THE name of Hutchison Vale has become synonymous over the years with producing many of Scotland's brightest young football stars, a fact recognised by a new whopping £20,000 sponsorship deal with building services firm Connaught.
But, while one of the Capital's most successful amateur clubs now runs an astonishing 31 teams from toddlers through to a new tie-up with East Seniors outfit Lothian Thistle, Hutchie leader Tam Smith today insisted their ethos remains the same as ever.
While rightly proud of the number of youngsters who have gone on to prove themselves at the highest level, Smith insisted he and his coaches take as much pride from the enjoyment the hundreds of kids they have coached get from simply playing football.
Despite their success, however, Smith insists that clubs like Hutchie, Salvesen, Tynecastle and Edina Hibs don't get the support they deserve, revealing his own club, run from an old scout hut on Ford's Road which "should have been pulled down years ago", rely on continuous fund-raising just to survive.
It takes around 72,000 a year to run Hutchie, money raised, according to Smith, by whatever means necessary given the club – formed way back in 1940 – enjoys only a tiny grant from Edinburgh Council.
Smith said: "Funding is a constant battle as is a shortage of pitches. We do whatever we can to raise money, individual sponsorships, dances, raffles anything..
"Clubs like ourselves, Salvesen's, Tynecastle, Edina Hibs and so on – and in other sports, too – are so important to children, I don't think we get the cognisance we deserve at this level."
While it may be a constant battle, Smith, below, insisted he and his fellow coaches are more than amply rewarded by the pleasure they receive from seeing hundreds of children enjoy playing football. Asked for the secret, Smith replied: "Our coaches, over a long period of time, make sure the ethos is kept firmly in place, keeping the game simple and creating the atmosphere to let the kids play. There's no bawling and shouting, people like that don't last long at Hutchison Vale. There has to be the right atmosphere conducive to learning. Football, first and foremost, is about natural enthusiasm then hopefully learning how to make and receive a pass and so on. We insist the ball is played on the deck, if you look through the years then size for size we seem to have the wee lads in our teams whereas teams with big kids want to play the traditional Scottish way. My own personal philosophy is very much not only about teaching the children but giving them the information so that ultimately they are empowered themselves.
"It's amazing the number of kids who go on from Hutchie to senior teams and for us to get reports of how confident they are and how they know the game... that's testimony to the coaches we have here.
"Obviously we've enjoyed seeing so many of our former players go on to make a name for themselves in the game but for every one of them there's many others, both boys and girls, who have just enjoyed playing football, to be part of something which is so important to children whether it's football or not.
"For example, we'll be taking 100 to the Gothia Cup in Sweden next month, how many of them will go on to senior football I don't know, but I do know that all of them will be talking about the experience for years to come."
An invitation from the Evening News to Smith and his coaches to come up with their best XI (see page 43) provoked a furious debate, so-much-so that rather than one team, they managed to name three.
Smith said: "We had one stipulation, that the coaches involved had a minimum of ten years with the club.
"It was a great debate among ourselves with everyone putting forward their argument for one player or another until we came up with these teams."
TAM SMITH and his fellow coaches have compiled their top XI from the players they've coached at Hutchison Vale ..
ALLAN McGREGOR (Rangers)
EVEN at a very young age he was playing against players two years older than him. Very mature for his age, he was always a good goalkeeper. Fantastic in penalty shoot-outs, you could always rely on him to save at least one. Proved that by saving David Healy's spot-kick in Scotland's 0-0 draw with Northern Ireland.
STEVEN WHITTAKER (Rangers)
AT Hutchison Vale he was a superb central midfield player rather than at right-back where he made his name with Hibs. There were signs of that in the goal he scored against Sporting Lisbon in the UEFA Cup last season. There was a natural strength about him, a true athlete. Like all our young players he was a great passer of the ball. A very personable young man.
GARY CALDWELL (Celtic)
HE only spent about a year with us when he was 15 but even then he was quite an accomplished player. A very determined youngster who has made the most of what he has. His spell at Hibs was very important as he matured as a player and has now gone on to be the player of the year and a Scotland regular.
IAN MURRAY (Hibs)
HE flitted between centre-back and midfield but always played "in" the field, never at left-back where he's now playing for Hibs. A very effective player who not only passed the ball well but read the game. He's been through a lot, suffering reactive arthritis while at Rangers and an unhappy spell at Norwich City but has bounced back to be outstanding at Hibs again. Never refuses an invitation to support any of our events.
GARY NAYSMITH (Sheffield United)
PLAYED further up the park for us and was a flying winger who would always get a barrow-load of goals every season. Moved on to Hearts and then Everton. Still playing regularly for Scotland although you cannot help but feel he'd have a lot more caps if he hadn't been so unfortunate with injury.
ANDY DRIVER (Hearts)
ON the right only because there's a certain John Collins on the left. Wouldn't say he was in the most successful of our teams but a superb lad who always stuck out because of those driving runs of his. Got his fair share of goals before being snapped up by Hearts. Being called up to England's Under-21 squad while not playing down south is a fair achievement.
DARREN FLETCHER (Manchester United)
SPOTTED by Old Trafford scout Andy Perry while playing in a tournament for Hutchison Vale. Man Utd kept tabs on him and since moving south he's done superbly well to more than hold his own at a club of such stature.
KEVIN THOMSON (Rangers)
A VERY thoughtful player who is also a great passer of the ball. Adds a balance to a side and is great at keeping the ball moving. His positional sense off the ball is terrific. Few appreciate that movement creates space which you can't do if you stand still. Very intelligent and always looks for that couple of yards.
ONE of the most cultured players Scotland has ever produced. Didn't always get a starting jersey in the Under-14s because of his size but he had such a fantastic left foot the ball was tied to him when he did play. Story goes he worked out in a shed in his back garden to build himself up working on the premise that, while he might not be the biggest, he'd be the strongest. Had a wonderful career with Hibs, Celtic, Everton, Monaco, Fulham and, of course, Scotland.
KENNY MILLER (Rangers)
PLAYED in a Hutchison Vale team which included Gary Mason and Kenny Milne, but he is the one who has done the best of them all. Never a penalty box player, he's still scoring the goals now he did then. Such a hard worker he must have had double the number of assists he did goals. His playing career speaks for itself.
DEREK RIORDAN (Hibs)
THE wild card in the side, nothing to him but an outrageous talent, a raw talent, two-footed, prepared to play off-the-cuff. Perhaps didn't have the John Collins' attitude but one of those guys you'd pay money to see which is a great accolade to anyone. A player with an eye for the unusual, someone capable of turning a game in an instant who still hasn't fulfilled his potential.
SEVERAL well-known players failed to make the first XI. Here are is an alternative XI picked by the coaches, followed by a line-up of top stars still under the age of 22.
HUTCHISON VALE 2nd XI
Goalkeeper: Alan Combe (Kilmarnock); Right-back: Grant Murray (Kilmarnock); Central defence: John Hughes (Hibs manager); Central defence: Steven Tweed (Montrose manager); Left-back: Darren Dods (Dundee United); Right midfield: Gary Locke (Kilmarnock); Central midfield: Michael Stewart (Hearts); Central midfield: Gary Mason (St Mirren); Left midfield: Eddie May (Falkirk youth coach); Striker: Garry O'Connor (Birmingham City); Striker: Colin Nish (Hibs)
HUTCHISON VALE UNDER-22 TEAM
Goalkeeper: Michael Andrews (Falkirk); Right back: Jonathan Brown (Hearts); Central defence: Paul Watson (Ipswich Town); Central defence: Kris Renton (Norwich City); Left-back: Mark Noble (Rangers); Right midfield: Danny Swanson (Dundee United); Central midfield: Mark Laird (Millwall); Central midfield: Paul Hanlon (Hibs); Left midfield: Danny Galbraith (Manchester United); Striker: Gary Glen (Hearts); Striker: Leigh Griffiths (Livingston)