THE "Dickensian" practice of holding children on contracts at football clubs against their own or their parent's will has been criticised by MSPs.

Families have gone to court to free their children from professional football club contracts, youth football campaigners The Real Grassroots told Holyrood's Public Petitions Committee.

John Murray, who has been involved in running the youth academy at Heart of Midlothian FC, said he lets children go if their family circumstances change but that other clubs have different principles.

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The Scottish Football Association said clubs must safeguard their investment, particularly when money has been spent in youth development, but said they can intervene if clubs are found to be "abusing their position".

But Real Grassroots founder Willie Smith, chairman of Glasgow's Hillwood Boys Club, said there are two cases pending where parents have gone to court.

SNP MSP Chic Brodie said "business speculation" on young people is "Dickensian".

Mr Smith said: "A case had almost gone to court until a professional football club withdrew from holding the player on compensation and let him go for nothing.

"We are currently waiting on word from the Legal Aid Board on behalf of another player to take a club to court over refusal to release him from his contract. We have got another one pending. In both instances the parents exhausted the opportunities with the clubs first."

Mr Murray said: "I would be appalled at a club keeping a player who has moved house."