Wednesday 23 June 2010

I had a Dream...

After 90 minutes of often heart stopping action and four of the longest minutes of ‘injury’ time in the history of sport (to me at least), the full time whistle was blown. The New Zealand All Whites had held Italy, the Azzuri, the reigning World Cup holders to a deserved 1-1 draw. That’s worth repeating: the All Whites held Italy – yes, Italy – to a draw at the World Cup. And that’s the World Cup of football (soccer), the round ball variety.

Let’s rewind a couple of hours. My clock radio alarm went off at 1.15am and I dragged myself out of bed. Torn between the desire to crawl back under the cosy duvet or creep into the lounge and rug up in front of the TV I chose neither. This early morning wake-up was different. The sound of the vuvuzela was calling and the nerves were already jangling.

There’s nothing quite like a big game – but if I have one golden rule about ‘big games’ it’s that you need to experience them with other people. And so it was I found myself on my friends couch at 2am. I kicked, headed, jumped and prayed the entire match. I found myself transformed into an All Whites diehard – gone was the patriotic Englishman that arrived in Auckland some 8 years ago. The All White in me had been found.

Paston, Smith, Nelsen, Reid, Bertos, Lochhead, Elliott, Vicelich, Fallon, Smeltz, Killen and Herbert wrote themselves into not just NZ folklore, but World Cup legend. A performance built around discipline, sound tactics, commitment, passion, skill and, perhaps most importantly, an understanding of their own abilities was produced like very few have ever been before by a group of New Zealanders. The rank outsiders had not become contenders but they had become credible. The team that reached the World Cup finals along the easiest of qualifying routes had delivered the honest, raw romance that the world had been waiting for. Free of prima donnas, the All Whites gave football back to the people.

The match itself appeared in places to take an eternity, yet in others it fairly raced by. The anxious moments to see quite how the Guatemalan referee would react to the Italian synchronised divers kept coming. The long range shots, countless corners, last ditch tackles and magical saves built a sense of expectation as the minutes ticked by. The full time whistle naturally bought much celebration and relief. But we shouldn’t see it as full time.

Dreams are strange in that they often project a reality that one has not yet come to terms with. A reality that seems so far away but within touching distance all at the same time. Football in New Zealand has struggled for years to gain widespread coverage. That the All Blacks only featured on the news bulletin today as they were playing football in training perhaps gives an indication of how far the sport has come in just this last week. Football is now as real in New Zealand as it ever has been.

And as I got back home and collapsed into bed, my ears still ringing and head still buzzing, I thought to myself what a ride that was. And what a dream.

A dream that stretched beyond 94 minutes of football.

A dream that football in NZ grasped the moment and produced more moments like this in the future.

A dream that our Little Kickers would be the All Whites of the future – displaying the same passion, commitment and skill on the world stage in the years to come.

I had a dream last night. Then I fell asleep.


Friday 18 June 2010

Our Little Kickers NZ trip to the U.K.

I knew the plane trip to the U.K. with twin 20 month old boys would be a nightmare (which sadly it was) so at least it was nice to be sitting outside the next day wearing singlet and shorts in the hot sun watching a squirrel scatter along the fence posts.

My husband is English and our family went over for a relatives wedding and to see the in-laws so this was a perfect opportunity to meet some Little Kickers (‘LK’) staff and see some sessions in action (LK originated in the U.K. and is now the largest provider of football sessions to U.K. pre-school children). I first met up with Julia who is the longest standing Little Kickers franchisee who runs 30 + sessions (that’s more than 500 children a week– could you imagine it)! It was invaluable to meet someone who’s been involved in Little Kickers as a franchisee for so long, Her ‘tricks of the trade’ will definitely be implemented here in New Zealand, starting off with 3 goals instead of 2 for goal time. It was also great to see how she manages to run her very successful business all from home while still managing to enjoy time with her kids. I haven’t quite worked out that ideal work/life balance yet but I’m sure it will happen.

Next stop was LK Head Office out in Blewbury, Oxfordshire. It was worth the trip just to see the lovely countryside of bright yellow rapeseed glowing on the gently rolling hills. Even though I’m one to complain about the horrid English weather I will happily state that we were treated well during our trip (which I’m sure I will be reminded about by my English in-laws for the next month’s worth of Skype calls). I lived in the U.K. for 3 years and one of my bugbears about the U.K. was the grey gloomy dark skies during winter with a two-week gap for scorching hot weather during summer.

Enough about the weather though! The staff at Little Kickers Head Office were so lovely. I left feeling even more enthused about Little Kickers (if that’s possible) and how we can grow and offer even more children a kick-start into the wonderful game of football and sports in general.

What I do miss about the U.K. is the passion of football, even though I’d rather play sports than watch them I would say my favourite game to watch would be a premier league football match in England. Nearly every department store, pub and program on T.V. is concentrated around football. I was delighted to see that the All Whites win against Serbia was mentioned on the BBC TV News and to read about how many excited fans – including children – went to see the All Whites off.

I’m back home now, not quite over my jet lag but I have Saturday sessions to coach so I better be on top form by then.

Wednesday 16 June 2010


Last night I had the pleasure of going to see Derren Brown’s new show - “Enigma”. It was truly amazing, and even the biggest sceptics amongst the audience left utterly spellbound. We were asked as an audience not to reveal anything that goes on within the show, so as to not ruin it for others, so I will stand by my promise. If you get the chance to see it though, please do!

I have always been somewhat of a sceptic, and I have an annoying habit of digging for logical explanations. However I was amazed by the cynicism of some attendees who I overheard discussing the show on the way out of the theatre, and saying “they must have been actors” and “they’re all drama students”. Their basis for this utterance stemmed from the method of selection of audience participants, who were seemingly randomly chosen by means of a Frisbee being thrown into the crowd.

It irritated me slightly that people were so quick to pull the show apart. Even if they were all actors (and I am not suggesting this by any means), could we not just enjoy the spectacle, sit there and absorb brilliant showmanship and not dampen the experience by forming our own rationales? As a human race we have an innate urge to form an unequivocal reasoning for everything.

As a child I never doubted things I saw. When my Granddad told me that he had my nose – I wanted it back! When my Grandma told me that there was a coin behind my ear, I spent hours in the mirror looking for it, but, as if by magic, when she looked she managed to find it!

As we grow up we “grow out of” the ability to accept things for what they appear to be. We have a constant yearning to know the ins and outs of everything. Now, I realise that this has helped us develop science and technology to today’s advanced levels, and the evolution of the human race from Neanderthals to the sophisticated beings we are today would not have happened had this thirst for knowledge not been inbred (although if the Big Brother contestants are anything to go by, that is somewhat questionable!) However I can’t help but think that sometimes we take it too far.

At Little Kickers we love that our kids are just kids. And I also think our classes provide many parents with an element of escapism from their own ‘grown up’ world. For an hour a week, our kids can believe that they are stood on a pirate ship, or that they are in the jungle amongst tigers and lions. Our excellent coaches are taught to utilise the imagination of the children, and use games and techniques that develop sound basic football skills, but the children learn without realising they are doing so. So when they are running away from the sleeping bear, they are practicing turning, balance, awareness of space and other elements of football. Isn’t this the most fun way of learning?

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Kick It Out


In spite of valiant attempts by a number of bodies, and an overall sentiment that it is unacceptable, racism within Football has unfortunately never been fully eradicated. Fortunately instances of racism are becoming less common nowadays, but there are still murmurs in the terraces and whispers on the pitch.

At Little Kickers, we promote equality. Our sessions are inclusive of everyone, no matter what their race, background or gender. Unfortunately, due to the age of the children who attend our classes, there is sometimes a lack of awareness around racial differences because their everyday experiences are still limited, and also it has become such a controversial subject which many people find difficult to address. As a result of their limited exposure to the world, some of our children may have never spoken to a black man or woman, the same as some children may have never seen an Asian or Chinese man or woman. And because of this, there is a lack of understanding about differences in appearance.

At Little Kickers, we understand the importance of educating children in safe and fun surroundings. We also encourage children from different walks of life to get involved in our sessions, and our coaches come from a broad range of races and nationalities. Not only does this result in our sessions being inclusive, but it also encourages children to develop and understanding of cultural and social and physical differences in people. Football is a great tool in breaking down racial and social barriers, as Eusebio once said “Black or white, we all have football under our skin.”

In the same breath, we do not view the primary aim of our classes as breaking down racial barriers – our main objective is to provide kids with a fun introduction to sport. We realise the people we deal with at Little Kickers are more often than not like-minded, and we realise that it is only a small minority within the footballing community that still hold racist views. However, that small minority of people can still have an incredibly damaging effect on the lives of others and, for this reason, Little Kickers has decided to support the Kick It Out campaign ( Further details about this campaign can be found on the Little Kickers website.

We hope that through this campaign we can encourage everyone who attends our classes to view each other as individuals with a shared love of football, rather than differentiating people by their physical appearance.
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