THE FOOTBALL fraternity in Fife is up in arms after the Scottish Football Association’s new blueprint for the future of our national game delivered a snub to the Kingdom.
Mark Wotte, the SFA Performance Director, announced last week that seven performance schools are to be set up across the country, providing elite coaching for the country’s best young players in conjunction with the normal school curriculum.
However, none of the performance schools are to be located in Fife – the nearest are in Edinburgh and Dundee – raising concerns among those involved in local grass roots football that the region’s aspiring young footballers could be frozen out of the scheme.
Colin McHale, a youth academy coach at Cowdenbeath FC, contacted SportsPress to vent his frustration at the proposals.
“It’s totally shocking that Fife has been missed out,” he said, “especially when you consider that the role that two Fifers, Craig Levein and Henry McLeish, have in the game.
“I emailed Mark Wotte and he was good enough to reply saying that the other areas have better resources, but that’s absolute rubbish.
“Fife was being overlooked 20 years ago when I played school football, and it’s still happening now. Even when it comes to coaching courses there are hardly any held in Fife.”
The seven performance schools will be set up in Motherwell, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Kilmarnock, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Dundee.
They will each take up to 20 of the most talented under-12 players in their region and provide a minimum five extra coaching sessions per week focusing on skills development.
SportsPress contacted the SFA asking to speak to Mark Wotte, but we were denied permission.
However, an SFA spokeman revealed that the project’s £15m funding allocation over four years is currently insufficient to set-up performance schools in every region
The spokesman explained: “Mark’s view is that in striving to be elite sacrifices have to be made.
“If we had unlimited funding, then we’d be able to have performance schools in every region, but the funds just aren’t there.
“However, the door is not closed to Fife. The opportunity is there for travelling expenses to be provided for players who fit the elite criteria.
“The first aim is to make a success of the seven pilot schools and what happens in the future will be dependant on money.”
One irate youth football official, Colin Lafferty, club secretary at Kirkcaldy Colts 2000s, has created a Facebook page asking the SFA to reconsider their decision not to provide a performance school in Fife, and it has attracted over 100 members this week.
Mr Lafferty told SportsPress: “The page has attracted a lot of support, mainly from local football coaches, who are not happy about the situation.
“It’s not right that a young player from Fife who is deemed good enough has to enroll in a school in Edinburgh or Dundee and then travel to and from that school twice a day.
“Fife has 150 teams at under 12 level and it should not be overlooked.”
Local politicians are also questioning the Fife snub with former Prime Minister Gordon Brown – the MP for Kirkcaldy – planning to take the matter up with the Hampden heirarchy.
He told SportsPress: “The new regional performance schools is a great development for Scottish football and I think people are rightly asking should Fife have one of these schools to support and enhance the coaching being provided to our young people.
“The level of enquiries my office has had on this issue over the last week shows the significant level of interest locally and the amount of investment being made by people here in Fife to support young people in football.
“I have written to the SFA and the Director of Education here in Fife to let them know the level of interest that we have from local people and to explore further what can be made available for young Fifers, and if there is any plans to set up such a facility within Fife.
“We are just about to celebrate the life of Jim Baxter and if other Fifers are to come through and be like Jim we need investment in Fife by the SFA.”
The issue has also drawn the support of local MSP David Torrance, who added: “I am writing to Fife Council and the SFA on this matter. As the third largest local authority in Scotland I cannot understand why they are not setting up one of these soccer adademies in Fife.
“I’m very disappointed that anyone picked from Fife will have to travel to Dundee to take part in the coaching – and that is not acceptable.
“I will be pushing this one with Fife Council and the SFA.”
The Performance School scheme follows recommendations made by former First Minister Henry McLeish, who produced a major report into our national game last year.
McLeish, a born-and-bred Methil man and former East Fife player, admitted that the exclusion of his home county is an ‘initial set-back’ but predicted that the scheme will be rolled out to include the Kingdom in the coming years.
“I understand the surprise in Fife about the decision but I would like to think that, in the not too distant future, a Fife case will be made,” he said.
“In that sense, I would encourage our four pro clubs – and Fife Council as the sporting authority – to get together and back the concerns of the youth teams, players, coaches and parents about the need for a performance centre in Fife.
“From what I gather, these are the initial centres, and there will be a roll-out throughout Scotland, and I would like to think Fife will be at the forefront of this.
“Overall, this is a tremendous development for Scotland based on my recommendations to the SFA.”