“Just keep smiling” is the advice Jim Fleeting (pictured, right) would like to give to young players learning the game. It’s a simple yet important message that strikes to the core of what youth football should be about - fun.
Fleeting, a former professional player and manager, is the Director of Football Development for the Scottish Football Association, and amongst his various duties he trains coaches at the National Sports Centre in Largs. It’s where José Mourinho and André Villas-Boas both famously obtained their UEFA qualifications.
Much has changed in youth football since Fleeting was learning the game at an early age. There wasn’t any youth clubs in his day. He learned the basics by kicking whatever he could find up and down the hall in his house. The first youth club he played for was at Under 15's level, although he played school football from Primary 7. Fleeting also attended the Boys Brigade (BB) after his friend told him it was another way to get an extra game of football. It was the football that mattered.
“I definitely wasn’t born with a ball at my feet. I’m the old generation; we didn’t have a lot. I used to play in the house. We kicked whatever we had up and down the hall. We’d just play away with whatever someone gave us and it would amuse us for a long time.
“These days you can fall out your bed and find a team somewhere. In our day you had to go and search for a team. I don’t like harking back, and I’m not saying it’s bad that there’s a difference between now and the olden days, that’s just how it is. But I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it. I enjoyed my school football and I enjoyed my BB football. My first boys club was in Irvine - a guy called Jimmy Black very thankfully took us, that’s how it started.”
Fleeting began his professional career with Norwich City, before joining Ayr United, where he played for six years. He went on to play for Clyde and Greenock Morton before returning to Clyde, where he finished his playing career. He was then appointed manager of Stirling Albion in 1988, before moving on to manage Kilmarnock from 1989 to 1992. Fleeting, like every other professional footballer, learned many lessons as a youngster before reaching this level.
School football figures high in Fleeting’s estimation and he has fond memories of playing at that level. He was a pupil of St Michael’s Academy in Kilwinning and during his time there he represented both the school and Ayrshire. One of the most important things he credits youth football for in his life is discipline. It’s a lesson he learned from the game, particularly from school football, that has stuck with him throughout his days. He said:
“Discipline has always been a big thing for me, and its been a big thing in my family too. I enjoyed the school football for that greatly; the teacher taking the team and ensuring discipline within the team - and if there was indiscipline in the classroom, you didn’t get a game. I liked that idea of the discipline they had in those days.”
Discipline has helped Fleeting develop a lot of life skills. Another life skill he credits football for helping give him is respect. Fleeting pointed to Willie Knox, who is famous for his multiple Scottish Cup trophy victories at Auchinleck Talbot, as a great advocate of being respectful, disciplined and working hard when he was couched by him at a young age. Fleeting feels it’s important for young players to respect one another, respect their opponents and to respect life in general. He said:
“Respect and discipline helps you learn what to do and what not to do, so I’m a big believer that you should respect everybody no matter who or where they come from. I’ve taken that through my youth career and senior career and I feel very proud for doing that. I would say this was put into me at a very young age.”
Fleeting did the rounds in his career. He went from school football and the BB’s onto youth clubs, he even played pub football on a Sunday and then went into the junior and amateur game. Passionate about the sport, he always played and always enjoyed where he played. Junior and amateur football was also important in his football education and was an enjoyable experience for him. He likes the social side of the amateur game as well as the community aspect in the junior and youth games.
“I’m quite comfortable paying my five quid and going along to one of those games because you get more than just the game on the park, you get the patter at the side of the park. I’m quite grounded on a football side of things. I’m lucky to have that.” he said.
Norwich was the first professional club Fleeting signed for and he was 19 when they told him they were interested in him. Although he had options to remain in Scotland, he went to Norwich with a £300 signing on fee, got married and plied his trade at centre half.
“I was fortunate enough that people were saying I was a decent player when I played for Kilbirnie Ladeside. I was 19 and one or two clubs were asking whether I would go and sign for them, and of course Norwich came along asking who the ugly looking guy at the back was. A couple of good clubs up here were asking so I thought I would go to Norwich first as I could always come back when they found out how bad I was! I did come back up after a few years and a club actually bought me for a couple of thousand pounds, which was nice.”
Having played, coached and managed at all levels of the Scottish game, Fleeting has amassed a lifetime of experience of Scottish football. His role as Director of Football Development has him entrenched in the game, overseeing football development and providing coaching education at all levels. His advice for young people in the youth game is simply to enjoy the football. He said:
“Just keep smiling. Whatever you do in life just smile. If you’re not enjoying it, and you don’t have that smile, please please please find out why. I’m very passionate about football - it’s given me so much; a livelihood, it’s given my family a livelihood too and it’s given me so many friendships it’s unbelievable. I’m the luckiest man ever. Just keep smiling and life is nice. Life is really good.”