Youth football scene under threat due to public pitch closures

Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale V Leith Athletic. Picture: Scott Louden
Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale V Leith Athletic. Picture: Scott Louden
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THE future of some of the best-known names in the Capital’s youth footballing scene is under threat due to a crippling lack of facilities.

Hutchison Vale have announced that three teams within their youth set-up won’t play next season as it emerged that 76 pitches in Edinburgh have been lost to council closures, housing developments and redesignations since the year 2000.

Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale V Leith Athletic. Picture: Scott Louden

Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale V Leith Athletic. Picture: Scott Louden

The club, famous for launching the careers of several Scottish internationals – including the likes of former Hibs stars John Collins, Leigh Griffiths and Kenny Miller – said their under-19s, under-13s Hornets and under-14s Colts sides have played their final games for the foreseeable future due to a lack of pitches.

It’s a feeling echoed across the city as a number of clubs feel the pinch.

Hutchison Vale leader Tam Smith said the needs of clubs were being “overlooked” without any consideration of the financial impact.

“Clubs like Hutchy are being squeezed out because there just aren’t enough facilities for our teams,” he said.

“A couple of years ago, we had teams playing at 21 different locations because there was just nowhere we could fit them all in.

“We played at 14 this year, but that included going out to [Scotland’s national performance centre for sport] Oriam, which is financially unsustainable.”

Mr Smith pointed to the removal of six pitches at the Gyle following the development of the David Lloyd fitness centre as one of the most significant losses, while 11 fields at Inverleith Park and Sighthill were converted from football to rugby use.

He said: “I think what sticks with me is the pitches that were given to other clubs or taken away for whatever reason, but then never replaced.

“There’s no way any team could expect to survive if their home is constantly being moved.

“It’s simple maths, if you take away five pitches and put two down to replace them, you’ve lost three. It doesn’t matter how good they are.”

Salvesen Boys Club chairman Jason Ronaldson revealed his club was being forced to “beg” for pitch space after losing out on their home turf following development at Forrester High School in 2010, describing the rate of closures as “a worrying trend”.

He said: “It feels like we’re being overlooked because we’re one of the more unfashionable sides in the city.

“Before the old Forrester High School was torn down, we had a clubhouse, six or seven full-sized pitches, space for soccer sevens.

“We had the full set-up, but now we’re effectively begging for lets of the new 3G surfaces.

“We’re sharing with Edinburgh City and Forrester High. They get priority while we’re basically feeding off scraps.

“That’s not to say it’s on them, they both make allowances for us, but the situation we’re in is difficult.

“We’re struggling even for storage. I don’t know how many times we’ve asked for a portable cabin to store equipment in and been turned down. I’ve barely opened the boot of my car in the last five years because it’s so crammed with kit and equipment.”

Douglas Dalgleish, chairman of Tynecastle Boys Club – which trained a young former Hearts goalkeeper, Craig Gordon – bemoaned the infrastructure in place for youth teams across Scotland.

“It is a concern for us that the pitches that are being lost on a yearly basis are not being equally replaced,” he said.

“We’re lucky in that we enjoy some fantastic facilities at Saughton but if we tried to expand at the moment we would struggle to cope.

“At the moment we have a number of teams across various age groups who are just about managing to train and play on the facilities we enjoy, but if we ever wanted to go further, to have multiple teams at each age group, it would be difficult for us to maintain.”

Mr Dalgleish said lessons needed to be learned from other countries with good track records in producing young players.

He said: “The frustrating thing for us isn’t necessarily the pitches being removed or ‘upgraded’, it’s the fact they haven’t been properly replaced – that has a knock-on effect for player development.

“We’ve been out to places like Sweden and Denmark with our youth teams and the infrastructure they have there is just miles ahead of anything we have in Edinburgh or even Scotland as a whole.”

A city council spokeswoman defended the closure of certain pitches and reassured clubs they were committed to providing the best available pitches for community use.

She said: “Many of the facilities highlighted by Hutchison Vale were closed because they were found to be severely under-used or in poor condition.

“Our aim is to increase access to physical activity in the city and get more people active, which means constantly reviewing usage, supply and demand by members of the community as well as clubs.

“By investing in better quality sports pitches – replacing grass with synthetic and 3G – we have actually seen the year-round use of Edinburgh’s sports pitches increase.”

A spokesperson for Edinburgh Leisure, which manages public pitches, said: “We are always mindful of customer demand, working with the council to consider supply versus demand.

“Wherever possible we attempt to maximise use of multi-pitch venues to ensure efficiencies of scale and to manage the portfolio of pitches to ensure that no pitches are over-trained or overplayed.

“Inevitably, there are some venues and times that are more popular than others and we do our best to share peak times across all sports and clubs.”

newsen@edinburghnews.com