Kids football in Dubai

As World Cup football fever strikes, Karen Iley chats to the lads and dads making it a tournament to remember

World Cup 2010, World Cup
World Cup 2010, World Cup
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Ah, those were the days… jumpers for goalposts, playing keepy-uppies with your pals in the park, oranges at half-time. There’s something about a game of football that sees dads’ eyes mist over with nostalgia. But ‘street’ footie no longer exists, at least not in Dubai, so there’s little chance of the old man reliving his youth and getting stuck into a kickabout with their kids these days. Or is there?

While everyone works themselves into a footie frenzy ahead of the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa next month, sports and education firm Libra is calling on father-and-son teams to enter the spirit with a series of lads and dads mini-tournaments, followed by the chance to catch key games on the big screen surrounded by pals.

It’s a great idea, say those daddy duos already signing up. Take Simon Ashworth, father of Taine, aged eight. ‘As dads, we take the kids to football, rugby, swimming and tennis lessons, but we never get a chance to join in. This will let us roll back the years and play again ourselves.’

Dubai fathers are, typically, a busy bunch. Business travel, long working hours and the traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road mean opportunities for father-son bonding are few and far between. ‘I’m at work and he’s at school. We don’t get to spend so much time together,’ says GB van Wijck, who plans to enter with his nine-year-old son, Cooper.

The prospect of running rings around the past-it papas, witnessing the huff and puff as they haul their pot bellies around on knackered-old pins is, for most kids, too funny to resist. But the whipper-snappers are under no illusion that the old fogies will give them an easy ride. ‘It can be challenging playing against dads because they’re really competitive,’ says Benjamin van Rooyen, 12. ‘They don’t give anything away.’
Thankfully, his brother, 10-year-old Ruben, has already noted a few weaknesses in the dads’ game.

‘They get tired more easily and some of them have really dodgy knees,’ he says. ‘But they’re much taller, so they’re better at headers.’ Cooper van Wijck has that problem sorted. ‘Ah-ha! But sometimes you can run under their legs,’ he says.

The idea is the brainchild of Adrian John, head of football at Libra Football Academy. AJ, as he’s fondly known, used to run lads and dads tournaments in the United States, and is confident they will be a big hit in Dubai. ‘It’s a fantastic idea. I see a lot of dads trying to relive their youth, wanting to show their kids just how close they were to becoming a pro,’ he laughs. ‘Then you see those same dads trying to bend over,’ he adds, shaking his head. ‘But I love the idea of getting fathers involved, and watching the matches together afterwards is a really good way to bond.’ For sure, there’s nothing better than sitting down with friends to watch a world-class football game. AJ hopes to recreate the thrill of the crowd, getting everyone gee-ed up to support their favourite team.

Conveniently, the matches kick off at the family-friendly Middle Eastern times of noon, 4pm and 7pm. ‘Watching it together, in a big group, makes it much more exciting, much more exhilarating,’ says AJ. ‘And the lads will learn more about the game by listening to their dads. They’ll hear what’s a good pass, what’s not.’

(All expressed, we hope, in family-friendly language). But won’t the tournament itself – pitting teams of two fathers against teams of two sons – be a testy affair? Will there be tears, tantrums and sendings off? ‘There will be a bit of competition, that’s for sure,’ says Benjamin van Rooyen, father of Ben and Ruben. ‘Kids can find it intimidating playing against adults, but they know we’re not going to run over them… unless it’s to score.’ Simon nods in agreement. ‘I’m up for it. In my mind, I’m still 21. I can still cut it. I just have to communicate that to my legs and deal with the fact that my knees give way and my heart stops pumping after three minutes.’

Good luck to them. It sounds like they’ll need it. ‘Yeah, the kids will soon be smarter and faster than us at everything,’ says Benjamin and Ruben’s dad. ‘Maybe if I start practising now I’ll be able to kick their asses at lawn bowls…’
The tournament takes place at Greenfield Community School throughout the World Cup (June 11-July 11). Dates are TBC. Email academies@libra-uae.com or call 050 325 5492.

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