Fort William police officer Ian Fraser has hailed the Bank of Scotland Midnight League Football League for its positive impact in the battle to reduce anti-social behaviour in the town's area.
The league gives 12-16 year olds across Scotland the chance to play football one evening a week, with the aim of fostering community spirit and building positive relations between the local police officers and young people.
And the scheme, run in partnership with the Scottish Football Association since its inception in 2003, has proved to be a real hit in Fort William with more than 50 children taking part every Friday.
Such has been the success that Fraser, a community safety office for Skye, Lochalsh and Lochaber, is already keen to introduce the programme in other areas of his constabulary.
He explained: “The Midnight League has come to us before and we have noticed a sizeable reduction in the crime rate on those Friday evening when it has been running.
“The most important thing is that it offers the kids an activity because the main cause of crime and criminal damage is boredom.”
“The kids look forward to it every week and it is professionally run so the longer the league runs the more and more people with get involved and that can only be a good thing.
“Northern Constabulary covers a large amount of the Highlands area and the Fort William has been a real success so now I am keen to look at setting up more of these leagues elsewhere in the area.
“As long as we can keep the kids busy then anti-social behaviour is reduced and the figures back that up."
The University of Stirling’s School of Sport recently carried out extensive research on the 2011 Midnight League and the effect on the community, showing that in some areas anti-social behaviour fell by as much as 30% when the league was in session.
And Simon Jeffrey, an adult and youth service officer for the Highland area, reinforced Fraser’s statement, insisting that the league had provided local children with an invaluable distraction in the long winter months.
“We are delighted that an opportunity like the Midnight League is taking place in Fort William and particularly indoors at the Nevis Centre," he said.
“Often young people have limited access to suitable leisure time pursuits on a Friday night and this gives the young people a chance to further develop their skills.
“There already exists a successful Lochaber summer street football league capturing the hearts and minds of young people in the area.
“But what we were finding was that there was a gap of provision in the winter months and we are delighted that Fort William Football Club, Highland Football Academy and the Nevis Centre have stepped in to fill this gap.”