More youngsters discovering joys of football
Once again it was Celtic and Rangers battling for honours at the top end of the Scottish Premiership but while the top level of the professional game has never been more popular, things are also looking rosy at youth level. Scottish youth football has for many years been fighting for attention against a backdrop of social media and an ever-increasing range and variety of alternative pastimes, however it seems as though the tide is turning as more and more youngsters discover the joys of football and the rewards that it can bring.
Surge in popularity
This rising level of interest isn’t restricted to boys alone, indeed an increasing number of girls are taking up football, both in all-girl and mixed teams. Scottish football in general has been enjoying a surge in popularity and this is especially the case for the women’s game which has undoubtedly benefited from the increased coverage of Women’s Super League south of the border, both by TV channels and leading bookmakers such as The Pools. This has had the direct result of attracting more girls to a sport which has traditionally been seen as a male pastime and the game is now seeing more and more women training to be coaches and referees.
At the upper end of the women’s game, increased attendances have been seen with Celtic attracting a record-breaking 15,822 fans to Parkhead for their battle with SWPL title rivals Glasgow City late last month. Only twelve months ago it seemed inconceivable that there would ever be over 15,000 for a women’s game at Celtic Park but that perceived barrier has been smashed through. The leading betting sites have been attracted by this heightened popularity and punters can choose from numerous markets on the women’s game as well as a range of free bets and other promotions. The increase in popularity of both the men’s and women’s game has filtered right down to the grass roots of the game and this is great news for clubs who have for many years struggled to attract youngsters.
Increased TV coverage
The central belt has generally been the main focus for youth football but clubs are enjoying something of a renaissance throughout Scotland, from Dumfries and Galloway to Caithness and Sutherland. The Scottish Youth Cup Final enjoyed increased television coverage and attendance last month and youth football competitions throughout the country are managing to attract more beneficial sponsorship deals from high profile organisations. Clearly there is still much work still to do and for some clubs there is still a genuine struggle to attract youngsters, especially in deprived areas. Similarly, the youth game depends heavily on volunteers and this continues to be an area of concern due to many volunteers finding it increasingly difficult to devote the time.
Level playing field
Nevertheless, the signs are that things are improving at youth level. For many years, youth football has had to compete with numerous other youth activities as well as increased social media and TV ‘on-demand’ channels, however it seems that many youngsters – especially girls – are recognising the benefits that football can bring. The increased coverage of youth and women’s football has clearly played a big part but the work done by individual youth football clubs and the large band of volunteers should never be overlooked. Not only that but many boys clubs allow girls to play in the same team and this has in effect levelled the playing field and opened the game up to a large section of youngsters who were in many respects not allowed the same privileges or given equal treatment previously.
All walks of life
Whatever the reasons, the signs for continued growth are encouraging and it is important that youth football continues to flourish and attract a broad range of youngsters from all walks of life. Both girls and boys of all ages are extremely well catered for with an abundance of clubs and facilities, however some deprived areas are lacking in the required facilities and this should be the main focus of attention for the relevant bodies. Many parents may feel that they simply cannot afford to provide their children with the required football kit but it is important to get the message across that there will always be help provided for any children who are interested in joining a club.
What does the future hold for youth football?
No-one has a crystal ball and it’s impossible to say with any degree of certainty what the future holds for the youth game in Scotland. The signs are certainly encouraging and it would seem that the current upward trend is set to continue into the immediate future. The game at this level is attracting more and more attention while the larger number of girls that are being attracted to the sport is an undoubted cause for celebration. There is no room for complacency but everyone concerned with the game at youth level must look to continue the momentum into the future. There will undoubtedly be more challenges ahead but much hard work has been done and this has brought clear benefits. The volunteer situation is a slight cause for concern given that many simply cannot devote enough time to the sport and this will certainly need to be addressed, however the fact remains that the youth game in Scotland is in a healthier state than it has been for many years.
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