PRACTICE AREA REVOLUTION: A return to ‘local’ play areas

By John Cartwright

Wealth and luxury are not necessities when it comes to the playing and learning of the game of football. The pristine surfaces and first-class dressing rooms may be more of a drag on development than providing a positive feature. The expensive and often remote training centres (Hubs) that are to be constructed are not, in my opinion, the way forward for ‘natural’ development. They are not close to family homes and will not be easily/quickly available for the use of individuals or groups.

I mentioned recently in an earlier ‘Blog’ of the need for more small practice areas to be constructed by Local Councils in which youngsters could practice/play various ball sports. Local Councils throughout this country have numerous unusable small sites that are of no use for general building purposes. These sites, sensibly selected for maximum use by local kids and without disturbance to local residents, could be the answer to many social and sports’ problems we face today.


The empty streets and open spaces of the past have disappeared and with them a huge loss of practice/playing time for thousands of youngsters. Those areas must be re-invented today to provide a modernised version of street-type ‘chaos’ learning of sports’. Selected areas should be chosen that are close enough to local homes so parents can feel assured their children are secure amongst their friends.

Unless we create more time and opportunity for our youngsters from 6-16 to practice/play their sport they will never appreciate the importance of consistent learning whilst playing and how this has a positive effect on their playing standards.

The Small Playing Area.

Keeping in mind what I have already described as important features for this type of area, their construction should be simple but solidly built.

The actual area size should be between min.15 to max.20 yards square. A wall should surround the area, preferably of brickwork, but built with anything that provides a solid, flat surface that has a height of approx. 10 feet and have an entry/exit opening. Flooring should be of smooth concrete to avoid care costs and to make players more appreciative of balance in sport!

Target areas could be painted on the walls and netless basketball rings could be set on walls. Lines could be painted on the concrete floor to section off different areas. According to numbers of players the area could provide a single playing area or two half size areas, whilst players practising separately could use the walls as rebound surfaces. For night-time use a single light that covered the whole area would be all that was necessary. The light should be covered with a wire to protect it from both damage from balls or interference from hoodlums.

Throughout the time in an area described, young players could spend lots of time practising their technical work alone or hone their skills in a realistic, competitive small-sided game.

5 thoughts on “PRACTICE AREA REVOLUTION: A return to ‘local’ play areas

  1. Hi John, it is a strange coincidence, the other day I was asked d to participate in a survey about facilities in support of promoting football, it was all about dressing rooms and other non contributing factors. I got half way through the survey and decided to give it away as the questions were not conducive to developing football players as we know them. It may have been good for club image and perhaps the game image but certainly not the classy, skilful individual player that has lots of attitude that we love in the game. We have to make up our minds and focus on future players and how they can be developed to provide some kind of uniquness instead of the mediocore boring players that are being delivered using current practice. Bring back a bag or worms and leave young players to practice the basics without the egotistical coach dictating from a coaching manual that was created by someone who was good at writing books. Sorry John end of rant.

  2. I have written to Gareth Southgate to ask how many St George’s Theme Parks will be built in the metropolitan area where I live (no response). I’ve visited one in S Yorks and I have to say that I was very underwhelmed. You [The FA] would have been better off investing the money in 15m x 20m MUGAs in the heart of as many communities as you can. Young kids need somewhere to play right outside their house. Their parents can’t drive them to these facilities every day. By the time that kids are old enough to go to these regional hubs on their own its too late for them. Their fundamental movement skills and football skill acquisition needs to be laid down before they leave primary school. Why don’t you [The FA] get it?

    My time supporting England at tournament football is all played out.

  3. I have recently read “Forever Young” by Oliver Kay. It tells the story of a youth player at Manchester United in the late eighties/early nineties, by the name of Adrian Doherty. I confess that I had never heard of him but he was in the so-called ‘Class of ’92”, that group of youth players, headed by Giggs, Butt, Scholes, Neville Brothers, Beckham and others, who broke into the first team at Old Trafford at about the same time.
    Doherty is described as being the most gifted of that whole crop of players, better even than Giggs in the opinion of some, including Giggs himself. Doherty was on the edge of making his first team debut when he received a horrendous injury following an appalling foul in a reserve match. He was out of the game for three years as a result and when he tried to make a comeback his efforts were in vain because his knee was almost completely destroyed. He attempted to make comebacks in lower league football in his native Northern Ireland but, in football terms, he was crippled and he had to give up playing completely. He became a drifter and died tragically in a freak accident in Holland, the day before his 27th birthday.
    But what is most vividly displayed in the book is the image of someone who did not fit the stereotype of the modern professional footballer. Doherty loved to play his guitar and when he had the afternoon off he would go busking in Manchester city centre. That’s where he would go on Saturday afternoons after the youth match in the morning, when the rest of his team mates would take their complimentary tickets to watch United’s first team play at Old Trafford. He also loved poetry and attended poetry recitals where he would frequently recite poems written by himself.
    Adrian Doherty had no interest in the trappings surrounding modern professional football, such as the money, fame and glamour. He loved to play the game and grew up on the outskirts of Belfast with a ball almost permanently at his feet. He bore similarities to George Best 25 years earlier but without any interest in the material rewards which football can bring.
    I just wonder how many other Adrian Dohertys there might be within the British Isles whose talent has not been fully realised because their personalities are perhaps obscuring it. His name seems familiar only to those Manchester United fanatics who have attended reserve and youth matches for at least the last 25 – 30 years. It is as if his name has been air-brushed from the history of one of the world’s most famous football clubs.
    The hubs which John suggests would provide a means for any other Adrian Doherty who wants to play for the sheer love of the game, without wishing to conform to any particular image. The casual, relaxed nature of this source of football would provide an outlet for this type of player and expose the existence of such hidden talent. There must a British version of Messi, Ronaldo or Neymar but we are lacking the foresight to bring that genius to the surface.

  4. Hi all. I am not blind to the changes in all walks of life over past decades. In football, many of these changes were necessary and have brought great improvement. Unfortunately, the changes in development has not produced the same effect on our young players. Lost practice/playing time has not been dealt with by those in charge of coaching since the demise of ‘street football.’
    The small playing areas that flourished all over this country and were responsible for the learning of the game through thousands of realistic and competitive pacticing whilst playing situations. This loss may seem negligible, ibut time with thorough ‘rehearsal’ practice is essential throughout the ‘GOLDEN YEARS OF SKILL LEARNING’.
    Our World Cup winners who were at West Ham Utd. had received scant coaching during their development years —– the streets and school plavgrounds had prepared them for their ‘glory day’ at Wembley in 1966. It’s about time we looked at realistic time spent practice/playing —–DOING rather than looking and listening in classrooms instead of out on the green grass.
    It’s time for change of the right sort —- the sort that can produce brilliance and not the present ‘hyped’ boredom.

  5. Which ever way you look at it, England’s under age teams have had a phenomenally successful year and now the Under 17s have reached the Final of the World Cup in that age group. But thankfully, there does seem to be an awareness among the players that they must see a clear pathway into their club’s first team and if that does not appear realistic, then they leave their present club. Before the start of the season, Solanki moved from Chelsea to Liverpool and in the Under 17 team the free scoring Rhian Brewster, scorer of two hat tricks in the Under 17 World Cup so far, left Chelsea two years ago for Liverpool for the same reason. Interestingly, Jadon Sancho left Manchester City a few months ago to join Borussia Dortmund where he thought his chances of first team football would be better, though he has not made an appearance yet. Dortmund have an enviable record in youth development and Sancho will hopefully benefit from the move, but it is a shame that he has to go abroad to further his progress. His team mate at Man City and the England U17 team, Phil Foden, also looks exceedingly talented, but what are his chances of breaking into the City first team in the foreseeable future?
    Similarly, I was disappointed that Leicester City did not have the courage to appoint Michael Appleton as their new Manager, having won two games out of two in his caretaker role, but went for the experience of Frenchman Claude Puel. I thought that Puel was unfortunate to lose his job at Southampton at the end of last season, though I did not see enough of their matches to really judge his effect on the team. However, the job that Appleton did at Oxford United and then the way he handled his coaching position at a Premier League club, in my opinion should have seen him get the top job at Leicester.
    There needs to be more courage from the boards of directors and owners of the Premier League clubs when they come to appointing Coaches and Managers. They need to look towards young coaches doing good work in lower divisions and leagues and give them a chance at a higher level. The young players who have brought success in the various tournament age groups this year need to be developed to their fullest potential. There must be more courage and belief from those in charge but unfortunately, because the driving force is the money and profits that the Premier League brings, then the people who run our clubs will always take the easy option.

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