Friday, 4 December 2015

Why football's cruelty isn't necessarily a bad thing for kids

I’m a massive advocate of supporting your local Football League club.  There’s so much you can get out of following your local team; friendships, shared experiences, sporting and life lessons.

Having been a fan of Walsall FC for over 25 years, and also being involved with some of the work done by the Football League encouraging family experiences, I often plead the case for following you local league club.

For the last five years, and for the whole time my son has been conscious of his attendance of Walsall matches, we’ve had the same manager, a certain Mr Dean Smith.

He actually started his playing career with the club, and as is someone I cheered on from the terraces as a teenager.

His tenure as Walsall boss included Walsall’s first ever appearance at Wembley, a day I don’t think our three generations of support will ever forget.

On our way to Wembley

Despite modest league success – remaining in the same division throughout his time - Dean Smith has earned a reputation for developing younger players and adopting an attractive passing style of football on a shoe-string budget.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed within the football community, and after much rumoured attention from several other clubs this season, earlier this week he left Walsall to take up a position at a football club in a higher division.

Whilst there were quite angry and upset responses from plenty of Walsall fans, I was more surprised than anything else.  I honestly didn’t think he held that ambition.

However, I knew my 10 year-old son may react ‘differently’ to the news, so spent most of Monday afternoon planning how to break it to him.

Max and 'Deano'

He did get upset when I delicately delivered the news, and in his immediate despair concluded it could only be a bad thing and that all Walsall’s early season successes would be undone by the manager’s sudden departure.

I listened, sympathised with his points, but didn’t agree.

Which is what’s great about football.

I was able to explain that I thought that the next step was the critical bit, and no single person is irreplaceable or responsible for the successes of a collective effort, supporters included.

We discussed why the manager might have wanted to leave, trying to empathise with his situation rather than the impact it has on our own as supporters.

Max created a wish list of potential new managers, or of traits they must have.

I told him tales of my favourite Walsall managers and reminded him how lucky he was to start supporting the team during Dean Smith’s relatively successful tenure.

We had a re-arranged away game on Tuesday night, versus one of our local rivals Shrewsbury Town.

Due to the school night nature of midweek games, we rarely attend them, and when I tucked my boy into bed we were already a goal behind and I was starting to dread my boy waking up to news of a drubbing at the hands of a fierce rival.

It would have confirmed his thoughts of inevitable doom post Dean Smith, rather than mine of remaining optimistic.

As it happens, cheered on by a sold out away end, the Super Saddlers rallied from a goal, and a near miss, down to win 3 – 1.

Coming downstairs for breakfast the following morning, Max’s first – very hesitantly delivered –words were:

“They lost, didn’t they Dad?”

“Shrewsbury 1 Walsall 3,” I replied.

“And you’ll never guess who scored and how.”

In a flash, his face changed and he instantly proved me wrong, and guessed correctly.

“Paul Downing, from a corner!” he said.

Paul Downing doing what he does best at attacking corners.

It’s been a bit of a joke we share, and one generally shared with other Walsall fans, that as good as we are at some things we are hopeless at corners and free-kicks.

But that’s the important thing, win or lose, manager-less or not, having 20 unsuccessful corners in a game, we share these things together.

He loves going to games and has made lots of friends who like doing the same.

I attend with my son sitting on one side and my father on the other.

Long may it continue.

Whoever's the manager or head coach.

Up The Saddlers