Gartcairn Football Academy has it’s roots back in 1989 when a group of workmates from Airdrie decided to form their own team. It eventually folded due to a lack of players but reformed in 2007 as a football academy. Gartcairn are well known due to their belief that kids should enjoy their football first and foremost and have recently been making national news since forming a junior side that has been accepted by the Scottish Juniors FA into the West of Scotland League.
Club chairman Robert McCallum spoke to Youth Football Scotland, and he shared his reasons for forming the academy. "Like many footballers I had to retire from football due to family commitments. My son was beginning primary two and I thought that it would be great to put something back into the community by starting up a football academy. I had read a lot about the Quality Mark from the Scottish FA, so at the same time decided if I was going to take a team I would do it correctly.
"Before starting out, I sat and thought who am I to say to a child of six that they’re not good enough to play football? I didn’t really find my position (GK) until I was fifteen, but I still played it every day (as we all did) in the 70s and 80s. Nobody, as far as I’m concerned, has the right to say to a child that they’re not good enough for football at such a young age."
The children's progression, both on and off the pitch, is testament to the success of Gartcairn FA's ethos.
"Since adopting this idea, I must admit that I was surprised at the level of support from the other parents/coaches who then started up teams with the same ethos. There is nothing better than watching children progress to become good players who, simply, would have been rejected by many other teams," McCallum said.
"Thankfully it worked out. While we are not winning Scottish cups we are competing against teams who actively select the best they can. I must also state that it's not all about football – we now have over 500 children who, when in the same place, you can see the interaction between the age groups – they don’t know it but they are learning a life lesson here which will aid them when older.”
McCallum’s decision to form Gartcairn Juniors was down in part to his strong belief in giving kids a route to the top.
"My main reason for going, and always wanting to go juniors, is that it gives players a pathway to learn their trade, while moving up the ranks with their friends. If they go senior and maybe need a bit more experience then they come back down.
"There must be a balancing act – people say the old way is why we are where we are now – kids not playing on the streets enough etc. Well, we are the streets – the juniors are their platform and the seniors are their ambition!"
The junior side has created a bit of a buzz around the academy, so much so that McCallum said: "I now have children asking me at training sessions – when are the juniors playing? Is Jamie Pollock or Tam McManus training up here tonight?
"The kids are starting to idolize the players which is magnificent to see. The club has also seen an increase in participation. Last year's under-17 team now have 40+ players, so we’ve created two under-19s teams. Considering this is a ridiculously hard age group to keep one team going it’s a delight to have two teams going."
Two former academy players, Connor Shields and Lewis Tobin have made the move up to the junior squad.
"Lewis unfortunately got injured in a bounce game but he is without a doubt one to look forward to watching, the lad is quick and at such a young age very composed," McCallum said.
"Connor is exciting on the wings but was welcomed to junior football in his first five minutes with a right tasty challenge. He will learn from this and kick on, I’m sure, and this is where the senior / semi pro link shall come to fruition – it’s a learning curve for both the young lads but I would not be surprised at all to see them playing senior football before our season is over."