Chairman McLeish has mixed feelings over Fife Elite’s closure

The Fife Elite Football Academy (FEFA) will cease operations at the end of the year.

Thursday, 26th August 2021, 9:00 am
Fife Academy graduate Kieran Mitchell has featured for the Raith first team this season (Pic: Fife Photo Agency)

The pathway for young Fife footballers for Eilte to first team level has proved to be big success for Raith Rovers in the past few years, with Kieron Bowie making his way from FEFA to Fulham via the first team at Stark’s Park last year.

But due to a massive cut in SFA funding, and with Dunfermline announcing plans to set up an academy of their own, FEFA, which started in 2014, will close on December 31 of this year.

Former First Minister of Scotland, Henry McLeish, who has been the academy’s Chairman for the past five years, told the FFP he was disappointed to see the end of the programme.

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He said: “In 2012 I conducted major review for the SFA which in a large part included youth development and I suggested regional academies at Elite level throughout Scotland.

“My thinking was that if a club was the size of Cowdenbeath or the size of Rangers, they had a right to an academy and largely financed by the SFA.

“All 42 clubs would have an academy in every part of Scotland so that no area was left out on the grounds that, frankly, talent just doesn't exist in Glasgow or Edinburgh.

“That was the basic thesis but what happened was that it wasn't taken too seriously and it reverted back to a club strategy.”

Ultimately, only two Elite academies were set up regionally, one in Stirling and the other in Fife. The former closed a few years ago leaving the Kingdom's as the last one remaining - until now.

McLeish says: “I believe that our academy in Fife has been seriously successful in bringing young players through and feeding them into the club system.

“One of the major problems has been that, over the last few years, the SFA keep changing the criteria and structure of the academy, and also the budget would have been significantly cut back if we had continued.

“Also, the four Fife clubs have different financial positions. Cowdenbeath and East Fife weren't in a position to contribute a great deal, whilst Dunfermline, and to a lesser extent, Raith Rovers were.

“When we put that together, with the previous contribution from the SFA, we could get by. But with the SFA budget being slashed, with the first two being unable to contribute much, and with the other two having their own ideas on how to move forward, there was no way we could continue.

“That's why we decided to close at the end of the year.”

Despite the setback, McLeish says he believes that Raith Rovers can still thrive at youth level.

“I think Raith Rovers are ambitious. They will look at what's happening and try to move towards some provision for young people.

“Hopefully a lot of young people who are involved in the academy will be able to move on to some replacement structure.”

He added: “Ultimately, I have mixed feelin gs. I think FEFA has been a success, but the way the whole situation has evolved at Hampden takes us back a few years and I don't think we have made the progress we should have made.”