Saturday 11th June 2005

Wands approve mini-soccer

CRAY WANDERERS FOOTBALL CLUB grew dramatically over the summer of 2004 with the addition of no fewer than THIRTEEN new youth teams to our ranks, writes Peter Goringe.

Three of these played in relatively “Senior” age groups: under 16 and under 14 in the MUSH Kent Youth League and under 13 in the Bexley and District League. What was new was a host of younger teams, who all play in the South East London and Kent Youth Football League.

The “Selkent” League caters for teams from as young as Under 7 up to Under 12. It appears to be a very well-organised competition, arranged into two distinct sections. The younger players (up to under 10) play “mini-soccer,” whilst from under 11 upwards the boys compete at the full version of the game.

Mini-soccer is, in my opinion, an excellent thing. It was introduced about ten years or so ago, when it was becoming very obvious that playing 11-a-side games on large pitches was completely inappropriate for small boys. The larger and faster players totally dominated the games and results were often very lopsided. The ability to clout the ball and run fast were what really mattered and many youngsters gained very little in terms of enjoyment and skill development.

Learning from the experience in Holland and elsewhere, where young players honed their skills to a really high level in small-sided games before progressing to 11-a-side, the Football Association insisted that mini-soccer should be introduced in all youth leagues up to about the age of ten. I remember one or two dinosaurs complaining at the time, but having seen mini-soccer both as a teacher and supporting my nephews, I am in no doubt it was a long overdue innovation.

Basically, mini-soccer is just as the name suggests: small-sided games, on smaller pitches, with smaller goals, lasting for a shorter time. Generally, three teams will meet together for a morning’s football, each playing the other two. Otherwise, though, everything is the same as the full version of the game (except, I believe, that the offside rule is not enforced).

There is another innovation in the Selkent League. The season is divided into two halves. At the end of the Autumn, league tables are finalised and promotion and relegation takes place ready for a second set of matches in the New Year.

This has to be a good thing, as it keeps everyone interested. Teams that are doing well face a new challenge and boys who are struggling get the chance to meet weaker teams, rather than face another series of depressing defeats.

So how did the young Wands teams get on? The smallest side are the under 7s. Under 7s play only friendlies, as they are introduced to the rudiments of the game. The results are not officially recorded (again, this seems a sensible policy). So, the under 8s are the youngest competitive teams. Cray had three under 8 teams and one of them (the “C” team) were league champions by Christmas! They won one of the three parallel sections of the league, completing the Autumn season undefeated, with fourteen wins and four draws.

In the Spring season, this time playing in the top section, they again did brilliantly, finishing runners-up on goal difference to a team who didn’t concede a single goal. And they rounded off the season by winning the Challenge Cup. The other two Wands under 8 teams performed well in the middle and lower divisions.

Cray's under 9 team had two steady campaigns and have maintained their position in the top division. They also reached the Challenge Cup final, picking up the bronze medals (remember mini-soccer is played in threes!).

The two under 10 sides found the going tougher but the “A” managed to avoid relegation from the top division in both of the seasons.

The under 11 teams have found their first taste of 11-a-side football very demanding, with the “B” side taking some fearful beatings, but we hope they will persevere and learn from the experience. There was some good news for the under 11 “A”s who reached a shield final at the end of the season. By contrast, both under 12 teams won their league titles, with the A team doing the “double.” If they stay together, this should mean that the Wands will have a strong youth squad working its way through the older age groups.

As for the older boys, the under 13s plugged away and kept out of the bottom two of their division. The under 14s had an excellent campaign, finishing third in the North section of the MUSH Kent Youth League, whilst the under 16s put together some good results in the middle of the season but unfortunately had to pull out of the last few matches.