SCOTLAND manager Gordon Strachan has spoken of his pride in the work of the Spartans Community Football Academy and is urging the government to replicate it throughout the country.
Strachan has been patron of the Ainslie Park facility, based in the part of north Edinburgh where he grew up, since 2006.
Rather than simply lending his name to the project in order to raise its profile, Strachan has played as active a role in it as his full-time football commitments have allowed. He is thrilled by the positive effect it has had, most notably in combating anti-social behaviour in the area.
“It has really taken off,” said Strachan. “In fact, it should be a model for every community in the land.
“Nuisance phone calls to the police have gone down 70 per cent since the project was set up. For every £1 Spartans spend, they save the community £7 in damage and what have you around the area.
“They do strange things that just seem to work. For example, they leave a ball out on the 3G pitch at night. Instead of shutting everything up, the ball’s left there. No-one steals it, kids and dads just come in and play with it in the evening, but no-one nicks it.
“Edinburgh schools close early on Friday afternoons, so because they’re not getting lunch, a lot of kids don’t get a meal at all that night, not with the state their parents are in.
“So we have them in at the Academy, get them kicking a ball about and then feed them. It’s free for about 40 or 50 kids. And if their mums drop them off, we have computers sitting there so while the kids are playing, the mums can get used to being online, learning or whatever.
“It’s incredible what Spartans do. The chairman, Craig Graham, is a very clever man. They should be asking him how to do things within other communities. You don’t have to be a great football player, but every kid needs a sport to play, to get them off the streets.
“The Spartans project has proved that if you do get kids off the streets, problems in the surrounding community drop dramatically.
“My mother and my aunties and uncles still live in the area and I’m really happy to have been working in the community, especially with the Spartans project.”
Funding remains an issue for such initiatives and Strachan believes there will be approaches made to the Scottish Government after the independence referendum later this year to seek wider investment in extending the scheme all across Scotland.
“How do we get a project like this into every town and city in the country?” added Strachan. “Well, it takes money, although Spartans have managed to generate all their own so far. But if we get independence…well, it’s going to be ‘Come on Alex, get yer cash out…’.”