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There is more to life than money when players join Amateur ranks

FOOTBALL has become a game marked - some would say tainted - by money, so it is refreshing on a breezy day on Glasgow's south side to reflect on the power of amateurism, the strength of hope and enduring loyalty of players who may move on but always come back.

Queen's Park head of youth development David McCallum, with Lesser Hampden undergoing a pre-Commonwealth Games transformation in the background. Picture: Colin Templeton
Queen's Park head of youth development David McCallum, with Lesser Hampden undergoing a pre-Commonwealth Games transformation in the background. Picture: Colin Templeton

The veritable antiquity of Queen's Park is also addressed with a mention of Leonardo da Vinci. Contrary to the Glesca cynic, the Italian artist was not responsible for the side's first-team picture but he plays a part in its future. This and more is discussed in the company of David McCallum, the club's head of youth development.

The message is that Queen's Park, languishing at the bottom of SPFL League 2, have a vision. It is the view from McCallum's office, though, that is worthy of Leonardo and his paints.

The National Stadium stands proudly in the background and directly below the building at Lesser Hampden lies the muck and mayhem of a building site that will become training and warm-up facilities for the Commonwealth Games and, later, a refurbished and spectacular training ground for the youths of the Spiders.

The challenges for an amateur club in the professional world are specific. How do you convince professional players to compete for no monetary gain? And how do you attract youngsters into a programme where first-team football will always be some way from the front line of first-tier football? And how do you stay relevant when money is the card that trumps all others?

The answer is surprisingly easy. "It is easy to sell this club," says McCallum, a former player with Motherwell, Partick Thistle and Queen's Park. "Firstly, it offers a progression that kids can latch on to quickly. There is simply a chance to play first-team football here. The example of Andy Robertson proves that."

Robertson joined Queen's after being released by Celtic and was subsequently sold to Dundee United after a season in the first team. The 19-year-old will travel to Poland next week as part of the Scotland squad.

He is one of many who have progressed from Queen's Park into the mainstream of the national game. Others include Paul Paton (Dundee United), Lawrence Shankland, (Aberdeen, on loan at Dunfermline, Aidan Connolly (Dundee United), Paul Cairney (Hibernian), and Stuart Kettlewell and Steven Saunders (Ross County).

"Early introduction to first-team football is a great opportunity," McCallum said. "Reserve football and under-20 football are great but there is a pressure that comes with playing league football that you cannot replicate."

Under normal circumstances, the Queen's Park players also perform twice a month on a Hampden pitch that most of their peers have an ambition to grace perhaps only once in their lifetime and that in a cup final.

"They may be playing in front of 400 or 500 fans," McCallum said. "But it means as much to these supporters as it does to the 40,000 at Celtic Park or Ibrox."

There is another attraction at Queen's Park. McCallum explains: "We push the education side as well. Barry Douglas had an opportunity to leave us but was doing his refrigeration engineering apprenticeship and chose to complete his course."

Some would say that might be a benefit in the full-back's present employment at Lech Poznan.

However, there is a serious side to the endeavours at Queen's Park. The refurbishment for the Commonwealth Games has given Lesser Hampden a wonderful re-invention. The interior, too, has benefited from the sort of investment that would be the envy of top sides.

McCallum, though, points to another sustaining ethos at the club. Queen's Park famously extol the joys of playing for playing's sake but there is also a responsibility on coaching.

"The only thing missing from this club is a salary," McCallum says. "The way the players get treated is second to none. If it is immediate financial gain the player is after, then we are at a disadvantage. But if you have a long-term plan then we can offer you everything."

This development is coloured by Mr Da Vinci himself. The Leonardo Da Vinci Programme is an educational initiative funded by the European Union which Queen's Park have signed up to.

A young Spiders team travel to Europe each season - they have been to Spain, Portugal and Turkey - with the aim of the players learning to take personal responsibility and building discipline.

There has been a beneficial effect on the football programme, too. "We can do two-and-a-half months' work in two weeks," McCallum says. "We have two sessions a day on the training pitch and one in the classroom at night.

McCallum, who is keen to promote the work of the 30 unpaid coaches who work with 130 players at the under-age levels, believes the Da Vinci Programme has helped his charges mature.

There is a responsibility on the players to learn the language of the country they are visiting, although this proved somewhat difficult when the destination was Turkey.

"We we were lucky," McCallum said. "We had a player in the team who was of Turkish descent and he helped us out. His name was Paul Canjanca and he later left the team but came back the next year to help us prepare for another visit to Turkey . That says a lot about the character of the lad."

McCallum was impressed by this gesture as much as he is when a player who has gone up the ladder returns bearing gifts.

"Andy was with us on Saturday," he says of Robertson, the Scotland international in waiting. "We had a supporters' function for the academy and he came with a signed shirt for the raffle."

Outside the window, the diggers and the drills make their loud pronouncements about the future shape of Lesser Hampden. The message from McCallum and his coaches is more subtle. Build it and they will come. And come back.

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