“Youth football is nothing if it’s not about social inclusion. For us, and I’m sure this applies to other clubs too, it’s about bringing boys and girls together from all backgrounds to enjoy sport. To give them a purpose and to keep them active. If they are healthy and focused and learning the core skills of a sport – discipline, organisation, communication, friendship and so on – then they will hopefully be better equipped to avoid some of the obvious distractions that society will put in front of them and more driven when it comes to their education and in the fullness of time, work.”
The words of Malcolm Robertson of Hutchison Vale Community Sports Club serve to reinforce my view that such clubs play an extremely important role in helping youngsters develop into responsible adults, willing to make a meaningful contribution to society, and that they are crucial in the fight to combat any drift into antisocial behaviour and criminal activities.
It’s not all about winning trophies, it is much more than that. Social inclusion is another goal that youth clubs take seriously as Malcolm stressed when I met him last week to discuss the financial challenges facing such clubs and the consequences for local communities if they go under.
Increasing fees to a level that many families would struggle to meet and which may force them to determine that their children’s participation is no longer an option is not a route that the clubs will go down, but they are facing greater financial pressure than ever. Their contribution to wider society has to be fully recognised and taken into account when the city council determines its budget and allocates its grant to Edinburgh Leisure.
Hutchie Vale club officials spend a great deal of time and effort talking to their charges about the importance of self-respect and respect for others. The Junior Academy club members are told that the Player of the Week Award is judged on everything that they do in the club and not just on the pitch. Hutchie Vale was formed during the Second World War to give young local boys the chance to play football but the club has grown out of all recognition since then, with around 400 players, including nearly 100 in the women and girls section. Given Scotland’s participation in the Women’s World Cup taking place in France, it is likely that the popularity the sport is now enjoying will result in many more participants in the months to come.
Malcolm is fearful that some clubs may struggle to keep afloat, clubs that can boast a similar number of members from within their respective communities and without, and the potential effect that it may have on youngsters deprived of a major, positive influence on their road to adulthood.
He told me: “Looking forward, we need to change to survive. That will be the same for every club like ours. Every time that the council cuts Edinburgh Leisure’s budget, it is clubs like ours on the front line that feel the pain of rising costs to access facilities.”
Next year’s council budget is already being considered within the City Chambers and difficult decisions will have to be made. Hopefully before councillors do so they will take fully into account, not just sports clubs’ contribution towards a healthy lifestyle but also their contribution towards the development of young people into responsible members of society.