INSPIRED by a memory from his childhood, Craig Coulthard is recapturing the spirit of the Olympics with a forest football facility.
IF you go down to the woods you’re sure for a big surprise – because the last thing you’d expect to find amongst the trees in the forests of the Scottish Borders is a football stadium. A full-sized pitch complete with stands and changing rooms has been created as part of Forest Pitch, taking place this Saturday, in a dense wooded area near Selkirk.
The brainchild of a Capital artist, crowds will be entertained by two matches and the newly formed Edinburgh Brass Band in an event designed to recapture the true spirit of the Olympics.
But the playing area, a few miles from Selkirk in land belonging to the Buccleuch Estate, is more than just your average pitch found at the local park.
Commercially grown Spruce trees have been felled to make way for the pitch, the land levelled and grass sown, while all the felled timber is being re-used for the changing room, goal posts, seating, fencing and paths within the site. It will spend the next 60 years as an art installation, as native trees planted around the pitch edges continue to grow and create a “living sculpture”.
Craig Coulthard is the man behind the project, which has taken two years to complete. Inspired by a childhood memory, the 31-year-old’s idea will come to fruition in front of 1000 people while many more watch on a live internet feed.
Four teams will take to the pitch, two men’s teams and two women’s teams, kitted out in strips designed by Scottish schoolchildren. A duplicate set has been donated to the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden.
Famous supporters of the project include the Duke of Buccleuch, broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove and ex-Scotland rugby captain Chris Paterson.
Craig, who studied painting at Edinburgh College of Art, says: “The idea really came from living in Germany as a child because my dad worked for the RAF. Every weekend I would play football in this massive field in the middle of the woods. It’s quite a strong memory.
“Whenever I’ve flown over Britain, I’ve always used football stadiums to help me guess which city I was over, so that also helped develop the idea.”
The Olympic spirit doesn’t end there, with the two men’s teams called Olympia and Nemea and their female counterparts lining up as Delphi and Corinth. Together, they are the four locations of the original pan-hellenic games in Greece which went on to become the Games as we know them today.
Saturday will be a celebration of the diversity of Scotland’s communities as part of the Cultural Olympiad’s “welcome to the world” theme.
More than 60 players involved will be a mix of British citizens and those given leave to remain in the UK since 2000.
Craig says: “Forest Pitch highlights the founding spirit of the modern Olympic Games; it is all about amateur athletes joining together in competitions which honour the participation as much as the winning.
“The matches will be a showcase for sport as a way for people to engage with a culture, and of Scotland as a country which welcomes the world.
“At the time when I was bringing the proposal together, there was a lot of controversy about who was going to play for the British Olympic football team, because Scotland and Wales didn’t want to.
“It made me think about our players, and I came up with the idea of having people who have come to our country, and who contribute to society, but who don’t necessarily have the same cultural background.”
Now, three years after Craig’s initial idea, his vision is almost complete.
“I’m so excited,” he says. “I’ve seen it several times over the last few months, but it will be great to see it full of people finally.”
n The event is all-ticket, and today is the last chance to purchase them. Tickets are priced at £5 for adults and £3.50 for children and concessions, including transport to the Forest Pitch location from Selkirk. Call 01665-833 751 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
SEVERAL big names from the worlds of sport, the arts and politics have offered their support to Forest Pitch.
• Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry: “I am delighted that Forest Pitch is taking place in the Borders. It is an original and thought-provoking concept and it will be intriguing to see how it develops in practice. Art in our beautiful landscape has rich potential and the debate provoked by this work will hopefully stimulate others.”
• Ruth Mackenzie, director of the London 2012 Festival and Cultural Olympiad: “I very much admire Craig Coulthard and Forest Pitch. I love the ambition and boldness of the commission.”
• Sorcha Carey, director of the Edinburgh Art Festival: “Forest Pitch is an extremely ambitious project, which promises to engage us all in a lively debate about identity and belonging.”
• Stuart Cosgrove, director of creative diversity at Channel 4: “Against the backdrop of high drama and controversy in Scottish football it’s great that Forest Pitch is putting the game first.”
• Kim Little, Scottish women’s football international and member of the British Olympic football team: “By giving equal status to the male and female teams, Forest Pitch is making a really important statement about the development of football in 21st-century Scotland, showing that it is now as much a game for women as for men. I hope that Forest Pitch encourages even more women to get involved.”
• Chris Paterson, Scotland’s most capped and highest-scoring rugby player: “There are so many people round Scotland, from so many different backgrounds, who are united in their love for the country and for sport. Forest Pitch really highlights their talent, their enthusiasm and some of the best aspects of our culture.”