Places we’ve all played football

One of the reasons Football is the people’s game and has travelled around the world so successfully is that it’s so accessible and easy to play. You only need a ball. It doesn’t even have to be a football, just anything round that you can kick, be it rolled up socks, tin can or a stress ball.

You don’t need the kit, boots, team mates or opposition. Often you don’t even need a goal if you’re just practising tricks. One day knocking a rolled up pair of socks around the front room before slotting them neatly into the bottom left hand corner or the dining table, has lead me to think of all the places I’ve played football and some others I’d imagine you could get away with.

Disclaimer; any dangerous places I mention is not an encouraging word to try them out, they’re just places I’ve rightly or wrongly played in throughout my childhood.

Stadium
This is restricted to those that either make it professionally or make it to their county cup final. You will always remember the likely one and only game you played in front of an actual stand and more of a crowd than the players parents. It’s most likely to be he persons profile picture on Facebook and it is likely to have been a disappointment when they realized that its really not like playing at Wembley. Assuming that 99% of this group refers to county cup finals (1% being the pros that get used to playing to sell-out crowds and learn to block it out), time will make the event better than it actually was. Those that haven’t played in a stadium, your imagination is better.

School pitch
You may already have realized I’m getting the less accessible pitches out of the way first, as the school field and stadiums aren’t exactly everyday places for a kick about with your mates. But they are still generally where we all want to be playing as we grow up. The school pitch is usually only a step up from the park due to there being a goal, markings and no dog shit. My school pitch was on a hill, a very steep hill that meant the right back could be 4 foot lower than the left back at kick off. I made my Colham Manor Primary school team but never made the secondary school side due to my height (despite my absolute belief I could read the game better than some that played and that I always thought I got picked at lunch times in the top 11). This made playing on the school pitch even better when I got the chance. Although we’d often only have played half the pitch and had to use jumpers instead of the actual goals, which in hindsight was the right decision considering we all had adult sized goals in those days.
One school pitch I did love playing on was at Charville primary school that I lived near in my early teens. During the summer we’d climb over the fence and play World Cup every day. They kept the grass at a perfect length and as it was a primary school, the goals were smaller.

Park
Jumpers for goal posts. 25 verses 24. Next goal wins. Shirts v Skins. Your goal is smaller than ours! Flying, two footed tackles. No throw ins. Moe well off kids wearing the full kit. Play till you can’t see ten feet in front of you. Take the piss out of the kid whose mum picks him up. Riding our bikes home one handed carrying the ball. Telling your parents every action you were involved in with great detail. Despite never being able to recollect what you’d done at school that day. This is my childhood, and millions of others, summed up in a few comments. I was lucky enough to live with a field that had 2 football pitches and two rugby pitches at the back of our house. This meant that, with the goals being up 10 months of the year, I had to just get my mates to play there rather than another field that perhaps was closer to them. Despite the dog shit every now and again it was every kids dream to have access to that. Obviously not anymore, but back then in the early 90s (and for the hundred plus years before then) all I wanted was a ball and those goals.


3G
Places such as goals or power league have brought fantastic, year round pitches to the masses all over the country. The league structures they have provide all abilities to play competitively and the mid-week kick offs allow for weekend dads to not have to give up football, as long as they can get to the games after work in time. Obviously they also provide groups of mates to rent a pitch out on their own too, and all of this, mixed with the extra facilities these places provide, leads to each new generation being able to enjoy the game in a clean & safe place. I mention clean & safe, even though 99% of users at these places are already adults, as I’m referring to the lack of rubbish in the parks, the lack of nearby houses with vulnerable windows, the nice warm place to get changed afterwards whatever the weather outside, the introduction of refs in your weekly kick about and the first aid available on-site. Some of these are things the 30+ generations main that kids don’t get any more and that ‘in our day’ we had to play in the rain and walk home. But times have changed and many on this list aren’t feasible any more, I certainly wouldn’t want my kids playing football in a block of flats or climbing over a garden fence to play on school property.

Indoor gym
There’s something special about playing football inside a gym. I’m not sure if it’s the grip you get on the floor, the echoes, the sweat or the perfect weather condition(I.e. no wind effecting long balls or rain making it sloppy) but there’s something special about it. Everyone has to also change their game when going inside the gym too, due to the lack of slide tackles that leads to more passing and movement. Especially when playing five a side in a space bigger than a five a side pitch; you have to move for your team much more, defend as a team and so on. Similar to playing at Power League or goals, the team dynamic has to work together and this can make these pitches much more rewarding when you’ve finished. You always know you’ve put your all in after a game in the gym.

School playground
This is where we try out all the tricks we’ve been practicing in the garden. This is also one of the brutal places to play, especially if you went to an all-boys school like I did. It was a posh all boys either, anyone that’s been to Abbotsfield will laugh at the thought of it being called posh! The playground had the markings for a five a side and with the mountain of school bags as posts we were ready. It wasn’t exactly dirty as such as the football lot were basically mates, but there would be rivalries and there would certainly be cuts, bruises, tears in knee trousers and the odd fight breaking out.

Beach
This is one of the most picturesque places to have a kick about. Seem of the best players in the world learn their trade here (i.e. Brazilians) and it has one of the best feel good factors you can get, on top of the obvious feel good factor of playing football in the first place. It’s great to practice free kicks with a couple of palm trees as your goal and stop every now and then for a sip of the local beer, not to mention the biggest bonus of the sun shining overhead.
However, English beaches aren’t the best or the type of beach you automatically think of. So when we get on holiday and have a kick about on beautiful sandy beaches, we realizes how hard and tiring it is!! You can’t dribble and you get worn out in a fraction of the time. This doesn’t make you look good either, and with the potential for the opposite sex to be watching you (which makes us ALL play more intently) there’s more pitfalls to this pitch than there are plus points.


Back garden/ alley way
This is where every kid will run to when they first see one of their heroes do a new trick. Or nowadays where they practice the latest YouTube sensation or skill school contest. Where they will first have a kick about with their Dads. When I was growing up, most of my time, when I wasn’t have a kick about with 45 of my mates in another epic 86-86 next goal wins, would be spent doing kick ups in the garden (I’ll never, ever call them ‘k**py u*py’). I wouldn’t be wearing the full kit, but the top and boots were a must. I was lucky to have enough green grass in our garden to try any trick I could think of, which in 1990 equated to about 5. We just didn’t have the options people like Messi and Ronaldinho have dreamt up since my adolescents.

The back garden is the perfect, safe place for tricks. It’s private, spacious enough (thinking that 4 by 4 foot of grass/ clear area is enough) and might even have a garage wall to finish off your move with. Also, said wall could increase your options in your garden by practicing free kicks, targets or just something to kick against. A downside of the back garden is the need to have patient parents and neighbours.


Front room
Possibly the first place we all start our love affair, this is also perhaps where you have to be most imaginative. The front room isn’t generally a place to practice kick ups or tricks but does have a lot of options for things to use as a goal. The imagination becomes involved if you play one on one and you haven’t exactly got a rectangle room to use. As a kid we had a long knocked through front room with a small coffee table under the front window and French doors at the back leading t the extension. Add a stress ball, clear the vase and we had our own indoor pitch. We played most chances we got and managed to come up with innovative tricks & chips over other furniture to score. Slide tackles weren’t bad either but don’t wear shorts! Yes some vases broke (mum already knows its due to playing football as I put it in my brothers best man speech) but it was perfect. Now, whenever there’s a ball shaped object in front of me, I have to step over, Cruyff turn and shoot.

Bedroom
This is resigned to quick flicks of rolled up socks on to the bed or out into the hall way. Or perhaps you can make use of the space by shooting at someone who’s kneeling on the bed facing you. This is one of the places most frowned upon by adults and yet one of my old favourite places to dive about due to being a five a side keeper back in the day. Although now I’m the parent, I don’t let them do the same. Parents eh!!


Street
I’ve not been to Brazil but it seems their streets are better than ours for playing football. Perhaps their streets have a goal every 100 yards. Or cones tactically positioned for dribbling practice. Whatever it is every single world class Brazilian always mentions the streets he used to play football on before being picked up by Corinthians, Internacional or São Paulo. We however have an ever increasing number of vehicles on the road and streets are pretty much a no go area nowadays.

Curb Ball was one of the games we had that didn’t exactly give you the skills to help turn you into a professional footballer. If you’ve not heard of it, you and a mate stand on either side of the road and have to hit the opposite curb. This game could be played on your own, but unless you were skilled enough to hit the curb perfectly so the ball came back to you, you’d spend most of your time retrieving the ball.

Block of flats
In the concrete jungle i grew up in the flats had plenty of places to have a kick about. It had to be the playing fields if we had more than a dozen playing, but world cup within the middle of People’s washing and through gangways was brilliant. It was the flats by Charville School in Hayes where many games went in through the night as it had the added benefit over the park in the street lighting the council provided for us.


Car park
This is another place in urban places that can easily become the latest Wembley substitute. Obviously the fewer cars the better, but with outdoor car parks you have space, in door multi story’s you have pillars for goal posts. The trick is to find either a deserted car park (think Wayne Rooney’s street school thing) or a part of the car park that’s really used. And be careful.

Pool on holiday
Unless you’re rich you have to go on holiday to enjoy a sunny day around the pool. I know our country has swimming pools, but when is it sunny and how many allow us to practice diving headers or scissor kicks off the side of the pool, landing in a back/side/belly flop? Get it right and catch it on camera, you could pass for a pro. Get it wrong and you look like a muppet, but you’ll only stop playing when it’s time to start the pub crawl.

Hotel rooms
As with bedrooms and front rooms, the hotel room need a little imagination but has plenty of options; move furniture for space, overhead kicks on the bed, diving headers etc. etc. the extra benefit is that although you have to pay for damages, you don’t have to tidy up! And the noise isn’t as much of an issue that at home, unless you really are going hell for leather!!

Shops
I used to work at QPR club shop and throughout the week we’d have a kick about either on the pitch or in the shop. I’ve no idea how we still sold of those balls we used with scratches all over.
However this section is referring to anyone entering sports shops and being drawn to the big basket of footballs. You just have to grab the best one, do some kick ups and put it back. The time pent doing this directly relates to who you’re with. When I’m with my mates its till we get told off by staff. When I’m with my girlfriend it’s till she realises what I’m doing. My favourite one from memory, not including at Loftus Road, is the long passes down the empty aisle at Tesco. Perfect pass to one of my daughters, who unfortunately was looking the other way so couldn’t make use of my precision. This however brings its own downside, as you then have to explain to your kids to ‘do as daddy says and not what daddy does’ which isn’t my preferred method of parenting.

Office
In your head, this also works for holders that would love to use their office as a crazy golf putting green. I’ve sat in so many offices in my career (project manager/ consultant so have sat in client offices around the county) that would have been perfect for free kick practice. Often with the clients still sat in their chairs.


Bus Stop
Quite clearly this is in here as its the same shape as a goal. Find one that’s not being used and nowhere near a busy road and you’ve got yourself a great shooting range. With the shape of most of them you’ve even got a kind of net when the ball goes in so you don’t have to keep getting it. Even when it does go wide, it’s likely there’ll be a wall close behind to stop it going miles. The bus stop is unlikely going to be used for anything more than a quick shooting practice session but finding the right one and it’s perfect.


Tennis Court
A great game with a football is head / football tennis. Getting a decent ball that can bounce and a hard or grass tennis court is brilliant. I’ve found clay courts OK but not as good as the other two. Clearly not everyone has a tennis court, me included. So it’ll have tone the local club for a sneak game or a decent park that has these facilities (it was Court Park in Hillingdon for me).

;
Golf course
This isn’t really a place for a kick about but everyone has at least once kicked their golf ball from one green to the next tee. I’ve done it plenty of times and mainly after I’ve had a bad whole.

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