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02 April 2021

Jamie Redknapp: The return of grassroots sport is so important for kids

02 April 2021

The lockdown ban on children playing outdoor grassroots sport has finally eased – and no-one could be more pleased than former England and Liverpool footballer Jamie Redknapp who’s desperate for his two sporty sons to get back to playing the games they love.

Not only will Redknapp’s younger son Beau, aged 12, be able to play for Chelsea FC Academy again, and elder son Charley, 16, play rugby for his college and possibly his county, Surrey, again, but even their dad is getting in on the act, coaching young children at Fun Football Sessions.

“For grassroots sport to be starting again is so important for everybody,” says Redknapp, 47.

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“It’s been such a tough time for kids, not being able to get exercise, not being able to get those endorphins and do all the things teenagers and young kids should be doing. Just getting kids out and about and exercising is so important because they’ve been stuck indoors.

“There’s been times when you can see they’re climbing the walls and they want to be out doing stuff with their mates, but they haven’t been able to. So this isn’t just good from a sports point of view, it’s also good for their health and making sure they’re out and getting the exercise they need.”

Redknapp joined former England women’s footballer Alex Scott on the day lockdown restrictions eased to help coach a group of children, aged five to 10, taking part in a McDonald’s Fun Football Session. The free programme, which is in partnership with the four UK Football Associations, was postponed when lockdown began but is now resuming at more than 600 locations across the UK, under the guidance of FA-accredited coaches.

Jamie Redknapp & Alex Scott running with children on a football pitch (Matt Crossick/PA))

“It’s what I love, being out on the grass playing football with the kids,” says Redknapp. “When my 12-year-old goes training, and when my 16-year-old plays rugby, I can’t wait to be out there with them and watching them. As parents, we look forward to it. I enjoy watching my sons play football and rugby as much as a Premier League game – it brings you this great buzz of pride, you just want them to do so well.

“And I think I’m speaking for a lot of parents when I say this, we’ve missed that, not just from the kids’ point of view but from ours. It’s going to be good fun!”

And it’ll be way more fun than home schooling, which Redknapp didn’t enjoy at all – so much so that he jokes about the day kids returned to school: “They were meant to be in at 8 o’clock – I got them there at 5!

“I found home schooling really tough, I’m not going to lie – but I think I speak for every parent that certainly I’ve spoken to about it. I’ve questioned myself as a parent more than ever because you have to do the right things from an educational point of view. I didn’t like school myself, let alone having to home school someone! So it’s been tough, but my kids have got on with it and the schools they go to have done a really good job.

“It’s been hard – you question yourself as a parent – are they getting enough exercise, are they getting enough academic work done? When they’re meant to be doing a class and you walk in the room and they’re on their phone, what are you meant to do? Obviously you don’t want to keep on having a go at them, you’ve got to try and find that balance of it being fun but also making sure they work hard.

“I’ve not enjoyed home schooling, put it that way.”

Redknapp, who shares parenting Beau and Charley with his ex-wife, the singer Louise, who he split up with in 2017, hopes his kids took on board his home schooling more than they do his football advice. Because, as any football parent will tell you, mums and dads know nothing about the sport – even if they’ve played for their country, it seems.

“I try not to push them too much, but as a dad you can’t help it sometimes,” Redknapp admits. “I do notice Beau will listen more to the coaches at Chelsea or to anybody else rather than his dad. But that’s all right, I can take that. As long as he goes out and tries his best and enjoys it, that’s all I ask for really.”

And while Charley plays a bit of football, “I think I put him off it,” laughs Redknapp. “I used to show him videos and show him what he should be doing etc, and he decided rugby was more his calling. He’s a super-talented player – a centre and a bit of a powerhouse. He’s a lot braver than I was, and I’m really proud of him – it’s his sport, he owns it, and he gets a lot of enjoyment out of that, and I get so much enjoyment out of watching him play.”

And whether either of his boys make it in their chosen sport is down to them, he stresses. “I think you have to guide them a little bit, but it all boils down to them. You can’t make someone a footballer, otherwise we’d have footballers’ sons playing throughout every league in the world. In my family we’re very lucky that it’s happened not just to me but to Frank Lampard [Redknapp’s cousin] with Frank Lampard Senior – we’re pretty unique in that respect.

“It’s got to come from within – it certainly won’t be me that makes Beau a footballer, it will be himself, he’s got to have the heart and the desire. But even if he doesn’t make it, just to be out, being active, playing sport with your friends is the most rewarding thing, and keeps them out of a lot of trouble, keeps them fit. The longer they can stay playing sport is so important for their wellbeing.”

Redknapp retired from football at the age of 31, after playing for clubs including Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton and Bournemouth. But the beautiful game is still a major part of his life, as he works as a TV sports pundit as well as being a team captain on Sky’s sport-based panel game show A League of Their Own. But actually playing football isn’t so easy now, because of a bad knee from his playing days.

“I can kick a ball about, but not to the extent that I’d like to,” he says. “Every now and again I’ll play a little five-a-side with my mates, but very rarely because I’ve had countless operations on my knee.

“But I’m addicted to football, it’s my passion, so if there’s a ball put out anywhere I’ll have a kick about with the kids. I do miss it.”

But what about coaching and playing with kids at the Fun Football Session – will he be careful?

“Oh no, I’m going full-blown – two-footed tackles, the lot!” he jokes. “Nah, not really, it’ll be fun, it’ll just be nice to show them things.  I love to watch kids do the skills – that’s one of the things you’ve got to encourage.

“We’re not going to make every young kid a professional footballer, but just being out there and moving and getting yourself active is so important.”

 Find your local Fun Football centre at mcdonalds.co.uk/funfootball

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