FORMER Hibs midfielder Eddie May hopes Stirling University’s maiden voyage in the William Hill Scottish Cup this weekend can prove that the school of hard knocks is not the only way to make it in football.
May’s university side won the East of Scotland League title for the first time last season and with that success came another first – the chance to test themselves in Scotland’s premier national cup competition.
May, who made 109 appearances for Hibs between 1985 and 1989, knows Stirling face a tough task this weekend after being drawn to face current East Juniors Champions Bonnyrigg Rose, but he is hoping his side will surprise a few people.
May said: “We’re all looking forward to it. It’s the first time we have ever played in the Scottish Cup, so obviously it is a huge occasion for everyone connected with the team. We know that it will be a very challenging game because we’re coming up against the champions of the Super League in the east. We were very successful last year and won the league for the first time in our history, as well as winning a couple of cups. There is very much a winning mentality here and we play to our strengths. We create chances and entertain as much as possible.
“I am sure Bonnyrigg will have been able to spend money on certain players because junior football has always been very strong. If we lose, though, it certainly won’t be for want of trying. We will be a bit of an unknown quantity; we need to do what we are good at.”
Stirling are one of the few establishments in the country to offer students the chance to play football while maintaining their education. The university runs a High Performance Football Programme, where scholarships allow students – many with aspirations of turning professional – to study for a degree while play football for the University.
May was appointed their High Performance Football Coach earlier this year and he is keen to emphasise the benefits for players who can stay in education while playing the sport they love. “We want to go out and showcase the players and the talent that we have got and, at the same time, try to highlight the opportunities of coming to university.
“People tend to think that you do one or the other but, if we can put in a good performance on Saturday, maybe we can convince people that you can play football and get yourself an education at the same time.
“Stirling University and the sports facilities, it has is one of the best in Britain, so we want to go and showcase what we have got.”
May has first-hand experience of what it’s like to be a young kid trying to make it in football with no real education behind him. He quit full-time education at the age of just 15 to join Dundee United but was one of the fortunate ones who made the switch a successful full-time career. Not everyone is so lucky, though, and with the current financial climate in football, more and more youngsters are being consigned to the scrapheap by clubs simply unable to afford to keep them on their books.
Former Falkirk boss May added: “I wish there had been something like this when I was younger. I ended up leaving school without even taking exams.
“I finished my education at 15 and went up to play for Dundee United as a full-time professional. Looking back now, I would have done things so differently if I could have.
“I know that a lot of kids do, and I probably did at that age too – but you can’t just think that football is wonderful and that, because you’ve got a foot on the ladder, that you are going to be able to make a career out of it.
“Nowadays, kids should be trying to stay on as much as possible and get themselves a really good education so that they will have a better choice at the end of the day.
“More and more young players are finding themselves out of the game, being dropped by their clubs because they don’t think they will make it to the very top or simply released because of the financial restrictions that everyone is working with right now.
“Football can be a cruel business and you only find that out the hard way. How many people make it to the top? How many people get a good living out of it? In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that many.
“A lot of players, if they are released by their clubs, have got nothing behind them, no exams, no real education.
“What we do here at Stirling gives you the opportunity to go and educate yourself to the highest level and play football at the same time, so you’re killing two birds with one stone and doing something that you enjoy at the same time.
“I think this issue of players being left to their own devices is something that a lot of clubs should address. There are universities all over the country and clubs like Hibs, Hearts, Aberdeen, Dundee, Rangers and Celtic could all be tapping into the young talent. People think that have to make a choice and do one or the other, but hopefully we can prove that it is possible to do both.”