Fretting about what you are going to do with the kids over the Easter holidays? Then spare a thought for Tom Elliott and his team who will have around 200 on their hands over the coming fortnight.
The youngsters will be flocking to camps organised by Hibs not only at their East Mains training centre but Meadowbank and Selkirk with goalkeeping coach Alan Combe taking two separate camps for would-be goalies.
But as highly popular as these events prove to be, with children and their parents alike, it’s only the tip of the iceberg as far as Elliott is concerned, with a range of programmes underway catering from toddlers through to their grandparents and all being managed by the recently appointed head of community coaching.
Such is the scope of activity that Elliott enjoys recounting a story from just last weekend as he was speaking to a man taking part in “walking football” which is aimed at those of a certain vintage. He said: “He told me that while he was enjoying the walking football, his grandson had just joined Hibee Tots, which is for toddlers aged between two and four, his grand-daughter was playing with the girls’ football team and his son is in the Healthy Hibbies.”
Throw in a just completed and successful pilot programme with the Lothian Autistic Society, plans to set up a deaf football team and a myriad of other projects under the umbrella of the Hibernian Community Foundation and it becomes clear there’s a lot more to the Capital club than the top-team’s prospects.
For Elliott it’s a seven-days-a-week operation, each a long, long day but, he insists, it’s a job he wouldn’t swap for any other, the former professional footballer throwing himself in at grassroots level rather than chase a coaching job at a higher level.
A player with Partick Thistle and Stenhousemuir and ten years in the Juniors with Petershill, Elliott turned to coaching early, following the traditional path of “doing his badges” at the SFA courses at Largs before spending three years working in the United States. He returned to head up Stenhousemuir’s community programme, moving on to Falkirk and then Morton before the lure of Hibs proved irresistible.
He said: “My passion lies in grassroots football. I love setting up programmes and seeing children coming in and seeing them grow in confidence.
“I have had opportunities to work in academies but there is so much to do in the grassroots game. One thing I have always said to myself is ‘can I make a difference’. I still ask it and I have been fortunate enough in the football clubs I have been at to make a difference, to grow their community programmes.
“It’s about the right people in the right job and I feel this is the right job for me. I love working with young players and players of all abilities and I will keep doing that until I feel I’m not making a difference.”
Elliott’s enthusiasm and passion for his work is clear, the long hours involved brushed aside. “It’s part and parcel of the job. I won’t tell you the last time I had a day off but I absolutely love starting first thing in the morning and getting home last thing at night. It comes with the territory, you know what you are getting into in this type of job and if you are not prepared to do it then a community job is not really for you.”
Currently working with two full-time coaches, part of the Community Job Scotland scheme, and six part-timers, Elliott was last night speaking to between another 25 and 20 potential coaches as the plans of chief executive Leean Dempster and George Craig, head of football operations, to extend Hibs reach into the community, are executed.
Coaching courses at nurseries proved so popular they are to be extend while, after the Easter holidays, Elliott and his team will be delivering the Tesco Bank programme on behalf of the SFA in local primaries and, on behalf of the Food Standards Agency, a programme for primary fours, while continuing the many other projects already in hand.
The power of football clubs to deliver on so many different fronts and different levels was highlighted in the McLeish Report into the Scottish game, a vision which has been embraced by Hibs through the setting up of the Community Foundation.
Take, for example, the work for children with autism. Elliott said: “It was a fantastic programme, just to see the children come along and have smiles on their faces by just kicking a ball and their parents happy that their children were getting that opportunity.
“That’s what a football club can provide, football for all. Seeing them come along and hopefully seeing the start of a journey for them with Hibs for many years to come.
“We ran a deaf football programme and are at the stage where we will probably be staring a deaf team. It’s great that the club can reach out to these other areas and attract kids to come along.
“At the Easter camps all we want is a friendly and fun environment for the boys and girls. It’s for all abilities. We’ll have players who are academy players, others who are at boys’ clubs and children maybe coming into a camp for the first time and it’s great to see parents happy with what we have provided and the children going away with smiles on their faces.”
The long-term hope, of course, is that many of those who enjoy the activities on offer also become fans of the football club.
Elliott said: “We’ve created programmes for grandfathers and mothers to their grandchildren, there’s been some who weren’t fans but now come along to matches. I just said ‘wow’ when I saw the facilities on offer and one of the things we wanted to do was open up East Mains to the community. We have done that.
“I’m fortunate enough to come in here on a daily basis but it’s fantastic for people to come and experience it for themselves.”
Often, however, the efforts of Elliott and others of his ilk can pass virtually unseen by outsiders, the Glasgow-born coach admitting: “The more exposure we can get, the better. It’s all about getting the message out there, highlighting the work that can be done.”