Strachan heads up drive for academy

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RESPECT, discipline and sportsmanship. Gordon Strachan hopes children growing up in the same city streets he did in the north of Edinburgh can learn all three by having access to a new football academy.

Returning yesterday to an area he still regards as his own backyard, the Celtic manager adopted an ambassadorial role to support plans unveiled by the East of Scotland League club Spartans to build the new ground and training complex in the Pilton area.

Strachan was brought up in Muirhouse just a couple of goal kicks away from the site where the new 2 million Ainslie Park facility will be built and, in his official position as patron of the Spartans Community Football Academy, he was back in the school where he grew up and honed his skills to throw his weight behind the ambitious project.

Strachan was a pupil at Craigroyston High School when he signed for Dundee to kick-start what has been a long and successful career, but he has never forgotten his roots. There was no pomp or ceremony about his entrance yesterday. Strachan wouldn't have any of it. Instead he popped in to his mum and dad's for a quick cuppa before walking the few hundred yards to his old stomping ground. Craigroyston is just one of the local schools that the new football academy intends to benefit.

Supporting the launch of what he regards as a valuable project for a local community he holds close to his heart, Strachan made it clear he would be ducking all questions about Celtic and instead wanted to focus on what the new academy can do for local children. "It's a fantastic project," he said. "I love this area and I love football. This is something the north of Edinburgh needs and it gives everyone something they can work at with other people.

"There are far more temptations for kids these days than there were for me. I played football six or seven hours a day, but kids today need the good facilities for football to keep them away from other temptations.

"Football is a great game and the camaraderie can turn people into better people. It's about what's left behind. Are they good people after that? Are they healthy? Are they looking after themselves?

"Sport always gives you respect for your team-mates. If you take that respect into your social life, you'll be a better person. It's an opportunity for kids to use their time in the right way and it will make them better people."

Strachan has known all about Spartans from his childhood days, but he "never liked" City Park, the place Spartans presently call home. The dilapidated old ground will soon be a block of flats as part of a deal to establish a modern new facility nearby, and since Strachan was asked to lend his support nine months ago the project has moved on leaps and bounds.

"I love this area and I loved every minute of my time here," Strachan added. "Football has been great to me and that's why I'm here, to support a project like this that gives something back."

Work on the academy will begin next year and is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2006. The facility will be owned by City of Edinburgh Council, but will be managed by Spartans and will be the club's new permanent home. The facilities will include a fully enclosed grass pitch with floodlights, a 500-seater stand and a capacity of 3,000. Next to it, a full size artificial pitch will also be installed, as will a clubhouse that incorporates six changing rooms, a club room and a board room.

Spartans, who run two adult teams in addition to their East of Scotland League side and have more than 450 youngsters on their books from under-sevens to under-19s, will open up the academy for regular use by nearby Telford College, local schools and community groups. The club also hope the ground will enable them to apply for Scottish Football League membership when a vacancy arises.

The cost of the facility is being funded from a variety of sources. Sportscotland yesterday awarded the project 400,000, and 1 million is being invested by City of Edinburgh Council as part of its deal to sell City Park to a property developer. Spartans have been tenants at City Park for nearly 30 years, but an agreement has been reached to sell the ground to Miller Homes for over 8 million in exchange for a site just half a mile away at Ainslie Park, where the new academy will be built. Miller Homes is also providing 300,000, with Spartans aiming to raise the rest themselves in the next few months. A home win against Queen's Park in the third round of the Scottish Cup and an away draw to Strachan's Celtic would be a fitting way to make up the shortfall.

Raising the money, according to Strachan, is just half the battle. He singled out Craig Graham, the Spartans club captain and the driving force behind the scheme, for particular praise. Without willing volunteers like Graham, he pointed out, Scotland would be even further behind much of Europe than it already is.

"The weather is poor here as well, so we need better and more indoor facilities," said Strachan. "It's not just at this level. Even at Celtic Park, we have to hire a balloon that goes 60 yards by 40 to cover the ground.

"If you go to Sweden, Norway or Finland every club has a facility like this, but we have to beg, steal and borrow in this country.

"But it's not just about finding money. It's mainly about the people at the coal face, the Spartans guys here working in their spare time. The hours they have put in for this project in this area is phenomenal. You can sniff people who are just after money a mile away, but you could tell right away that it was for the love of the this area and for the game that people are doing this."