‘We want our youngsters to eat, sleep and live football.’

Henry McLeish says Fife is ready to introduce a performance school to help aid the development of young footballers. (Stock image)
Henry McLeish says Fife is ready to introduce a performance school to help aid the development of young footballers. (Stock image)

Now is the time for Fife to take a step up and join the premier level of youth football development.

That’s according to Henry McLeish, the chairman of the Fife Elite Football Academy (FEFA), who says the Kingdom has shown it has the facilities in place to offer more to budding young footballers.

Speaking at the Michael Woods Sports Centre in Glenrothes, Mr McLeish, a former footballer himself with East Fife FC before stepping into the world of politics, claimed FEFA’s current structure was a proven success, and that the next step for youth football in the Kingdom was the creation of a performance school where talented footballers could mix their tuition with extra football training.

FEFA was created in 2014, bringing the youth structures of Fife’s four senior sides under one umbrella to offer elite level coaching to Club Academy Scotland criteria.

“We have the four clubs all facing their own challenges but committed to seeing young people develop and given opportunities to perform,” said Mr McLeish.

“At the end of the day Scotland can only move forward in football terms if club and country are close.

“That means SPFL and SFA.

“But at local level it’s our four clubs wanting success for their fans but also the best talent possible and they’re investing in that.

“With that in mind we’ve had a series of important meetings with Fife Council.

“Schools and councils matter because if there’s one place children have to go to it’s school.

“That’s why our discussions with Fife Council are leading us to a much more comprehensive approach to identifying and nurturing talent in our schools.

“We want to move on now to have a performance school in Fife.

“The SFA currently funds other performance schools in other academy areas of the country and we think we’re ready with the council to develop one.”

As part of the SFA’s approach to finding and nurturing young talent they set up a series of performance schools across Scotland.

The schools are funded by the SFA and within them pupils follow a particular curriculum which orientates towards football as well as allowing them to continue with their specific studies.

“We’ve young people currently going to performance schools in Edinburgh and Dundee because at the initial period of setting these up Fife wasn’t considered,” added Mr McLeish.

“We think we’ve proved that this academy (FEFA) is working well and has delivered.

“We believe that Fife is one of the most outstanding authorities in Scotland where commitment to sport is concerned.

“The time is right now to develop a curriculum and allow our young footballers to eat, sleep and live education and football at the same time.”

The performance school structure would see the footballers placed within one of Fife’s existing schools where they would have 14 hours of football training factored into their timetable.

Current Scotland under-19 players Stuart Morrison and Callum Smith, along with their Dunfermline team mate and Scotland under-21 international, Ryan Williamson, are graduates of FEFA.

Fellow graduates, Jack Smith and James Berry, have also already made pro debuts with Raith Rovers.