My view – Bring back goal difference for youth football tournaments

In the first of a new series where you lead the debate on key issues in grassroots sport, football coach Rob Andre tells us why he thinks ignoring goal difference at youth football tournaments is unfair. Do you agree? 

Goal difference needs to be reintroduced at youth level. Children understand it and it is part of football.

I had a extremely unpleasant situation this month where my under-11s team – Blandford United Beechwood, playing in the Dorset Youth Cup – were left broken-hearted and now feel a real injustice towards the governing body, which can’t be right.

We were playing in a Champions League-style format where the top two teams in a group went through to the quarter finals. At the end of the group stage, three teams were all on the same points. My team had a +15 goal difference and the second- and third-placed team both had +6.

But because goal difference is deemed unfair, the three managers had to draw lots.

So we all picked an envelope – if the number inside was ‘1’ or ‘2’ then your team were through to the quarter finals.

I picked ‘3’, so my team was out. This was unfair on the children, as they had no control over this and it was not reflective if what they did on the football pitch.

Having to explain to children that, whilst they did everything so well in their games, I had let them down by picking the wrong envelope, they were so upset and to look at their faces and tell them was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I never want any child or manager to go through that again.

They understand goal difference and some of them based maths homework on points and our goal difference scenarios.

They feel completely let down and are disillusioned with the rules and the system. They all said: “football is about what we do on the pitch and goals, how can they tell us we were out by picking an envelope?” It is not fair.

Luckily I have good, honest and grounded boys in my team, who are now defiant and want to achieve even more. But they feel very let down by a very unfair system. I know the association do not like the word “cheated” but my children all used that word. That is how they see it.

They have been cheated by the system out of a competition – and competitive football is rare for them at under-11s – by an act that does not reflect football as they understand it.

For these situations goal difference needs to be reintroduced, as no child should be told they are out of a cup by the picking of lots. It is unfair on them and unfair on us coaches who put our heart, soul and time into our young teams.

Have your say – give us your view!

Do you agree with Rob that goal difference should be scrapped in tournaments such as this? Or do you think the ‘no goal difference’ policy is a good idea? We want to hear from you, so have your say in the comments section below.

If you have a strong opinion that you’d like to voice on anything in grassroots sport, or there’s a topic that you’d like to put up for debate, email us at [email protected] and you could be the next person to feature here on ‘My view’.

Rob Andre
Youth Team Coach at Blandford United
Rob is the coach of Blandford United Under-11s Beechwood, who he has managed since they were under-8s. He holds the FA Level One & Youth Module One coaching qualifications, whilst he is about to complete his FA Level Two.


  1. E M Hall on March 28, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    Absolutely not
    The rules were clear I assume – so the other teams may well have rotated players rather than go for ‘massive’ scorelines. The ‘no goal difference’ rule is one of the best changes introduced by The FA. It stops teams chasing massive scorelines and humiliating other teams – and in turn hopefully less players/clubs drop out of the system. This guy is too self absorbed, and thinks everyone plays and thinks like him, we don’t.
    Whilst it may have been better to have a football soln – penalties or short 3 way play off – his team did not do more than the other 2 teams to justify going through automatically. I can only surmise that this situation was not presented fairly to the children involved as they were certainly not ‘cheated’ by anyone.

    • Rob Andre on March 29, 2017 at 12:49 pm

      In reflection I do agree with you, I was just wondering if there was a fairer way to decide who goes through.

      For your information, please don’t judge what I say as a person who is all about winning. My team have been together since under 8’s and for the first 18 months we lost every match, mostly by a score of 10 or more goals. But my philosophy was always about how we play rather than winning matches.

      This season we have lost by big margins – the weekend before this we lost 15-0. So my argument is, does this rule make a difference anyway? All I would say is that my boys have been on the losing end more often than not. So for them to achieve something would have been great.

      But we have recently been beaten by big margins and this has happened since we have been together. I personally don’t like winning by large margins, however I do feel there should be a good alternative that is reflective of the teams achievements. Maybe I am wrong, but all I am saying is that my boys didn’t understand the process.

      All I wanted to do was get some opinions and see if we could discover another solution for future teams. For you to accuse me personally of being “self absorbed” is in no way lending to my question. You have judged me on a small piece where I have opened up a debate. For your information Mr EM Hall, I am very absorbed into my team, as I have seen them go through hard times and they have suck by me and the team when we were focusing on development above winning. So your accusation is misguided and completely wrong.

      I take your argument into consideration, but you don’t need to make it personal.

      What I am asking is… Is there a way we can get around this which is fairer on the children and more reflective of what they do.

      I completely agree about managers who go all out to beat teams by massive score lines. My teams have suffered from them. But in all fairness to those managers they did try to move players around to stop the goals, in the same way I do if my team is winning by a good margin. But it is very hard to stop a child wanting to score a goal.

      I thank you for your feedback, but I would suggest you make no such judgements on a person from a small article! You know nothing about me or my team. All I ask is can we make this easier on children?

  2. Raining in Panama on March 29, 2017 at 5:58 pm

    A good alternate decider to goal differential is to decide based on fewest goals against. Which can essentially award a strong defense. Would your team have gone forward in that scenario? I do agree selecting an envelope and having a random decision is a bummer. But eliminating goal differential is smart. Teams running scores up against weaker teams for the sake of their goal differential makes for humiliating experiences and skirts sportsmanship.

    • Rob Andre on March 29, 2017 at 8:26 pm

      I like that idea. Very smart alternative and it would indeed stop managers wanting to score loads of goals. It also rewards the so called “unglamorous” side of the game.

      I think you have found a really credible answer.

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