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Eleven Portraits of Football in Sheffield

To Westfield on an unseasonably warm evening in April. We’re here to watch the Sheffield United Community Ladies team. It’s a scene familiar to anyone who’s played football: an expansive school field, multiple games going on; kids riding about on bikes, having kickabouts.

Mark Boot runs the team. He spent years playing and was a fierce competitor, but a few years ago decided to channel his energies into coaching. Mark has coached teams of both sexes, but he doesn’t see it as “boys or girls, just footballers”.

Mark’s commitment to the team is obvious, and it clearly translates to the girls on the pitch. It’s a tense game with tackles flying in, and suddenly it became evident that one of the players is struggling to breathe. “Who’s got Amy’s gasper?” A charge for the kitbag and one of the team brings out an inhaler. Order is restored.

Being a coach brings responsibilities: “you need to be a manager, a tactician and a social worker, you’ve got to build relationships with the players and their parents – if they don’t like you, you’re done for”. Coaching is clearly not an exact science, and it obviously requires emotional as well as footballing intelligence. “It’s important to know what makes the different players tick, some of them need a lot of reassurance whereas others just need clear instructions and the occasional earful!” Mark wants his players to have fun, but “you enjoy the game more when you win”.

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