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If anyone playing in Scottish football right now is best placed to give advice to youngsters starting out in the game, it’s Kenny Miller. The Rangers’ striker has been a standout performer at Ibrox this season at the tender age of 37, out-shining many players over ten years his junior.
 
He has forged a long career which has seen him play for Rangers and Celtic, as well as in the English Premier League for both Wolves and Derby County. He has had the enviable experience of plying his trade abroad and learning different football cultures thanks to spells at Bursaspor and Vancouver White Caps.
 
He has won trophies, scored important goals (ten in Old Firm Derbies) and represented his country 69 times, netting 18 goals in the process.
 
But Miller- like everyone else- started with his local team playing with his friends.
 
“I started out in the game when my friend that I grew up with, his dad managed Edina Hibs, so I started there and then I moved on to the local team Musselburgh Union, where I’m from,” Miller said.
 
“Then I went to Hutchie (Hutchison Vale), and I was with them until I was 15. Then a pro-league started with Rangers, Hearts, Hibs, Celtic etcetera and I left to go and play for Hibs in that league. Then I moved onto full-time after that, so I spent the majority of my time at Hutchie,” he added.
 
Miller was not the only one from Hutchie at that time to make it either, with team-mates Gary Mason and Steven Hampshire making moves to England in their youth, and both returning to play for Dunfermline and other clubs in Scotland.
 
“There were loads of lads who played who went on to play at a decent level, some lower to be fair, but a lot of lads I played against too went on and had careers.”
 
However, few would make it as far as Miller in the game, and he believes part of this is down to the coaching he received whilst at Hibs from Donald Park.
 
Park is currently the head of coach education at the Scottish FA and has been assistant manager and youth coach at a number of Scottish sides including Hibs, Hearts and Inverness CT.
 
Miller said: “I was pretty much working with Donald from about 12 to 20 and to this day he is still one of the best coaches I’ve worked with. He was very good with the young lads, it was a great grounding and education in what it takes to be a footballer, the dedication, and the sacrifice that needs to be made.
 
“He was huge but really tough on us but we learned quickly and as I said he is one of the best coaches I have worked with. A lot of the stuff that’s in me has come from him.”
 
But as well as the influence of youth coaches Miller is of the mind that there is no substitute for hard work and self-discipline, qualities he has carried through his career.
 
“If you’re going to have a long career it goes without saying that you need to look after yourself, you need to stay fit and eat right and live right.
 
“One thing I’ve taken is that you need to try to be your best every day, learn every day and there are sacrifices that need to be made, you need to dedicate yourself to make it.
 
“Once you’re taken on full-time that’s not you made it, once you’ve made your debut for the first team that’s not you made it. It’s hard to get there, but it’s harder to stay there. You need to stay dedicated and you need to stay focussed and there’s a lot of sacrifice that needs to be made to make it and stay in the game.”
 
Coming from a man with four Scottish Premier League titles, two Scottish Cups, a League Cup and an SPL Golden Boot- it’s not bad advice.
 
Media reports this week suggest the Scottish FA are to bring Belgian football development specialists Double Pass on board in a bid to ensure that the ambitious Project Brave is delivered effectively. 
 
The advisory group, whose current clients include the German FA, the English Premier League and the Bundesliga have a track record of delivering positive results in the field of youth development. The Scottish FA will be hoping that their help will assist new Performance Director Malky Mackay in improving the youth game. 
 
Project Brave is the latest programme of improvement from Scottish FA working groups and includes a number of changes to shake up youth academy football in Scotland. These changes include the re-introduction of the reserve league, a winter futsal league for players under the age of 16 and a radical reduction in the number of academy players from 2300 to around 1200. 
 
In 2010 they asked former First Minster Henry McLeish to draft a report on the state of the game in Scotland. The first part of his review included 54 recommendations, from the introduction of a winter break to the investment of up to £500m in the grassroots game. Some of these recommendations have since been implemented and some have not. 
 
Interestingly, one of McLeish’s recommendations was “to achieve more accountability, responsibility and transparency for youth development.” Could this have anything to do with the employment of a set of experts who have been tasked with doing almost exactly that six-and-half-years later? Probably, but better late than never, eh?
 
Of the 42 ‘professional’ clubs in Scotland there are 29 youth academies, many with different approaches and philosophies. They all have one thing in common – each receives money from the Scottish FA and SPFL to dedicate to the progression of their young players. 
 
The governing bodies have of course got their own benchmarking and quality control measures to ensure that this money is being spent as it should, but the fact Double Pass is being brought on board would suggest quality control is an area where further progression is required. 
 
Double Pass will be tasked with regularly auditing performance academies to ensure that they are meeting the standards set by Project Brave. One Scottish FA source told the Sunday Mail that it was the “football equivalent of having your accounts audited.”
 
The hiring of an external organisation is key in moving away from the predispositions of many who feel that self-interest is the driving force to what the Scottish FA and its clubs do with regards to youth development. 
 
Project Brave will set out what it wants clubs to do and Double Pass, along with Malky Mackay and his staff, will ensure that it is being carried out effectively and efficiently. 
 
Sceptics will say that this is another fad. The same people will also probably tell you that the McLeish report was a waste of time and that we shouldn’t have bothered with the introduction of Performance Schools.
 
It is often hard to be positive about Scottish football given what’s gone on in the past, but the fact that the Scottish FA have listened to advice and reached out for help means that they are making progress off the pitch as well as on it.
 
With a company as well renowned as Double Pass on board to improve the youth game the least we can do is give them a chance to do their job, and to do it properly. 
 
“We need to get the experts in” is often the shout after another failed qualifying campaign or disappointing international result. Well, the “experts” are in – let’s see how they get on.
Allana Grant meets the people behind a groundbreaking and inspiring team.
 
Having recently moved to their winter training facility, the players and coaches from Syngenta Juveniles’ cerebral Palsy team’s minds have inevitably turned to the club’s first ever competitive match which will take place this coming February .
 
When the Dyes welcome Chadderton Park FC, another CP outfit based in Oldham, to Little Kerse in the new year, they will mark perhaps the greatest milestone in the team’s history to date.
 
A  history of a mere Four and a half years, but one which has seen the team go from strength to strength; celebrating an SFA award, and regularly welcoming youngsters from all over Scotland to play under the Syngenta banner.
 
In 2011 Syngenta Juveniles as a club embarked on a process of restructuring and modernisation.
 
“The one thing we didn’t have,” explains CP team coach Kevin McGuire, “was a disability presence. There was no provision in any way for kids with a disability to play football in a team setup. This was something we really wanted to expand in to.”
 
Taking their lead from a colleague involved with CP football in Manchester, Syngenta coaches staged events in the local area in an attempt to gage interest. From the outset, children and parents received the initiative with great enthusiasm, and the Cerebral Palsy team was founded shortly after.
 
It wasn’t long before they made their mark on youth football in Scotland either, achieving the prestigious SFA Disability club status in 2014. Coaching staff and players worked tirelessly, with this goal in mind, to sustain high attendance levels and increase the team’s training sessions to two a month, so there was understandable delight when the SFA recognised their efforts with the award.
 
“We wanted first and foremost to make provision for disabled kids to play football, so we were immensely proud to have done that and to have gotten the inclusive award was a huge bonus,” said Kevin.
 
Maintaining high attendance levels proved pivotal to their achievement in 2014, and the squad has continued to strengthen in the two years since. Participants at training sessions now regularly reach the mid –twenties, girls as well as boys aged six to sixteen, and Numbers also include former squad members, who have taken on the mantel of coaches.
 
“We get Kids coming from everywhere,” Kevin explains with pride. “Although we are based in Grangemouth, I’d say we are pretty much a national club.”
 
Laterally, with the CP team having become such an established presence, focus has turned in earnest to bringing a competitive element to their play. This is a task which is proving to be no mean feat as Syngenta currently boasts the only CP setup at club level in Scotland.
 
Coaches have had to look to England to find competition. Oldham side Chadderton Park FC will provide Syngenta with their first real test when they travel up to Scotland in February.
 
Kevin is delighted to have secured this fixture for his side, intimating that introducing the competitive element will have a hugely positive effect on the way they approach the game of football:
 
“It’s fine playing against each other in training, but this will bring the competitive edge the kids need. Training sessions will now be specifically geared towards this fixture. We will start to think more about game play: players taking up actual positions rather than focussing solely on skill development as we have been doing. We need to take things on to the next level.”
 
So, Syngenta’s boys and girls have their game faces well and truly on. Although there is around three months still to go, the prospect of a first competitive match has already done much to boost the team’s morale, as player/coach Aiden Logan tells me: “We can't wait until February! It really gives us all something to train towards.”
 
In addition to all the excitement surrounding the game itself, there is also a great sense of optimism pervading the air. Optimism that this friendly match could provide the motivation needed to properly kick-start CP club football in Scotland.
 
National CP squad coach, David Mcardle, was instrumental in trying to get a Pan disability League off the ground a few years ago, but a lack of participants thwarted his efforts.
 
The feeling is that, in light of Syngenta’s achievements, and after a hugely successful Paralympic games, the time could be right to try again however.
 
“I know it is something we’ve not managed before but even if we got together five or six teams to form a kind of league, it would be great. Even supposing we could arrange matches every month or couple of months. There would be a proper element of structure.”
 
Aiden also sees no reason why this shouldn’t be the case: “If national CP teams can compete in tournaments why can't there be the same kind of structure for CP club football.”
 
Whatever the potential ramifications of February’s fixture though, one thing definitely on the cards, is the road trip down to Oldham for the return leg against Chadderton. The date hasn’t beenAnchor confirmed yet, but fundraising is already under way, and I am assured that it will be one almighty party from start to finish. I wonder if Kevin might squeeze me on to the team bus?
Saturday, 05 November 2016 20:03

YFS catches up with world number one Andy Murray

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As Andy Murray describes, the day when he had to choose between professional tennis player and professional footballer was, simply put, difficult. Luckily for Scottish sport, he has won 44 tennis titles throughout his career including two Wimbledons, the Olympics, the US Open and the Davis Cup. But one could wonder: what if?
 
At six-foot three, Andy Murray has the height of a towering striker, or maybe a solid centre back. With a grandfather who used to be a defender for Hibernian, football runs through his veins. “I think I picked it up quite naturally” he said. “However, I’m a more attacking player and wanted to score goals, so I would always play as a striker or as an attacking midfielder.”
 
Aside from hitting the park with his brother Jamie and making good use of the backyard in order to practice his skills while playing with friends, Andy admitted he didn’t play for many clubs in his youth. “I played a lot in and out of school and also for the school team, which I think is how I got scouted.”
 
By the time Rangers FC gave the young Glaswegian an opportunity at youth level when he was 15, Andy Murray had already won titles with a racket in his hand. His first tournament victory was as an under-10 junior at the Dunblane Sports Club and two years after the offer from Rangers, Murray made his professional debut in April 2005. 
 
Even though his choices led him afar from a possible career with football, it still is very present in his life. “Despite choosing tennis, every now and then I try to squeeze in a five-aside game, which is always great fun. I also love watching it and I take my fantasy football pretty seriously”.
 
He reckons that the feeling involved in winning between tennis and football are aren’t that similar. “The sports are completely different” he said. “The emotions of winning, however, are probably a little distinct. In football you’re part of a team, you have your teammates with you on the pitch and the manager shouting instructions from the sidelines, which I’m sure provide a huge reassurance. However, tennis is not the same, when you’re out there on the court, you only have yourself, your coach isn’t allowed to coach you. There’s very little room for error.”
 
While Andy himself admits the two sports are completely different, we did have to ask the Wimbledon champion if he’d prefer winning the World Cup or keeping tennis’ treasured trophy. “I remember when I won Wimbledon I felt a huge sense of relief” he said. “Years of hard work and pain had finally paid dividends and I was incredibly proud.” 
 
“In football, I’m sure there’s that sense of relief especially for national teams, but at the same time it’s a more collective pride and sense of achievement for them. I don’t know if you can compare it with the emotion of scoring a winner goal in a World Cup Final. Both competitions are the peak of their sports, and to win either them is an incredible accomplishment.
 
“That being said though, I would love to know what it feels like to score in a World Cup final, although I think it’s probably a bit late to change careers!” 
 
As one of the greatest athletes of all time, Andy Murray can give excellent pieces of advice to all those who are thinking of aiming for a successful career in football, or any other sport for that matter. 
 
“Practice, practice, practice!” he said. “You can have all the natural ability in the world but that will only get you so far. It’s important to always remind yourself that you can always improve. There is always something you can improve on, even if it’s by one percent, in elite sport especially, that extra one percent can make a huge difference and can often be the difference between winning and losing. Make sure you work hard on all aspects of your game, including the things you think you’re good at.”
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 11:40

Victory Shield: Wales Preview

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Ahead of the Scotland v Wales match at the Oriam, Craig Taylor provides the scouting report on the young Dragons team, with an interesting international representation side-story.
 
Winners of the last two Victory Shield tournaments, Wales could feel quite within their rights to enter this year’s tournament on a wave of euphoria. Before the previous two tournaments the Welsh Under-16s had only won the trophy outright once and along with the monumental summer for the national team, reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2016, there were numerous reasons to be cheerful for Welsh football entering this year’s Sky Sports Victory Shield. However, an opening game 4-0 defeat to the Republic of Ireland has dampened hopes of achieving a historic third victory. So what can Scotland expect from their next opponents?
 
Despite Wales’ success last year, Scotland enjoyed victory over them in their clash last time out, triumphing 2-1 over the young Dragons. However, it is likely to be a very different prospect at this tournament. This tournament’s Welsh squad has ten youngsters currently on the books of English Premier League teams, including Dan Barnham at English footballing giants Arsenal and Morgan Boyes, Neco Williams and Dan Griffiths all at powerhouse Liverpool, proving that there is real quality within the Welsh ranks. There are a number of home based players as well, with Swansea City, Wrexham and in particular Cardiff City ensuring that there are eight Welsh based players in their squad of 22.
 
The stand out name for many from a Scottish perspective however will be that of Wales’ captain Terry Taylor. Taylor currently plies his trade in Scotland for Aberdeen and could potentially come up against his Dons team mates Archie Mair and Dean Campbell in Tuesday’s clash. Taylor is seen as one of Aberdeen’s most promising youngsters having been voted the club’s Under-16 player of the year last season and has already played at Under-20 level for the Dons. However, the Aberdeen born youngster’s decision to represent Wales, the country of his mother, will give the match an interesting side story.
 
While Scotland enter the second game knowing that a win would set them up with a potential cup final against the Republic of Ireland, Wales enter Tuesday’s match knowing that it is a must win if they are to have any chance of lifting a third consecutive Victory Shield. The 4-0 defeat to an impressive Republic of Ireland side was the Dragons’ biggest Victory Shield defeat since their 4-0 loss to England in 2005 and will have been a bruising affair for a side so used to recent success in this tournament. However, the memory of coming back from an opening game defeat in last year’s tournament to emerge victorious will provide a healthy dose of inspiration for the Welsh side. The young Scots will have to be very wary of an already wounded Dragon, especially when it’s one who has made a habit of rewriting its country’s footballing history in recent years and achieving what once seemed impossible. For these young Welsh players, Tuesday’s match against Scotland will provide a final chance to win a historic third consecutive Victory Shield and in turn, round off what has most probably been the greatest year in Welsh footballing history.

 

Tuesday, 01 November 2016 11:33

Victory Shield: Get to know the Scotland defence

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Craig Taylor provides the low-down on Scotland's defence for the 2016 Victory Shield tournament, as part of our three part series looking at the back line, the midfield and the attack.
 
If Scotland is to record its seventeenth outright Victory Shield triumph then it will need to ensure that they have a back line that is watertight. Having only conceded three goals during last year’s tournament, there will be optimism within the Scottish ranks that a good defensive record could prove to be the key for them as they aim for triumph. But who has been tasked with keeping the opposition at bay for Scotland’s Under-16s?
 
Scotland’s goalkeepers for the tournament are comprised of Celtic’s Ryan Mullen and Aberdeen’s Archie Mair. Mullen has been selected as the first choice keeper going into the tournament and is one of seven Celts to make it into Brian McLaughlin and James Grady’s squad for the tournament. He will be able to call on experience gained from being called up for the Scotland Under-16 squad that took part in the Under-16 UEFA Development Tournament earlier in the year. Back-up Mair has featured in the Dons’ Under-20 team, despite his young age of 15.
 
During Scotland’s opening match against Northern Ireland, the right back position was taken by Chris Hamilton (pictured, above) of Heart of Midlothian, who also wears the armband for the side. The centre of defence was occupied by Luis Binks of Tottenham Hotspur, one of only two members of the squad to play their football outside of Scotland, and Taylor Wilson of Hamilton Academical, who recorded his first Under-20s appearance for the Accies at the age of 14.
 
Meanwhile, Rangers left back Jamie Walker completed the back line for the opening match, putting in a solid display down the left flank. Reinforcements come in the form of Rangers’ Nathan Patterson, Celtic’s Andrew Kerr and Kane O’Connor, the latter of whom made the bench for the Hibernian first team earlier in the season for their Irn Bru Cup match against Turriff United, at the tender age of 15.
 
The defensive unit can look on their first game fondly, having successfully kept a clean sheet in their opening 2-0 victory over Northern Ireland on Sunday. Not only did the back line keep their Northern Irish counterparts at bay, but centre back Taylor Wilson opened the scoring for the Dark Blues. All in all a great start to the Victory Shield for the Scottish defence and coaches McLaughlin and Grady will be hoping that they can record two more clean sheets for the remaining matches in the group.

Sean Selkirk looks into the Train Like a Pro project being run by Ross County, offering aspiring players a chance to experience a day in a footballer's life.

 

Ross County are doing wonders in their youth department in the Highlands and are doing everything they can to develop young players in Dingwall and the surrounding towns and villages. They have a fabulous football academy at their disposal and put it to very good use when it comes to reaching out to the community.

One thing that sets Ross County apart from their Highland rivals Inverness is their initiative run in the holidays called Train Like a Pro. It gives approximately 50 young players an exciting insight in to a normal day at the club for their heroes.

Train Like a Pro runs in the school holidays over three days in the Easter and October holidays but over the course of the week in the summer. Not only is this beneficial for the children but also for parents. It normally runs from 9am - 6pm which is perfect for childcare as they can get dropped off first thing in the morning and picked up on the way home from work knowing their kids are in the capable hands of Ross County youth coaches.

At Train Like a Pro, youngsters receive six hours of football based activity instructed by the excellent coaches at the club. This includes skills and drills to improve passing and small sided games. The scheme incorporates other sports too, with "FootGolf" and football rounders. Also included are quizzes with the coaches which can be used as a little break.

Included in the package of Train Like a Pro are meals, hoping to save parents some money. Of course all meals provided are nice and healthy with plenty fruit and vegetables being provided.

Train Like a Pro is one of many community based activities Ross County hold at their state of the art Highland Football Academy. It shows what wonderful facilities the club has available to them, evidenced by the SPFL Development side’s place at the top of the table. And, further down the ladder, Ross County are seeing off local rivals Inverness Caledonian Thistle at most age groups as well as competing internationally with success.

Youth players are also sniffing around the first team with the likes of Greg Morrison and Tony Dingwall being handed first team caps in recent seasons which shows that the Staggies have a fantastic youth set up here in the Highlands.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016 14:10

Five young Scots breaking through in England

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Ethan Hamilton (Manchester United) – A long-term servant to Hutchison Vale, the Edinburgh-born midfielder signed a deal with the Manchester giants in October 2014. Keen to focus on his studies, Hamiton turned down offers from Celtic and Aberdeen, before eventually making his way to the Red Devils. It can certainly be hoped that he can follow the same successful career path that fellow Scotsman, Darren Fletcher followed, a former product of the prestigious United academy and also from Edinburgh. A tall, two-footed player, Hamilton has represented Scotland at various youth levels, and looks to become an established member of United’s academy side.

Jack Hendry (Wigan) – After a handful of first-team games for Partick Thistle, the Glasgow-born defender signed for the English Championship side in the summer of 2015 after fending off interest from Everton. After a couple of appearances in the cups, Hendry, who spent most of the season in the academy, went on loan to League One side Shrewsbury Town, where he played a total of 6 times. It remains to be seen whether or not he can become a mainstay in the Latics’ side this season, but Hendry will be sure to finally get his first-team chances at some point throughout the campaign.

Charlie Gilmour (Arsenal) – A solid, technically excellent holding midfielder. Despite being born south of the border, Charlie's links to Scotland are strong through father Ian Gilmour. After spending many years in the nearby Hale End academy, Gilmour signed scholarship terms with Arsenal in 2015, who spotted him at the age of six after taking part in a youth tournament. After making his debut for Scotland's Under 15 side in a fine victory over Italy, Gilmour was lured by England at Under 17 level. He has since, opted to return to the Scotland fold. With five academy appearances under his belt last season, the midfielder looks set to establish himself more regularly in the new season.

Dominic Hyam (Reading) – Born in Fife, the central defender has one value that can perhaps be undervalued in defenders in this country, a willingness, and ability to play the ball from the back. Scotland under 21 manager Ricky Sbragia has sung his praises in the past, comparing him to former Manchester United defender Johnny Evans. Hyam still has a way to go until he can establish himself at The Royals, enjoying loan spells at the lower leagues down south. With a new deal agreed with the club in the summer, it could be a promising sign for Hyam, who is a regular in the Scotland under 21 side.

Jack Ruddy (Bury) – Ruddy has quite an extraordinary career-path so far compared to most 18-year-old players. Glasgow-born, he spent most of his younger years on the books at local side Rangers. At the age of 10, Ruddy and his family moved to Spain, where he played for Real Murcia at youth level after impressing for nearby side Torre Pacheco. In 2014, Ruddy found his way back to Britain and signed for Bury FC, where he made one appearance last year at just 17 years of age. Having represented Scotland at under 17 level, the six foot five goalkeeper might have to go out on loan to get regular chances this season. 

 
 
Kevin O’Hara (Falkirk, on loan at East Fife) – After a lengthy period playing development team football, where he scored 14 goals over the course of last season, O’Hara was thrust into the first team in the middle of a tense game, in front of a packed Easter Road crowd against Hibernian, which shows the sheer faith that the Falkirk coaching staff have in this young striker. With 17 first team games under his belt last season, former Syngenta Juveniles man O’Hara looks sure to kick on and continue his development even further, as he begins a loan spell at Bayview Stadium. 
 
Eamonn Brophy (Hamilton Accies) – Not many teenagers can say that they’ve scored away to Celtic Park at the age of merely 19, but that feat is something that Brophy can stake a claim to. The strike away to the Scottish champions was one of a series of goals which the Scotland under-19 international notched up towards the end of the season, also scoring against Celtic in the reverse tie at New Douglas Park and a double away to Partick Thistle. The young striker has also enjoyed loan spells in the past with both Dumbarton and Queen’s Park. With such an upturn in form at the end of the campaign, the Accies’ number 20 looks sure to build on that and score even more in the new season.
 
Cammy Kerr (Dundee) – The young right-back thought his days at his boyhood club were numbered only a year ago. After a series of loan spells at League Two Peterhead, where he was a regular in the side, Kerr probably wouldn’t have believed his chances of being picked as MOTM in the Dundee derby in his first Premiership start. But he did exactly that, as “one of our own” rang around Den’s Park, The Dee found their next star. With last season’s first choice right back Paul McGinn having left the club in the summer, Kerr looks sure to cement his place in Paul Hartley’s side for the upcoming season.
 
Jack Hamilton (Heart of Midlothian) – The Scottish under-21 goalkeeper, who earned a perhaps surprising senior call-up against Italy and France at the end of last season, has had to bide his time to have a chance in the nets for the Jambos first team. However, after Neil Alexander has left the Edinburgh outfit, it looks like Hamilton’s time has come to don the gloves at Tynecastle. Despite the addition of fellow goalkeeper Viktor Noring, the 6 foot 3 keeper looks set to become first-choice. 
 
Greg Taylor (Kilmarnock) – A captain of both Killie’s under 17 and under 20 sides, the left-back looks like a ready-made leader. Taylor couldn’t have made a better impression at the end of last season, as he started in Kilmarnock’s second-leg of the playoff final against Falkirk, standing out in a spectacular 4-0 win to preserve their Premiership spot. Despite the influx of young players into Lee Clark’s side this season, Taylor was awarded with a new 3-year contract in the summer, and he has surely made a strong impression on his manager and looks set to receive more chances in the 2016/17 season.
 
Callum Crane (Hibernian) - Crane is one of the young prospects to look out for in the new season as he looks to make a breakthrough into the first team. Left back Crane enjoyed a loan spell at Berwick Rangers last season, making twenty appearances with the league two club. Back at Hibernian now, he will be hoping to impress new manager Neil Lennon to guarantee himself some first team football. After a string of promising performances, especially in a 1-0 pre-season win over Birmingham City at Easter Road, 19-year-old Crane is well on his way to achieving the status of hot prospect.
 
Robbie Mutch (Aberdeen, on loan at Arbroath) - Aberdeen’s young goalkeeper Robbie Mutch, who has secured himself a loan deal at Arbroath until January, will be hoping to make inroads with the invaluable experience of senior appearances. The 17-year-old made his debut for the Red Lichties in the reformatted Scottish League Cup as they hosted Dundee United and was simply outstanding taking home the man of the match award on the night. Quite remarkable for a man who is legally not allowed to receive the complementary man of the match champagne. With the platform of league 2 to showcase his talent, Mutch will be planning to impress parent club Aberdeen and any others who are looking on.
 
Harry Souttar (Dundee United) - Dundee United might have sold one Souttar to Hearts but they have another promising Souttar in the pipeline. With the shake-up at United over the summer, Harry Souttar, brother of John, will be hoping to cement a spot in the Tangerine’s starting XI. Impressive performances in the League Cup group stages, Souttar has impressed and will look to continue to do so as he looks to make a name for himself in the Scottish Championship this season. He’s definitely one of the young players to keep an eye out over the course of the season and could be the answer to Dundee United’s defensive woes that plagued them throughout last season.
 
Jack Aitchison (Celtic) - Aitchison became Celtic’s youngest ever goal-scorer at the age of 16, when he came off the bench in the last game off the season to net against Motherwell. The Scotland youngster will be hoping it is the first of many records in his football career, if not Celtic career as he looks to make an impact on the park throughout the new campaign. Some cracking performances in the development especially the other night against Annan in the Irn Bru cup, have more than staked a claim for a shot at some first team football, but with the likes of Dembele and Griffiths at the fore it is difficult to envision Aitchison getting any real run in the side. Could a loan move be on the cards?
 
Chris Cadden (Motherwell) – With 22 Motherwell appearances racked up over the course of last season, and some brilliant early performances in the group stages of the Betfred Cup notching up 2 goals, Cadden looks like he will become a mainstay in the Steelmen’s side throughout the new season. The robustly-built midfielder, 19, enjoyed a loan spell at Albion Rovers a few seasons ago, earning him a new contract at Motherwell until 2018. Well’s manager Mark McGhee has already been singing the praises of his young star, which surely means his first-team chances will be at a high next season.
Sunday, 31 January 2016 13:06

Mixed youth football in Scotland and beyond

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In October 2016, Sarah Taylor made history by becoming the first female to play top level cricket in Australia since the founding of the league 119 years ago.
 
While the opportunity for the wicket keeper to compete alongside her male counterparts was seen as pioneering, the same cannot be said about youth football in Scotland where a number of young women are involved in mixed teams.
 
Current guidelines from the Scottish FA permit mixed teams up until the age of 15. As a result, a high number of girls play with and against boys of a similar age.
 
Alistair Shaw, coach of Monifieth Ladies 17s, believes his daughter Katie Shaw benefited from playing mixed football between the ages of eight and twelve, describing how the experience helped develop her skills in the game. After leaving boys football, Katie played a key role in the Monifieth Reds U13s side who won their league in 2015 after an impressive undefeated campaign.
 
Kaite was also awarded a runners-up medal in the Lisa Evans League Cup final in June. Another example of a player competing regularly in a mixed team and returning to the girl’s game is that of Madison Kirkpatrick who recently joined Forfar Farmington FC.
 
There have been a number of girls plying their trade in the SYFA divisions to great success in recent years. Alyshia Walker famously won the Scottish Cup as the captain of Fauldhouse Foxes at U13 level. Monica Anderson (pictured, above right) was a top performer with Bathgate Vale Pumas as they roared to County Cup success. And Erin Cuthbert recorded a number of local honours playing for Crosshouse BC.
 
Interestingly, the upper age limit where mixed football is permitted varies greatly between nations, depending on the guidelines outlined by National Associations. Across the border in England, recent changes by the Football Association permit girls to play alongside boys until the age of 18. Rachel Pavlou, National Development Manager for women's football, told the FA website: "Mixed football is an important additional choice to their female only provision".  
 
Countries which favour an age limit of 15 comparable to the current Scottish guidelines include the Czech Republic and Finland.  It must also be noted that Switzerland allow mixed football until the age of 20, which differs greatly from fellow UEFA members Albania and Slovakia who do not permit the practice at any level.
 
Overall evidence suggests it may be beneficial for some girls to compete in mixed gender sides. However, the fact the debate is being held indicates a continued desire for young women to spend their free time involved in Scottish youth football.