Why England are rubbish at football

I wanted to buy a decent football for my daughter for her birthday. I remembered how hard it was to kick a grown-ups’ football when I was a kid and I remembered how frustrating it was to kick a plastic ball that wouldn’t stay in a straight line.

The internet reliably informed me that size 3 is “the official soccer ball” for toddlers and young children under the age of eight. (Size 5 is the normal size for adults.) However, the internet couldn’t find me one to buy.

I thought that it would be nice to buy her the official World Cup ball, the Addidas Brazuca, but I could not find a size 3 Brazuca on Amazon, eBay, the official Addidas site or through a Google search, unless it was shipped over from the US.

Nevermind I thought, I’ll head into the West End to find one. First stop was John Lewis. The sports department apologised and suggested I try the toys department. The toys department didn’t seem to understand what I was asking for.

“A leather football. Size 3 is for kids,” I explained. They said they had a sponge one. When I said no thanks, they suggested I try JD Sports across the road. I thought they just sold trainers and t-shirts but I gave it a try.

The cheerful chap on the door looked at me quizically before asking his colleague. “We might have one downstairs,” he said rather doubtfully before explaining that downstairs was closed due to flooding. Nevermind, I thought as I left, there’s Nike Town across the road. Nike are doing the 2013-14 Premier League Official Match Ball – the Incyte – which went on sale on July 1st. (I’d discovered this while looking for the Brazuca on the internet.)

According to the Nike blurb: “Nike RaDaR (Rapid Decision and Response) technology maximizes the ball’s visibility allowing players to see the ball earlier and react quicker, while five-layer construction optimizes the feel of the first touch, allowing players to bring the ball under control quickly and with ease. A high-elasticity layer on the surface allows for a cleaner strike and helps the ball travel with more speed. The micro-textured casing also delivers a more accurate ball trajectory than before.”

That sounded good to me. Addidas could keep their Brazuca. I’m fussy but I’m not that fussy.

Nike Town could well be the coolest shop on the planet. Models of Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar greet you at the entrance, shop assistans juggle footballs or bogle to banging dancehall. Nike Town really is a Nike advert come to life. It’s pretty amazing. One problem though – it doesn’t sell kids’ footballs. The very cool and very nice assistant suggested I try Sports Direct. I accepted his advice cheerfully but asked him to complain to his boss on my behalf. He said he would.

Sports Direct on Oxford Street is the opposite of Nike Town. There is no sign of glamour here. Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley piles them high and sells them cheap in the shop where he made his fortune. The new Oxford Street branch also loses coolness points for being on the premises of HMV’s old flagship store. The first shop assistant looked at me quizically – I don’t think she spoke English – and I said I’d look inside. The second assistant suggested I try a bin at the back of the store.

Yes! They had size 3 footballs! However, these shiny Sondico balls at £4 a pop didn’t look anything like the beautiful Brazucas or Incytes I had in mind. They looked pretty hideous actually – even the pink one that I thought my daughter might quite like. However, they didn’t have the pink one in size 3. I caught the eye of the nearest asistant and asked him if he had any decent balls in size 3 – perhaps an Addidas or a Nike one? I was directed to another bin. No joy. I took it into my own hands and decided to scour all the bins in the shop. No joy.

As I was leaving I noticed a rather snazzy Nike ball in a position of some prominence by the door. On closer inspection it turned out to be the Nike Incyte – the official match ball of the 2014-15 Premier League season. And just beneath it was a size 3! By this stage I could not believe I had found it. None of the assistants seemed to know it was there and the five-layer construction means it feels like no football I had ever held before. Perhaps it was a volleyball?

However, another assistant assured me it was the official ball and would probably set me back about 40 quid. “Oh, but it is quite small,” I protested.

He scanned it and told me it would cost £16.99. Hurray! Mission accomplished.

I was happy as I walked away but it left me wondering about England’s World Cup display and all the thought pieces and analyses that followed the team’s exit. Is it any wonder we’re so shit when it’s so bloody hard to find a decent kids’ football?


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