Young players flourish under Gill’s philosophy

Four years ago Darren Gill's twin sons, Charlie and George, said they wanted to play a game of football, writes Chris Lakey.

'I told them to get a few mates together and I'd see what I could do,' recalls Gill.

What happened after that is testament to Gill's dedication and the trust that scores of parents have put in his knowledge not just of the game, but of how to develop it among youngsters.

From that kick-about has grown five teams – under-8s, under-9s, under-10s, under-11s and under-13s – all of which play in the North East Norfolk Youth League. On top of that, each Saturday morning up to 50 young children of all abilities go along for fun football training sessions.

The philosophy for the younger teams is to enjoy playing football the right way, regardless of the result, in the hope that by the time they reach their early teens they can combine both.

The evidence that it works is in the current under-12s group (pictured) – sponsored by Jim Carlile, of Reeds Downham Market – who won Division One and the Under-12 League Cup, which has earned them an invitation to the prestigious All Cities Elite Shield (ACES) football tournament on July 10 at Judge Meadow Community Sports College in Leicester.

The event is sanctioned by the FA and involves 20 of the finest Under-13s teams – which the current group will become – from around the country. It's invitation only, with each team monitored and checked to ensure that only elite sides compete.

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Each team represents their town or city so Hindolveston will, for the day, become Norwich.

Gill, who with his brother Matt runs Premier Racquets & Fitness in Sedgeford, is a well-known face in local football, having been a powerful midfielder for Wroxham and Fakenham. If ever anyone epitomised 'win at all costs' it was Gill, but it has been the development of the boys' football skills that has proved so fruitful.

'We played fantastic football at Wroxham and anyone who played with me knows I can't stand losing,' said Gill.

'But one of the reasons we don't develop tennis players, why we don't develop footballers is because at a young age everybody wants to win, win, win. Yes, we all want to win, I want to win and it hurts me on a Sunday morning when my lads lose, but they don't know that.

'I keep on to the parents and I keep on to the children – just keep passing the ball, just keep playing football and your time will come. At eights, nines and 10s it doesn't mean a dot. You can win as many matches as you want, but it doesn't mean anything.

But under-13s will start winning things – and what we have done this year has come early.

'The teams that were beating us two or three nil we are now beating seven or eight nil, because when the ball is in the goalkeeper's hands he will kick it 30 yards, when the centre-half gets it he still boots it 30 yards.

'Those children were doing that at eight and they are still doing it at 12. There is no development there at all.

Our lads, because it is ingrained in them, not just the boys but also the parents, the philosophy was 'it will work' and now everybody who plays against us absolutely love playing against us because they know there is a football match happening.'

'I started the club, I am the chairman, I was secretary, I was treasurer, I was welfare officer so it was easy for me to convince everybody and we have lost one boy in the five years since we started running the club – and that was to rugby.

'Because we have got success it is easier for people to buy into it.'

That success has culminated in next week's huge challenge.

'I think it will be extremely difficult,' admits Gill. 'I have told them it will be another step in their learning curve.

'There will be bigger boys, stronger boys, boys we have never played against.

'It will be another step in my learning curve as well, but we will go there with the same attitude – get the ball down, play football and do what we are good at. If we lose 3-0 we lose 3-0, if we win 3-0 we win 3-0, but get on and enjoy it.'