North Region (355)
Carol Baxtor has been known as many things: teacher, referee and most recently, recipient of the SFA Grassroots Award for ‘Best Volunteer’ in youth football for the North of Scotland region.
After over 26 years volunteering in the 13s to 19s juvenile football leagues in Aberdeen as match secretary, Carol scooped the regional prize in August that ‘aims to recognise and reward people across the country that make a difference to grassroots football in their local community.’ It’s safe to say, she certainly has done that.
When Carol got the news that she had won the award from Mark Slater of the SFA, she didn’t believe it at first.
“That was the day of the terrible thunder and lightning in Aberdeen and the school was flooded, so we couldn’t get kids back in. Mark phoned me all joyful, and the first thing I said to him was: ‘Who gave you my phone number, because I don’t give out my mobile phone number!”
Carol was also shocked to learn that “when our season is up and running properly, I do more fixtures than the whole of the Scottish leagues and the English leagues put together!”
She was brought up in a footballing family, dating back to the 1950s: “We’re going back a lot of years, but my dad won a Scottish Juniors Cup Winners medal with Sunnybank and my uncle John won a Scottish Junior Cup medal when Banks O’ Dee won it – so that was 1954 and 1957 if I recall.”
“I lived in a street where the kids of my age where all boys as well. They used to knock on my door and ask if was coming up the park to play football. There’s always been football in the family. My brother played junior football as well.”
While training to be a teacher, Carol went to Auchterellon Primary School, which was the biggest in the Grampian region at the time. There, she took on one of the younger boys’ football teams, adding: “I decided, everybody thinks they know the rules and the laws of the game, but I decided to go to the referee’s classes. There’s always a shortage of referees. At that time, we were encouraged to referee while you were going through the classes.”
Eventually, she was approached to help on Sundays, too. After some persuasion, she committed to the Saturday games too - only when she wasn’t going to Pittodrie every week as a dedicated Aberdeen season ticket holder.
Being the ‘woman in the middle’ came naturally, and she refereed for over ten seasons – as well as becoming the first woman to run the line at a senior men’s match; an encounter between Cove and Rothes.
Unfortunately, women referees did not have the same opportunities, so she decided to lend her talents off the pitch as match secretary. As a referee, she faced the usual from the fans – but always responded well with her deep knowledge of the beautiful game.
“Often the male parents – although sometimes the women were as bad – tried to tell you that you didn’t know what you were doing, you got that wrong, whatever. I used to carry the laws of the game in my bag, and if somebody said something I’d say “I haven’t time to argue with you at the moment, but I’ll see you at the end and I can show you!”
She does admit that by being a female referee at the time, she was in the minority. Still she recalls the “good camaraderie” between the three of four women referees and says: “The referee’s nights out were a bit different – we were there and instead of bringing wives, we took our husbands.”
Despite Carol’s pioneering efforts, she is still sad to see fewer women refereeing: “It’s disappointing that you don’t see them especially with the development of girls and women’s football. It’s disappointing to not see more women refereeing at a higher level in football, even now.”
Fast forward to today and Carol is the match secretary for the Aberdeen District Juvenile Football Association (ADJFA) and doing a stellar job, too. Among other duties, she creates grids for league matches, arranges pitches and organises cup finals. Of course, they need referees for these games and she works closely with the Aberdeen District Referees Association as well.
Asked how she would describe the job, she joked: “A pest! A nightmare!” before adding,
“It’s my job to ensure that all the matches and the leagues are played to a conclusion. Last season being a difficult one for everybody.”
As part of a team, Carol said: “It’s not just about me, or even the other members of the executive committee. It’s about all the guys and girls that give up their time to be qualified to actually run teams and give the youth in the area a game of competitive football.”
Humbled and shocked by the award, she added: “When something like this comes along it is a surprise, and you think ‘somebody somewhere appreciates what you’re doing.”
When you think of your favourite superhero, who springs to mind? For some, this may be one of the Avengers, or Spiderman, or even Peppa Pig!
But for others, you may see Ronald de Boer, Pedro Mendes or Alex McLeish as a superhero. For Thurso-based football coach Alyn Gunn, it is simply all of the above.
Gunn, 35, has developed an innovative training booklet that uses superheroes and storytelling to teach football drills to young children. The booklet, which is now being used by coaches in France, Germany, the Netherlands, England and Wales, has also been endorsed by the likes of Ronald de Boer, Pedro Mendes, Alex McLeish, John ‘Yogi’ Hughes, Michael Beale and John Kennedy.
The global outbreak of COVID-19 brought a halt to all organised football in March earlier this year, yet Gunn was determined that the pandemic would not prevent kids in Caithness, Thurso and beyond from remaining active.
The football-daft philanthropist kitted-out 25 lucky youngsters from Thurso Football Academy with water bottles and footballs as well his ‘Tiny Tacklers’ training booklet to keep them occupied and active during lockdown.
The remaining 104 kids, who were entered into the draw, received a digital copy of the ‘Tiny Tacklers’ booklet free of charge.
Speaking to the Daily Record, Gunn said: “The bigger picture is we’re putting it toward trying to get kids to participate in football and that is the end idea here.
“I’m a great believer in doing story-telling football whether that be the Avengers or Spiderman – Peppa Pig if you have to. I do things differently to try to catch the imagination of a young child. And if you catch them at a young age, hopefully that will progress into future international footballers.”
He was also nominated for an SFA Community Award in July, following his incredible work.
However, perhaps Alyn’s most impressive success came in 2016, where he returned to coaching after nearly a full year out due to a major health scare.
Gunn’s unrivalled commitment to youth football extends beyond his lockdown benevolence. After starting up the Thurso Football Academy in 2013, he has dedicated his life to improving youth football in Caithness.
The academy’s work includes private coaching, going into schools and running summer camps for more than 250 kids.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle have found a way to save the club’s academy and continue the running of all seven of its youth teams.
Caley had previously announced they were struggling to source the funds to continue the scheme free of charge.
However, with over 90% of the parents agreeing to partake in voluntary funding and donations coming from local businesses – with one businessman offering to donate a five figure sum – the academy will be able to continue.
This means that Caley are able to keep its current seven teams, that run from under-12s level to under 18s, and still be registered for the SFA’s flagship scheme Project Brave.
Prior to the announcement, a few Caley youth players admitted they were worried they may lose their place in the team, with budgets struggling to cover over all ages.
Under-18 player Andrew Lewthwaite was asked about the possibility of losing his place in the squad.
“Of course, that’s always the fear,” he said, “yet without fear your’re nothing. I know certainly for me it is the fear which drives me always to do my best”.
Another under-18 player, Ross Gordon, also spoke about how “the risk is always there of being dropped, but in that moment the risk seemed even higher.”
The suggested scheme suggests players will pay £10-a-week for training and to go to their games.
Both Ross and Andrew were questioned if, that due to the new fees, players would be drawn to the likes of Ross County or Clachnacuddin. However, both boys emphatically agreed that all the players were committed to the team.
“Players would be missing out if they left as Caley has an amazing academy and coaches, if you want the best you’d want to be at Caley,” Andrew said.
Ross added: “Especially now that we have this opportunity to keep the academy running, the boys will be closer than ever and wanting to do as well as possible for the team.”
The club understand the significant amount of backing they have received from parents and sponsors for the academy to stay afloat.
Due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, many teams are feeling the full extent of the financial burdens caused by the virus.
Staff at Hibs’ Tranent academy were relieved of their duties and several other clubs are weighing up their involvement in Project Brave.
As well as that, other teams have withdrawn academies from Project Brave over the past couple of years such as Falkirk, Livingston and Dunfermline.
However, Inverness has been a great example of a community coming together in incredibly tough times to support a club which has an ever-present role in its community looking after and providing for others. Let’s hope that some of the boys who are being given the chance today will be the stars of tomorrow.
Inverness Athletic have reached an agreement with Balloan FC for the continuation of youth development between the two clubs.
The partnership gives players the opportunity to play from the age of nine all the way through to adulthood, where they would be able to play in the North Caledonian League.
Balloan currently only keep players until under-17 level. If players wish to play further football, they have to find a new team to play for.
Meanwhile, Inverness Athletic don’t have a youth team under the same brand - so can’t produce many youth prospects.
However, the new partnership will allow players security for those who want to play football beyond youth level - and it should offer fresh waves of talent for Athletic on a regular basis.
I spoke to James Fraser, of Balloan FC, who said about the scheme was looking very promising and is excited to see what can happen.
He also told me it made him happy to know that players had a place to play beyond Balloan, adding that the partnership has allowed Balloan to enter an under-15 side to the Highland League, as the league plays at a different time to the standard Street League.
His delight at the deal is shared by the coaches, players and staff ay Balloan, who are also excited about the pathway partnership and the chance to play more games now each year.
Finally, James confirmed it saves both clubs financial burdens, as they don’t have to buy as many players but are rather growing their own.
Cove Youth FC Vice-Chairman Mark Robb said: “It was quarter to five when this happened, and the first ones were on at six o’clock.
“All of a sudden you just see caravans and vans coming up the business park pavement and onto the grass. That was a bit of a blow.
“I drove my car down to the pitch to make sure they weren’t on it, but sure enough, they’d already unloaded their horses and their horses were on the pitch.”
He added: “The pitch was looking good, we’ve done a lot of work over the last three months on it to try and get it back to a better playing surface.
“But the horses have been down the top end of the pitch.
“They’re doing the toilet all over the pitch, and they’re eating the grass, chewing it up and walking about.
“Slightly later in the evening, there were kids on quad bikes tearing about the campsite and tearing across the pitch, so that’s going to tear up the pitch as well. It’s a bit gutting to be honest.”
“The boys are devastated. Depending how much damage that’s going to do to the pitch, it might not be able to be used until next year, by the time you get things repaired and done properly.
“We don’t want to put the kids on it if it’s a danger to them. It’s going to implicate a lot of costs for the club as well.”
Goals Aberdeen, a five-a-side complex in the city, has offered to host the team in the meantime at a discounted rate.
Currently, there is only one official Gypsy/Traveller site in the Aberdeen area, with space for 17 permanent pitches and four short term pitches.
The site, at Clinterty near the border with Aberdeenshire, has a waiting list.
“There are insufficient pitches, as we know, and there is insufficient availability, and as long as that situation continues, we are going to continue to have the problem of Travellers using unauthorised pieces of land and causing problems for local groups that wish to use those areas.
“It really is something we need to resolve, and the sooner we manage to do that the better.
“The present situation is simply untenable.”
Scottish Conservative north-east MSP Liam Kerr, who has been contacted by Cove Youth over the situation, said: “I’m shocked and appalled to see this occur at Cove Gateway which is a fantastic facility used by a number of football teams in the area.
“For months, the players have been waiting patiently for the chance to play football with each other again and to have this taken away from them is shameful.
“This situation is extremely disappointing for everyone at a time when it’s vital we encourage youngsters to get back outdoors and play sport as lockdown eases."
Currently, there is no indication of any dialogue taking place between the club and the Traveller community.
Ross County have been holding Zoom training sessions online to keep their Academy players fit and conditioned during lockdown.
The scheme has been lead by Gordon Duff, Pre-Academy Manager, who has led over 16 sessions across all year groups, with around 45 kids taking part or sending in information about their exercise every day.
The online sessions have been greatly appreciated and have had strong positive feedback so far.
William Urqurhart a player for Ross County’s under-16s, spoke highly of the training: “It had been great to have structured training sessions again to help keep my ability up to scratch.”
Under-18 goalkeeper Logan Ross echoed Urqurhart’s sentiments: “On the mental side it’s especially good because we can keep up to date with what’s going on and we are still able to revise new tactics with the use of technology in front of us, showing and explaining stuff.
“I’m enjoying the new training but I’m finding it hard as it can get frustrating not having a coach there to help if your struggling with a drill, but it keeps me physically fit and some training is better than no training”
County have planned now for various different training sessions across the coming weeks, bringing in special guests to host them. These plans include Personal Training Sessions, Online Yoga as well as some mental health course in Digital Awareness and Resilience courses.
The club have also been keeping the players and young peoples’ minds active by offering learning resources for pupils whilst schools are closed.
So far, they have brought out three ‘Learn from Home’ workbooks and a ‘Fun for You’ workbook, ranging in difficulties and styles of drills.
These were brought out to support young people with enjoyable and interactive material that can help them stay focused on their education even in these tough times.
These resources were offered to several local schools to aid them in adapting to e-Learning and as a result of this some schools have chosen adapt these workbooks into their Health & Wellbeing modules.
This was just one of many examples of how Ross County has supported their community during these unprecedented times.
As well as that we’ve seen that the club are driven in ensuring that their youth players can reach their full potential and be the stars of tomorrow.
Inverness side Balloan FC have offered their kit budget to citizens who are struggling to make ends meet during the coronavirus pandemic.
Days before the lockdown, club secretary James Fraser and other members of the Balloan hierarchy and training staff bought almost 200 mini balls and hundreds of cones from their funds.
They then invited players from all age categories to come and collect a ball and six cones, so that all players would have a chance to practise and play football at home.
Since then they have been posting several practise drills per week that the players can do with their new equipment at home.
The club prides itself on being one of the top teams in the Inverness Street League, having 180 registered players at the club over three different age categories.
It is also a club that takes its’ community responsibility seriously with lots of events such as bag packing at local supermarkets and race nights, so as well as playing and winning lots of football games every season, being at Balloan keeps a player busy.
After an online meeting with other senior members at the club, it was agreed that the team’s kit budget should be offered as funds to people who need it.
They announced on their Facebook page that if anybody knew someone who is struggling to pay for bills or food or other essential needs, the club would be able to help cover them.
The Highland side will also soon be announcing that the remaining kit budget will be be used to fund online study aids for pupils who are struggling to study at home. This is still being set up and organised but will enable pupils to access accounts which will make online education easier and give pupils more ways to enhance their skills and education whilst in lockdown.
Balloan aren’t a rich club and they aren’t a big club. They’re a club that appreciates it’s supporters and the community which most of their players come from. They do what they can to thank them for coming and watching the kids whatever the weather or wherever the location.
These are strange times and some may say that football is irrelevant during this crisis, but for those in need grassroots clubs like Balloan, with an ear to the ground and strong community contacts, have shown that they are in a unique position to help.
Westdyke CC vs CBC Hilton United U17
These two have not met since the first match of the season back in August and their meeting this weekend has more meaning and stakes than their last encounter.
It was Westdyke who came out on top back then, securing a 3-1 win and setting them up for what has been a very impressive campaign so far. They remain unbeaten and sit top of the table, three points ahead of their opponents this weekend.
CBC Hilton have also had a great start to the season. They haven’t lost a game since that opening day defeat and have racked up the goal count in the process and are only one win away from taking top spot.
A measure of revenge will surely be on the minds of United and that will certainly add to the spice in the game. Westdyke will need to be on their game as they face a United team hungry to prove themselves as title contenders.
Dyce BC vs Peterhead BC U16
Two teams both still in the hunt for the league title face off in a vital clash in the ADJFA A League.
Leaders Westdyke will be casting a keen eye on the result of this game, knowing that the winner will likely prove to be their biggest challenge in their quest to win the league title.
Dyce come into the game in fine form. Having only lost one game in the league this season, a 2-1 defeat against Westdyke, they find themselves in third place, six points off the top with three games in hand over the leaders, one of which will be played this weekend.
Peterhead on the other hand have more motivation than just catching up at the top. The last encounter between these two saw Dyce leave convincing 6-0 winners. A win this weekend would put that loss firmly behind them as well as bring themselves to within one point of Westdyke.
Kintore United vs Westdyke Thistle U15
The entire complexion of the ADJFA C League could change drastically over the weekend, with both of these teams still harbouring hopes at a league title.
Kintore United find themselves at a disadvantage in the race. While they do find themselves in second place, just five points off the top, they have played four games more than leaders Thistle Youth. With very few games left to play it is becoming a more difficult task by the minute. That isn’t to say that they can’t have a major impact on proceedings.
Westdyke Thistle sit third, five points adrift but with two games in hand over Thistle Youth. A win here would keep the pressure up on the leaders, but Kintore will be motivated to avenge their previous loss to Westdyke two weeks ago.
Thistle Youth vs Stonehaven YFC U15
One eye will also be kept on Thistle Youth’s match against Stonehaven this weekend, making the C League one of the most looked at divisions this weekend.
Thistle have been awesome this season, having lost only one game this season against Kintore United. The hold top spot in the league, seven points ahead of their opponents this weekend, who could find themselves back in with a shot at the title.
Stonehaven have played two games more than the table toppers, but a win would move them to within four points of the top, and pile more pressure on Thistle Youth to continue their fine run of form.
With so much still to play for in this league, it is certainly one to keep an eye on this weekend!
CBC Hilton vs Colony Park U14
In the B League, there is still plenty to play for, but a win is what’s required for either team if they want to keep their title hopes alive.
The win is more important you have to say for CBC Hilton. Hilton have had a great season so far and still find themselves with a realistic chance of catching top side Stonehaven YFC. Six points off the top, they will be looking for a crucial win this weekend, but they will need to produce a great performance to beat a strong Colony Park.
Colony Park are unbeaten in the league so far this season and have only dropped points against one team this season against leaders Stonehaven. Park are three points off the top but have the benefit of two games in hand.
The last meeting between these two resulted in a 3-1 win for Colony Park in the first game of the season. Expect another close game between two teams with real motivations to win.
Lewis United Rangers and Banks O’Dee Albion prepared for their titanic clash in the A league this weekend with wins to keep them neck and neck at the top of the table. Rangers were convincing 5-1 winners away to Cove YFC and Albion were also comfortable winners against Longside BC.
Westdyke Thistle kept up the pace on B League leaders Middlefield Wasps with an emphatic win over Kemnay FC. Middlefield Wasps maintained their three point advantage with victory over Turriff United, however Thistle still have three games in hand.
CBC Hilton United took over the top spot of the A League with a big win over bottom side Cove YFC. Westdyke’s 1-1 draw with Deveronvale allowed United to take over first place. Westdyke still have one game in hand over their title rivals.
Northstar CFC maintained their lead at the top of the B League with a 6-1 win over FDS 2003. Second placed Ellon Meadows were made to work for their 6-3 win against Huntly, however it wasn’t enough to close the eight point gap between the two.
Westdyke took advantage of the fact that they were one of the only sides to play in the A League last weekend as they extended their lead at the top of the table with a 6-1 win over bottom side Westdyke Thistle.
In the B League Stonehaven United secured a much needed victory over leaders Northstar CFC. A loss for United would have almost certainly seen them out of the title picture but the 2-0 scoreline keeps them within touching distance, with a game in hand.
The result also allowed Culter Boys to close the gap at the top to just three points after their victory against Newmachar Youth.
There are new league leaders in the C League as Aberdon overtook Culter United. United suffered defeat at the hands of Colony Colts, which opened the door for Aberdon to take top spot with a win over Byron Dons in an entertaining 5-4 spectacle.
A large number of games fell victim to the weather on Sunday in the Aberdeenshire leagues, however there were still results that had major league ramifications.
Westdyke took themselves to within one point of league leaders Deveronvale last weekend. A convincing 4-0 win away to Cove Youth United.
Cove United took advantage of their game going ahead last weekend by closing the gap on top spot with a big win over Glentanar CFC. They closed the gap on League C Section 1 leaders Turriff United to five points.
In C League Section 2 Deveronvale Reds also took advantage of their game going ahead with a win over Mormond Thistle to extend their lead at the top of the table to three points.
Banks O’Dee Albion continued their dominance of the A League with a 5-1 win over Thistle YFC. The win maintained their whopping 15 point lead at the top of the league. The only other game in the league saw East End Lewis Youth beat Cove YFC, 3-2.