FALKIRK’s new vice chairman adds to the ranks of a growing band of football’s female ambassadors – another Ann Budge or Leeann Dempster – but she prefers to focus on the game rather than gender.
Margaret Lang joined the board in December but is newly-elevated to her latest role and while she is an equal opportunities advocate when it comes to women breaking down long-standing barriers, she is even more passionate about young footballers being helped to break through into the first team.
Attending her first game as a child, with her dad at Brockville, her love of the game flourished further while studying at Aberdeen University and attending games at Pittodrie during the Alex Ferguson era. It was a Scottish manager and a host of talented Scottish players who brought success to the Granite City and with a Scottish Cup semi-final looming against Hibernian and a play-off place to be won as the season reaches its denouement, she would love to see the her home club progress with its largely homegrown players.
She is proud of the work Falkirk already does to encourage the development of indigenous prodigies, and as a partner in Russel+Aitken since 1989, her company sponsored the youth academy and U-19s long before she was appointed to the board. The money was obviously welcome but for Lang it was always more than that.
She rattles off the names and ages of the lads currently grafting in the club’s second tier, hoping to make the strides necessary to eventually find a way into Peter Houston’s squad and turns out to support them almost as often as she cheers on the first team. “I’m a huge under-20s fan, or the development leagues as they now are,” she says. “I passionately believe we all have to do more for our grassroots football but you can only do what you can do with your own club. Our academy is something I have been extremely proud of and we have produced some cracking players, like Scott Arfield, Stephen Kingsley and Jay Fulton and there are other youngsters who have gone on to do very well after coming through our system.
“I go to the under-20 league games – well I go to nearly all the home games and I do try to get to some of the away games but it depends on work.”
That level of interest and commitment surprises some, including, she says the coaching staff. “I was sitting in the seat I would normally sit in and Peter Houston and James McDonagh appeared and saw me,” she adds. “They didn’t know that I went to the games and when I made wee comments about this player or that, about how they had played in the previous game etc I think they were a wee bit surprised.
“But, for me it’s all about development and seeing how we can pull these kids through. There are some cracking kids. But it staggers me how many kids come through the academies and when they get to 16 they are released and some of these kids have been with the academy since they were 10 or 11 so we are looking at how we best prepare them for what happens if they don’t get a contract.
“It’s not just about the kids we keep on and hopefully develop into first-team players, we are a community club so we have a responsibility to all the kids who come through the academy. It’s about having the structure in place and we are working on how we do that.”
There is a freshness and a drive, as well as unbridled enthusiasm from Lang as she discusses the sport’s major talking points, the TV deals which wreak havoc with fixture schedules, the difficult issue of attendances, finances and engaging with fans and the wider community in a bid to address them in a way which will help the game flourish.
“For the fans it’s all about the team on the pitch but if we don’t have the infrastructure right and don’t bring kids through then it’s difficult because a club like Falkirk can’t afford to bring in lots of new players in every transfer window. We are ambitious and we want to get back to the Premiership and do well in the cups but we have to be able to build up steadily so we can afford it and that means bringing our youngsters through.”
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