Thursday, October 11, 2012

Celebrating Scotland's grassroots

Hard as it is I must drag myself away from talk of banners, share issues and possible Scotland starting XIs to talk about "real" football.

Grassroots football in fact.

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to again attend the 9th Scottish FA Grassroots Awards at Hampden.

Presented by McDonald's and the Sunday Mail the awards celebrate the "unsung heroes" of Scottish football.

A chance to honour those folk who don't need to deal with press conferences or injuries picked up on international duty.

But probably do have to deal with dog shit on the pitch and their star striker being unavailable because it's his granny's birthday.

The folk who keep the game going through nothing more than their own determination and the understanding of their families.

A reminder, as ever, that while the bad news, the incompetence and the moaning might make better headlines, a lot of good work goes on despite it all.

This year's winners:

Merit Award for Services to Football - Robert McCallum

Robert was instrumental in the founding of Gartcairn Academy and has developed the club from a group of 10 children to over 350 young footballers within 5 years. Under Robert’s guidance, they achieved Quality Mark status and have over 40 qualified coaches providing sessions for club members.

His role as chairman, football coach and fundraiser has seen the club grow from nothing to a competitive and organised community club. Without his dedication hundreds of children wouldn’t have the opportunity to participate in grassroots football in Airdrie.

Best Coach of the Year - Tony Begg

Tony has been the driving force of Loanhead Miners YFC becoming the first Scottish FA community club in Midlothian. Currently managing the Under-9s side, Tony’s coaching methods have seen positive improvements on the pitch as well as a great rapport with local parents due to his informative and fun-filled sessions.

In addition to fundraising events, Tony also holds coaching sessions for the club coaches, allowing him to share his in-depth knowledge of the game.

Best Community Football Club - Westdyke FC

Westdyke FC was founded in 1996 and started with just two teams. 16 years on the club now fields 14 teams each weekend, including one girls’ side, and has over 200 playing members aged between 5 and 18 years old. Each week 25 qualified and dedicated coaches give up their time to coach grassroots football helping the club and the community reach a higher standard of football.

The club work with local primary schools and help out at Westhill Academy, the local secondary school, to ensure that the standard of football in the region remains consistently high.

Best Volunteer in Disability Football - Yvonne Alexander

Yvonne turned her football coaching talent to the development of a squad for disability footballers five years ago. The squad, ranging in age from 12 to 20 years, features 27 members with players that have both learning disabilities and cerebral palsy.

Yvonne’s passion for the game and her determination to offer football coaching to those with disabilities across Grampian, means her players can shine in the sport that she loves to be involved with.

Best Volunteer in Adult Football - Hugh Carswell

Hugh has been involved in football for over 50 years. After his amateur playing career finished he took to the tactical side of the game. In 1967 he began managing Knockentiber AFC and between the years of 1967 and 1997 he guided the team to 21 league championships, 3 Scottish Amateur Cups, 2 West of Scotland Cups and 9 Ayrshire Cup wins.

Now Hugh is in charge of the Scottish Amateur select side, a role that discovers talented youth players for the national set-up. Hugh’s dedication to football has spanned six decades and it won’t be stopping any time soon.

Best Volunteer in Schools Football - John Peterson

John is the head coach at Mintlaw Academy. Since joining the school he has developed a squad of coaches who have built up a great reputation for introducing kids to football in a safe and fun environment.

Players feed off his enthusiasm for the game and Mintlaw’s record at producing top class players is second to none. John’s dedication to the school and as Secretary of Aberdeenshire Schools FA, allows children to shine at grassroots level and develop into talented, enthusiastic players.

Best Volunteer in Youth Football - Derek Paterson

Derek set up at the youth section of Kelso Football Club nearly ten years ago, since then teams have grown under his leadership and have proved successful outfits. Derek works tirelessly for the kids and Kelso FC helping to organise twice weekly training sessions, while also ensuring that coaches are in place for every age group and can provide the necessary training.

Derek also coaches primary school children every Friday evening as part of the SFA Soccer Centres scheme. His role in the community is appreciated by parents, teachers and coaches across the entire region.

Best Professional Club in the Community - Stenhousemuir FC

Stenhousemuir FC was founded in 1884 and is an outstanding example of a true community football club, working with over 1000 people each week. Stenhousemuir is the first football league club in Scotland to become a Community Interest Company with the key goal of working for the good of the community.

In addition to coaching boys and girls teams from 3–17 years of age, Stenhousemuir also runs after school clubs, holiday camp programmes and Twilight Leagues. In recent years Stenhousemuir has built up its community work up through initiatives like the Volunteer Development Programme and the clubs links with the South African Football Association, giving coaches the opportunity to travel and work in clubs overseas.

Best Volunteer in Girls/Women’s Football - Doug Johnston

Doug has been a real catalyst in the development of the girls’ squads and teams at Linlithgow Rovers CFC over the past few years. His determination and spirit to develop women’s football in the area has seen the teams grow from strength to strength, with him giving up much of his own time to do this, from organising the club to coaching the girls.

Doug’s enthusiasm for the game is infectious and he spends much of his time visiting local schools to run taster sessions, encouraging girls to take up football and try something new. His proactive approach has seen the club bring through some great female players and the club simply wouldn't exist without him.

McDonald’s Community Champion - James Strathdee

McDonald’s franchisee Andy Gibson has worked closely with Jim at Glasgow Girls FC for the past three years. The club has a strong affiliation with McDonald’s and Andy who sponsors the club’s shirts and regularly provides kit and equipment to support their training sessions.

Jim and the club have a strong relationship with their local community and have set up the Glasgow Girls Active Schools Programme, where coaches from the club visit 47 schools in and around Glasgow offering eight hours of free coaching each week.

Worthy winners all.


A word, if I may, on sponsorship. Another furore broke out this week with the announcement of Newcastle United's latest sponsorship deal.

You might recall similar things being said about the involvement of certain sponsors at the Olympics.

In fact one of those Olympic sponsors was McDonald's.

Things, as Mike Ashley might tell Newcastle fans, aren't always black and white.

The nine year involvement of McDonald's with Scottish football's grassroots has - it seems to me - delivered real benefits.

Full disclosure: I was invited along by a McDonald's employee.

But here is a corporate sponsor prepared to enjoy a long term relationship with the SFA and use that relationship to foster the game in our communities.

A sponsor that has the infrastructure in place to allows clubs to benefit from a support network in their local area.

McDonald's sure as hell don't need me to act as their cheerleader. And my fast food habits don't actually stretch to the golden arches.

But when every deal is but a retweet away from sparking a mob riot, it's also important to say that these deals can help the game.

And that's important at a time when Scottish football doesn't always look a safe bet for big corporations.

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