BY ROB McCARRY
In a recent conversation with a now former academy coach a story emerged where the girls side he coached to an unprecedented level of success over the past decade had their under 9â€™s group forced to train outdoors at a local sports centre last month to accommodate an initiative being held indoors for people with disabilities.
Whilst Iâ€™m obviously not attempting to malign those who are differently able, it did make me wonder that with so few girls in Scotland currently playing football how wise a decision it was for this team to marginalise their role in the game by pushing them on to the side-lines at such an early age.
Would the same decision have been made if a team of boys were scheduled to train inside? My friend doubts it very much. In fact it was the apparent disparity between the genders that had caused him to resign his position in the first place. He felt that, in his experience at least, running a girls team is a secondary concern for clubs and as long as their male counterparts are catered for no tears will be shed.
This apparent bias flies in the face of a current trend where the profile of Scottish female footballers has never been higher; the national team was minutes away from qualifying for this summerâ€™s European Championships before a cruel late defeat in Spain and Kim Little became the first woman to be recognised for their achievements in 150 years of the Football Association.
It must surely be the case then that the youth set-up for young boys in Scotland is a roaring success and should not be disrupted despite the emergence of talented women at all levels of our game? I would argue that the opposite is the case and that the power afforded to the male model is damaging the potential of both genders.
The Pro Youth system in Scotland is comprehensive and all the top sides aim to have squads at as many levels as possible. The pull of joining such a set-up is understandably strong and the dangling carrot is the opportunity to dine at Scottish footballs top table at some point in the future.
This lure is so strong in fact that it often leads to the decimation of successful, well run youth set ups as their achievements generally bring their players into the spotlight where they are picked off by SPFL teams for their development squads leaving their parent sides in tatters. Note the case of Gow Valley FC. Their under 15 side was good enough to be invited to the Scottish Youth Champions League event in the summer of 2013 before so many players were taken from them they folded.
One might assume then that the opportunities presented by these clubs would outweigh the chance to play regularly with your friends in a successful, local team. At a recent question and answer session at Oran Mor in Glasgow, national team coach Gordon Strachan told the story of a young boy from Aberdeen FC whose parents drove him from their home on the north east coast to Kilmarnock for a match. He came on for the last ten minutes and had about the same number of touches on the ball before heading back to the car for the long drive home.
A six hour round trip for less touches of the ball than there were players on the pitch. How much more football could that child have played had they stayed at home that day with a lo-cal side like Dyce, winners of the aforementioned 2013 SYCL tournament? Or even in the park with friends or the back garden kicking up against the side of the house? But no, the ap-peal of pulling on the famous red strip had proven too much and so he spent most of that Sat-urday sitting down.
Perhaps the real reward lies further down the line when superior coaching and a more profes-sional environment results in a smooth transition to the ranks of a top flight side? The SFA youth cup final at Hampden this summer was won for a record fourth consecutive occasion and 13th in total by Celtic FC and, though impressive that night, until Bahrudin Atajic scored twice late against Motherwell this month after being introduced as a second half substitute, none of the line-up from that match had had any impact whatsoever on the first team this sea-son. Despite seeming to have Scottish footballâ€™s most successful youth program James Forrest is the only player who has come through the ranks and starts regularly.
In short what I believe is that the male Pro Youth set up is given too much power and pulls players away from their friends for a pipe dream, damages existing organisations and wastes talent whilst the female version receives a fraction of the attention or support and is often pushed aside to suit the needs of the boys.
More needs to be done to support local youth set-ups and encourage them to grow; more ac-cess to facilities, more access to quality coaching, more funding for initiatives that teach chil-dren that football is a game to be learned and enjoyed rather than giving the impression that if youâ€™re a boy you sign with a team when youâ€™re in Primary school and hope that in a decade it might lead somewhere, or if youâ€™re a girl that no matter how good youâ€™ll always be second best.
Even Gordon Strachan has expressed a desire for investment at the lowest level. At the Oran Mor event he was heard to remark that although heâ€™s not particularly political, if Alex Salmond were to commit substantial funding for youth sport he would â€œvote for him tomorrow.â€ In an ideal world that might happen, but it shows that as well as myself even those at the very top of the game want to see a change to the current system.
We can only hope that others in power come round to his way of thinking in the near future and we see a change to a system which is lets down those who love the game most.
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