Football can divide opinions. I currently sit next to a colleague who supports Hibs and Manchester United. I support Hearts and Liverpool. Four sets of fans who share more than just a sporting rivalry. But yet we can sit and talk about football all day, because we share a love of the game. It is this love that Community Development officers such as Colin Young have used to help bring communities together and keep kids safe. His work with Police Scotland, the SFA and Woodwynd Wolves FC has benefited the entire area, communicating and interacting with thousands of kids in North Ayrshire.
It started back in 2009, when ‘ACES’ was tasked with helping the area, which Young honestly described as, “a bit of a state”. With help from other coaches, he built a team of under-19s to go and play in a tournament over in Canton, Michigan. They did well and this got the metaphorical, and literal, ball rolling. Young explains, "They [the original u19’s] became a wee bit too old so we started an amateur team for those kids, and some of those kids stayed, and then coached other kids. Other kids wanted to be involved, other kids wanted football teams. So that’s where Woodwynd Wolves came from."
The club was born but wanted to develop further. This is where the SFA started to help, appealing to leagues to try and get their teams involved in the Quality Mark Award Scheme. But for Young, the Quality Mark is not just about building the reputation of the club.
"I think it’s very important. It shows that parents know, we know what we’re talking about. We’re not just somebody off the street. We’ve got all our qualifications, we’ve got all our risk assessments, safety things in place, insurances, disclosures - everything that’s important to parents nowadays," Young said.
There are other benefits of the Quality Mark too, he explains: "We got full sets of strips for the kids which saves us an absolute fortune. They’re good quality stuff, it’s all high brand, quality material. We get access to further training, and we get access to discounted courses as well which all helps introduce new coaches into it."
The safety of the kids is of paramount importance to Young, who was also heavily involved in North Ayrshire’s ‘No Knives, Better Lives campaign’. "We approached Police Scotland about three years ago with a notion of a Wayne Rooney type thing, ‘Street Soccer’, using road signs, buckets, tyres etc. We were going to build a course, and then we were going to take that around schools. The Chief Inspector at the time decided that that would be a great vehicle for the ‘No Knives’ campaign, so he got in contact with them, and we spoke to them. They were more than happy for us to carry that throughout the schools."
Despite initial problems, the campaign went on to be a huge success, with a 57% drop in knife crime and 21% drop in violent crime in six problematic areas within North Ayrshire. In 350 stop and searches carried out, no weapons were found on teenagers. It’s a hugely impressive statistic given the state of affairs just a few years ago.
But it’s not just the youths that ‘ACES’ wanted to target. "We have the Silver Citizens - we’re not allowed to call them ‘pensioners’ - Lunch Club. We have them in for a games day, and we have street dancing on a Thursday," Young said.
The whole community has become involved, even out with football, although that is still one of the most important things to Young.
"If they can go out there and come off with a smile on their face, we feel as if our jobs done. If it’s get to a stage where it’s so competitive that kids are getting worried about playing football, then personally I think that’s the wrong attitude. I think it’s time that we say “right look guys, you’re out there to have fun, regardless of the scores”. I know that’s not easy always to say to kids but really regardless of the scores if they’re coming off with a smile on their face, they’ve enjoyed the training, they’ve enjoyed the football."