'Can't fault your commitment, lads," Terry announces to the band of weary-looking 11-year-olds grouped respectfully around him on the mud-streaked pitchside. "Can't fault it at all. But the formation… You know what we said about keeping the channels free? That's right. It means Gary and Jordan – and you too, Bradley – not bombing forward and leaving Ryan exposed at the back." The boys stir anxiously, like troubled dreamers. They like Terry and want to do their best for him. At the same time, his instructions are sometimes difficult to interpret. Above their heads, the bruised north Surrey sky threatens rain.
Meerkats United play in the Dorking and District Sunday League. Now 57, stomach protruding from the waistband of his track pants, sweat bursting forth from the corrugated skin of his damson-coloured forehead, Terry might be considered a touch mature to function as their coach-cum-secretary. It is many years since his own children passed through junior football, although Terry has hopes of his grandson, little Kieron, aged four. On the other hand, you're as young as you feel, and Terry, once the adrenalin begins to flow and Marlon, the Meerkats' star striker starts banging them in, is convinced he still has what it takes.
Back on the pitch, the opposition centre-back has just dumped Marlon in a heap. "Ref!" Terry squawks. "Come on ref. Ref!" Happily, the parents are an amiable lot; the touchline dissent that distinguishes some of the other local leagues is largely beyond them. At the same time, kids' football isn't what it was. Some of them – great little players, too – would sooner be staring at their Xboxes on Sunday mornings. Three-nil down, and the rain is sweeping in. "3-5-2, lads!" Terry reminds them at the top of his voice. "3-5-2!" He would bring on his new demon midfielder, poached from Redhill Renegades, but Ashok, it transpires, is being sick in the changing rooms.
No, the boys' commitment cannot be faulted, and neither can Terry's. His evenings are spent at committee meetings, taking training sessions or poring over coaching manuals. If, as is sometimes suggested, he derives more satisfaction from the Meerkats' performances than the boys themselves, then, in his defence, the happiest part of his life is lived out here on the divot-strewn pitches of north Surrey, where the manager's first job, on arrival, is to stamp down the molehills.Reuse content