So many stories of footballing legend begin in the former mining communities of Scotland, England and Wales. And last weekend in the Welsh valleys a young Scottish side perhaps began a new chapter, walking in the giant footsteps of Sir Matt Busby, Jock Stein and Bill Shankly.
Two teams made the long bus trek South to Merthyr Tydfil’s Pennydarren Park representing their country in the annual Coalfield Regeneration Trust Home international tournament. Alloa’s WASP Community Club FC 2000s hosted and won the qualifying event in June, and were joined by their runners-up from East Ayrshire’s Grange Academy to face counterparts from England and Wales.
In the end it was the side from Grange who emerged victorious, defeating England after extra time in the final, to become the first Scottish side to win the event in its nine-year history. WASP Community meanwhile finished in a creditable third place in an excellent overall advertisement for Scottish grassroots football.
Grange stormed to the final by winning all five of their games, and not a goal conceded, helped by stand-out performances from Marc Walker and Lyall Cameron. The final was a tight affair, as Cameron Lindsay’s header for the Scots was cancelled out by a fine England strike in normal time.
As extra time ticked down, it seemed only fitting that Walker, the tournament’s top scorer, should lash home the winner to give the Scottish side the victory their overall tournament performance deserved.
Grange coach Hugh Conner, was full of praise for his side’s effort and performance levels.
"I always thought the boys were going to win. They are a great bunch of lads, they worked really hard and were really up for the games," he told Youth Football Scotland.
"It has been fantastic to come down and play. The boys gave 100 per cent against a good standard of opposition, and the Progressive Football Development coaches gave us great backing."
Karl Rennie, coach of WASP Community Club, reflected on a worthwhile trip overall, despite his side’s disappointment at not reliving June’s triumph: "Congratulations to Grange. They played very well on the day. We represented our country well enough in my eyes and played a lot of nice football and it has been a good experience overall for the boys. We have learned a lot and have lots to take back to training and work on," he said.
And yet this event is about much more than who wins. The wider aim of this tournament is to help promote the CRT’s work within former mining communities still suffering the social and economic and health consequences of pit closures from 30 years ago.
The annual tournament brings together impacted communities from across England, Wales and Scotland to celebrate the game and allow young players to shine and share in the football festival experience. In association with Game on England and Progressive Football Development Scotland, Game on Wales organised an entertaining day where football was the winner.
Pauline Douglas of the Coalfield Regeneration Trust hopes to continue to support the event in coming years, despite recent funding cuts in Scotland.
"Scottish Government cuts represent a real challenge to our work in Scotland, and so this great football story highlights the best of what we can do. Hopefully with funding in place we can bring this tournament to Scotland again in future, and possibly get girls teams involved again too," she said.
"Overall it has been great to see kids from the areas in which we work getting the opportunity to play in events like this. I went to the qualifying event in Alloa in June and you could tell it was a very positive experience for everyone involved."
CRT Scotland were assisted in the event by Progressive Football Development Scotland, who provide community coaches within many former coalfield areas. Former Airdrie United and Annan Athletic player Scott Gibson is the founder of Progressive Football Development and considers the tournament to be an invaluable experience for the Scottish teams involved.
"It will have been great to measure themselves against the level of other boys from the UK, but more importantly create memories that will last a lifetime," he said.
"A real highlight was when the boys lined up for the national anthem with their chests puffed out. You could see how much it all meant to them. The feeling was so expressive among the players."
As part of Sports Pathway Coaching, PFD was recently awarded Social Enterprise of the year by Midlothian and East Lothian councils for its work in increasing community football involvement.
"We started off in 2013 at one school and we now have over 500 children a week involved in our programmes at nurseries, schools and partner community clubs," Gibson said.
"As a social enterprise our main ethos is all about giving something back to the community. We are increasing the numbers of children involved in sport but also educating them in the right way.
"We look to support the Coalfield Regeneration Trust in any sports based initiatives. Chris Foot at Game on Wales put on a great event, and it has been good to share ideas about how to organise these again in Scotland someday."
After the tournament the teams went on to enjoy a well-earned day out, followed by a visit to Cardiff City stadium to watch the home side’s match with Wolves. With a taste of success perhaps a few of these players will have their eye on bigger arenas to come.