Neighbor Ordered to Return Kids’ Soccer Balls or Risk Being Charged With Theft

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The Sandlot is a brilliant coming-of-age movie in which a bunch of kids lose a ball over a neighbor’s fence, and their increasingly absurd attempts to get it back, before it turns out the neighbor is totally nice and would just have given the ball back if they’d asked. My heart is warmed just thinking about it. Unfortunately, a similar situation is brewing in the U.K., except it’s not heartwarming at all and everybody involved is jerks and now the police have told the old lady next door to give back all the soccer balls that have been kicked over her fence or be charged with theft.

According to The Telegraph, 73-year-old grandmother Penny Freeman, in Yorkshire, has a bunch of soccer balls in her shed, because the kids next door have accidentally kicked them over her fence while they were playing. At this point she has 10 soccer balls in her shed. Eventually–sick of buying new soccer balls–the kids’ mother called the police.

A five-foot brick wall separates her yard from the neighbors’, and she says the kids are constantly kicking balls over it and accidentally smashing her plants and garden ornaments. Now, Freeman says that the kids never actually came over to ask for their balls back, and says she’s been keeping them in the shed and would give them back if the kids had bothered to come ring her doorbell and ask for them–she seems to be assuming this would come with an apology. The kids never showed up to ask for them, though, but the mother sent the police over to get them back.

Freeman is very pissed off about the balls coming into her yard and crushing her plants.

Plants are expensive and a lot of work, and it’s understandable that an avid gardener would be upset about her plants being crushed by careless soccer balls. And she told police that she had started keeping the balls because she “wanted the children to learn consequences.” Freeman says she was hanging onto the balls because she assumed the children would come and apologize and ask for them back, but they never did. So she just kept them.

The kids’ mother says the 11- and 6-year-old are afraid of the mean old lady next door, who has been angry with them for smashing plants with soccer balls before. She wants Freeman to just toss the balls back over the fence when they come in. She says even she is afraid of the “rude” lady next door and that she won’t send her kids over to ask for their balls back.

Normally I side with not yelling about playing children, but that mom sounds like she is being an entitled, irresponsible jerk. If the neighbor has complained about the kids kicking balls into her yard and smashing her plants, the mom should be doing something to stop it. A few times is an understandable mistake that a reasonable neighbor ought to forgive, but Penny Freeman says she has 10 soccer balls in her shed. That’s more than a casual mistake, that’s a pattern of not giving a shit about smashing your neighbor’s plants.

The kids’ mom needs to stop buying them new soccer balls and make them pay more attention to not kicking balls into the neighbor’s yard.

Maybe not having soccer privileges would teach them to keep their balls under control.

The real losers in this situation are the Yorkshire police, though, because they had to come out to attempt to settle a dispute between Freeman and her neighbor, which does not seem to have mended relations at all. Freeman has asked if this means she can call the police every time a ball comes over, because apparently getting police involved is a thing they’re doing now.

The police say they offered some advice to mediate the dispute before it escalated further, and that includes having Freeman give back all the balls lest her neighbor get it into her head to have her charged with theft. Hopefully it also included some advice on how to keep the kids from kicking their now giant collection of soccer balls back over the wall.