So what is the conference about?
Rebuilding the Belief is the title of the sequel to my book Every Boy’s Dream – England’s Football Future on the Line (A&C Black) – which caused a stir when it was published in 2009.
Why? Because it lifted the lid on life inside England’s football academies.
Every Boy’s Dream told heart-rending stories of boys and their families who gave their all but were found wanting so were casually cast aside.
The book pinpointed the folly of a system which has failure in built, of the caustic thinking of a bloated industry which knows the price of everything but the value of very little – in particular the impact of the young lives it chews up and spits out.
A game at war with itself – where winners win on the size of their wallets rather than the merits of their viewpoint or the values it espouses.
If Every Boy’s Dream asked the questions, Rebuilding the Belief will provide the answers.
The sub title of this conference is: Putting the voice of the child first in football so the solutions must prioritise those interests and rebuild England’s youth development from the bottom up. A coordinated and cohesive approach to make things better – united, connected, ethical and morally right.
You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m definitely not the only one. I hope you’ll join us…
Fact is, we’re not quite there yet. So in gathering my final thoughts, I decided to bring together some of the finest thinkers and protagonists on the subject – whose belief is forged in practical knowledge and experience.
So who are they?
First up is Jameel Hadi MBE, an expert in child welfare and an academic at the University of Salford. Jameel will talk about his research into the things children enjoy most about sport and also the things they dislike. Guess what, academies have too much of the latter and too little of the former. Oh, and the myth it’s all being about winning is also blown out of the water. Out of the mouths of babes, eh?
Next is Phil Johnson, named clinical sports psychologist of 2017, who also worked with Claudio Ranieri at AS Monaco and will fly in from the principality to attend. Phil’s big concern is the psychological damage done not only to children and youth players (Phil has treated a fair few who have developed harmful addictions later in life) but more pertinently their families – the disrupted inter-relationships and emotional fallout. Phil is currently writing a book on this very subject.
So how do make football more fun? Well, our third speaker Paul Cooper, has one answer. Paul started a grassroots campaign Give Us Back Our Game (GUBOG) and is a national director for the National Children’s Football Alliance (NCFA) – the only football organisation dedicated to represent the interests of children in UK football which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
Paul organises the NCFA’s annual Free v Free week, which is rooted in a ‘jumpers for goalposts’ approach – football played for fun with minimal rules except those devised by children to make it fun and interesting to them. No 15-0s or bawling adults in sight. Astute spotters may also recognise Paul as Martin Mucklowe in This Country – he’s the real-life dad of award-winning writers and actors Charlie and Daisy May Cooper.
Tim Kirk offers two unique insights. Tim started Bath & Wiltshire Boys (BWB), which offers opportunities for children to develop skills in a more holistic atmosphere based on widening rather than narrowing their experiences. Latterly Tim, who has worked at Millfield School and Bristol City’s academy, is coaching Borussia Dortmund’s Under 13s (or 2006ers as they are known) so offers a different perspective on European youth development.
Robert Stephenson believes he has a solution to help players develop valuable life skills they can use when they leave the game (as all must do at some point) and to use the power of football to engage the local community. It is called FootBeat, a football version of a music-based award-winning charity Robert devised called Blastbeat, which encourages groups of young people to form their own social enterprise and learn business and life skills.
Oh, and there is a gobby journalist type (me – Chris Green) who will act as host and manage our panel debates.
We’re including a buffet lunch and there will be plenty of opportunities to chat to our guests and fellow delegates thorough the day.
Why not book your place – we have limited space so make sure you do so sooner rather than later to avoid disappointment.
To book your seat go to our Eventbrite page.