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The exit trials: Scottish football's hunger games

Written by  Ewan Hawthorne
After the vital home win against Ireland, Scotland's passage to the 2016 Euros in France remains a distinct possibility. It would mean the first qualification for a major tournament since the 1998 World Cup, also held in France. Some will interpret this as being part of an intrinsic fate.
 
The recent upturn in form has much to do with a blend of bravery and ability not often seen in recent years. None have typified the new-found belief better than young full-back Andy Robertson. The Hull summer signing's recent rise has been a well-documented and meteoric one, and following only five appearances for the national side he's already been tipped for a lengthy international career.
 
Given second billing in the media has been the story of his release from Celtic as a boy. Robertson was released from their youth system having been deemed too small, and has since discussed the long-term benefits of the initial setback. This is of course not the standalone occasion of such a story, with the career of young footballers not always as stress-free as many are led to believe.
 
A glaring example of this being the exit trials. The exit trials are effectively a gathering of young players who have recently parted ways with clubs, and as free agents are subsequently looking to impress scouts from different teams.
 
To some it appears an extremely harsh concept; teenagers being forced to play for their professional careers. To an extent this is true, the pressure put upon these young players is immense. One issue the players face during the matches is an impulse to over-complicate in a bid to impress. Former Scotland forward Billy Dodds is one coach who's witnessed the trials, and has explained that players must try not to do this, "If you're a sitting midfielder, don't start bombing forward, just play your game." 
 
This year was the sixth iteration of the annual event, which takes place at the Toryglen Football Centre. There have been plenty of success stories, one of these being that of St. Mirren winger Lewis Morgan. I talked to him regarding his having left Rangers and the process following this. He said "I was told at Under 17’s level that I’d be getting a full-time contract at Rangers, but after the Christmas break, some of the younger boys got playing ahead of me." Lewis then continued, "At the end of the season I went in for a meeting with Jim Sinclair, (Head of Youth) ready to sign a two-year deal, but he talked me out of signing." 
 
Having left Rangers, the 18 year-old attended the exit trials, "Loads of boys from my age group were at the trials and after we'd played in the four games, my dad spoke to Jim Mullin, the head scout at St Mirren, and they said they were interested in me coming up for pre-season."
 
Following additional interest from Motherwell, Celtic and Partick Thistle, he decided to make the move to St. Mirren; "Rather than go to Celtic, me and my dad decided it would be best to go to a smaller club, and with St. Mirren being the closest, that made it easier." 
 
The 2014/15 campaign has began well for the youngster who made appearances against Celtic and Partick Thistle for the first-team.  "I’d played in pre-season against Albion Rovers for half an hour, but the competitive debut came against Celtic, and that made it a bit more special."
 
He was told that he could force his way into the first-team this season, but admitted that the call "came quite soon" and he will be hoping to continue making appearances in the side over the season.
 
It may be expected that for everyone signed on the basis of the trials such as Lewis, someone is left disappointed. However, the success rate is extremely high. From those who attend, over 85% find a club, be that in the Premiership or further down the structure, with a few ending up at junior sides.
 
For the coaches coming to inspect the talent, they consider it to be a huge opportunity for the players, with Paul Hartley stating: "They've (players) got to look at it in a positive manner and see they've got a second chance again."  
 
The trials may not always be given that much attention, but they are a pivotal aspect of football in Scotland. They allow both teams a chance to pick up a new signing, but more importantly, it affords the youngsters, some of whom have no concrete career alternatives in place, an opportunity to display their talent and stay in the game.
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