Hutchie Vale still going strong 75 years on

Hutchison Vale's Tam Smith shows off some of the trophies claimed across all ages over the years. Pic: Greg Macvean
Hutchison Vale's Tam Smith shows off some of the trophies claimed across all ages over the years. Pic: Greg Macvean
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It began as no more than a local street team and today it is headquartered in a nondescript former scout hut behind Edinburgh’s Saughton Enclosure.

But 75 years on, Hutchison Vale is recognised as one of the leading boys clubs in Scotland, an organisation which has produced a seemingly never ending list of youngsters who have gone on to play football, not only for major clubs throughout this country and beyond but at international level.

Back then during the early years of the Second World War the club’s founder, a Mr Cleghorn who worked on the trams, could hardly have envisaged the legacy of his early work, a single team now a massive operation with an astonishing 470 players and 33 teams taking to the field every week whether it be in youth football, soccer sevens or in the fast-growing girls’ and women’s game.

Tam Smith has been closely involved with “Hutchie” since 1986 and has been club leader for the past 29 years, like the 75 other coaches and backroom staff, a volunteer but in what is a full-time job, fighting a constant battle to raise the thousands of pounds needed and, on a weekly basis, simply identifying sufficient pitches to allow the players to enjoy a game of football.

He said: “Mr Cleghorn saw kids in the Hutchison area kicking a ball about and, as a lot of street teams start that was the beginning of the club. After a few friendlies the boys were asked to come up with a name and their ideas were put into a hat. It was a boy called Paddy Malone who lived at 22 Hutchison Road who came up with Hutchison Vale and it’s stuck every since.”

Even from it’s early years it was evident Hutchie Vale might be that wee bit different, early managers being local couple “Pa and Ma” Bryson. Smith said: “Ma Bryson was the only known football manager at that time but she could handle the pressure. There’s a story of her once marching onto the pitch and telling the goalkeeper David Leslie he’d never pull on a Hutchie jersey again because he’d lost a stupid goal.

“They were, apparently, quite a formidable couple, but they were respected, were good at fundraising and doing a lot of stuff for the boys. I think they would be flabbergasted if they were still around to see what has happened.”

To this day Smith insists the many thousands of children who has passed through the doors of those Ford’s Road premises have been more important than the football itself, declining to offer his thoughts on a “top ten” of those who have gone on to become household names down through the years, even although it is a lengthy list as evidenced by the wealth of photographs hanging on the walls chronicling Hutchie’s history.

Pointing to the impressive array of trophies in the cabinets opposite, 57-year-old Smith insisted: “It wouldn’t bother me if they weren’t here. I wants the kids playing at the best level they can. Gordon Strachan was spot-on when he said the other day that kids want to win. Of course they do, they all do.

“But he would agree there’s a way to win and a way to lose. I think if you behave badly when you have lost, you lose twice. Playing football together teaches them communication, the dependability they have on each other and the bonds they make – there are friendships made for life here.

“Yes, we have a great record of boys who have gone on the play senior football – there were a couple of articles saying this was the most prolific non-senior club producing football players in Britain. But for every one of them there’s many, many more who haven’t. We’ve a reputation built up over the years of doing the right thing, looking after them and playing the game a certain way.

“We have a template, it’s not just thud and blunder and blood and thunder, it’s getting the ball down and playing on the carpet. Get them playing the right way, give them the tools and knowledge so they can take that into their football career whether that’s at a decent level or recreational level, East of Scotland or Juniors, wherever.

“Years ago everyone was talking about small-sided games and the way the Dutch were doing it – we were doing it then. I sometimes think pro youth can bee too rigid, too structured for a lot of kids, for players like Leigh Griffiths and Jason 
Cummings it didn’t work out. It’s too much at too young an age and then they come back to the boys’ club and play in a more relaxed environment.

“To me pro youth is like a revolving door. Those teams are first and foremost a business and the kids are commodities and you wonder how they can ever enjoy what we call team spirit.

“It’s a different mindset, not just at Hutchie but other clubs like Tynecastle Boys, Salvesen, Leith Athletic and so on. The boys can play in a more relaxed environment, they can grow up together. We have 76 coaches and people who help, who all have their place and everyone is as important as the other. It would just take one or two not to be here and we wouldn’t be so strong. We all have to work hard to make sure the teams are kept at a decent standard and the behaviour of the coaches is fundamental in the way they interact with children. The children are more important than football.”

“I bump into people who tell me they used to play for Hutchie. They still regard themselves as Hutchie kids 30 years on and it’s great to see them. So to us every kid, and I couldn’t tell you how many thousands we’ve had, is as important as any other.”

However, as much success as Hutchie Vale, who linked up with Lothian Thistle a few years ago to provide a pathway to adult football – the majority of the LTHV side which has high hopes of making the fourth round of the Scottish Cup in this weekend’s replay against Huntly have come through the boys’ club ranks – have enjoyed, Smith admits to a great frustration to the lack of available facilities which are hindering the work of such organisations.

He said: “There’s no proper process or structure. Finding a pitch is onerous. I’ll spend hours on a Monday making sure every team has a facility for the weekend. Sometimes when I see the teams being drawn away in the cups it’s a relief because it’s less hassle trying to sort that out.

“It’s a problem for clubs at this level and I think we do a great job, not just ourselves and not just in football, but in sport generally. The availability, accessibility, standard of pitches is a big problem and, I would say, is worse now than when I became club leader all those years ago.

“We use 21 different venues all over the city and sometimes we have to go outside it to play our home games. We’ve been to Broxburn, Meadowmill at Prestonpans, Bonnyrigg. The locals don’t like it, asking what we are doing there, but we have to go somewhere.”

In that regard, Smith can but hope things will change – and will undoubtedly keep fighting his corner not only for Hutchie but other such clubs – saying: “This is a life choice, something that’s in your blood. It’s cost me two careers, I couldn’t do things because I had my football, but I have no regrets.

“There are no part-timers. If you are doing a job like this your are living and breathing it.”