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I’d rather my children get hurt from football than fat from sitting around

Some children playing football on the village hall field in Taverham, July 1992

. Picture: Archant Library

Some children playing football on the village hall field in Taverham, July 1992 . Picture: Archant Library

Archant Library

If practice makes perfect, my school friends and I should’ve been Premier League footballers.

Loddon five-a-side football team, August 1975. Picture: Archant LibraryLoddon five-a-side football team, August 1975. Picture: Archant Library

Whenever there was a spare moment, we were having a kickabout.

At infant school, I remember games being played with a pine cone for the ball and – yes – jumpers for goalposts.

At junior school, the playground was our pitch. We’d watch the clock and charge outside at morning and lunch break, throw our bags in a pile and play mass matches with less room than the Eton Wall Game. It was great for close control, ball-shielding and honing the dark arts.

School shoes were scuffed and worn out, trousers holed at the knee, parents infuriated and out of pocket.

Any girls trying to get from the middle to the top playground risked a ball in the face and a spell in first aid.

There was no thought of health and safety – until the fourth year, when a new headteacher with a soft heart replaced our leather or plastic ball with a sponge one.

It was annoying, but didn’t signal full time. We played on – and any girls trying to get from the middle to the top playground risked a soft ball in the face instead.

It became frustrating on the occasions when you wriggled free of the defensive swarm to bear down on goal, only to tread on the sponge.

The fun came if it rained – conditions that would stop lots of bleeding-heart heads from letting us outside at all these days, in case the water made us wet. A wet, dirty, heavy sponge ball made 
a great projectile to aim at the pitch invaders.

After school and during weekends and holidays the games switched from the playground to the playing field, for Wembley singles and doubles, or heads and volleys.

Ours was probably the last generation to be so single-minded and so often outdoors.

We had three or four TV channels, no games consoles and no social media, so had to settle for the old-fashioned pastimes of human contact and exercise.

All of which begins to explain why I have enormous admiration for the children of Moorlands Primary Academy at Belton, who have been having rather retro kickabouts in the playground before school.

It beats visiting the shop to buy crisps for breakfast, inhaling your mum’s second-hand smoke at the school gate, or getting a lift to the gate and shuffling a few metres into the school – a journey comprising the greatest exertion of the day.

And so, what does the school do? Yes, it bans them from playing during that time.

Citing the cover-all defence of “health and safety”, the school said it could not allow it to continue because there was no insurance outside hours.

By the letter of the law, it’s a good point. And perhaps it’s an understandable reaction during times when parents are so over-protective and keen to apportion blame for accidents.

But what a shame that Moorlands didn’t take a risk and put health ahead of health and safety.

Instead of stopping something, how about encouraging it? Instead of finding a reason not to allow football before the bell rings, why not find a way for it to continue?

However much the dead hand of health and safety settles on the shoulder of the school’s leader, it’s so much better to listen to the little voice that says: “Live on the edge.”

The decision to ban sends such a negative message to children about the importance of exercise. Does public liability risk really hold sway over children building habits that could extend their lives, improve their mental health and head off obesity and diabetes?

Personally, I’d rather my children pick up an injury playing football in the playground than gain weight while sitting safely on their butts.

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