Burntisland Shipyard FC are turning to youth in their bid to bounce back from a campaign to forget.
‘Shippy’ finished last season rock bottom of the East of Scotland League, suffering some heavy defeats along the way as they struggled for players, often phoning around on a Saturday morning just to fill the jerseys.
It’s a scenario more akin to a Sunday pub side, not a fully fledged SFA member club who play annually in the senior Scottish Cup.
However, optimism is returning to Recreation Park following a summer of rebuilding.
A successful application was made to join the Lowland/EOS U20 Development League resulting in the establishment of a new under 20 side under the first team.
They also have arguably the youngest manager in Scottish football in 23-year-old Chris Maxwell – a man with ambitions to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Ian Cathro – and the club hope that putting faith in youth can steer them towards a brighter future.
Drew Beveridge has been involved with the ‘Shippy’ for over two decades, spending the last 12 years as secretary, and helped oversee the move from the now defunct Kingdom Caledonian League to the East of Scotland League five years ago.
Last year was one of the lowest points of his time at the club, but he is now getting excited for the future.
“Last season was really poor, but we feel we’ll be a lot stronger this season,” he said.
“Having an U20 squad will benefit the first team. Everyone’s signed on same form, so the first team can use any of those players. In effect, we’ve doubled the size of the squad overnight.
“We feel this is a good opportunity for young guys who leave the U19 leagues and have nowhere to go.
“Instead of going into the amateurs, which isn’t great for them, or going to the junior leagues where they end up on the bench, or in weaker teams, they can come here, stay at youth level, and get the opportunity to play against good sides at good venues.
“There may be young players out there who see this as a good opportunity to develop.”
Taking charge of the new Shipyard U20 side is Gary Cunningham, a teacher at Beath High School, and president of the Fife Schools Football Association.
“My links with football are all through schools,” he said. “Setting up the 20s is great for me because I can access boys who have just left sixth year or been in my Fife Schools team.
“My philosophy as a teacher is just to make boys better footballers. Instead of shouting and bawling at people and trying to motivate them that way, I just try to help people.
“I look at them as individuals, let them know the good things, and the things they need to work on, and show them how they can do that.
“My message for anybody thinking about continuing playing football after U19s is – come to Shippy and see what we’re all about.”
Gary also has a link to the current Shipyard manager – he taught him at Beath High!
“Chris is an ex-pupil of mine, so when he asked, of course I wanted to come help him out,” he said.
“He’s quite young on his coaching ladder, so hopefully I can come in and give him a wee hand, and do what’s needed for the U20s and first team.”
For young manager Chris, the onus is on improving results after suffering a baptism of fire in his first season in charge.
Initially brought on board as assistant to gaffer Craig Winter, the ex-Raith and Cowdenbeath midfielder, Chris was thrust into the hot seat shortly before the start of last season when the previous boss stepped down.
“To save the club from looking to get someone else in, I agreed to step up and become manager, and I was quite proud to do that,” Chris said.
“I may be young in age but I started coaching when I was 16 so I have several years experience.”
Chris felt qualified to take on the role, however, from day one, things proved difficult.
“We had four boys at my first training session and that set the tone for the rest of the season,” he said.
“Things happened that nobody is proud of.
“Texting boys on a Saturday morning, asking do you want a game, just to fill a strip. The results spoke for themselves after that.
“We knew we didn’t want to be in the same place this year. I had to get my business done early, and we started getting boys in for this season around Christmas time.
“We started pre-season early, only giving the boys two or three weeks off, and that extra work is going to help us be more prepared going into the new season.
“Adding the U20s this year is something we’re really strong on as we need something to feed the first team. If you look at where we are now, compared to last season, we’re in a much better place.”
Shipyard were on the end of several hammerings last season but Chris is hoping to get off to a good start this term.
“We had 10 points in the whole of last season,” he said.
“After five games we want to have more than 10 points. If we do that, there’s the first stage of the goals complete, and we move onto the next one.
“Overall we want to get the Burntisland name back into Scottish football again so we’re not looked upon as the whipping boys in the East of Scotland League.
“If mid-table is best we can do this year, then we’ll be happy with that, but we want to be one of the teams up there fighting at the top with the potential to go up.
“Everyone at the club is on same page and we all want to move forward.”
After last season’s troubles, winning promotion to the Lowland League is perhaps still a long way off for the Burntisland side, particularly with the arrival of big guns Kelty Hearts from the junior ranks.
But with an SFA entry level licence secured, on top of annual participation in the Scottish Cup, the club has ambitions above its station.
“Our short term aim is just to keep progressing in the East of Scotland League and keep getting stronger,” club secretary Drew Beveridge added.
“The long-term target is the Lowland League, but it may be difficult if we keep getting clubs like Kelty joining.
“I’m delighted Kelty are coming in because they are ambitious, and have got their licence. They want to be members of the SFA and are going about it the right way.
“But if big junior clubs keep coming into our league every season, it makes it extremely difficult for clubs like ourselves, and the rest of the league, to get up.
“These junior sides are very good clubs, with plenty money and better players.
“If the U20s is successful, hopefully that will see good young players wanting to come here, get into first team, and we can progress up the league.”
Shipyard start their season this Saturday away to Tweedmouth Rangers in the League Cup Qualifying Section A.
Shipyard’s status as SFA members also allows them to compete in the Scottish Cup each year, and for the first time since 2006 they have been handed a home draw.
Shippy have been paired at home with Scottish Amateur Cup winners Colville Park AFC in the first preliminary round of the William Hill sponsored competition.
The Motherwell based amateurs are scheduled to visit Recreation Park on Saturday August 12.
Should Shipyard qualify for the next round another home tie, this time against Preston Athletic, would be their reward.