Archive for August, 2012

It is tradition for my group of friends and I to go camping at least once a year, and in doing so we’ve been all over Scotland. From Glencoe to Selkirk and from Bannockburn to Fort William, we’ve seen some of the country’s most celebrated scenes and settings. Our camping expeditions have led us to some of Scotland’s most spectacular places – a far cry from the bland grey of our hometown of East Kilbride. That said, being a bunch of townies, our trips have often left us with many beer and whiskey induced sore heads. This however, is part of the appeal, as the amazing male-bonding qualities that a nice whiskey can induce are somewhat heightened by the great Scottish outdoors.
On this particular trip, amidst the throbbing headaches and late nights, I was led to a new memorable peak I wasn’t expecting at the outset – the top of a Munro.Beinglas Farm

With the agreed date of our July 2012 camping trip rapidly approaching, a quick scour of the internet led us to the website of a campsite in Inverarnan called Beinglas Farm. The campsite is two miles north from the top of Loch Lomond on the West Highland Way, and sits beneath the Grey Mares Tail surrounded by an abundance of mountains, waterfalls and wildlife. It sounded great. Game on!

The small village of Inverarnan is a place where the outdoors and people go hand-in-hand. It’s probably best known as a varied section on the West Highland Way full of farmland, forestry and riverside paths where the views of cloud caressed mountains are amazing.
Inverarnan more or less consists of Beinglas Farm and the famous Drovers Inn, which is said to have been a favourite watering hole of Rob Roy. The Drovers Inn itself resonated for me as a recent dip into my family history revealed some family ties to the building. So we hopped into the car in East Kilbride and set off towards the A82 to wind our way round Loch Lomond for Inverarnan.

Before we continue, some introductions are in order. Four of us embarked on this adventure – Ross, Chris, Scott and myself. Three of us had just recently crept over the finish line of our twenties and the other, Scott, was a relatively young pup at twenty five. I’ve known Ross since I was seven years old and we’ve always been close friends. We share a strong love of adventure and are certainly fond of explorative trips to the more remote regions of our country. Ross went to a different high school from me and it was there that he met Chris. Chris and I were introduced through Ross while Scott, Chris’ younger brother, came into the fold through sibling camaraderie. The two brothers, like myself and Ross, always fancied themselves as modern day pseudo Scottish explorers. We all arrived in Inverarnan in pretty decent physical condition and none of us were strangers to hard work. This trip to Inverarnan was the first time Scott had joined us for a camping experience and we had the misfortune to endure his driving. To be kind, I’ll say it was a high-speed stomach-churning eye-watering pant-filling rollercoaster of a journey where a sick bag would have come in use more than it would in an old Spitfire. Still, in fairness to Scott, he did get us to our destination more or less in one piece.

Beinglas farm is accessed via a delicate wooden bridge just off the A82 near the Drovers Inn. Located amidst magnificent mountain scenery 35 miles along the famous ‘West Highland Way’ and just 2 miles north of Loch Lomond, it looked like some kind of hippie commune when we approached as the sight of wigwams and a giant white tepee dominated the campsite. An elderly couple wearing floating decorate floral outfits were lurking around the campsite’s fauna and a small group of blonde curly haired children were doing laps around an old semi-collapsed wall. We decided to pick our spot, pitch our tents and then head straight to the bar to pay for our stay and partake in an evening of light refreshments. Stage one of this mini-operation revealed that the majority of Beinglas Farm is made up of boggy land. Most of the campsite was taken up by a huge semi-circle of scout tents filling half the site, the tepee also dominated a considerable amount of space and then there were various other angular tents dotted around sporadically. We wanted to distance ourselves as far as possible from the rest of the campers as we could tell that the majority of the site was made up of families and respectable travellers void of the knowledge that our trips had a tendency to veer towards the rowdy side. Ten years prior to this, on one bleary night in Glencoe, we had taken to burning our own clothes on the campfire while dancing around it as if making some sort of offering to the God of H&M. Then a couple of years later there was another fiery incident in Girvan when a gas canister exploded. It was obvious to us, as always, that the more distance between us and the other campers the better for everyone to have an agreeable camping experience.

Old Faithful

We went squelching around a corner of the campsite before choosing a spot near the far edge of the farm. I set about pitching my tent, ‘Old Faithful’, a tent I had had since the age of ten years old. Old Faithful has travelled all over the UK and has seen many a monumental camping experience. In fact, the day before we set off for Beinglas Farm, I had the stark realisation that Old Faithful was older than the eighteen year old girl I sat next to in work. Still, my tent was named Old Faithful for a reason and this was a fact I frequently informed my fellow campers on each camping experience. Working my magic on the wet grass of Beinglas, I mocked Chris’ new tent for its lack of class, and deservedly so as it was a purple monstrosity of a tent. Ross’ tent was abused for being lop-sided and poorly constructed, while we combined to laugh at Scott’s tent, which would be better served as a cheap child’s play tent. It is fair to say that the banter was well in its stride.

Pitching a tent in Loch Lomond during the summer months can be a difficult thing to do. On this occasion we struggled against the wet boggy ground and the gathering midge swarms that had taken to blackening our faces. We spent a tough twenty minutes or so just building our tents to a satisfactory level. Mine was by far the best, obviously.
Beinglas Farm sports a nice pub next to the campsite. Campers pay for their pitch at the bar and we did so while ordering a splendid round of well-earned perfectly sculpted pints of the finest foaming ale on offer in Inverarnan. The pub was full of those who enjoy the great outdoors; walkers, campers, cyclists, holidaymakers and day-trippers alike. It was positively buzzing with life. Before long we were borderline smashed and had made friends with a group of Belgian guys halfway through their journey up the West Highland Way, with whom we discussed topics ranging from International football to Swiss Drum and Bass. It was what camping is all about – a meeting of cultures in spectacular environments. The night was long and blurry.

Waking in a stuffy midge-infested tent with a banging headache is never a good thing. It was just after 8am when I crawled out of my tent and into a dark cloud of midges. I was met by the deathly faces of my friends and we quickly decided to make a dash for Beinglas’ onsite facilities. Before long we were back in the pub for breakfast but not even the morning glory of a ‘Breakfast in a Roll’ could dull the pain and sagging drag of my hangover. It’s a bad sign when all manner of sausages, bacon and potato scones can’t even dent the damage of a night before. It was a sure sorry state to be sat in.

Nonetheless, we were there to explore the countryside and from the moment we arrived on site we’d eyed the large hill overlooking the campsite as a certainty for a morning climb. Beinglas Farm Campsite sits below the Ben Glas Hill, from which it takes name, and the Grey Mares Tail Waterfall. The camp offers fine views from all parts of the site. The climb to the top of our targeted hill started at the rear of the Beinglas campsite on a thin zig-zagging stone path up the steep side of the hill. We tore up the path at a ridiculous pace. At first we made ground with rapid ease, so much so that we even began to get a little cocky about it. Then the steep slope with its sliding stones underfoot began to take its toll. The hangovers we each suffered weren’t helping much either. Eventually we made our first stop by the waterfall where a pool of water gathers invitingly. It is said that a wee dip in the ice cold water has cured many a hangover and legend has it that even the great Rob Roy shook off the excesses of the night before at the falls. The thought of it was appealing, and even considered briefly, before any chance of us giving it a bash was forgotten when we were greeted by three climbers making their way up the hill at our rear.
One glimpse of the three men, who were kitted out with clothing and equipment we knew nothing about, instantly made us feel inadequate. There we were –  four aching hungover guys from East Kilbride climbing a hill wearing jeans, hoodies and the cheapest walking boots we could each lay our hands on. We didn’t have a days climbing experience between us. “Are you heading up to the top?” One of the men chirped in a pleasant Yorkshire accent. Too right we were. We let the three men shoot off ahead, partly because we were each catching our breath and partly because we didn’t want to show ourselves up as the complete novices we were. We then cracked open some bottles of Irn Bru and Lucozade, took in the view and almost instantly I felt recharged. And with smiles and laughter we each burst back into life. To the top!

When we reached what we thought was the top of the hill we were met with what seemed a whole new world. It was as if we’d completed level one of a computer game and been elevated to level two. Before us was a vast expansion of hills, mountains and a burn stretching for as far as the eye could see. It was the Trossachs and it was incredible.
We trudged forward over boggy ground and long grass and quickly realised we’d encountered a whole new physical challenge. We found ourselves on the heels of our English friends that we had met earlier but rather than join them in their ascent to wherever they were headed, we decided to abandon the path and take the most direct route towards our next target – a giant peak that towered way above us. “We’re having this” someone said. It was then that Scott’s lower leg completely disappeared into what had seemed like solid ground but was actually some sort of mound of mud impersonating a foothold. Scott’s leg was caked in mud right up to his knee and Chris, Ross and I spent a solid ten minutes laughing at him. We were like a group of giggling school boys but Scott took it in his stride, unlike his previous step.

The journey was really tough and it seemed like we weren’t getting any nearer to where we wanted to be, so much so that it prompted some sort of manic mental breakdown from Ross. He took it upon himself to run as fast as he could for as long as he could towards the foot of the hill. He did well! He made up around 400 meters worth of sodden ground before crumbling against a rock to wait for us to catch up. From that point on it was a constant uphill struggle. The climb was an angular crawl where you had to use both your hands and feet to keep progressing. Thankfully there was much to grab hold of; the grass was firm and physically grabbing hold of it then hauling yourself forward was the best way to make up the ground. Our stops became more frequent, Irn Bru was being rapidly consumed and I even cracked open a box of breakfast bars that I had procured in Glasgow the previous day. Still, we were dogged and set our sights on the peak we were creeping ever closer to.

The entire climb to this point had led me to believe that the peak we had set as our target was the top of the hill. When we reached it we realised that it was actually part of a much larger mountain. Any reasonable person in the state we were in would probably have turned back. But we had a new target –  a new peak. A mountain peak. Somehow we managed to dig deep and find the reserves within ourselves to carry on. The higher we climbed the more dramatic the mountain became. The views were astounding but the almost vertical climb sucked every ounce of life from our bodies like the mountain was a vampire. No amount of fluids or breakfast bars would help and only our stubborn determination kept us climbing and climbing and climbing.
My leg muscles had tightened to the point that they felt as if they could ping off my bones while my knees, which are a bit dodgy at the best of times following a football injury, were aching as if there were blunt pins in them forcing their way out. Every step was heavier than the last and every lump of grass I scrambled to grip seemed to absorb my energy into the ravenous spirit-hungry mountain.
Every now and then I made the mistake of raising my head to find that the mountain was growing bigger and bigger, fuelled by the life and essence it stole from our bodies. All we had left was our attitude – we would not be beaten. Not while we still had skin, bones and sweat. Somehow we kept our heavy limbs moving.

By the time we were approaching the summit we’d been walking and climbing for hours. We were absolutely dieing but somehow kept our motivation to climb. Chris was struck by a bout of cramp just shy of the summit and I waited with him while he recovered as Scott and Ross pushed on to the top. I asked him if we was ok and did my best to find some sort of strength to urge not only him, but myself, up the final part of the mountain. I said: “We’ve not come all this way just to stop here.” Chris nodded and with a newfound sparkle of energy he led us towards the peak. It was our Hollywood moment and I imagine the scene will be acted out in a movie at some point by Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt.

When we reached the top Chris unleashed a gutteral scream, “Yas!” but all I could do was point to the sky and take a deep breath of the air at the top of the mountain. That’s right – the top of the mountain. All I could see for miles was other mountains shrouded in mist, hills and lochs. The weather could be seen visibly changing in panorama all around us. There were small groups of people dotted way below all headed towards different mountains. This was our mountain and we shared that summit with nobody. As I looked out at the amazing rugged landscape I chuckled to myself by thinking, “Tourism could catch on here.” We earned that view and jelly legged I stood there logging each angle of it geographically into my memory banks.
Thousands of miles high above the ground I became increasingly aware that we were probably thousands of miles away from anyone else. We were isolated entirely. At the summit it seemed as if we inhabited a new remote and lawless world. It was as if we existed for that time in a different uncivilised age where only the four of us were alive. With the awesome spectacle of the world around us came an extraordinary surrealism that left me feeling briefly detached from civilisation. It was a different realm from the one where phones ring, bosses moan and my roof leaked due to the seemingly impossibility of finding a roofer available to replace a few broken slates. This was a realm of light, space and monumental beasts that damn near kill you as you climb upon their backs. It was only when we plonked ourselves down behind a rock to eat lunch that I slipped back into some kind of normality. Society existed again. There were rules – I remembered etiquette and ate my sandwich to conform with it. Then the sense of achievement was almost overwhelming and if the mountainous vampire hadn’t sucked every last piece of energy from me I’d have punched the air to show it.

With our sandwiches, chocolate bars, water, Lucozade and Irn Bru suitably consumed we creaked and cracked ourselves to our feet and stood proud to establish a suitable route down the mountain. It was then we noticed a path down one of the sides of the mountain. The moment squeezed our muscles further in the knowledge that there was a much easier route to the summit than the one we took. Had we stayed on the path we’d have saved ourselves the deathly life-sapping climb that we gave ourselves. What could we do but shrug our shoulders? Ah well. I suppose the sight of that mountain path only served to fuel the burning sense of pride we each felt that we’d climbed the mountain the hard way. We were real men! With that in mind the decision was taken that rather than take the path down the mountain we were to follow our philosophy of taking the most direct route. We basically ran down the side of the mountain, and at times we slid on our backsides down near vertical drops. This was the most enjoyable sequence of the day and on one plateau during our descent we even filmed a mock ninja movie. Complete with Bruce Lee sound effects, we took turns to perform various invented Kata routines on the edge of a mountainous ridge. Then we played what we claim to be Scotland’s highest ever game of Hide and Seek. The banter had returned and we were all noticeably perkier in the glory of our achievement.

We reached the bottom in a fraction of the time it took us to reach the top, and when we did we were welcomed by some of the most disgusting peat bogs any of us had ever seen. Exhausted we trudged through the thick boggy ground in search of the path back to Beinglas. I had the misfortune to land face first in a boggy puddle following a leap over a narrow section of Ben Glas Burn. It wasn’t my finest moment, and was far from a pleasant experience, although the others seemed to gain some enjoyment from it for a good fifteen minutes or so. Eventually we found the fabled path home and in time the A82 came back into focus, as did the wigwams and tepee of Beinglas Farm. After climbing a deer fence onto the steep stony path we had suffered so much on earlier, we more or less stumbled and slid down the moving stones on our heels. Like the climb, the descent seemed endless and in hindsight, it’s amazing none of us fell at that point. A fall would have resulted in certain death and we didn’t give the hill the respect it deserved.

When the ordeal came to an and we stumbled into the campsite like zombies and crawled into our tents hardly uttering a word to each other. I left my shoes outside my tent, stripped off to my boxers and slipped into my sleeping bag in order to make some vain attempt at recovery. I couldn’t sleep. I was too tired, and still too delicate from the previous evening to sleep. Instead I drifted on the surface of sleep with events from the day, and other days, replaying themselves in my head. It amused me that the only part of my body still functioning at its maximum ability was my brain. I had a new found respect for the landscape and I vowed never to use the simile ‘like climbing a mountain’ without serious consideration ever again. It also occurred to me, in a metaphor, that life is made of mountains and no challenge is impossible to meet, be it physical or emotional. It all depends on how hard you climb and if you can have a little help from others along the way. It’s funny how climbing a Munro can help you put things into perspective.

Later we shuffled towards the Drovers Inn in search of food but found the old place full of as many live bodies as there was dead stuffed ones. I wasn’t prepared for the amount of dead animals stuffed and mounted around the building, and the grim décor was accentuated by the tight corridors and rooms jammed full of guests and diners. However, the map outside the building was the most important thing for us at that moment. Throughout the day the questions, ‘What the hell is this mountain called?’, and ‘How high actually are we?’ were recurring and the map outside the Drovers Inn appeared to hold all the answers. It turned out we’d climbed Beinn Chabhair, a Munro no less, standing at 3061 feet tall. To me it signalled a fantastic achievement and the biggest surprise of the weekend. And to think we only planned to have a few drinks and go for a walk!

We jumped into the car and set off towards Crianlarich and as we did so I found myself sizing up mountains as they passed and thinking, ‘Yeah, I could take that.’. I think we each caught the Munro bug from Beinn Chabhair and it is likely that our future annual camping expeditions will involve Munros, and why not? I hadn’t realised there was so much world way above my head.
Beinn Chabhair translates from Gaelic as ‘Hill of the Hawk’ and is generally regarded as a bit of a nightmare to climb. Seasoned Munro enthusiasts don’t seem to list it as a favourite. It ranks as 244 out of 283 Munros in terms of stature but I can assure you Beinn Chabhair is a vampire of a mountain. If you decide to scale this beast I advise you to be sober, follow the path and take plenty of Irn Bru and breakfast bars!

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Communities are the lifeblood of a nation. The author Dan Wakefield said: “Simply being with other people who are also seekers and who are involved in the same quest you are, is very meaningful.” He was talking about the importance of being part of a good community.Picture

Youth football is an important part of a community because football is capable of achieving so much. Football can bring the best out of people and help young people develop skills, friendships and memories that they will keep with them for the rest of their lives. It can also be the source of community building events that can make positive changes to the lives of everyone.

At the beginning of the season there was a massive turnout at a charity seven-a-side competition called ‘Kids, Doing it for Kids‘. Around 125 local children, all from the 2001 age group, took part in an attempt to raise at least £500 for the Yorkhill Hospital for Sick Children.

Throughout the tournament, parents, coaches and even passers-by gave generous donations time and time again, further to the entry fee they had already paid to get in. Their generosity was only matched by their support as they cheered all the teams involved from start to finish. In the end, the event raised over £800 for Yorkhill and was a perfect example of how youth football can benefit a community.

The event’s organiser, Mossend FC Secretary Billy McQueen, said at the time: “Recently one of the boys in our 2002 squad was diagnosed with leukaemia. Thankfully he is now in remission. He did spend a lot of time at Yorkhill, where he received his treatment.”

There was a tremendous feel-good factor to the ‘Kids Doing it for Kids’ festival. It was a fantastic event, full of good humour, good football and saw every single person leave with a smile on their face. Everyone contributed to the event in one way or another and it succeeded in bringing the community together with the common goal of raising money for a good cause.

Youth football is much more than forming footballers for the future, it has a role in shaping the future of the country through how it develops young people. Football provides a sense of unity. A sense of “We’re all in this together”. Youth football offers a means for people to come together and share a passion for the game, through which children and young people are given the opportunity to develop new skills and knowledge. It’s something that can only benefit a community if the skills and values of the game are taught properly.

It’s coaches that make it happen; they are the ones that teach young footballers not only the game, but the lessons that sport and competition offer in terms of personal social development. They are the drive of the game at grassroots level. The manager for Glenvale‘s 1996 team, Danny McKim, has coached youth football in Paisley for fifteen years. He said:

“I would say that youth football plays a massive part in the community. There must be thousands of kids training every night of the week all over Scotland, preparing for their games at the weekend. These days its not just a case of a boy going along to training on his own and then heading off on a Saturday or a Sunday, also on his own, for his fixture. I would say in most cases the full family is involved. Probably most of these families arrange their weekend around games and also become socially involved with other families within their clubs.”

The idea of families building their weekends around youth football is a positive one in so many different ways. Once again, it’s communities coming together with youth football as the catalyst. Danny is in his fifth season at Glenvale and prior to that he coached the 1990 age group at another local club for 10 years. He said: “During this time I have seen friendships within players and families develop on and off the field.”

Youth football can teach youngsters important life skills such as respect, competition, communication, leadership, responsibility and the ability to build relationships. Youth football can give young people everything they need to develop into adults, not to mention the physical benefits it can bring to their health and general wellbeing. Danny said:

“Kids can now start playing football from age 4 and I would say that by the time they are 18 most will have moved onto different things. If you think about it, this is probably more years than they would attend school. This means that players are growing up in a competitive environment, but also most coaches will encourage that they respect their opponents.

“Within teams, players will go to school together and also go to school with players they play against at their age group. Growing up like this in most cases encourages friendly banter, mutual respect and takes away the gang culture we grew up in. I would say that if a boy or a girl grows up playing football they will get to know far more people and enjoy social activities that they would not come across in other pastimes.”

Youth coaches are actually important community figures – it is the coaches after all that give so much of their time to developing their players. What is it the coaches get out of it? Danny’s reward is seeing his players progress. He said:

“I would say that most coaches are not looking for any return for their time and effort. Personally, I look for improvement when I’m working with various teams. When I started coaching 15 years ago with the 1990 age group, I learned as I went. We progressed as time went by. We went from 20th out of 24, to 12th, 6th and 1st over 4 seasons. We also won 8 cups over 11 years. I would say that as long as the coaches and the players work hard at training, and also have a bit of fun, with players constantly given positive encouragement and also a new player here and there to freshen things up, it won’t guarantee success but it should keep both the players and supporters committed to your team.

“The 1996 age group I am involved with just now is hopefully going along a similar pathway. When we started 5 seasons ago there were 36 teams at this age. We were last to start and were the bottom of the pile. Thanks to the hard work of the coaches and players I would say we are now in the top 6. We also managed to win The den bosch cup in Holland at easter 2011. This is fantastic progress considering all the other teams had a good few seasons start on us.”

It’s the shared sense of ambition and achievement – important elements that good communities are built upon – that drives them and keeps everyone involved and feeling the rewards of their efforts. Coaches and players are constantly trying to improve and better themselves and this is a fantastic mentality to bring to a community.

Youth football has also been actively used as a means to get young people off the street and onto the pitch, to benefit communities. In 2006 the Coalfields Regeneration Trust (CRT) joined the Bank of Scotland and the SFA in the Bank of Scotland Midnight Leagues for young people in Scottish former mining areas. The first programme ran in just 8 locations but it proved so successful that CRT in 2007, increased its support and extended its involvement. In the last five years, the leagues have run in over 20 locations with over 1,100 young people taking part each year across all of the former Scottish coalfields.

According to those involved, the initiative has had a massive impact on communities through; improved health and motivation for the young people involved, less anti-social behaviour and crime in local communities, involvement of young people in grassroots football, encouragement of adults to support the leagues as volunteers and the signposting of wider opportunities to young people involved in the leagues.

Convenor of Sport and Recreation for Clackmannanshire Council, Cllr Bobby McGill, said:

“In Clackmannanshire, our Midnight Leagues, held at Alloa F C’s Recreation Park, are one of the biggest in the country with well over 100 young people taking part. A great achievement for the Wee County! The Council, our sports development staff and the local police are delighted with the impact of the leagues and very pleased to receive the support of CRT, the SFA and the Bank of Scotland in making them happen. The young people and local communities across the County are benefiting from the initiative”

Through the project, CRT has also funded equipment, coach training and first aid for youth football clubs in the ex-coalfields areas further to the support from the Bank of Scotland and the SFA. SFA Football Development Officer, Jim Grant, said:

“The leagues which myself and colleagues from West Lothian Council run in Blackburn and other locations in the County show very clearly the positive impact on the boys and girls who come along. Youth service staff and community police officers who are building better relationships with young people and local communities very much welcome the initiative. But as a ‘football man’ I just love seeing so many young people playing our national game, keeping fit and really enjoying themselves.”

It is clear that youth football is a huge benefit to communities and should be celebrated for the role it has in the lives of all who are involved.

The obvious benefits to the physical health and character building of young people offered by football must never be overlooked nor should the role it can have in bringing a community together and raising money for causes.

The Dan Wakefield quote about the importance of being part of a good community can also be applied to youth football. To be part of the same quest, such as being part of a team, is very meaningful as is the shared sense of achievement. The pillars that form a community and youth football are not very far apart.

Originally published by Youth Football Scotland

We all like to see young players coming through their club’s youth academy and performing for the first team, and hopefully even in the dark blue of Scotland. As a nation, it gives us pride when a Scottish player achieves success for both club and country. Just think of the moment McFadden scored that 30-yard screamer against France in Paris, or the pride you feel when you watch Gemmill dancing through the Dutch defence in the footage of World Cup 78. Those goals were scored by Scots! Home-bred Scots!Picture

There’s no doubt that youth development is, and always has been, important to Scottish football. Now, on an economic level the game in this country isn’t as healthy as it once was so Scottish football more than ever is dependant on developing young players, and there is arguably nothing more profitable for a club than a consistent youth academy, capable of bringing through quality youngsters year on year.

The hunt is always on for new blood but what does it take to be the next Darren Fletcher or James McFadden? What was it that made the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Jimmy Johnstone and Ally McCoist stand out? We all think we know a good player when we see one but there are some people who make a living out of talent spotting, and more importantly, talent development. What is it they look for in young players?

Head of the Inverness Caledonian Thistle Youth Academy is ex-player and manager Charlie Christie (pictured, right) and he says: “First and foremost I look for good balance, coordination and ability. The aim is to develop players over a substantial length of time by focusing on technique at the younger age levels and then introducing a more tactical awareness to their game as they reach the early teenage years.”

Since Rangers built their Murray Park training complex, they have a proven track record of developing young talent. Charlie Adam, Alan Hutton, Allan McGregor, Danny Wilson and Chris Burke are a hand-full of examples of players who have come through the academy to have successful careers. Craig Mulholland is the Academy Operations Manager for Rangers Football Club and when I asked him what Rangers look for in a young player he said:

“The Academy assesses players using the 4 A’s method – Ability, Athleticism, Attitude and Awareness. Within each of these four categories are more detailed criteria, which our recruitment team and coaching staff use to evaluate prospective and current Academy players.”

So, each club is out looking for new players to develop but when in their youth is it most ideal to find a youngster? Is there a best age from which to develop a player? Charlie Christie says: “I don’t know if there is a ‘best age’ but would certainly argue that the earlier a youngster joins the club the easier it can be to develop them. Ideally we like to have kids in our system from perhaps age 8-9 years old.”.

Once a player joins an academy they can be sure of the best training available to them and access to a wealth of knowledge from coaches and ex-professionals to help them become the best they can possibly be. At Inverness Caledonian Thistle, the average week for a young player consists of 2 technical coaching sessions of 90minutes each, one sports science/fitness evening of around one hour and a competitive match on a Sunday.

According to Craig Mulholland, at Rangers a holistic approach is taken to developing players as the club seeks to develop not only the footballer, but the person too. Their coaching staff, who must all have an SFA Childrens Licence (10’s to 12’s) or a Youth Licence (13’s to 17’s), are regularly in-serviced and meet frequently to ensure the professional delivery of their progressive age specific curriculum. Mulholland says:

“Our long term player development plan takes cognisance of the various ages and stages in a young person’s development and where they will benefit most from certain activities. By having a long term plan and an age specific programme for both football and non-football education we are hopefully maximising the gains that can be made at each stage of a players development. Our coaches are also strategically placed to ensure their experience, knowledge and skills set is best suited to enhancing the learning experience of that specific age group.”

There is no doubt that there is a lot more to being a top player than just ability with things like mentality and attitude ranked as just as important at Rangers. Their academy is intensive and designed so that dedication and attitude is as important a factor in their players as their God-given talent.

“Our youngest players of 9’s and 10’s can train from 1 to 3 sessions per week, while our players from 11’s to 16’s are doing four sessions or more in a normal week, in addition to their match. Over and above the standard programme, our most talented players at 14’s, 15’s and 16’s level participate in a school day release programme which adds a further 7 hours of training per week. Our full-time professionals from 17’s onwards participate in a minimum of 7 sessions per week, in addition to a match, encompassing technical, tactical, game awareness, physical and mental development.” said Mulholland.

Youngsters playing at youth level across the country probably wonder how it is players are ‘discovered’ by the top clubs. Each club has their own preference for finding players, for example Inverness Caledonian Thistle like to look locally when searching for new talent:

“We tend to recruit players by attending school, boys club and street league matches in our area, plus through word of mouth from several adults who are involved in football in our area. Due to our geography, it is difficult at the younger age levels to spread our catchments too far but we certainly look for players within a 2 hour drive from Inverness from ages 15 upwards, although we do have some at the younger age levels.” said Christie.

He continued: “Rather than watching a player for a number of games we like to invite them in to train with the appropriate age squad over a 4-6 week period. This gives a far better indication of how they fare against the better players in this area.”.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle currently have around 120 players in their elite youth set-up and most of these players have continued on from previous seasons. The club tends to introduce around 15 – 20 new players each season.

Rangers are one of the ‘big two’ in Scotland and obviously have greater resources at their disposal than most other clubs, so they are able to look far and wide for potential players for their youth academy. Below the age of U15’s they have an extensive network of scouts who cover Scotland ensuring that the club is well aware of the best young talent in the country. After the age of 15 they extend this coverage wider and have staff and contacts in a variety of countries out with Scotland. The amount of players Rangers recruit each year varies from season to season, however the academy prefers to keep all of their squads as small as possible to ensure maximum playing time for each player.

Ambitious young players who would like to make a career in the game should simply enjoy playing the game they love, and work hard at developing their strengths and weaknesses. Undoubtedly sacrifices must be made to make it to the top, where the rewards are fantastic, and only the most dedicated players will succeed. says: “It is not an easy path to become a professional footballer and in addition to requiring exceptional talent, which can only be developed through discipline and dedication, a youngster desperate to succeed must also ensure that they live correctly off the pitch to ensure they have the best possible chance.”

As and ex-player and manager at the top level in Scottish football, Charlie Christie has some advice for aspiring footballers: “My advice would be to maximise the amount of time they practice from a very early age. Three coaching sessions alone is not enough and young players must spend time on their own or with friends perfecting their skill set and abilities. I stress this to all our young players and their parents every season.”

Originally published by Youth Football Scotland

Since I began writing about youth football the one thing I have found most surprising is the facilities. Quite a few years ago now, I played youth football on the course and bumpy red ash pitches in East Kilbride. In fact, I still have scars on my hands and knees from those pitches to prove it. Picture

 

The first youth game I ever played was aged 7 for St Louise Primary School at the Westwood Hill pitches in East Kilbride. It was a horrible rainy day and as anyone who has ever played on a wet red ash pitch will know, the surface turns to sludge and red puddles form all over the park. Five minutes into the game I jumped to win a header, only to flop over the back of the leaning midfielder beneath me and land with a splat in a red tinged puddle. I got to my feet and found I was twice as heavy from my sodden kit and I couldn’t tell where the ash ended and my blood began. A man laughing at the side of the park shouted “Welcome to real football”. He wasn’t kidding, I had many more experiences like that one. Playing on a red ash pitch on a dry day wasn’t much better. Passes would bobble and bounce in unnatural directions and falling on a red ash pitch would result in losing a few layers of skin. To say it was a difficult surface to play on is being kind.

That said, Imagine me shuffling around the Toryglen Regional Football Centre (pictured, above right) for the first time recently, mouth opened, unblinking and muttering the word “Luxury” over and over. It was at that moment that I realised just has far we’ve come in offering young footballers the best possible facilities. Absolute luxury. Many people are critical of synthetic surfaces and I’ve heard a lot of parents at youth matches talk about the old ash pitches like they were lavish and fit for a king. I then wonder whether any of them ever had to pick pieces of ash out of their teeth after being chopped down by a centre back twice their size. There is not a worse surface to play on than red ash.

 

It seems that most of the ash pitches have been replaced by synthetic ones but some of the artificial surfaces are not perfect. An audit in 2006 found that the older surfaces hadn’t been properly maintained. Now in 2011, I can honestly say I’ve never seen a synthetic pitch in a worse condition than the red ash parks I used to play on. If they are properly maintained then there should be no reason for youth footballers to experience the pain and lack of playability of the ash park. It makes me want to invest in a new pair of football boots and join an adult team.

 

The Toryglen facility is only a few years old and has set a precedent for what we should be aiming for in football facilities. With a price tag of £14.5 million, Toryglen offers a synthetic full size indoor football pitch, 3 outdoor synthetic grass pitches, an outdoor full size grass pitch, a strength and conditioning zone, a players lounge/café area, 13 7-aside pitches, a briefing room with video analysis and changing rooms with showers and toilets,. Is it any wonder I was rubbing my scars and uttering “Luxury”?

 

There are other fantastic facilities that I wish I could have played on. Home to the Harmony Row Youth Club is Alex Ferguson Park, which is as good a synthetic surface as you’ll find in Glasgow. Out in Bellshill, The Sir Matt Busby Complex is an excellent facility as is the East End Healthy Living Centre in Glasgow. There are decent parks at Ibrox, Cardonald and Stepford too. You don’t need to travel too far to find a good synthetic park.

 

So what about grass surfaces? Well the 2006 audit found that 74% of natural grass football pitches were unsatisfactory, suffering from poor drainage, poor construction and a lack of maintenance. Having been to see games at the St James’ Playing Fields in Paisley, where some of the pitches have hills and slopes in them, and at the Netherpollock pitches in Pollok Park, where surfaces are regularly waterlogged, I reckon there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to grass. I had the luck of playing a few times on grass parks back in the day and although the parks were a country mile better than the red ash pitches, in hindsight they could lack playability too. One game I played in on a grass park had broken bottles on it and another had more than one dog dropping (not even drunks and dogs would play on ash pitches). I also remember a team-mate breaking his ankle by sliding in the mud on a waterlogged grass park.

 

There is no denying that youth facilities have improved 100% in the last 10-15 years. Gone are the days when you jink past a full back only to find the ball half submerged in the pitch 9 yards behind you, or when your lob over the keeper lands dead with a splash 2 yards short of the goal line. These things don’t happen anywhere as much anymore. Steps have been made in the right direction and if we want to produce the very best players they have to play on the very best surfaces. That’s the way football is these days. The progress has been very pleasing to watch.

 

Originally published by Youth Football Scotland

 

 

An early start and drizzly rain didn’t stop an impressive turnout at the Sir Matt Busby Complex in Bellshill for the Mossend FC organised charity seven-a-side competition ‘Kids, doing it for kids‘. Around 125 children, all from the 2001 age group, took part in the festival, which was sponsored by David Wilson Homes, with the ambition to raise at least £500 for the Yorkhill Hospital for Sick Children.
Kids Doing It For Kids
Before the kick-off, the event’s organiser – Mossend FC Secretary Billy McQueen, said, “Why are we doing this? Well, raising money for charity is a first for us. We are normally working very hard at raising funds for our own team. However, recently one of the boys in our 2002 squad was diagnosed with leukaemia. Thankfully he is now in remission. He did spend a lot of time at Yorkhill, where he received his treatment.”

He continued, “Our League, The Lanarkshire Football Development League have chosen Yorkhill as their charity of the year. So with both, we felt that we would like to do something to help and we came up with a football day, doing what we love and giving Yorkhill the benefit of it. We are calling it Kids, doing it for the Kids.”

Blantyre Boys Club, Calderbraes FC, EKFC, Mill United, Milton Rovers and of course Mossend FC took part and all the teams donated £35 per team to the charity. Each side entered two teams who played a half each in every match. Normally every participant would get a small memento of the day to take away with them, but all the teams and kids that took part on the day agreed to go without the memento to allow the event to raise as much as possible for Yorkhill.

One team, Calderbraes FC, even agreed to give a donation for every goal they scored. Billy said, “We need to make sure that they score a barrow load!”.
Kids Doing It For Kids
As for the action itself, the football was very good. The kids displayed a range of slick passing, communication and tactical awareness that is way beyond their years.
Mill United’s Jack Dunsmore caught the eye with excellent close control as did Blantyre’s entire squad. Mill United’s goalkeeper Robbie Hemfrey spent most of the morning making world-class saves and Mosspark keeper Caleb McDowell made an eye catching stop when he touched a fierce drive onto the crossbar.

Milton Rovers’ girls Emma Fleming and Jemma Marriott stood out with competitive tackling when games got feisty and EK’s impressive dribbling winger scored what was possibly the goal of the day.

The free-scoring Calderbraes strikers, who hit the back of the net AND the wallets of the Calderbraes staff on numerous occasions, were also a joy to watch and contributed to what was a generally high-scoring day across all the games.

The first round of matches saw EKFC take on Mill United and from the whistle EK were on the attack, leading to some excellent saves from Hemfrey.
EK eventually took the lead with a long distance screamer and it needed to be to beat the keeper who was playing a blinder. Shortly after, Mill United equalized after a defensive error before EK made it went ahead again with a drive from close range. EK struck again but then Mill United turned on the style and scored three quick goals, with Jack Dunsmore scoring a hat trick. EK scored again at the death.

Blantyre BC v Mossend FC ended in favour of Blantyre despite some excellent saves by Mossend keeper Caleb McDowell. In their next game, against Milton Rovers, Blantyre racked up another impressive display, through some well organised and ruthless football.

Calderbraes FC then played Mossend FC and the hosts took an early lead through an unconventional chested goal from a deep corner kick. Shortly after, they scored again after a goalmouth scramble. The early lead gave Mossend the drive to dominate the early stages and before long they scored again after a well placed shot into the bottom corner of Calderbraes net. A spirited Calderbraes fight back was then forthcoming, nearly producing an equalizer.
Kids Doing It For Kids
In the final round of games, Mill United took on Mossend FC and again Mossend took the lead with a great solo effort – a run from the halfway line before the youngster picked his spot in the bottom corner. Goals at both ends followed, with neither team able to see off the other in a six goal thriller, which in the end was a fair result.
Throughout the tournament, parents, coaches and even passers-by out walking their dogs gave generous donations time and time again further to the entry fee they had already paid to get in. Their generosity was only matched by their support as they cheered the teams on from start to finish.

Organiser Billy McQueen said, “The event has been great, everything has run smoothly and the football has been excellent. We were aiming for £500 but it looks like we’re closer to £600 now.”

In the end, the event raised over £800 for Yorkhill and was a marvellous success. Football is more than just a game because it stirs so much emotion and pride within people; it is capable of achieving so much. Following the final games, each of the teams posed side by side for photographs and there was a real sense of unity in achievement within the youngsters. They had put on a great tournament, raised a lot of money for Yorkhill and earned the well deserve applause from the fans. So when the ‘Kids, doing it for kids’ tournament came to an end, who were the overall winners? The answer to that is kids.

 

Originally written HERE