Multi Use Games Areas (MUGAs) have started springing up all over our local parks in recent years. You’ve probably seen versions of them near you too. They’re the enclosed playgrounds with high (normally steel mesh) surrounding walls, with goals and basketball nets at each end. This is a typical example :
They’re great facilities and provide a safe, all-weather area for playing football, basketball, hockey and a variety of other ball sports. It got me to thinking though of the equivalent ‘facilities’ that we had as kids growing up. My nearest equivalent to a MUGA was the underpass that provided a safe route for getting across the main road around the estate where I lived on the east of Cardiff. I went back there this afternoon to see if it was how I remembered. Initially, arriving on the road above the old underpass I was surprised to see a zebra crossing in place, and I was afraid that the old underpass may have been filled in (a number of other underpasses in east Cardiff have been decommissioned over the years because of complaints from local residents about noise and anti-social behaviour from youths attracted to the well-lit and dry spaces). Fortunately, my worries were unfounded and the underpass was still there :
This was an iconic space for me as a youngster growing up in Llanedeyrn, Cardiff in the 1970s and 80s. It was the scene of epic 1v1 and 2v2 football games, with the goals marked by the kerb stones alongside the path at either end; the side walls were brilliant for games of Spot On and Killer (two outfield players and a goalie, and goals only to be scored through volleys – headers counted double – if you shot and missed, or the goalie made three consecutive saves, then players switched around); and in the summer months, it became a cricket net, with wickets at the end nearest the camera in the picture above and bowlers generating significant speed by running down the hill from the far end!
The beauty of the underpass as a sports arena was that it was ‘all-weather’ – there was no ‘rain stop play’ under the cover; and it was floodlit (originally – although sadly now removed – there was lighting in the corner between the walls and roof along the full length of both sides of the underpass). The other recent innovation is the introduction of the pointy cobbles on each side of the underpass (as shown in the picture below). In my day, these areas were flat and allowed the full space beneath the road to be used for games.
Playing small-sided games in confined spaces was a great way of developing our ball skills, co-ordination and reflexes, way before the concept of ‘conditioned games’ and mini football became the well-known and widespread methods of football coaching that they are today. Even better, though, our play was not dependent on adult coaches or formal supervision. We would spend hours playing in the underpass or on the school field adjacent, before graduating at a later stage to the redgra five-a-side pitches, tennis courts and grass football pitches WITH NETS that were accessible by climbing over the fence from Springwood into the Cyncoed campus of what was then Cardiff College of Education (and is now part of Cardiff Metropolitan University).
The underpass was also an international boundary, marking the cut-off point for representative games between Hillrise, Springwood & Glenwood (the estates on the far side of the road), and Pennsylvania & Bryn Fedw (on the near side). These were major sporting events and the kudos of winning (whether it was football, cricket or baseball*) was huge. Matches would last for hours and would often finish only when the light eventually failed, or when so many players had been hauled away by parents for tea that the contest became untenable.
They were great days; and they engendered a love of sport and competition in many of us that continues to this day. We may not have had the cleverly designed goals and steel mesh boundary walls, but our MUGAs were at least as good as the ones that kids get to use today