Here’s a question for all parents with sons and daughters playing youth football.

How long do you think your offspring will remain in love with the beautiful game?

For anyone with pre-teens, can you see your little darlings still playing when they’re teenagers, aged 14, 15 or 16?

And for parents with teens of those ages, can you imagine them still wanting to play when they’ve left school and gone to college or gained employment in some shape or form?

After all, not all the kids playing youth football will stay with the game right through into the late 20s, 30s, and even beyond.

Some might give up earlier than others, but a lot will give up.

This thought was hammered home to me recently when I spoke to the dad of one of my son’s Fordingbridge under-11 team-mates.

Phil Artingstall recently decided to withdraw his Fordingbridge under-14s from the Testway Youth League after a torrid season peppered with heavy defeats.

Very rarely could Phil field eleven players to start a game, and quite often he had seven, eight or nine.

Needless to say, that is a farcical situation which couldn’t carry on for the entire season.

The players that remained and turned up to play on a Saturday morning were, understandably, getting downhearted with the ferocity of their beatings.

Who knows the exact reason why some of Phil’s squad hardly ever showed up at games?

Perhaps they couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed of a Saturday morning. Lest we forget, these are teenage boys we are talking about.

At the moment my son Ben plays in the under 11s and, like all his team-mates, are incredibly enthusiastic about playing and training.

Even on cold Monday nights in the depths of winter, the lads turn up ready to train, learn and improve.

There’s more moaning from the parents (hello, Steve Harding, if you’re reading ...).

Perhaps the lads will always be like this.

Perhaps they will go through the entire Testway League, right through to under-16s, showing the same admirable mentality.

Perhaps they will then go on to play in an under-18 league somewhere, or decide to stay together and enter the Bournemouth or Salisbury Saturday afternoon league.

I hope they do.

But all us parents have to admit that scenario I have merrily painted might not happen. Probably won’t happen.

Our boys might hit the teenage years and, like Harry Enfield’s iconic Kevin character, change overnight in a Hulk-type metamorphis.

Growing pains, teenage angst, girlfriend problems, school problems, homework problems, parent problems (‘Oh God, dad, you’re not playing your T-Rex albums AGAIN, are you!!!’) ... all can, and possibly will, intrude into the Saturday morning football ritual.

Going down the park to hang about with friends, moping around street corners with hoods draped over their heads .. this could be the reality in a few years time.

And then what?

Is that it? Will the current Fordingbridge under-11s go the way of Phil’s Fordingbridge U14s?

Will in three years time, memories such as last weekend’s Cup win at Harnham – where the lads danced around in a huddle at the end of a great victory – be just that?

Memories, of a team of football-mad pre-teens who fell out of love with the sport?

In a few years time the lads might prefer a monumental lie-in on one of their only two non school days of the week to getting up bright and early to travel to somewhere remote north of Winchester or Tidworth to play football in the wind and rain.

Perhaps us parents might feel the same?

That is why we have to make the most of every week, because none of us really know how long we’ll be doing this for.


There are not many silver linings to the clouds outlined above, but one did arrive unexpectedly via cyberspace.

Phil and Ian Royle, the Fordingbridge youth section chairman, received an email from Tom Andrew-Power, chairman of Worthys, a fellow Testway Youth League club based near Winchester.

Andrew-Power, coach of the Worthys U14s, wrote: “Dear Phil and Ian.

“I am really sorry to hear that Fordingbridge Utd are withdrawing from the league.

“Despite losses each week your team's spirit, resilience and positivity were fabulous and often at odds with the attitude of many of the teams we have encountered over the seasons.

“Worthys YFC have always been an inclusive club and we have never concerned ourselves with a 'win at all costs' mentality. We believe that football is for fun, fitness and team spirit. “I saw your team as a firm ally in this and in your withdrawal we have lost a great coach and a great bunch of players.

“I hope that you can regroup and that we may see you back again at some point.

“We are here if you need to play a friendly in the event you get numbers back.

“Losing boys from sport at this age group is difficult.

“ In the meantime my team send our best wishes and regret.”

What lovely words, and true ones at that.

Football is for ‘fun, fitness and team spirit’ – certainly at the age my lad is.

Winning at all costs should come later in life.

Yes, it’s nice to win but you need to enjoy playing football, you need to be fit to play football, and you need a good team spirit to play football.

If you have those three characteristics, you are well on the way to winning games – and winning them the right way.