Whenever the national team performs miserably and fails to qualify for this competition or that, there will never be any shortage of pundits ready to rush forward and blame the amateurish coaching on offer in our schools. The humble games master must be sidelined, they argue: professionals and ex-professionals must be sent in to do the job properly. Only then will we be able to take on the world.
This is a bizarre notion. Do we ever suggest that our history teachers are not up to the mark and that retired Oxford dons should be drafted into our comprehensives? Of course, this may be due to the fact that we don't consider academic education to be anywhere near as important as ensuring that our boys will grow up to be good enough footballers to take on Brazil.
It is more likely, however, we realise that when it comes to getting Jason and Wayne to come to grips with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles on a wet Thursday in February, old Chalky Wainwright is a far better bet than Prof Slingsby-Puddlefoot. By the same token, the trained games master will be, almost always, a better bet than the old pro.
A former FA staff coach told me of an incident in which a then current England international was on his course. Needless to say, the boys selected to work with the great man were "over the moon" at being coached by the star. For several minutes, the international treated the boys to a stunning display of ball juggling. When invited by the staff coach to ask questions, one of them asked the player how he could do such remarkable things. "F***in' magic," the player replied. Is this how the World Cup is to be won in 2006?
One of my friends was refereeing a school match and finding it difficult since the linesmen were unreliable and the touchlines often invisible. At one of his decisions, a parent called: "Are you blind, ref?" My friend stopped the game, strode over to the offender and told him that such comments were unacceptable. The laughing parent, the manager of one of the local youth teams, told the teacher that he must expect such comments as part of the game. My friend told him that what might be acceptable for his team was not acceptable at a school match and, if he made such comments again, he would be required to leave. The despondent parent watched the rest of the game in silence.
The professional clubs get hold of the very best young players soon enough. Before then, leave them to the games master. He's not such a bad chap.