THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Simon Cotterill wants only the best for his children – and that includes a choice of which country's football team to represent

So, I’ve reached that time of life. I’m starting to think about reproducing. And, already, I’ve started to live my own unfulfilled dreams through my as-yet-unconceived children. Those dreams are football dreams. Now, of course, if my future sons or daughters were to decide they didn’t want to become professional footballers I would still feed, clothe and even love them. But first I, and to a lesser extent my partner, am determined to provide them with every possible opportunity to fulfil my dreams.

Buying them a little ball to kick soon after they start walking, taking them along to games at a young age for inspiration, signing them up to the local kids team on the earliest possible date, while all the time feeding them a balanced diet of nutritious food and football on TV. You might think that as a loving parent this is all you can do. But I’d disagree. There’s much more that can be done.

Firstly, there’s planning the month in which your children are born. September birthdays are not all they’re cracked up to be. Yes, they might lead to your child being among the oldest and strongest in their school team. But this early physical superiority could breed complacency as much as confidence. A glance around the current England squad or the 1966 team reveals no one with a September birthday.

I think August birthdays are best. They create the perfect balance between being the youngest at school, thereby always having something to prove, and still being among the oldest in a Sunday league team. Most youth leagues opt for an August 1 cut-off date rather than the education system’s September 1. August birthdays certainly worked for David James, Joleon Lescott, Wayne Bridge and Glen Johnson: who knows if they could have become pros if they’d been born in another month of the year?

Once you’ve maximised the chances of your kids turning pro, then you need to turn you attention to their chances of international football. Having your children born in your own country of birth is a big no-no, as increasing the number of countries your children can represent at national level is the minimum any parent should do. So you have to look abroad. I’ve always resented my England-born parents for picking Coventry as a birthplace for me. Obviously I didn’t prove good enough to make it as a regular footballer, let alone an international one, but the increased chances that being born in Wales or having a Northern Irish grandmother would have provided might have changed everything.

While newspapers mock them, England managers tell us not to underestimate them and UEFA debate their entry directly into qualifying stages, the players of Liechtenstein, San Marino and the rest of these “lesser” footballing nations have always just made me intensely jealous. Citizenship of a country whose population could fit inside Ewood Park must at least guarantee you a trial for the national side. Compare that to the arduous schoolboys-Under 21s route most take to the English national team and you’ll understand why I was intending to send my partner to Andorra for a little skiing holiday eight months or so into her pregnancy.

However, unfortunately, unlike America, the world’s most common destination for “birth tourism”, I’ve found that neither Andorra nor any other of these small European nations offer jus soli – birthright citizenship. In fact, becoming Sammarinese is virtually impossible – ‘‘Birth and residence, even for centuries and over several generations, do not entitle anyone born of a ‘foreign’ father to San Marino nationality’’ – and citizenship for most of these other European minnows requires at least ten years’ residency. An idea I’m definitely going to struggle to sell to my partner.

Craig Brown recently recalled how his former colleague Tommy Craig had sent his expectant wife back from Newcastle to Scotland so that his son would be “an out and out Scot”. “An example of real patriotism,” to Brown. Well, I’m still intending to take my expectant partner abroad, but have started to look further afield than Europe. Both the Dominican Republic and Pakistan offer jus soli and have suitably low FIFA rankings to suggest my children would have a decent chance of representing their national teams, if they weren’t good enough for England. However, respective populations of about ten and 180 million would obviously not offer particularly favourable odds. The best bet seems to be St Lucia – a population of 160,000, a FIFA ranking of 189 and jus soli. And I imagine the weather in August will be great.

From WSC 274 December 2009

More...