By TomTom – Your SatNav around Football
The gulf in class and technical prowess between England and the continent’s finest teams at Euro 2012 has led to much focus on the need to invest time and money into youth football development to improve our national team’s chances in major tournaments. A point that has been lost is the impact football can have on young people’s lives on a daily basis, both on and off the field. Following the riots that erupted across England just last summer, leading to many brandishing today’s youth as out of control, football has an important role to play in acting as a means of social regulation and opportunity.
This article from Full Contact’s Tom Lytton will tell the tale of how a non-league Scottish club are setting the standard North of the border for giving kids from disadvantaged areas a chance through football.
Spartans Football club, located in Pilton, North Edinburgh, are paving the way for Edinburgh’s youngsters to advance as people and as players, whilst simultaneously creating a senior team strong enough to be knocking on the door of the Scottish F.A for a place in the league proper. The Spartans Community Football Academy has the motto “Live Together. Play Together. Win Together”, harnessing the notions of social cohesion, football development and success, all of which the club can lay claim to.
The club, which was formed by two Edinburgh Uni Alumni in 1951, now has 650 kids within the academy ranging from U5’s through to U19’s, 5 senior men’s teams and 3 women’s teams. There is a clear focus on nurturing young footballing talent in the area, bringing them up through the academy, with the goal of feeding them into the senior teams and then helping them obtain professional contracts.
The club is self-run by its members and is financed through fundraising, sponsorship and lottery grants. The academy and impressive club facilities were made into a reality following the club raising a staggering £4m through various means. They now have two state of the art AstroTurf pitches and have built a stadium for the senior team with a capacity of 3,000 including a 500 all-seater stand.
With all of Spartans’ staff working on a voluntary basis, the club is a refreshing reminder of the real power of football in a game increasingly centred on money and big business. The coaching within the academy is of a high quality, with over 100 qualified coaching working with the kids, again on a voluntary basis. They have enlisted the support of Gordon Strachan as a famous figurehead; he is the patron of the academy and has also dusted off his boots to turn out for the Spartans’ over 35’s team. In an interview back in 2011, Strachan highlights a key point for the club. He explains that “this isn’t just about football… it’s about what it can do to help a community. It’s about making kids there good people and after that we can worry about making them good players.” This is a refreshing take on youth development as there is a culture within academies across England which sees players discarded when it becomes clear they are not going to make the grade, leaving them with their dreams crushed and prospects limited.
Alongside the notable success of the academy, it is only right to also highlight the achievements of the senior side. They have won the premier division of the East of Scotland league 7 times in the last 10 years and it is only due to the way the league system works in Scotland that they haven’t been granted full league status. At present the decision on whether to relegate the bottom team from the lowest league to enable the top team from the highest non-league division to be promoted goes down to a vote. It is proposed that a proper pyramid system will be introduced in Scotland in 2015 which will allow for a true meritocracy to exist.
One of the Spartans directors, Dave Bryce, explains that the plan for progression is to “break into the Scottish football league whilst ensuring the community feel is kept within the club”. His ideal scenario in terms of the academy is to “develop a kid through the academy system, have them turn out for the senior team and then help them find a career with a pro club”. It may not be too long until Spartans themselves can be that pro club and based on their recent achievements on and off the field, they wouldn’t be too bad a replacement for Rangers in the Scottish football league.
More importantly Spartans are an example of how a club can benefit a community through football and act as a stark reminder of what is great about a game so regularly brought into disrepute by controversies over finances and corruption.
Dan Chapman, who has worked with football clubs at a variety of levels, commented that “When Tom brought the story of Spartans to me, it immediately appealed. We have done a lot of work for football and other sporting clubs at a lower and non league level, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that the best model in many cases is the sustainable, community orientated model. This week we have seen a supporters trust gain control at Wycombe Wanderers, and I hope the likes of Spartans are a sign of things to come.”« Wayne Rooney: a Scrub-Jay defence The timeless number 10 shirt »
“Having studied English at university and always been a keen footballer and fan, combining the two has always appealed to me.” - Tom Lytton-Dickie. -"I'm a recently qualified journalist and I've worked in newspapers and broadcasting. I'm a dedicated follower of all sports primarily football, tennis and cricket." Tom Allnutt
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