Revolution must start now if national game is to be saved

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					November 27, 2007

Get rid of referees and let the kids take control
Nick Szczepanik
Kids in the park, jumpers for goalposts - enduring image, isn‟t it? But it has not proved to be an enduring situation. A
number of experts believe that we are not producing enough good footballers these days because children no longer
have kickabouts in parks or side-streets.

Instead, they are forced into structured leagues by pushy parents, with win-at-all-costs coaches putting players and
referees under intense pressure – if they can be bothered to to play at all.

The answer could be to go back to smaller teams with no referees, according to Rick Fenoglio, a lecturer at Manchester
Metropolitan University, who has worked with the FA and also helped to write the coaching manual for Manchester
United‟s academy.

Fenoglio and Paul Cooper, a youth coach in Gloucestershire, have created a website,, which is
a forum for their ideas as well as for stories and videos of depressing goings-on at youth matches.

“It‟s actually quite sad what we‟re subjecting some of these kids to,” Fenoglio said. “We think kids should ref themselves,
especially in the younger age groups. Immediately you take the referee out of the picture, the whole atmosphere
changes. The parents don‟t say much because they don‟t dare. It‟s the kids making the decisions.

“The evidence in favour of this is what Manchester United have been doing for five years now. There‟s no refereeing for
under-nine groups. It‟s a better environment for learning and skills development.”

Fenoglio believes also that the games should be small-sided – which does not mean seven-a-side, but four-a-side.
“Manchester United decided to scrap eight-versus-eight for undernines and play four-versus-four,” he said. “I did a year‟s
study of four-versus-four versus eight-versus-eight and there‟s no comparison in numbers of touches, passes, shots,
goalscoring opportunities.

“In sport science, there is no greater determinant of skill acquisition than the number of touches of the ball. They‟ve got to
be touching the ball, playing football for their neuromuscular systems to learn how to play.”

Inevitably, Fenoglio has encountered opposition from those with vested interests in the 11-aside status quo. He said: “The
people who don‟t like us are the youth leagues – because we think clubs should actually pull out of these leagues and
start their own more ethical leagues and festivals instead – and all those „winning‟ coaches, with their initials on their
track-suits and their own little empires.”

However, he is gaining support from the authorities. “The people who we really need to take notice are the FA,” Fenoglio
said, “and we are working with them. Six or seven County FAs have done some fun days and festivals – and we have
stories and e-mails from disgruntled parents coming in every week. We have made progress and we‟re looking for
sponsorship to keep it going.”