What links Scotland’s young footballers, organised crime and the Scottish Government?

If you said the Scottish FA’s School of Football programme, funded by the Scottish Government’s ‘Cashback for Communities’ initiative , you’d be correct.

One of the organisation’s longest-running grassroots initiatives, the School of Football project has enjoyed significant success in the past twelve months. Targeting children in the 12-14 age range, the programme exceeded participation targets set in 2017 by 30%, using football to aid the transition between primary and secondary school across the country.

“There is a real mix of pupils from various social backgrounds involved in the School of Football programme” said Garry Hay, Scottish FA player and coach development manager for the South West region. 

“We have pupils involved who may be living in foster care, children with additional support requirements, and pupils living in more traditional family set ups. There are eight Schools of Football running throughout the region, so this can vary from school to school.

“Some pupils may be playing youth team football, whereas others might not play for a team at all and their only opportunity to be involved with football is through this programme.”

Grange Academy in Kilmarnock is one such school to benefit from the programme, with their session during UEFA Grassroots Week part of a nationwide celebration of the grassroots game.

For Hay, the benefits of the project are visible on and off the pitch, with the eight Schools of Football in the South West forming just a snapshot of the 1,000 participants with which the programme works.

“A typical session would aim to incorporate physical activity that would help them improve their technical skills, their decision making, problem solving and their social development” he said.

“However, I see the main benefit of the programme being an opportunity for football to be used as a vehicle to engage with our pupils. There are many transferable skills that the pupils will use when being part of the School of Football which we believe they can then use across their other subjects at school to improve their learning and their holistic experience at school.

“These include improvements through effort, listening skills, teamwork, problem solving and decision making to name but a few.”  

The project has benefitted from the Scottish Government’s ‘Cashback for Communities’ initiative, which sees the seized proceeds of organised crime funnelled back into community projects across Scotland. Now in its tenth year, over £92 million has been committed to fund a variety of activities nationwide.

This funding has been money well spent in the mind of Hay, who believes that the School of Football programme – and similar grassroots initiatives – can play an important role in developing the Scottish stars of tomorrow.

“There are many so reasons why the School of Football matters to our participants. It can be because as a child they dream of being the next Leigh Griffiths, Steven Naismith or Erin Cuthbert. This gives them aspirations to achieve their dream.

“It can be because they love to be with friends and want to be in an environment where they can work hard to achieve a shared goal and be with others who will value their input and generally respect them as an individual. 

“It is vital that we engage with kids at a grassroots level because ultimately they are the lifeblood of our game. Without grassroots players then our top players like Andy Robertson and Rachel Corsie don’t develop into the players they are today.”