GET it tae f**k! Whit are ye daen trying a fancy there?! Get stuck in! Get in aboot him! No, not a scene from any one of our senior football grounds, (although it is undoubtedly heard there too) but shouts I have heard over the last few years of watching my boy’s football team. And not all of them have come from me.

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a very well-run football tournament down in Ayr, where teams from far and wide came together and put on some cracking games with the majority of the boys trying their best to play football despite the howling wind and rain.

But as has been the case at every single one of these tournaments I’ve been to, a toxic influence seeped its way from the sidelines onto the pitches. The vast majority of the time, it comes from domineering dads, but even some coaches indulge in this sort of nonsense too. For some, the temptation to treat kid’s football as if they were watching Scotland in the World Cup final is apparently too much.

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one for mollycoddling, and it was great to see that there was a physical edge to a lot of the matches last weekend where – providing it was within the rules – the youngsters simply got on with it. But when it crept over the line, when kicks were aimed off the ball or a defender hauled an opponent down when clean through such was his fear of losing a game, then what are kids from either side learning from that? When advancing this opinion to a coach of said team, the response was a shrug of the shoulders. But as one other parent put it, how are these boys going to cope when a referee gets involved?

The real core issue here though in terms of youth development in Scotland is that there are so many parents – and in almost all cases, it is the father – who simply cannot keep their trap shut when they are watching their child playing football.

Of course, the temptation to live vicariously through your offspring is very real. You always want them to have a chance of making it as a pro, to have the life you never had. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t harbouring dreams of my own two boys one day living out my boyhood dreams. But only if that is their dream too. For now, unless it is an encouraging word, I have learned it is best to keep it buttoned.

There is however a toxic masculinity prevalent in football at all levels, and a great deal of arrogance too might I say, where watching fathers seem to believe they know better than the coaches giving up their time and effort to pass on their expertise to our children. We all know the type. Those who would rather see their child thump it clear than try any of that Jessie stuff like dribbling the ball out.

The first question most parents ask their child is how many goals they scored, or how many games they won. I have been guilty of this too; a packet of Match Attax for a win, or a quid for every goal. But it’s no barometer to how your child is actually progressing as a player.

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In the younger age groups, football should be about learning and fun. I once heard a parent lambasting their five-year-old for letting his teammates down by losing the ball in a dangerous area, leading to a goal. It’s little wonder that for a good while at least, Scotland stopped producing players.

At an age when kids should be developing their skill and technique, getting as many touches of the ball as they can and being encouraged to express themselves, they are being told to clear their lines, get stuck in and track their men. And it is invariably the dads, the people who most want them to succeed, who are guilty of this.

Hopefully that tide is starting to turn. The Scottish Youth Football Association has a code of conduct that players, coaches, and parents are encouraged to live by. At its centre is the idea that everyone has a responsibility to foster a positive environment where players can flourish and enjoy the game. And it is a game, a point often lost on people.

There is a great photo of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez relaxing on deckchairs at the side of a pitch while their young sons are playing for the Barcelona youth team. There is no spittle-flecked invective streaming from their mouths, no string of expletives being launched from angry, puce faces. They are simply letting the coaches get on with their job.

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If it is good enough for them, it should be good enough for anyone else. Let the kids get on with it.


SUPPORTERS complaining about the price of football is nothing new. Those of a certain vintage have been moaning about it since they did away with lifting weans over the turnstiles.

But the question has to be asked as to how far clubs can push supporters before the tipping point is reached.

Take this weekend's Lanarkshire derby, for instance. Hamilton Accies have made their clash with Motherwell a 'category A' fixture this season, meaning that travelling supporters will have to pay £25 for an adult ticket, or £15 for a concession.

It seems wildly excessive to me given the level of entertainment that is bound to be on offer, but any Motherwell fans who are put off travelling across the Clyde may well look to their own club before they cast aspersions on their near-neighbours. After all, a 'category B' fixture at Fir Park this season means away fans will pay just a pound less for an adult ticket than Hamilton are charging tomorrow afternoon.

To their credit, at least the Fir Park club have attractive packages on offer for families, and under-16s can get in for just £3, but that still doesn't justify the exorbitant prices for adult briefs. Perhaps empty spaces in the normally chock-full away end will get the notice of the boards of both clubs.

Still worse is the £52 that Rangers are charging Celtic fans to get into Ibrox next week. How long before clubs have chewed off the hand that feeds them through their greed?