Ex-Hibs ace Keith is helping to get game going during winter

SOME of Scotland's most famous footballing names can fondly reminisce about a childhood spent honing their skills on the streets with a tanner ba', whiling away hours on end with jumpers for goalposts, pretending to be Maradona, Dalglish or Pele.

Fast forward to 2010, and times have inevitably changed.

The next generation of ball players are seen as an obstruction on Britain's streets, and councils have slapped 100 fines on those caught "posing a danger to the public" at the mere hint of a roadside keepy-up.

Thankfully, for football-starved Lothians youngsters who haven't been able to kick a ball in earnest over the winter months due to the lack of natural light and deteriorating conditions of parks, Midlothian has the answer.

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Floodlit, artificial surfaces and organised small-sided games have taken the place of muddy kick-abouts in the pitch dark.

Keith Wright, the former Hibs striker now employed as a football development officer for the Scottish Football Association, will this week launch the latest season of the Midnight Leagues, which will run until early April.

"The incentive is to play in a safe environment," he says. "The most loyal boys have the chance to represent a select side that plays a match at a big stadium – last year it was at Tynecastle. The number of boys coming along has increased year-on-year, and sometimes over a hundred have attended in one evening."

Youngsters aged 12-16, regardless of ability, can simply turn up and play at venues in Bonnyrigg, Dalkeith and Penicuik. Best of all, the sessions are free of charge and provide a great alternative to kids kicking their heels indoors at the end of a school week.

Ben McGinlay, a 13-year-old pupil at Beeslack High School, plays in the South East Region youth league for Eskmills and is a budding goalkeeper who was recently selected for the Midlothian development squad. "I've come along often in the past," he says. "The Midnight League is good fun and it gets you out the house."

The increase in popularity of youth football in the Lothians has seen many new clubs formed in recent years, with the ever-expanding legions of young footballers becoming involved in weekly training and competitive matches. The Midnight League is a more relaxed alternative that is played in an sociable environment.

"Even boys who don't play for a team can come and learn new things," says Dylan Thomson, 13, a pupil at Penicuik High School. "It's also a really good way to get to know new people."

Penicuik classmate Ross Walker stressed the importance of having the option of an organised event for people his age on a Friday evening. He said: "I think if I didn't go to the Midnight Leagues, I'd just sit about in the house, or be on the streets. Since the leagues have been on, you can get a proper game and play with your mates."

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Midnight Leagues will begin this Friday and Saturday at Penicuik, Dalkeith and Bonnyrigg.

Children aged 12-16 can participate in games on Fridays at Penicuik Public Park and the Astroturf at Dalkeith Campus, and on Saturdays at Poltonhall Astro, 7.30-9.30pm until 2 and 3 April.

For more information and to register call 01968 664 090.