Kezia Dugdale: Easter Road project is a game changer

Picture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL
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THE GameChanger project coming out of Easter Road could well be exactly that, says Kezia Dugdale

I was born a football fan. It’s not just in my blood like so many Scots; it was woven into the fabric of my childhood. I have often mentioned in political speeches that my dad was, and still is a teacher, and how both my parents instilled in me the importance of education early in my life. But my dad was also a part-time football referee, mostly in the Highland League when I was growing up in Elgin.

Twenty years later, I live a stone’s throw from Easter Road in Lochend and find myself a fully-fledged Hibby.

As we head towards the end of this Parliamentary term, I was delighted to have the opportunity to host a reception at Holyrood for one of the most exciting projects I’ve encountered in my five years as an MSP.

Now when you hear the phrase “game changer” in football, what do you think about?

You could hear it on Match of the Day with Gary Lineker discussing a super substitution decision or on Sky Sports News with Jim White getting excited by a last-minute big signing in on January transfer deadline day.

I believe the GameChanger project coming out of Easter Road will allow the phrase to take on a whole different meaning in reference to our national sport. It is a new and exciting way for our national sport to interact and engage with those communities that surround it.

Its aim to use all of the club’s assets – from its physical assets, like the stadium to its social reach and its emotional assets, that undying love a fan has for their team – to deliver lasting change in our communities in health, education, skills, training and much more.

Alongside NHS Lothian, Hibernian FC and their Community Foundation have begun laying the groundwork for this already with small initiatives such as fans being able to get their blood pressure tested at home games and a walking challenge between the fans and their favourite players.

They’ve provided free pedometers to fans to take part in the 500-mile challenge. The club and its players are walking 500 miles and the fans are walking 500 miles more – see what they did there?

I believe all politicians come into politics to make lasting positive change to their communities and we are always in search of new ways to tackle inequality in our society. I think the GameChanger project could be both the super sub and the big signing our communities could do with making.

• Kezia Dugdale is leader of the Scottish Labour Party