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We played soccer in the street, too. By Eric Walter

Dear soccer lovers,

I'm Coach Gianni. From this week I would like to publish articles from soccer players who, when they where young, learned to play soccer in the streets. They, like me, played hours every day, rain or shine, good shoes or not, soccer ball or not, goals or not, without referees, coaches, chalk lines, standings, leagues, play offs, demanding parents, and so on.

They played just for the love of the game.

Hope youth players read these testimonials (maybe parents can encourage them to read it) to better understand that the real meaning of playing soccer is deeply spontaneous and is the most simple expression of the pure joy of existing and being a kid. Often, this happens only one time in life, exactly when we are kids. A few lucky ones, are able to permit that kid to live forever inside them and continue to feel the same joy just kicking the ball around on the sand, on the dirt, on the concrete, on the asphalt or, sometimes, on the grass.

Hereís the first article from Eric Walter.


Growing up in England in the 1940s was not a pleasant experience but the total focus on world war 2 priorities did force us to create our own entertainment. Football, cricket and shooting marbles were our competitive games. Looking back I donít even recall how or why we started playing football as there were no professional or any other leagues to set an example and neither were there any well known players for us to emulate.

There were no fields, coaches, footballs, uniforms or boots so we just naturally did what kids do in less developed countries today. Somehow, we found a supply of pre-war tennis balls to kick around and that was enough.

The street was our field, in our case a cul-de-sac bordered by private yards on 3 sides. We picked up our teams ranging from 3 to 10 each side depending on who was available and interested. Coats and pullovers
were goal posts and usually a goal keeper was assigned as no-one wanted the least active position. Remember there were no Buffons or Lehmanns making headlines in those days.

Then we played according to the rules as we understood them. No offsides of course, handballs were called but there were hardly any personal fouls or tripping as we played as sportsmen were obliged to play. That is you did
not take advantage of another player unfairly. It worked out well as it had to because there was no referee to call infringements when they occurred. A certain amount of shoulder to shoulder contact was allowed. If you wanted to seriously punish a player he was simply dropped from the next game.

The worst part of this pick-up game on concrete was falling on the pavement and that hurt with some quite painful cuts and skin burns.

The upside of playing with tennis balls was the skills acquired by dribbling, shooting and spinning such a small ball that can be struck quite hard if you give it a try. The ball is solid enough to make your foot sore after a while.

I still play and I really believe that I gained great control skills with a regulation soccer ball based on what I used to do with the much smaller ball as a beginning player. I would also play solo heading with a tennis ball by throwing it against the side of our house and then aiming the ball at a 90 degree angled target.

My dad complained that I was breaking up the concrete pointing between the house bricks but he got really mad when I carelessly threw the ball right through my bedroom window. Obtaining new glass was also a major problem due to wartime shortages.

Because no tennis balls were being made at that time our ball was extremely precious to us. When the ball was kicked over a neighbors fence someone had to go and get it as asking was generally a waste of time. So we took
turns facing the rage of one particularly difficult individual by jumping over his fence after scouting out the likely location of the ball, retrieving it and getting back as fast as possible. Thinking about it now it was really a big part of our fun and excitement.

I played with my first real soccer ball in 1946, at age 12, on a football field that had not been maintained for about 7 years. It seemed enormous after years of playing only on the street. As I recall I also wore my first pair of football boots at that game. They were thick, brown leather that needed much massaging with Dubbing (a leather dressing) to make them soft enough to bend.

There were 6 nailed studs (cleats) on each shoe. Playing on hard grounds caused a layer or two of the studs to come off exposing the ends of the nails. I learned at this stage that some opposing players were unscrupulous enough to use these nails as weapons.

Eventually, the leather outer sole became so full of nail holes as the studs were removed and re-nailed that you had to buy new boots.

Eric Walter


Iíd love to get stories from other soccer lovers like Eric, so please send me your memories about when you where kids and played soccer spontaneously in the streets. We have to do anything we can, to encourage kids to go back to playing pick up games and not wait for the parents to drive them to the field one time a week, to play in organized soccer situations. This is the ONLY way to create the new generation of soccer players who learn the soccer skills by themselves, by playing 2 or 3 hours everyday. After, when they are 11/12 years old, they can join a regular soccer team and begin to be trained by professional coaches who will teach them how to move and play together as a team.

Coach Gianni

Posted on 24 Aug 2006 by coachgianni
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