are positionalised far too early in their football development in this country. Young players grow up thinking that a particular position, or area of the pitch, is where they play. If position switching ever takes place in most development football, it is when the coach shouts to two players to switch over, like the right winger switching with the left winger, or vice versa, and is a static operation, pre-planned by the coach. Players like the Chileans switch through the intelligence and perception of the players, depending on the flow of the game and the position of the ball.
    By contrast to the Chilean players, England were like huge English oak trees, fixed in the ground as the opponents danced merrily around them.

  16. Sanchez and Diaz were the stand out players on the pitch. Very good with the ball showing great individualism and movement off the ball. People are forgetting that Chile were without three key players for them, Pizzaro, Vidal and Valdivia who always play a big part in their national team. Even without them they played their style of football and once again showed us what we are going to have to compete against in the WC next year.

  17. Hi all. How much longer are we going to deny the obvious fact that we don’t have the quality of player for success at the top levels of the game? Coaching schemes have failed; development infrastructure has failed; importation of foreign players has failed to improve skills and tactics; ‘hype’ has camouflaged failure; mediocrity is called ‘greatness’; we celebrate victories over nations with populations no bigger than small cities here… etc.etc. When are we going to be honest with ourselves and decide to put things right?

    • And almost every conversation on talksport is about if we played this player or that player, really wont make a great deal of difference as we have no absolute clear idea of how we are supposed to play together. The players lack the skills and the knowledge of how to keep the ball and penetrate through team work and individual brilliance, it is so frustrating.
      Our next crop. Wilshere, Saha, Sturridge, Morrison, Chamberlaine, Barkely will once again be paraded as the next super heros who are good enough to take us out of the doldrums, sorry not a chance.

      What does Roy Hodgson do for the WC next year? Should he go for it and put what he believes is his best team, or should he look to bed a few youngsters in the team and look to Euro 2016 or even the next world cup in Russia?

  18. It was noticeable after Germany’s 1-0 win at Wembley on Tuesday night that the comments which I heard from their coach, pundit and and journalist, were very understated and no great play was made of their latest victory at the “home of football”, with what was a German ‘B ‘Team and, later in the game, virtually a ‘C’ Team.
    If the result and performance had been reversed then there would have been unrestrained celebrations in England, even for a ‘friendly’ victory. The England team contained far more first choice players than the German eleven but, again, we were given a lesson in possession and individualism, combining with team play, by quality opponents.
    If our midfield continues to drop so deep to take the ball off back players as soon as they gain possession, then we shall never develop defenders who come out with the ball from the back into space to initiate an attack. In the first half Boateng was superb at this, but the German midfield gave him the space to do this, instead of killing the space like the English midfield does for their central defenders.

  19. Hi all. One of the weaknesses i noticed with the German team the other night was their poor use of turning the ball from pressured situations to space. The Spanish, are excellent at this and teams’ playing against them find it difficult to win possession. The German’s, kept playing the ball back into tight situations on the flanks and unnecessarily allowed us to win more of the ball than we should have.

  20. I think that of the two teams which played at Wembley in the recent friendly matches, Chile were much the more impressive. Their individualism and technical skill were no doubt developed and honed ‘in street play’. In contrast Germany, with a similar social structure to our own, are developing players through a systematic development process which is considered to be far superior to the current English model. But, as John points out, their failure to turn away from trouble into space, perhaps indicates that they are not yet getting everything right. From what I see on the weekly Bundesliga highlights programme, many goals in German club football have an English flavour to them – i.e. many goals scored from crosses, set pieces and moves which are very much the result of direct play. So ‘forcing the ball’ has become a problem for them as well.

  21. Watching the Under 16 Victory Shield match televised on Friday, Scotland v. England, there were clear indications that the FA is developing a game style in which the keeper , on almost every occasion, begins each move with the ball thrown out to a player, usually a full back, in a wide position. On other occasions it is a shorter throw to a centre back who drops towards the corner of the penalty area to receive the ball.
    This is to be applauded and it is well ovedue that a game style, based on building up possession from the back, was introduced in this country. However, the comments of Marc Wotte, who oversees the Scottish youth development system, during the second half. were interesting. He said that England’s approach was not hurting them and they were quite happy for England’s central defenders to receive the ball in deep areas.
    It was clear that Scotland allowed the England centre halves to receive the ball unchallenged and they rarely pressed high when out of possessipon. Instead, they marked tightly in midfield and further back and so it was only very rarely that England managed to penetrate through them. England did not go forward from the back to create overloads in midfield and further forward. So although playing out from ther back and developng a game based on possession, is a welcome innovation, we must now develop defenders who are comfortable at carying the ball forward into advanced positions and then continuing their runs even further forward. With the England back players, mainly ther central defenders, giving off ‘easy’ passes and rarely venturing forward, then the Scots were able to sit back, keep in position and counter attack swiftly when they regained possession.
    Hopefully, we shall now develop back players who can take the possession game of building from the back, a stage further when our defenders are comfortable in possession in all areas of the pitch.

  22. Hi Steve. As we have said so many times, ‘we play at the back and not from the back’ Using defenders who are not comfortable on the ball is the main cause. I’ve seen Clubs’ use talented player(s) in an effort to overcome this problem, however, they are usually not good defenders when required to be so. It must also be noted that it’s not just the back players who must understand the principles of ‘overloading ‘from the back…all in the team must be ‘tuned-in’ as well.

  23. Hi all. Just read the Dennis Bergkamp book ………….. interesting throughout, but especially so on his comments about his development in the street! Such a pity that our football hierarchy never understood the significance of the street game instead of their use of classroom ‘choreography’ .

  24. Hi all. The problem with England’s youngsters the other night was not a general lack of skill nor of physical qualities; it was the long-term disease in our game and it’s called ‘LACK OF GAME UNDERSTANDING’ that creates a muddled GAME-STYLE. In other words, a style that typifies the British game ……… ‘REGIMENTED FIGHT-BALL, NOT FLOWING FOOTBALL’

  25. Hi John…
    Regarding the Scotland-England Under 16s match last Friday: England seemed to be torn between trying to play out from the back , with short throws from the keeper, but then hitting too many long, hopeful passes in the direction of the strikers which were quite comfortably intercepted by the Scotland defence. Do you feel that Scotland, with their Dutch influence stemming from development coach, Marc Wotte, have a clearer game style, maintaining compactness for longer periods and working the ball up the field with shorter passes and with more patience?
    I have noticed from these Victory Shield matches, which have been televised in the last year or two, that since the Dutch coaches began to work in Scottish youth development, their young players have displayed an increasing amount of these game understaning qualities. As you say, here in England we continue to show a “lack of game understanding.”

  26. Hi Steve. Yes i’m sure that their is certainly a Dutch influence in the development system in Scotland. However, they also seem to retain Scottish endeavour that was exampled by their central front player. If they can tactically combine the Dutch flair along with Scottish fury they will be going in the right direction.

  27. Hi John….
    Watching Chelsea’s new Brazilian acquisition, Willian, brings to mind the point you made following the recent England-Germany international: that is, the Germans allowed England to have more of the ball than they should have because the Germans were often slow to turn the ball from pressured situations into areas of space.
    Looking at Willian, in common with many Brazilian players, as well as the Spanish, he protects the ball when receiving it under pressure by stepping across opponents, and turns away into an area of space which he has already identified.In England we can never hope to compete against these superior technicians until we base our development work in tight areas. Willian, in common with so many of his countrymen, no doubt learnt the game in his formative years, in the small, dusty favellas of shanty towns and so protecting and governing the ball became second nature.
    Other countries of a higher social develpment, which have consequently seen the disappearance of street football, must base their coaching work where such qualities are developed through their coaching programme.

  28. There is an interesting interview on the FIFA website with the Dutch National Team Boss, Louis Van Gaal. One question put to him provokes a reply which contains elements of what John Cartwright has spoken and written about on many occasions:-
    Question: “What characterisitics do you look for in your players?”
    Van Gaal’s reply: “The characteristics come back to my point on vision. You have to play as a team and not as individuals. That’s why I’m always going back to the vision, then the team, and then which players fit in my system, a 1 – 4 – 3 – 3, because I’m always playing that. If a young player can do it, then I select him. If it’s an older player, it doesn’t bother me; it’s not the most important factor. Age is not important.”
    This reminds me of the Dutch team in the World Cup of 1974, so unlucky not to be crowned World Champions. When Rinus Michels took over as the coach at short notice just a few months before the tournament, he faced many problems in bringing together a squad decimated by internal strife and personal conflicts. He clearly had a vision of how he wanted to play and based the playing style on the work he had done for several years at Ajax. He based much of the squad on players he had coached and developed as young players at Ajax, but two of the most important players he brought in had never played for him at Ajax – midfield player Wim Janssen and keeper Jan Jongbloed. But he saw that they possessed qualities which were important to the playing style for which he had a vision and in the few short months in which he coached the group they responded extremely well to his coaching methodology. Jongbloed was a particular success because he was close to 40 years of age, had never previously played for the national team and played his club football for unfashionable Roda. But Michels saw that Jongbloed was comfortable in coming out of his penalty area to receive passes from team mates or intercept attempted through balls from opponents and then quickly and accuately play passes to set his team off on a counter attack. This fitted in with the vision which Michels had for Holland’s World Cup campaign and contributed substantially to an outstanding Dutch performance.

  29. Hi Steve. One day people will realize that we have spoken a lot of good sense about our game and how to improve it. …….. one day! Happy Christmas to you all and best wishes for the New Year…….. John C.

  30. Many people realize John, problem is not many want to do anything about it. Like minded coaches need to work together and stop competing against each other. Too many grassroot clubs, private coaching companies, competing for the same kids.

  31. I work in a primary school, assisting in lunch time activities for kids which, of course, means football. The various classes take it in turns to come into the ball-court to play. But when there is a surplus of classes for one particular slot then one goes on to a rough patch of ground in a corner of the playground and plays a match of anything up to 14 a side. There are trees and bushes dotted about the area but they are happy to play there and dodge about, avoiding the branches and brambles.There are cuts, bruises and collisions but
    it’s football in its most basic form, in a chaotic environment that was commonplace many years ago. But young kids will still happily play in that same environment even today, if they are allowed to, and their skill development and game understanding improves far more rapidly in that scenario than in any amount of unrealistic drills.
    Kids still have the same level of imagination to adapt to such conditions and sometimes it is best policy to step back and let them show their own creativity.

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