As fans we see the game of football very differently from the coaches and managers. How many times have we watched a game and then heard the manager talk about it afterward and said to ourselves, “What game was he watching?”
I coach a football team over here in the southwest of England. It is a new team and we play in the Wiltshire League Division Two. It is tier seven of the non-league pyramid and although some players are paid to play at that level, none of our players receive anything for playing.
Wilton Town Football Club has only been formed over the past few months and it has ambitious people behind it. There are big plans to develop the club and try to progress quickly through the non-league pyramid. Have a look at the club website here.
The reason I mention this is because, although my experience is very much at the grassroots level of the game, I do get some insight into how coaches are looking for different things than the fans are. The only thing that everyone wants is success. How that success is achieved, however, is rarely demanded in the same way.
In our pre-season training so far we have done a lot of work on fitness and ball skills and played quite a few variations on small-sided games. In this coming week we will continue to do that but also try to have a look at the players in a full scale 11 v 11 game so that we can select the best available team for the first friendly game on Saturday.
We have been looking for great touch, sharp passing, determination and a good attitude. (Looking for it, not necessarily finding it!) All of those things will be important when the games start. We will want the players to play as a team, do what we ask of them, and win their games. Most of these things are important for the fans and spectators as well, but what will please the fans might make us very unhappy.
As a fan I like to see shots at goal, great skills, flair and people trying the unexpected. I like to see defenders making last minute goal-saving tackles and blocks and I like to see keepers making great saves. I like to see goals from corners and free kicks and I like to see teams pouring forward and peppering the opponents’ goal.
As a coach, many of the above things will annoy me a great deal. If one of my players hits a hopeful shot when a pass was a better option I will not be happy that he has given the ball back to the opposition. If one of players is ‘show-boating’ and showing how clever he is, I shall tell him to get the basics right before he tries to be Cristiano Ronaldo. If my defenders are making last ditch tackles and blocks I will be deeply angry with my midfield and maybe my defenders for the lack of organisation and the failure to press the opposition sufficiently in order to prevent the situation in the first place.
If my keeper is forced into making great saves what the hell are the defenders doing? If we concede from a set piece then somebody better have a bloody good reason why the person they were supposed to be marking was able to put the ball in the net.
So all the things that get the fans excited are likely to give an old bugger of a coach like me a coronary! This is at tier seven of the non-league pyramid. Imagine what it is like for the managers and coaches at the top levels of the game. What they are looking for from their players is unlikely to match what we as fans are looking for.
Sometimes I hear managers after games, particularly England managers after England games, spout what I regard to be absolute rubbish. They talk about all the positives and the things that worked well. After watching the game and either falling asleep or throwing things at the television, the manager comes on to say that he thought “we played well” in a “thoroughly entertaining game.”
Before I launch into my, “what game was he watching” routine, I should take a step back and try to understand what he means. There will have been positives and there will have been aspects of the game that have gone totally according to plan and the players will have done exactly what was asked of them. The coach is looking for those moments. We as fans are not.
Sometimes a player is not liked by his own fans and he gets jeered and booed by his own team’s supporters. Very often the coach will know exactly how valuable that player is to the team. He may be aware that the whole team can only function the way it does because of the unselfish contribution of that one player. Despite this, the fans jeer him. The coach wonders what game the fans are watching even more than the fans do the other way round.
My intention is to keep the readers of this site updated with occasional articles about how Wilton Town are progressing. I will share the excitement, frustration, fun and disappointments with you as we begin the long trek on our road to worldwide football domination.
By my reckoning if we get promoted every year, we should arrive in the Premier League in around 2020. I’ll be fifty-eight then and just about the right age to pit my wits against the top coaches in the game! OK, that might be just a little bit optimistic!
There will be many twists and turns over the coming months and I think it might be interesting to share them with you every now and then. It might not have the glamour of a Barcelona or Manchester United but Wilton Town is real life and real football.
Read more articles from Graham Fisher.