I played Saturday soccer in the morning for a local team in Leigh-on-Sea and rugby in the afternoon for my school - Westcliff County High School - from the ages of 11 to 16. I loved soccer and like many youngsters thought I was good enough to make it professionally.
The trouble was I was also reasonably good at rugby, playing first for Essex and then Eastern Counties U15s. At South Benfleet primary school I had played soccer when only nine years old for SE Essex but when my family moved to Leigh-on-Sea there was no "Southend" U11 side.
When we moved again - this time to Colchester - I found a different experience at rugby and was soon having trials for England. My love for soccer has never diminished and I have followed the ups and down of Charlton Athletic since I was eight and am still a tiny shareholder. I was fortunate enough to be invited to two board room lunches recently v Leyton Orient and v Hartlepool. Charlton has a huge reservoir of support in South London, Kent and parts of Essex. We're also still involved in South Africa and if we had deeper pockets I'm sure we'd be in India and China.
Watching Barcelona destroy Manchester United was on the one hand exhilarating but on the other it was also sad. It was sad because I have watched the decline in skills at every level in soccer. Jack, my son, played club soccer from the ages of 8 till 13; he played and played and played. Not once was he filmed, nor was he given advice on diet or skills practice which could be done at home; true he went to weekly floodlit training sessions but in the end inevitably there was a game involved.
I don't really care if the FA tells the world it has the best schools coaching system in the world and I care less that anyone out there should believe it. The facts are there to be seen not just at Us but also in the senior professional game: whatever it is the FA is teaching is about the past not the present and certainly not the future. Only Arsenal has come close to matching Barcelona (largely with non UK players) but their side has lacked consistency. British players - whether professional or amateur - play too much dross. There's too many professional games for really good players. Worse the short-termism of boards and supporters means that despite the large investments in Academies, the recession and the pressure imposed by the Premier League, means they have largely disappeared.
I've been a fan of Sir Alex Ferguson throughout his managerial career; what he has achieved at United has been sensational but when you see how his side was dismantled for a second time in three years to Barcelona you know he has to find Alex Ferguson 2.0, aged in his late 20s, as his replacement. And that appointment needs to be made before any more players are bought by him.
We need to persuade the Government and the Football Foundation to impose a new set of rules about what they invest in. We need to start with creating Academies linked to both professional clubs and the school Academies. A tsunami of new thinking needs to be in place before the year is out because we know it won't come from FIFA, the FA or the Premier League.