Flying the flag across Scotland for football’s partnership role
STUART McCaffrey always had a good engine as a player, but since he hung up his boots at the end of last season he has clocked up 12,000 miles travelling across Scotland as a latter-day football evangelist.
But the former Inverness Caley Thistle player is not just spreading the word, he’s distributing alms to the grassroots of the game on behalf of the Scottish Football Partnership (SFP).
The SFP is that rare thing, a good news story in a sport racked by financial, race, sectarian and sex scandals in the past year, both here and down south. It deserves to be told, not just for giving credit where it is due, but because the SFP has so much more to give, quite literally.
It stepped into the void left when the Football Trust folded and has distributed £6 million over the past decade to all levels of football in Scotland, from the SPL to the Highland League, amateurs, youth and boys’ and girls’ clubs. An independent body, the SFP is funded by the SFA and currently has 22 projects which enable 6,000 kids across Scotland to play football on proper pitches with changing facilities and portable floodlights.
But McCaffrey, the SFP company secretary, frontman and sole employee, says: “I want people to chap on our door. We are here to help football at all levels. All you need to do is ask and we will consider every application on its merits.”
Recent beneficiaries range from Ross County, helping to get Victoria Park up to scratch for the SPL, to changing facilities, floodlights and minibuses for boys’ and girls’ clubs from Gala and Kelso to Wick.
One project McCaffrey is particularly proud of is Fife club Balgonie Thistle. “They have waited 52 years for facilities and with our help they now have them. Another is Erskine Youth FC and Parkmoor Boys Clubs in Renfrewshire, who are now running over 25 teams, four nights a week at the India Tyres playing fields at Inchinnan.”
Erskine Youth coach Neil McMurchy said: “We’re absolutely delighted with the new changing rooms and can’t thank the SFP enough.”
McCaffrey is proud of his role at the SFP: “Like all pros, I started at grass-roots and know how important it is. I get a kick out of going to these clubs and seeing how the SFP is helping them grow and prosper. There has been so much negative stuff about football yet people forget what a great game it is and how many people at every level put their heart and soul into it for the love of the game. Football at all levels gives so much to individuals and communities.” One of the SFP’s strengths, particularly unusual today, is its fast-track funding, clearing applications within a month, and its lack of bureaucracy. Much of that is due to a board with a solid football background and much-needed savvy. Its chairman is James Clydesdale, the former Hearts director, and he is backed by directors Fraser Wishart, of PFA Scotland, Peter Donald, the former secretary of the Scottish Football League, and Bill Littlejohn, an ex-director of Dundee United.
But the SFP doesn’t limit itself to developing the game in Scotland. When Clydesdale was approached for help by Sister Liz Smith, of the Daughters of St Vincent de Paul, who runs a children’s charity in Kenya, they sent out a container of sports kits. Clydesdale says: “We put out an appeal and a lot of SPL clubs stepped forward, as did people from all levels of Scottish football from the likes of Queen’s Park to Wick Academy. It was a story of incredible generosity.”
Appropriately enough, and much to the chairman’s pleasure, the Hearts colours were first choice for local club the Cardinals, inspiring them to a 4-1 win in their first game in their new kit.
Meanwhile, as the SFP seek new sources of funding from government and the voluntary and private sectors to promote and develop football, it is worth noting the McLeish Report suggested the SFP as a vehicle to rejuvenate Scottish football.
Indeed, the Scottish Government’s Cash Back To Communities seeks specific projects and it would appear a no-brainer for Kenny McAskill, the justice secretary, himself a keen football fan, that the SFP is an ideal agency to use.
Meanwhile, as McCaffrey invites football people from all levels to chap on his door, clubs across Scotland should realise this is one door that can open up a whole new future for them and not be slammed in their face.
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