Seized crime cash buys new football pitch

Young players from Leith Athletic FC try out the new pitch at Meadowbank. Picture: Jane Barlow
Young players from Leith Athletic FC try out the new pitch at Meadowbank. Picture: Jane Barlow
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CASH seized from criminals is being used to create a £500,000 synthetic pitch next to Meadowbank Stadium – to dissuade youngsters from turning to a life of crime.

The facility, set to become the new training base of Leith Athletic Football Club, has been partially funded by the Scottish Government’s Cashback for Communities scheme, which pours crooks’ ill-gotten gains back into local programmes.

The state-of-the-art ground will continue to play a role in crime prevention, with the full-size pitch to host a Friday “midnight” league targeting teenagers who may otherwise turn to antisocial behaviour.

Leith Athletic FC player development manager Derek Riddel said: “On a Friday night, local kids from the community come in and they get to play on the pitch free of charge.

“What they’re looking to do is keep kids off the streets. It’s about bringing these kids in, giving them a bit of purpose about what they can do with their spare time.

“We’re looking to tie in with that, go along and offer some coaching. We might find a 
couple of players from it.”

The late-night league will run from about 8-10pm each Friday and be managed with the help of stadium operator Edinburgh Leisure.

Mr Riddel said the standard of the facility was fantastic compared with the club’s existing grass grounds at Leith Links, which were regularly waterlogged over winter.

He said: “At the moment we have teams scattered all about the north of Edinburgh training. We have some up at Castlebrae, some at Sparta, some at Leith Academy, some at Broughton High School.

“As of September, we’re all going to be centrally held at Meadowbank where every age group right through from five-year-olds to adult teams can train at the one spot.”

Edinburgh City Council also committed £200,000 towards creating the pitch. East of 
Scotland Football League matches will be held at the ground from tomorrow week.

Mr Riddel said larger synthetic pitches were the way of the future, predicting they would spread.

He said: “With a grass pitch, if it’s wet and muddy you can only play one game on it. These are technically all-weather.

“They are the future. You’ll find more and more senior clubs adopt these pitches in their stadiums.”

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said £50 million has been invested back into the community under the Cashback scheme since 2007.

He said: “It’s fantastic to see first-hand how money seized from criminals has been invested in quality facilities. These will undoubtedly boost the development of grass roots football and rugby in Scotland whilst also offering local communities opportunities to adopt more active lifestyles.”

City culture and sport convener Councillor Richard Lewis said: “I would like to congratulate Leith Athletic on their successful bid, which I understand was very strong, and look forward to the benefits this arrangement will bring to the club and the local community.”