Two former Scotland internationals have raised questions over the availability and accessibility of football facilities in the country which they argue is contributing to the national team’s malaise on the international stage.
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It comes as one club leader at an Edinburgh club said the council treat football clubs as “cash cows”.
More than 3,000 people have signed a petition as part of an Evening News campaign which aims to make sport more accessible in the Capital.
The warnings come as prices to rent 3G pitches in Edinburgh hit nearly £80 an hour for adults and £38 per hour for juniors.
This is double the price for grass pitches in the city.
The criticisms come following analysis by the Evening News which shows at least 35 full-sized football pitches have closed since 2000.
City of Edinburgh Council say that while pitches have shut, capacity has increased as new 3G pitches are available throughout the year and for several different sports.
Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale club leader Tam Smith added that junior and boys clubs are still producing talent, but that it is in spite of rather than because of the changes in how sporting facilities are run in the city.
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Kris Boyd, speaking on television after Scotland’s 4-0 defeat to Belgium on Monday, labelled football as a “middle class sport”.
He said: “We’ve put all weather pitches up, they’re great, fantastic.
“But kids have to pay a fortune to get on them.
“We’re losing too many kids, it’s now a middle-class sport and, if we’re honest, being a footballer is not the be all end all for kids coming through.
“The football community gets the blame but it’s everybody, collectively.
“I’m afraid to say, I don’t think that as a country or football nation we’ve hit rock bottom yet.”
Mr Boyd, who played for Rangers and Kilmarnock as well as gaining nearly 20 caps for Scotland, added it costs an “absolute fortune” to play football.
He said: “You see no ball game signs up everywhere you go now. Why?
“You’re not allowed to play on the street, we keep hearing about kids in South America playing football - we’re encouraging people not to do it.
“Then we’re moaning that all kids want to do is play computers.
“They’ve got nothing else to do because it costs an absolute fortune to go and play football because of what our country has created.”
Pat Nevin, who played for Scotland nearly 30 times and had a successful career at Chelsea, Everton and Tranmere Rovers, said on BBC Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland that questions must be asked as to why the country is struggling to develop quality footballers.
He said: “When you get down to it, we are not producing enough good technical players.
“Why are they not coming through? We need to find out why.
“Is it because the kids are not interested in football any more and they are doing something else?
“It is certainly a fact that we have got enough people playing football that we should be able to do it or are we not coaching in the right way?”
And Tam Smith said the cost of 3G and other artificial pitches does hamper the development of good quality footballers.
He said: “Over the last ten years the growth in women’s and girl’s football has not been anticipated and clubs like Hutchison Vale are being squeezed by the costs.
“The prices are going up and it is taken as read that they always will.
“It is like the clubs are a cash cow.”
Mr Smith added that school football provision has also been reduced, further hurting the development of young players.
He said: “Some secondary schools don’t have any football provision or teams at all.
“The only place that a kid is going to get access to football is at school and in the absence of that, we don’t reap what we don’t sow in terms of the national team.”
The proportion of money spent on hiring pitches has also gone up, said Mr Smith, compared to club budgets in previous years.
He said this is leaving clubs unable to pay their bills or provide as much free sport to those from a disadvantaged background as might otherwise be provided.
Mr Smith said: “We are absolutely spending more money on pitch hire in proportion to previous years.
“We are still producing players and we are still producing them not because of the council facilities but in spite of them.
“I have maybe got one or two years left in me but I fear for the future of people who lead sporting clubs because they are treated with disdain.
“Sometimes I fear it is a waste of time.”
Here is a link to the Evening News petition to stop cuts and make sport more accessible to all in Edinburgh - https://www.change.org/p/city-of-edinburgh-council-stop-the-cuts-and-make-sport-affordable-and-accessible-for-all-in-edinburgh