Billy Gilmour, Nathan Patterson and the Scotland Euro 2020 story inspiring the next generation

Scotland qualifying for Euro 2020 and young stars such as Billy Gilmour and Nathan Patterson being included in the squad has led to a huge increase in engagement with the international side from the younger generation.

SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell with Scotland head coach Steve Clarke

That is the view of Ian Maxwell, who presents his own son, Christopher, as evidence. The Scottish Football Association chief executive was speaking as the countdown to the finals truly begins. Scotland take on the Netherlands in a pre-tournament friendly in Portugal tomorrow night.

Steve Clarke's side have one more friendly against Luxembourg on Sunday before the big kick-off against Czech Republic at Hampden a week on Monday - their first major finals clash since 23 June 1998 v Morocco.

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Sticker books are filling up and the chat in the playground revolves around who might be included in Clarke’s starting XI. Even in the classroom, teachers can now mention Scotland players in exercises and be confident that young ears will prick up. It has not always been like that.

Chelsea midfielder Billy Gilmour in previous action for Scotland U21s. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

Maxwell hopes Scotland’s success might lead to a new generation of supporters just when there were fears that such a long exile might see the Tartan Army reduced to a Tartan platoon. Interest had undoubtedly begun to wane before David Marshall dived to his left on a famous night in Belgrade and booked Scotland’s finals place.

It helps that one of Scotland’s three group games is against England at Wembley and the two others are at Hampden Park, with Croatia the visitors after Czech Republic. Football really is coming home.

“It’s definitely going to engage a different generation,” said Maxwell. “Even down to things like we’ve been out meeting schools and the curriculums are using Scotland players on numeracy and literacy programmes as part of their daily school work. That’s not happened before, we weren’t being asked to provide that. So the engagement they get is vast.

“My son is 20 in July and booked for Wembley,” added Maxwell. "I’ve never seen him so excited as the day we qualified for the finals. If I’m honest he’s never really engaged with the national team. When I was at Thistle he would go there and he would probably regard himself as a Thistle fan but he’s now talking about Scotland.

“When they announced the squad last week there was an outbreak of football chat in Scotland, which is unusual. Everybody talking about players and who was in and out and the whys and wherefores. It was great. We should be having those conversations, particularly from a men’s A perspective. We want to be qualifying every 23 months not every 23 years because it’s far too long. We need to build on the success of the girls and women’s game when they qualify and make sure that continues as well.”

Maxwell is 46 and even he feels re-invigorated by the achievement. Of course, that could also have something to do with the financial rewards secured by the SFA on the back of Scotland reaching the finals, particularly when Hampden Park is one of the host stadiums.

But this, Maxwell claims, is incidental when compared to the part such success plays in unlocking future potential talent. The inspirational properties are priceless of seeing 19-year-old pair Gilmour and Patterson, from Chelsea and Rangers respectively, named in the Euro 2020 squad after graduating from the SFA performance schools.

“We have to have a legacy from the Euros, it’s not just talking about the games for a period of time it’s what can we do that’s meaningful and keeps us going beyond that,” said Maxwell, who hopes performance schools, SFA-affiliated or otherwise, keep producing the results that are starting to be seen now.

His predecessor Stewart Regan was in situ when these were set up as part of Scottish football’s new performance strategy in 2012.

“I saw a few clips over the weekend with Stewart Regan talking about the team qualifying for Euro 2020 and performance graduates playing in the team,” said Maxwell.

“It’s fantastic that we’ve got there and it vindicates that decision. We are only ever going to be as good as the players we develop and we need to make sure we have the right structures and pathways in place to do that to give ourselves the best chance of qualifying on a regular basis.

“It would be great to think that Billy and Nathan and David (Turnbull) might be able to go from being part of the squad to getting themselves on the pitch at some point as well.

“It will be a great experience for them and it’s really aspirational for the rest of the players starting out in the first year of performance schools who are thinking about going down that route.

"Fundamentally if you are saying to someone, ‘go and practice every day’ then you clearly get better at anything. It doesn’t matter what it is. If you are doing it every day you are going to improve.

“We have our own performance schools, clubs are implementing their own schools,” he added.

“Dundee and Dundee United have one, Hearts have one, Celtic and Rangers have one each.

"So there is logic behind it. Across Europe performance schools have worked with player development as part of a pathway.

“They’re not the be all and end all. Players need to come out and play on the other side as well.

"That’s part of the challenge we’ve got, to make sure the pathway is right. We are not precious about who owns the schools, the most important thing is that Scottish footballers are being developed to their upmost potential. That has to be the aim.

“Who owns the school doesn’t matter. When you talk about Billy Gilmour coming through a performance school nobody knows and nobody cares.

“The vast majority of the public don’t know if they are SFA, Rangers, Celtic, Motherwell or whoever. What’s important is that we’ve got them in place and we’re developing players.”

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