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Spartans fighting for their community

THERE is a football club in Edinburgh that Gordon Strachan regards as setting an example for every community in the country.

Naebody bring a ba'? No need to worry, Spartans leave one on the 3G pitch each night so people can come play for free. Picture: Stevebthegroundhopper.blogspot.com
Naebody bring a ba'? No need to worry, Spartans leave one on the 3G pitch each night so people can come play for free. Picture: Stevebthegroundhopper.blogspot.com

No need to raise any arms in celebration, Hearts or Hibs fans. The outfit in question is far smaller than both and on the evidence of recent years far, far more impressively run. Strachan could not have more admiration for the work carried out by Spartans.

He has a vested interest, given that he is their patron, but Strachan took on that role only because he was so enthusiastic about their projects in the first place.

The Spartans Community Football Academy distinguishes Spartans as a club of vision and ambition. Their senior team won the inaugural Lowland League this season but the Scotland manager's evangelism on their behalf stems from what they do to benefit a part of his home city.

Strachan was born and raised in Muirhouse - near to Spartan's Ainslie Park in the north of the city - and still has plenty of family across the city in Leith.

"My mother and my aunties and uncles still live in the Leith area and I'm really happy to have been working in the community, especially with the Spartans project," he said. "It's really taken on - in fact, it should be a model for every community in the land.

"Nuisance phone calls to the police have gone down 70% since the project was set up. For every £1 Spartans spend, they save the community £7 in damage and what-have-you around the area."

The Spartans complex includes the fully-enclosed Ainslie Park which meets official criteria, with a grass pitch, floodlighting, seating in a capacity of 3000, a full-size floodlit artificial pitch and extensive indoor resources. But it is not the bricks, mortar and artificial grass that makes a difference, it is the time and commitment devoted to educating, improving and giving opportunities to the community's youth.

In return, the club is respected. "They do strange things that work," said Strachan. "Like, they leave a ball out on the 3G pitch at night. Instead of shutting everything up, the ball's left there. No-one steals it. The kids and dads come and play, but no-one nicks it.

"Edinburgh schools close on Friday afternoons, so because they're not getting lunch a lot of kids don't get a meal at all that night, not with the state their parents are in. So we have them in, get them kicking a ball about and then feed them. Free: 40 or 50 kids.

"And if their mums drops them off, we have computers sitting there so while the kids are playing they get used to being online, learning or whatever. It's incredible what Spartans do. Craig Graham [the club chairman] is a very clever man.

"They should be asking him how to do things within communities. You don't have to be a great football player, but every kid needs a sport to play to get them off the streets. They've proved that if you do get kids off the streets, problems in their community drop dramatically.

"So how do we get a project like this into every town and city in the country? Well, it takes money, though Spartans have generated all their own. But if we get independence it's going to be 'come on Alex, get yer cash out . . .'"

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