Book of the week: You'll Win Nothing with Kids: Fathers, Sons and Football, By Jim White

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The Independent Football

The sight of three grown men struggling in an upturned five-a-side goal might appear, on the face of it, ludicrous. But this occurrence, which disrupted preparations for a final in which a junior team coached by Jim White were about to play, had its own internal logic.

You see, Jeff, whose son J J was a niggling, unsettling presence in the team, had taken issue with Rory, who had taken exception to Jeff's criticism of Lee, who hadn't passed to J J. And obviously Rory's father had become involved and, in attempting to part the two, the coach had lost his balance and pulled all three down on to the back of the goal.

So yes, on the face of it, this was lunacy. But when you know the story – and White's loving book evokes all the obsessional doubts and hopes involved in running an Under-14 side who manage both to reach the cup final and face relegation in the same season – well, you can understand it all.

As any writer does, White logs and re-presents the details that he knows will work on the page and, as any father does, he questions who ultimately benefits from the twin pursuits of running his son's junior team and writing about running his son's junior team. The question is never conclusively answered, but it is honestly raised.

What makes this book a pleasure to read is, in the phrase once employed by a former sports editor, the quality of the reportage. White has a sensitivity to the rhythms of conversation and a lovely turn of phrase.

After his keeper, Max, has performed nobly in a penalty shoot-out, White notices that he is shaking – "Shaking like Shakin' Stevens's trousers." On the subject of a former keeper, Tiny Tim, White recalls: "On a couple of occasions I saw him swivelling his hips like a matador, just to ensure there was absolutely no contact whatsoever between him and that hard, hurty thing heading in his direction. Boy, did he move well."

The book also reflects interestingly upon the idea of coaching junior footballers. A visit to Manchester United's youth academy reveals that, in contrast to the bear pit of local games, top-quality juniors are coached in virtual silence, encouraged to make their own decisions.

And at the heart of things, as the subtitle of the book suggests, are fathers and sons, finding in football a world they can share with endless fascination.

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