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Time to weed out negativity at grass roots

The demise of the tanner ba' player and street football is often cited as one reason for the decline of the Scottish game in recent decades.

Yet even cynics or sceptics will grant it is not all doom and gloom and that there is optimism around Hampden these days.

That is not just down to the upturn in form the national side has enjoyed under Gordon Strachan. A couple of Sundays ago, I was at the Toryglen indoor arena, the regional football centre beside the national stadium, and witnessed the future. Inside it was jumping, echoing to the sound of around 200 kids aged five to eight in Fun 4s small-sided games, all part of the Scottish Football Association's National Player Pathway programme. The laughter, whoops of joy and cheers of "gooooaaal" gave off a tremendous buzz. This is what football should be all about - pure, unalloyed joy.

It was the launch of the Fun 4s 600 Goals. The Scottish Football Partnership has invested £129,000 in purchasing 600 Fun 4s' goal posts and storage facilities for 24 Regional Youth Football centres across the country.

Following discussions with the Scottish Youth FA (which runs the Fun 4s format) and the SFA's regional managers, targeted investment has been made to allow the existing league bodies to expand the level of small-sided games they can offer kids between the ages of five and eight every weekend. It is the biggest investment in grass roots small-sided games to date and the SFP are proud of it. We anticipate up to 10,000 young footballers across the country will benefit.

"We are trying to encourage youngsters to take up and enjoy the game," said Paul McNeil, the SFA West Region Manager. "This investment from the Football Partnership allows us to develop the game further and further."

With street football no longer such a big part of our culture, decent facilities and a safe environment are integral to giving youngsters a positive introduction to the game. Similar models are being used in Brazil and the Netherlands, while there are also universal benefits for a youngster's health and well-being. Most of all, it is fun.

The SFP was especially keen to fund Fun 4s 600 Goals as it gels with our overall ethos to support the game at all levels but, in particular, nurture the grass roots. There has been a tendency for too much negativity and soul-searching over where it has all gone wrong and that has almost become a national sport itself. But such an attitude ignores so much good work that is going on. Scottish football instead has to look to the future with a clear vision.

Fun 4s is just one of over 60 projects the SFP have funded over the last year, with Strachan having endorsed the SFP's Portable Changing Rooms project. We have now supplied units to over 20 children's clubs - with portable floodlights also available - and we estimate, that 5000 youngsters are now playing regularly who had not been doing so previously. Owen Coyle also helped us to launch our Sport First Aid programme with the SYFA at Hampden last December. Now up to 1000 coaches at youth, junior and women's level will be trained up in First Aid.

These initiatives are all part of a platform for Scottish football to build its future. The SFP was established following the demise of The Football Trust in 2000 and, as its sole employee, I travelled 12,000 miles last year offering support to clubs at all levels. So if you have got a good idea or a worthy project all you need to do is chap on my door. We are here to help.

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