Ants Weekly with Stephen Russell – Grassroots football

Hi Ants, I hope you’ve all been well. A lot has happened since we last spoke culminating in a 6-0 routing of Newmains United to end the season, and what a season it has been. Congratulations to Lanark United for their league win – hopefully it can be us up there challenging next year! This campaign has brought a lot of positive growth for the club and it’s great to see the club already making moves towards improvement. However, none of it could be possible without the support of the fans; the people who turn up week in and week out regardless of weather. As a celebration of yourselves, this week I’d like to talk about just how important grassroots football is.

As most of you know, I live near Manchester. The likes of Manchester United and Manchester City compete on the grandest stage and draw in some of the biggest names in football but they are by no means the only teams around here. Salford City are a famous example having been taken over by several players from Man United’s famous Class of ’92 who, from the start of the 2019/20 season will become the 8th club within the boundaries of Greater Manchester playing within the EFL. FC United of Manchester, a club formed in protest to the Glazer’s takeover of Man United, play out of Broadhurst Park on the outskirts of the city and are an example of a semi professional side available to visit, which I recently did for a coaching course, for a refreshing change of pace from the seemingly too distant Premier League sides.

Often in Manchester I’ve been surrounded by people who call themselves devoted fans of football because they tune into the occasional game on Sky Sports. You really start to see how ridiculous this is when you spend some time around these lower league clubs. It’s easy to pigeonhole football as a sport into just elite level football. In fact, for many of us the extent to which we enjoy football is just that, and that’s okay, but when you take out the multi-million pound deals and fancy frills, you see a real appreciation for plain, unadulterated football. That isn’t to say the top clubs don’t have fans of this ilk but stripping away the commercial, tourist side of football and getting stuck into the raw, pure game is never a bad thing.

Firstly, we got talking on the course about the responsibilities that come with coaching football at this level, and at younger ages. A debate came up about the differences in culture between more professional, academy football and grassroots football in the sense that a unique part of grassroots coaching is keeping players engaged. This is because academy football is more akin to a job where players will happily do what they’re told while grassroots has more emphasis on enjoyment. While this is in fact understandable given the competitive nature of a footballing academy, I personally believe it shows how critical grassroots football is to the game as a whole – why do we enjoy football?

Having a discussion like this brought me back to my school years when I’d think I was Henrik Larsson just because I lifted the ball over somebody’s head in the park. It’s safe to say that I did not grow up to be Henrik Larsson but it’s that same enjoyment of the game, that same enthusiasm, that really makes the sport what it is. For every player that grows up to turn professional, there are countless others that just enjoy the game for what it is – countless others that pull on a muddy bib on a Sunday morning and hope they have enough players to kick a ball around in the rain. In a similar way that music couldn’t exist if only top selling artists could create, football wouldn’t exist if it was only the Premier League that could play. Million pound contracts at top clubs make for a lot of motivation; take to somewhere like McKenna Park and you’ll see a real passion for football.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read and as always, have a great week! If you have any thoughts on this and would like to discuss it with me, or any ideas for topics you’d like written about on here in the future then feel free to contact me at

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