The Scottish Football Association (SFA), together with the Scottish Executive and sportscotland, has launched a £31.1m action plan to increase the number of players in Scotland and raise standards at all levels of the game.

Many Players One Goal: An Action Plan for Scottish Youth Football was unveiled today at Hampden Park (Tuesday March 30 2004) by SFA Chief Executive David Taylor and Frank McAveety, Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport.

The Action Plan will make wide-ranging changes in the way the youth game in Scotland is organised and financed over the next 10 years, in a far-reaching bid to raise participation levels and improve competitive standards across all age groups, from the game’s grassroots to the national team.

It is the outcome of the most comprehensive and independent review of youth football ever undertaken in the UK, commissioned in 2002 by the SFA and its partners and carried out by sports consultancy PMP. More than 200 separate individuals and organisations contributed to the review over an 18-month period – and its findings now form the basis for the Action Plan’s recommendations.

Significantly, the plan now has a long-term funding strategy in place. The SFA will contribute £10m towards its implementation over 10 years, supported by Government funding of £12.2m administered by sportscotland. A further £8.9m, currently being jointly invested in community programmes by the SFA and local authorities, will be redirected to support the Action Plan, working in conjunction with the local authorities.

Welcoming the launch of the Action Plan, the SFA’s Chief Executive David Taylor says: ‘There has never been a better time to address some of the fundamental issues in Scottish football.

‘For years, we have been hampered by a lack of investment. But there has been a great deal of good work and we are beginning to see young players come through. Now is the time to recognise that these players are our future, and devote sufficient resources to youth development.

He adds: ‘We now need a completely fresh and far-reaching approach to how the entire youth game is managed, to give us more and better players. This needs to be supported by everyone involved in the sport in Scotland

‘The Action Plan presents us with a clear and cohesive way forward, backed by a viable and robust funding strategy. It has evolved through independent consultation, engaging everyone who cares about the future of the Scottish game – from the parents and coaches on the touchline to the national coach and the top clubs.

‘We are now in a position to make real progress, providing more opportunities for young people to play the game in Scotland. This will lay the foundations for clubs and national teams at the performance end of the game, so Scotland can get back to qualifying for major tournaments.’

Central to the Action Plan’s recommendations is a radical streamlining of how the youth game is structured in Scotland, from both a national and regional perspective. This is supported by funding for a wide range of radical initiatives to improve the Scottish youth game, from its grass roots to the highest echelons of the sport.

A single, unified strategy for under-19 football, under the overall leadership of the SFA, will bring together existing youth programmes managed by SPL and SFL clubs, and national activities managed by the Scottish Youth FA, the Scottish Schools’ FA and the Scottish Women’s FA. Six new regional ‘alliances’ will be set up to manage youth football on a local level.

Performance levels will be boosted by the introduction of a national and regional performance club criteria, and the development of a national talent identification programme.

Clear player ‘pathways’ will be set up to ensure swift progression for talented players from youth leagues to national squads, with partnerships introduced between top clubs and international youth teams. There will also be improved access to quality regional facilities for talented young players, through the implementation of the Scottish Executive’s national and regional facilities strategy.

Changes at grass-roots levels will see support and investment provided to schools to increase participation, and to youth football clubs to strengthen club and community development.

A new Quality Mark for coaches, schools and clubs will be introduced, while a programme of incentives, courses and materials will be provided to attract and reward new volunteers to the game. And a new and simplified National Registration System for all players over 12 years of age will do with away with excessive bureaucracy, making it easier for more young players to get involved at the very start of their game.

At the heart of the Action Plan’s proposals is a massive drive to increase participation in the Scottish game across all sectors of society. Ambitious targets have been set by the SFA and its partners to increase player participation in Scotland by 20%.

Ian Robson, Chief Executive of sportscotland, recognises this fact as central to the long-term success of the Action Plan. He says: ‘Football is rightly regarded as our national sport but we have much have to learn from the comparative success of our European neighbours – especially countries of similar size to Scotland.

‘Scotland has one of the lowest number of players as a percentage of population in Europe – currently standing at 3.6%, which is less than half that of similar countries like Holland and Norway.

‘We also have one of the lowest ratios of player per club, at an average of 23, which shows we have a high number of one-team clubs – unlike our continental rivals whose ‘community club’ structures boast player averages in excess of 300. And only 2.2% of Scottish players are female – compared to 23% in Norway. These are fundamental issues that we need to overcome if our national teams are to perform consistently and successfully on world and European stages.

‘The new structures we will put in place, on a local and national level, will encourage more young people to take part in regular physical activity and adopt a healthy lifestyle. This is a key priority for us, and this is why the Action Plan has the full backing of the Scottish Executive, supported by a viable financial package administered by sportscotland.’

Following today’s launch, a steering group bringing together the SFA, the Scottish Executive and sportscotland will take the Action Plan forward. This will involve a region-wide consultation programme bringing together all the individuals, groups and organisations that initially contributed to the PMP review.

For more information, including a synopsis of the Action Plan and an executive summary of the PMP review, contact:

Andy Mitchell
Head of Communications, Scottish F.A.
Tel: 0141 616 6028
Mobile: 0771 536 9755