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Are The Days Of Eleven-A-Side Games At U-12 Level At An End?

Conor Neville
By Conor Neville
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Is there a more ridiculous practice in Irish sport than that of kids under the age of 12 playing full-pitch eleven-a-side football? From my recollection, approximately 50% of the goals were scored by the overgrown lad usually stationed at centre-half or centre midfield.

He would burst onto the ball 40 yards out from goal. Perceptively, he would notice that the goalkeeper was on his line, but was about 2ft tall.

Emboldened by the sight of 4ft of space between the goalie's head and the crossbar, he would have a pop. As often as not, it would go in. He would then jog the twenty yards back to his normal berth at the heart of the defence, after taking the plaudits from his (much smaller) colleagues. These guys were the stars of u12 football.

The games usually took place on hilly, bumpy pitches pockmarked with divots and spools of dirty water. More enlightened groundsmen would spray sand across the goalmouth.

Could those days be at an end?


The talk in the press is now one of following the Dutch model or the Spanish model of underage football, a kind of uber-enlightened, non-competitive world which fosters touch and technique and all those other progressive concepts specifically designed to make life harder for the six-foot tall match-winning centre-half.


In England, the FA, not traditionally the most enlightened, forward thinking organisation, are moving to making all U12 games nine-a-side right across the country. Not only that, but they are phasing out league tables up until the age of eleven.

What of Ireland?

The North Dublin Soccer League have introduced non-competitive football up until the age of 12, and then making games nine-a-side at u12 level. The Dublin Districts Schoolboy League moved to 9-a-side at u12 level a couple of years ago at the request of their clubs, though honorary secretary Fran Ray was dead against it. 'It's not real football. I'm interested in real football,' he says.


However, the South Dublin League, where John Devine has introduced his pilot scheme of three and four a-side non-competitive games for seven and eight year olds, are still sticking with the model of eleven-a-side games at u12 level.

With Irish football's production line creaking badly and with the sight of even the FA moving to adopt European models, are the days of the all-conquering big lad ruling underage soccer matches coming to an end?




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