Glenrothes Strollers’ commitment to disability football development has led to the recent introduction of a Club Inclusive Development Officer. Logan McConachie and Alan Roberts have been appointed to job share the role created by the Strollers with the help of Shared Care Scotland, Disability Sport Fife and the Scottish FA. Alan is predominantly involved with maintaining and developing the Strollers Superstars, whilst assisting Logan in expanding the program to other clubs around Fife and the East Region.
The Superstars have been going for around two and a half years and have come a long way from starting out with around half a dozen members referred to them by Disability Sport Fife. The squad has grown to thirty three with training regularly attracting over twenty. The club took twenty five to a five a side tournament in Dumbarton on Sunday. Alan is now looking to bring in more young players to start a junior team. He said “The majority of our players are over sixteen, we have two boys under that age but cannot play them in adult tournaments, so it is imperative that we seek new younger players and allow all our players access to these opportunities.”
Alan explained: “The bread and butter is the training on a Saturday. It is the base we build on. Tournaments, festivals, and social trips give us full days away playing football. The relationships and trust we build weekly allow us to take on these larger trips together, which is where the real value is.
"Shared Care Scotland has supported us financially to assist us in making this happen. However, the application process made us take a step back and look at what we could achieve through offering these players an opportunity to play football and belong to a club. It changed my perceptions, and opened my eyes to the opportunities we could offer.”
The players gain greatly from increased confidence and a new social circle, allowing them to build up independence away from carers, as well as allowing carers some time for themselves, or to share experiences that would otherwise not be available to them.
Alan continued: "The parents and carers also get a chance to support and socialise together and share experiences in a completely different setting and atmosphere. They are part of a fairly unique group and it gives them confidence, friends and the social side.”
That feeling is also evident amongst the squad members. Andy Vannet who travels an eighty mile round trip from Perth to attend training said “It’s a big family really. We get on really well.”
This sentiment is echoed by Anna Campbell, mother of squad member Jonathon. She said: “It builds up his confidence and his self-esteem, he used to have very low confidence and very low esteem. I know even in these first few weeks I have seen a change in him. He is a bit more independent. He will get to know people when at one time he would never speak to anybody. This has done Jonathon the world of good.”
It is also great for the carers to get some time off. Logan remarked of the trips away. “It is great for the carers as well", said Logan McConachie. "To have that little bit more respite time really is vital. For a carer that looks after them all the time, they do need a little bit of respite that they can spend with other members of their family.”
It is also good for others in the area breaking down their barriers about disability. Alan remarked “Small things matter greatly. We supply a training kit and this immediately makes a new player feel a part of something. Today anybody coming up here just sees another team. We are not secluded away in a corner or doing something different. Everybody involved with the strollers is aware of who we are and what we do, but we are just another team. That’s a big thing to break other people’s barriers down. We are probably the loudest team at the club but it is all positive, the enthusiasm and enjoyment is there to be seen.”
Veteran Glenrothes Strollers coach of 38 years, Joe McCafferty, revealed his reasons for being involved with the Superstars. “If they weren’t getting this they might not be doing anything and every one of them thinks they are great players. So that’s what it is all about. They are no different to any other team - they argue because they missed the ball or are disappointed if they don’t score, so it is a really good experience for them.”
“I just do the same that I do with all the teams because you don’t want to make out that they are any different from anybody else. I get on at them if I don’t think they are doing it right, I say I don’t want you heading the ball that way. I just treat them like they are great players.”
Logan spoke of the immediate plans for extra activities “Next Saturday we are looking to do training in the morning, have a bit of lunch and then go to see Raith Rovers welcome Falkirk. At the same time we are delivering two taster sessions in Perth with a view to recruiting new players for a start-up team in Perth.”
The wonderful things happening in Glenrothes will soon be happening across the East Region. Logan described the immediate expansion plans for this program throughout the region.
He said: “My remit for the Scottish FA is to work with clubs, obviously the Glenrothes Strollers, and to advance it across the East Region. We are currently active in Perth, Dundee and Angus and looking to work with Quality Mark clubs to either enhance a disability football club that is already set up or to create a new one.”
He then went on to discuss his hopes for the next five years, with the ambition of creating a league environment for the players.
“We are working with Perth Autism Support to create three solely autistic teams, not just in Perth but also in Blairgowrie and Crieff" he told the Scottish FA website.
"There is also a Dundee and a Fife autism support so why not look to create a solely autistic football league?”
“I would hope to have an East Region league in five years time. I expect to see disability football teams popping up all over the area.”
Alan echoes the opinion of his fellow Development Officer, but is also aware that it is their job to ensure that this expansion continues. He said: “It is our job to take down and remove barriers, thus opening people up to the positives of getting involved in disability football" Alan believes.
"The rewards for coaches, clubs, parents and players is evident. The Strollers Superstars are a great model of what can be achieved by being open minded and tackling something new. If we can replicate that in two, three, four or five clubs the positive impact and power of football is obvious to all.”