Silent Support Weekend: FA wokery or a necessary move to ban parents from cheering at their child's football match?

It’s Scottish Cup weekend for my 15-year-old son’s team who’ve been drawn away to Clydebank. He’s expecting a tough tie, based on his previous games in the west of Scotland, and also my own when I was his age, the ferocity of which I’ve tended to exaggerate for comic effect.

Silent Support Weekend is deemed necessary because last year 390 parents in England were banned from touchlines. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)
Silent Support Weekend is deemed necessary because last year 390 parents in England were banned from touchlines. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

For instance, when the game show Floor is Lava arrived on TV I told him it must have been inspired by a generation of Scottish kids’ experiences of attempting to play football on the red blaes pitches of Glasgow and environs. How, after the inevitable defeat, thighs would sting the entire bus journey home. How I had to sleep standing up for a week. And how the record for the longest time taken for a piece of grit to work its way out of my wounds was eight and a half months.

Typical fatherly nonsense, but what kind of parent am I? Well, I’m on the touchline at all my son’s games. I sometimes shout, but only to encourage him and his team-mates. If this was England, however, I would not be able to do this.

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Silent Support Weekend is an experiment. In an attempt to establish a more positive atmosphere in youth football, parents have been told they can only applaud. No shouting, no cheering - and definitely no jeering or mocking.

Does that seem extreme? Well, so’s this: last year in England 390 parents were banned from the touchlines for being unable to control themselves.

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Think about that and the embarrassment the punishment has hopefully engendered. You are required to wave off your son or daughter as they head to their game but you must stay at home, having made a complete prat of yourself.

The Football Association fully back Silent Support Weekend, which tells you one of two things, or maybe a combination of both. Either the conduct in the public parks has got completely out of hand or the FA has gone woke.

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Let’s deal with the possible wokery. If you look at the reader responses on the websites of the most effortlessly appalled newspapers you will always find such grumbles. “The losers have got their way - it’s going to be a sad, sad world,” wailed the online equivalent of Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells. Another equally outraged response went like this: “Protected little fluffballs - it will be no goalposts next.” Then there was this classic: “No wonder England don’t win anything! Toughen them up, make them into real men.”

I’m going to speculate that these folks not parents. Or at least that they haven’t watched youth football anytime recently. Or at the absolute least that their experiences of children’s sport were confined to the (very) green and (very) pleasant playing fields of the private school sector.

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For when an area like Merseyside cancels its entire card of weekend games in protest at the shenanigans on touchlines, you know there’s a problem. That is not to suggest it has a higher tolerance of aggro involving parents but it probably has a lower tolerance of wokeism than other regions.

It might be assumed the problem concerns the dads. Men who could have been contenders, should have been players, living out their thwarted dreams through the kids and getting carried away. But there’s been anecdotal evidence of mums taking the law into their own hands and, when their little darling is tackled too hard, marching onto the pitch to remonstrate with the opponent, the referee, sometimes both.

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Such over-excitedness also happens here on our green and resistant 4G and Scotland’s capital can’t claim any moral high ground over the wild west. A year ago this month, at a pitch bounded by Edinburgh Academy’s junior school and the Stewart’s Melville College playing fields, two dads rolled about on the ground, the cause of the kerfuffle unknown.

The thing was, their sons were wearing the same colours. The dads were there to supposedly cheer on the same team. In opposition were boys from my son’s club, one year younger. The newspaper headlines, and footage of the fight, sent shockwaves through the local football association.

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The match was immediately abandoned as understandably boys from both sides were distressed by what they’d just witnessed. Imagine being one of the lads who’d just seen their father either throw a punch or be felled by one. You just might not have wanted to play football ever again.

Promotional videos accompanying Silent Support Weekend show kids getting their own back on their shouty parents as the latter paint a room in the house. “Up and down, up and down! The other way! Get stuck in! Your technique’s rubbish!”

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The FA directive is that parents should stay completely silent and Scotland will await the findings of the experiment with interest. No voices at all seems severe. Watching your sons and daughters play football is a social occasion and the highlight of my weekend. Fellow parents Gary, Ali and myself enjoy catching up, putting the world to rights, talking rubbish and of course supporting our boys. It would be hard, I reckon, to stay gagged for the duration of a game. We’d be bound to feel like we were back at school.

Most parents offer only encouragement, don’t overdo it, recognise good play by the opposition and applaud both teams at the final whistle. As ever, the minority spoils it for the majority. That’s unfortunate for them but more so for the kids, who just want to enjoy playing football.

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