Jack McConnell is Scotland’s longest serving First Minister and he now sits in the House of Lords as Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale. He grew up on the Isle of Arran where he attended Arran High School from 1972-1977, and was a Mathematics teacher before his election to the Scottish Parliament.
Lord McConnell now answers five questions on his youth career for YFS...
1. What are the challenges of playing youth football on an island?
The biggest challenge on the island was the fact that we only had one secondary school so there were no regular competitive games for the school team. We played against each other almost every day at lunchtime and regularly at weekends, but it was basically the same 20 boys kicking a ball around for fun. The school team eventually did enter some Ayrshire and West of Scotland competitions and I played in the team. However, we were so inexperienced in competitive matches that we were easily beaten by large comprehensive schools from Kilmarnock, Salcoats and elsewhere.
Regular games were easier in the summer months when an inter-village competition took place every year. I played for the team known as Southend and we did win the village league in the year when I was 18. These teams included a wide range of players from the age of 16, to one or two players who were over 40.
2. What position did you play as a child?
I played on the left side of defence, as a centre back in the school team and as a left back in my local village team. Although I am right footed, I had always been able to use both feet with the ball. There was always more competition on the right hand side of the pitch for places on the team, so volunteering to play on the left side meant that someone with my limited football ability could still regularly get a game.
3. Did you have any heroes or role models?
Most of my boyhood football heroes played for the great Leeds United team of the early 70’s. Players like Billy Bremner, Eddie Gray, and Peter Lorimer were big favourites and of course they played in the Scotland team at that time too. As a fairly rough defender myself, I also appreciated the style of Tom Forsyth and some of the other Scottish defenders around at that time.
4. Right now there are a lot of drives to provide kit to third world nations, how important is it for Scottish families to participate?
There is a real interest in football across the developing world because it is a truly universal game that can be played with almost no facilities. I am always conscious though that these kids play with makeshift balls and ragged clothes and their experience of this beautiful game is so much better if they have access to strips and proper equipment. If we are honest, there is so much wasted in this country that we should be able to share a bit more and I hope Scottish families will support these appeals whenever they can.
5. Do you think enough money is being invested in youth football?
I am pleased that the decisions made when I was First Minister to invest in the regional sports centres, e.g. Ravenscraig, have improved the indoor facilities available for Scottish youngsters, but the availability of all-weather facilities is still totally inadequate in Scotland. In my view, we will never return to our former level in football unless we improve these facilities at a local level and also recreate the interschool competitions that provide a competitive grounding for so many young players in the past.