Rocking Day in the Life of… Paul Cooper

Director of the National Children’s Football Alliance and Martin Mucklowe in the BAFTA-winning ‘This Country’ in which he stars alongside his son Charlie and daughter Daisy May.

So Paul, putting your stardom in This Country to one side for the moment how did you get involved with the National Children’s Football Alliance and what is it all about?

I coached a team Charlie was in from U6s to U18s (Cirencester Town Juniors) and although great fun I was concerned that the children’s game I knew from my childhood was now controlled by adults and I felt it had moved too far away from children’s play.

I began a campaign along with Rick Fenoglio from Manchester Metropolitan University called Give Us Back Our Game (GUBOG) in 2007 which was the antidote to the ‘adultification’ of the children’s game. We had unprecedented media coverage including all the major papers, BBC1 news, Channel 4 news, Sky sports and many others.

GUBOG was a campaign so was never going to last. A documentary maker called Ernie Brennan had followed the GUBOG campaign and started the National Children’s Football Alliance with a view to giving it strong roots and longevity. Ernie asked me to join and I have been there for 10 years.

The NCFA looks to protect football through football for fun. We have three core projects; The Global Peace Games, The Peace Fields Project and FREE v FREE (The children’s football week). The first two projects are based around the Flanders Peace Field in Messines, Belgium by the site of the Christmas Truce Game in 1914 between the German and Allied soldiers. If you can play a game of football with your enemy during a world war anything is possible.

What are the real benefits for children playing football?  Do you find that it’s being encouraged more or less than a few decades ago when kids seemed to play outside a lot more?

Exercise, making friends and building confidence. The football I played when I was a child was the same football that Sir Bobby Charlton talked about when he said of England’s only ever Wold Cup trophy. “The World Cup in 66 was not won on the playing fields of England but on the streets.” This was a game organised, controlled and payed by children.

Do you work with any schools and colleges in particular?

We work with Schools and organisations from all over the world and in every continent.

If children are daunted by playing football or are worried that they’ll be laughed at for being no good, what advice would the NCFA give?

Find a club or organisation that fits you. Find out what their philosophy is and that it matches what you want. Also sometimes football can be a bridge to getting involved in a different sport.

Interestingly it’s been suggested that kids really enjoy football when adults are removed from the game i.e. as referees – how does that work with little kids?

Because kids just want to get on with the game so they come up with a very quick decision or compromise when there is a disagreement. There is no adult agenda and they can get on with being children. Also there are no substitutes in the children’s game.

What’s been the best day for you so far with your involvement with the NCFA?

The whole of last week at the Global Peace Games. This is something we have got funding for over the last 3 years. We took 60 mixed ability, mixed gender 14-16 years olds to Messines, Belgium for a week.

We had 20 children from Belfast, half Protestants and half Catholics. 20 children from Italy and 20 refugee children form 16 different countries including; Iraq, Afghanistan, Cameroon, and Vietnam.

They played football, cricket, touch rugby, baseball, hand ball, went on cycle rides, museum visits, night time war walks, trips to war cemeteries, took part in various work shops as well as the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate, Ypres. It was an amazing week and the children mixed superbly and went away as ambassadors for peace. It will be a life changing evet for many of those that took part.

You support Fulham FC – we’re being nosey of course but how did a man from the Cotswolds end up doing that?

Charlie wanted to watch them and we just fell in love with the ground, the atmosphere and the club. Nothing to beat Craven Cottage on the banks of the Thames.

Paul at Craven Cottage with Charlie, Tom the director, Simon the producer and Matt the 1st AD of This Country

What inspires you about living in the Cotswolds?  

The people. I used to work in sales and lived in Berkshire. I was asked to cover the South West and used to visit Cirencester. When it came to move into the area with the job I could have gone anywhere but always found Cirencester the most friendly.

Where would you suggest someone visiting the Cotswolds for the first time should go?

I think you get it all in Cirencester so start there as your base and then visit some of the wonderful villages that surround the town.

When you’re not working with the NCFA or on set for This Country what do you like to do?

Spending time with my granddaughter Pip. She has brought so much joy into our lives.

Last but not least – when will mean Martin Mucklowe be back on our screens?

Hopefully later this year.

To find out more about the National Children’s Football Alliance:

To support the campaign please see the upcoming sponsored cycle ride that Paul’s taking part in from Canterbury to Ypres

BBC’s This Country is available on iplayer and a one off special edisode will be shown on Weds 10th October.

If you can’t wait until then, or for series three coming out in 2019, then click here to take a look at these extra scenes from series two….warning though there’s the usual effing and jeffing…