But they are not in the game; not yet anyway.
They are behind a wall, a Victorian red brick wall with "Real Calton Tongs" scrawled on it, half-watching as younger teenagers kick a ball around.
It's the back of six on a filthy wet Thursday night and some youth workers, the shock troops of Glasgow's smart war on gang culture, are trying to get a football match going.
The older boys have been firing rockets – horizontally, shooting them like guns as they laugh and duck the flames in the shadow of boarded-up St James' Primary.
Now one of the youth workers wants them to join in. She starts to explain that some of the kids are "on the matrix" – offenders known to the police – when she flinches like a TV war reporter too close to shelling.
A firework has exploded behind the wall, sending a pall of grey rising into the twilight.
Seconds later there is a police patrol car, slowed to walking pace, on nearby Stevenson Street.
The older boys scatter on to the pitch where the kickabout has started and one effortlessly tackles a small lad and runs away with the ball. "Now we're playing football," he says, as he tears off towards the goal.
"The polis have their uses," says Johanne Miller, the youth worker, who is startled, like everyone on the pitch, by the fireworks. "One of them is here, in civvies, playing with the boys."
This is the front line, this is the sharp end of youth work.
Ms Miller, who is from Glasgow Community Safety Services, and her colleagues from charities Aberlour and Urban Fox, are trying to reach and rescue some of the most troubled and troubling young men in Scotland.
The logic is simple: if the boys are playing football, they are not fighting; if they are playing football, they are safe; if they are playing football, they can engage with adults, they can find a way out of their lives.
GCSS, which is funded by the police and Glasgow City Council, has been trying to run football on the semi- derelict pitch of St James' Primary since the summer. It has not been easy.
Ms Miller and her team have tried to arrange evening football sessions in this neighbourhood, Calton, before.
"We were chased away," explains Ms Miller. "There were young people – and certain families – who made it clear we were not allowed in the area. They threatened staff.
"Over the years and over the city our staff have been chased with bottles, shown knives."
They have been back in Calton since the summer after careful negotiation with the community, a neighbourhood as sick of anybody else of gang trouble.
Ms Miller adds: "Our aim is a 5% reduction in anti-social behaviour in the areas where we deploy.
"For us, and for the youth workers, success comes in giving the young people a positive relationship with adults and helping them set up boundaries and grow in confidence.
"I know we see these things in funding bids and people think it is just jargon. But, above all, we are creating a safe place for them to go.
"Although crime is down, territorialism is still very much in the forefront of their minds.
"Take Calton: for most of us this is just a few streets, but to these boys, it is their world, their wee micro world and they don't go out of it an awful lot. It is a small place to be with not a lot of things to do."
It is too soon to say exactly what the impact of the early work in Calton is.
Youth workers – often standing quietly by the football trying to look like street furniture, measure success slowly. For weeks they didn't know the names of any of the Calton boys. Now they know them. That is progress, they say.
Yvonne Kucuk, the local Labour councillor watching the football from under an umbrella, is convinced they are doing good.
"The pensioners are saying it is getting quieter," she says. "They say their time has gone, but they want something for these kids, because they are not bad boys; they are silly boys; and they need a chance."
Then, referring to the funding planned for Calton and The Barras ahead of and during the Commonwealth Games in Dalmarnock, she says: "There is a tsunami coming here soon.
"We need to make sure boys like these are top of the queue for the jobs and opportunities that are on their way. There is hope. There is hope.
"It is not just GCSS here," Mrs Kucuk stresses as she points at a twenty-something in a coolie hat, her nephew Robert Kennedy, one of the Urban Fox workers.
"He's born and bred here. This is Calton helping Calton, no tiaraheids coming in from outside."
OVER in Govanhill Park, meanwhile, Kyle Cairns is clear why he is there every night.
"Because it is safe," the 18-year-old says as he takes a break from another kickabout organised by GCSS and its partners.
"I stay every day until the lights go out at ten past ten. I want to stay away from trouble.
"Govanhill is the most violent place in Glasgow, it was in the paper (a reference to one of the main findings of last year's Crime On Your Street series). "But trouble comes and goes."
GCSS and several other groups have been in Govanhill for two years. The atmosphere here is very different to Calton. Boys are relaxed and having fun and there are no fireworks.
Govanhill is still troubled. But it is no longer Glasgow's toughest beat. Kyle, who is unemployed, admits it is not typical of Glasgow, or perfect.
"There is probably more trouble round here, But we are not all neds and I wish people would stop saying we all are just because some are."