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They turned up in numbers as Street Football programme makes debut

Gibraltar FA and Youth Service officials were left in awe as they watched over 100 children turn up for the first Street Football session at the Dolphin Youth Club on Thursday evening.
With more than half an hour before the start time, Gibraltar FA coaches were already handling some 40 early arrivals. As the 7pm start time approached, queues formed at both gates of the Dolphin Youth Club in the south district, with officials hurriedly taking down the names of all participating children.
Mark Zammit, head of Gibraltar’s Youth Services, expressed his delight at the turnout, although admitting it had not been expected. “We didn’t think we would get so many, maybe today it’s too many,” he quietly expressed as he monitored the early moments of the sessions.
However, as the programme progressed, even with the large numbers making it difficult for the twenty-plus Gibraltar FA coaches and personnel present to manage the sessions, what initially looked like mayhem turned out to be a well-managed, well-organized event with the feel of street football.
Groups were split into age categories, and the limited space was used in the best possible ways. Not only were fun skills events seen taking place, but the organizers also managed to set up four small pitches simultaneously within a small five-a-side pitch, with children playing two v two or, for the older ones, three v three games. Where goalposts were limited, dustbins soon became goals.
With no whistles, no real referees, no lines demarcating the play areas, and few rules, quick two-minute matches ensued, with rolling teams giving everyone a chance to play.
Two hours of fun football saw few, if any, fouls, much cheering, shouting, smiling, and very focused young minds enjoying the game.
For the many parents who stayed to watch, filling the perimeter areas around the clubhouse and playground, there were many moments of reminiscing about the past. The sight of seeing street football returning, even in this organized manner, brought smiles. Many locations where they played in the past were recalled, from the “Patio Policia” to Tankerville, from La Marmela to the beach, to the Patio de la Iglesia, the NOP, and as Mark Zammit recalled, the luxury of getting to play some days at Hargraves.
“We had no goalposts, nor markings. If we couldn’t play in the playground, we would play in the street and put down our shirts as goalposts,” recalled some of the older parents.
The programme also highlighted one of the many differences Gibraltar football has seen as it enters its first decade of professional football. The appearance of Tjay De Barr brought about a rush of young children crowding around the international player, calling out “me, me, me” as they all wanted to play with him.
Tjay, who played his early football at the playgrounds of “El Castillo,” where he learned many of the skills that have made him one of the “superstars” of Gibraltar football, did not disappoint. Although training for Lincoln Red Imps’ Champions League first-round matches next week, the young star played a few rounds of matches with different partners. Many were starstruck by his presence, but the quick fist bumps and high fives quickly restored the streetwise nature of the event. Tjay then demonstrated how even in small spaces, you could turn on the skills, inspiring some of the youngsters to take on the challenge and try to beat him.
The Street Football programme will now assess how the first day went, with changes expected for forthcoming sessions. Among the many ideas already proposed is the possibility of offering different sessions for different age groups to reduce numbers. The programme is also expected to be extended across other youth clubs and playgrounds in Gibraltar.

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