- Valspar celebrate their 40th anniversary this year.
- Set up back in 1976 by former Liverpool scout, Jim Gourlay, Valspar was born.
- Mark Gillespie sat down with current Valspar chairman, Ken Nairn
When former Liverpool scout Jim Gourlay helped start a boys’ league team at Ayr’s Dam Park in 1976 he could never have dreamed that his club would go on to establish itself at the heart of the town’s grassroots football. And with a proud track record over the last four decades the club stands in good stead for many years to come.
With the Liver bird on the club crest, Valspar are proud to be forever linked with the Merseyside giants. The story of the club’s foundation is indeed testimony to a grass roots spirit at both ends of the footballing spectrum, and an example to clubs in this present day.
Back in 1976 when Gourlay was looking for a shirt sponsor for his new boys’ team he reached out to his former employers at Anfield, who put him in touch with their own club sponsor to provide the jerseys. The new born club duly shared the same name on their shirts: Valspar paints. And like a good gloss the name has stuck with the club down the years and become synonymous with grass roots football in Ayr and beyond.
With a strong community base and coaching network in place, the club has gone on to achieve football and coaching success at every level. Notable names to pass through the ranks in recent years include Rangers players Kirk Broadfoot and Davie McFarlane, and Paul Burns, recently of Queen of the South.
As the club celebrates its 40th anniversary Youth Football Scotland spoke to club chairman Ken Nairn about the club’s ethos and hopes for the future. Nairn steps down at the end of this season after 10 years at the helm, during which time the club has striven to overcome many hurdles and continue to offer a local gateway into youth football.
The chairman reflected on the club’s initial stratospheric rise with just two teams, to its continuing present day expansion at all age groups.
“For the first 15 years, Valspar were winning Scottish Cups and Ayrshire Cups. We were comparable with where the likes of Hutchison Vale and Tynecastle are at the moment. We went on to branch into all age groups and have been very successful in terms of coaches and players”, Nairn says.
As a former coach of Valspar 94s, Nairn enjoyed 3 league and 5 cup triumphs with his side, and so knows the fundamental value of good coaching and achieving results on the pitch.
After hanging up his coaching boots Nairn became club chairman, charged with overseeing the club’s continuing grass roots involvement across the ages. He places particular emphasis on good coaching from the earliest age possible, all the way through the system.
“When the club gets to this size it is all about continuity, and making sure that your most important age groups are your young age groups.”
“We try and give them as much coaching as we can at that age, and bring them all through together. Our long term aim is to have at least two teams competing at every age level.”, Nairn says.
“A good coaching set up is more important even than good players. I believe that we have the right system in place. Every year we try and send 4 or 5 of our best guys forward to complete their badges, which in turn is a real long term benefit to the club.”
“With the team I have got in place I am very confident that we have a good structure ahead in the years to come, with the right people in place. In my final year I am determined to leave a strong Valspar behind.”
The main challenge Nairn cites in the years ahead is in maintaining the continuity of the sides his coaches develop. In recent years Valspar have been left to cope with the often devastating sudden loss of players to Pro Youth sides. Nairn thinks change to the Pro Youth system is essential for clubs and players alike.
“I would like to see more of a two way relationship in place, one which recognises what happens when clubs like Valspar lose so many players to local Pro Youth Academies. I have seen whole teams struggle from the impact of losing several key players at once”
“A lot of the players come back to us after a few years from Pro Youth, having lost game time and development. It can be very disruptive to players and clubs alike”
“But we are working to overcome these hurdles. In the years to come we will have the infrastructure in place whereby the impact of the Pro Youth Academies lessens. Change to Pro Youth though is essential for clubs like Valspar.”
Meanwhile the club can look ahead with some optimism, with clubs competing on all fronts, including this week’s Scottish Cup. Valspar will mark its 40th year at its end of season awards at Ayr Town Hall in June, and the Town Council will pay its own tribute to the club’s work at a civic reception.
Life begins, and Valspar will continue to play a big role in Ayr’s Youth football story for many years to come.