South West Region (166)
(Bonnyton Thistle 2002s, who recently won the Central Ayrshire Youth FA David McNaught Cup)
Bonnyton Thistle FC from Kilmarnock will have a senior team on the field next season, after the club’s application to join the South of Scotland Football League was approved.
The move will also see the Ayrshire club set up an Under 20s team, which will play in the Scottish Lowland League Under 20s Development League, which kicks off in late July.
The club, which has been a regular fixture in Scottish Youth FA Cup finals in recent years, are now officially part of the SFA pyramid system for Scottish football, with the South of Scotland League making up the sixth tier. Promotion from there leads to the Lowland League, which in turn provides the possibility of football in SPFL League Two.
The senior side will be managed by former Kilmarnock player Alan Robertson, who also took the Under 20s side at the club and was in charge of its academy. His assistant will be ex-Killie striker and youth coach Paul Wright.
Current Bonnyton coaches Ian Higgins and Neil Wilson will head up the Under20s side along with Graeme Neil, who joins the club after stints with Annbank Juniors and Ayr United. Higgins and Wilson have not only been involved in the club’s recent cup successes but were pivotal in securing a new 3G facility for the club, in the Townholm area of Kilmarnock, which allows them to fill the league’s contractual obligations for the season ahead.
Teams that have followed a similar path from youth to senior football include Cumbernauld Colts and East Kilbride FC, the latter of whom played Celtic in the Scottish Cup in February this year.
It takes a lot of qualities and characteristics to get through the entire league season without losing a single match; determination, consistency, team spirit and a never-say-die attitude, and those traits are something AC Irvine Under 14s have displayed in abundance throughout the 2015/16 season.
Seeing off their nearest challengers Vaspar FC by 11 points and Larg Colts by 14 points, Irvine stormed their way to the Central Ayrshire League title, scoring 161 goals along the way, with 25 of those strikes coming from main man Blair Craig.
However, halfway through the season and cruising, Irvine faced a huge dilemma. When Kilmarnock FC offered Craig the chance to go pro youth it was an opportunity he was never going to turn down. Losing their top scorer could have proved to be such a large bow in their title hopes. However, they had Jonny Irvine to step in and fill his boots.
Half a season and 30 goals later, Irvine finished as the team’s top scorer after missing the opening few matches of the season.
One characteristic which defines an unbeaten team is the willingness to fight to the end and refusal to accept defeat. This is perhaps the reason behind Irvine’s successes, with late goals coming against both Largs and Rosebank to keep the run going being particular highlights.
One moment in the season which defined this team of warriors was in late February, 2-0 down against Galston YFC, many teams would have given up and accepted that it wasn’t to be their day. Irvine are not one of those teams. They fought back, and hit Galston with four goals to run out 4-2 winners, preserving their unbeaten record from an unlikely position. This result highlighted the ability that Irvine possess, with other high points such as their convincing wins against Galston and Glenburn, displaying the ruthlessness and goals within the side. Ultimately, their tendency to find the back of the net with almost ease was the key component in their fantastic invincible season.
One of the main reasons that Irvine have been so successful is their results against fellow title challengers, picking up all 12 points available against Vaspar and Larg Colts, who finished 2nd and 3rd respectively. Despite the points gap, manager Chris Carruthers told Youth Football Scotland that the title race was a lot tougher than people may have thought. He said: “The league was a lot closer than it looked in my opinion as our boys were starting to feel the pressure of clinging on to our unbeaten record. With that in mind, we knew our last two games were against Valspar, who finished 2nd and Largs Colts, who finished 3rd.”
He added: “I said earlier in the season that it looked like everyone in CAYFA league could take points off one another and it certainly proved to be the case.”
Congratulations to AC Irvine Under 14s, unbeaten Central Ayrshire league champions for 2015/16!
It was a spirited contest at Muirkirk, of which the great man would have surely approved. A local select side from the Glenbuck area revived the name of the famous Cherrypickers one more time as they played out a 1-1 draw with counterparts from Merseyside. This was a testimonial to raise funds for the Glenbuck Academy and the Shankly Family Foundation, but what followed was a fiercely competitive encounter, both sides desperate to win as soon as they crossed that white line. As Bill Shankly often preached, winning is everything.
Honours even at the end, it was probably fitting that both sides shook hands and shared the Bill Shankly Memorial trophy after a testy encounter. But the day was about much more than a game of football, the culmination of a week's events and long planning. The two groups from each end of the country came together to share their common link, and are hoping to use it for the benefit of local football going forward.
A charity cycle tour had made its way from Merseyside overnight, and the day's events began fittingly with a short ceremony at Glenbuck's Shankly memorial, as a piper played in the visitors to 'Amazing Grace'. The group then heard from Bill Shankly's niece, Barbara Alexander, for a personal insight into the man and what drove him from this small Ayrshire mining background to his future success. The organisers of the Memorial Bike Ride, Shaun Moran and Tony Bonner, also spoke about the cycle ride and continuing the Shankly legacy in Liverpool.
The Glenbuck Football Academy is now hoping this annual fixture between the two sides plays a part in reviving local football in the Ayrshire/ Lanarkshire area, with plans afoot to build a museum at Glenbuck. With 2000 visitors a year coming from Merseyside, plus local interest, the hope is to use this to stimulate grassroots football in the local community. Glenbuck Academy's Robert Gillan believes the Academy would be a fitting tribute to Glenbuck's rich footballing heritage going forward, and should be at the heart of any future developments.
"Glenbuck has a special and unique history, and we know that some of this can rub off on the young footballers of today. They are learning all the time about the talent that came here from the past, and that is an inspiration. They are also learning to play as a team, which is as important in life as in football", he says.
"To benefit from the funds raised this weekend means so much and the money will have a tremendous impact on the youngsters at the academy." Gillan says.
Glenbuck and Liverpool will forever be linked with one man, and they unite this week with the aim of reviving grassroots football in the Ayrshire community of his birth. The village of Glenbuck now lies derelict and overgrown, but the Glenbuck Football Academy now hopes to tap into the legend of Bill Shankly to nurture the footballing talent of the future.
It is something which the Anfield legend would surely have proudly approved of, as the Shankly Family Foundation joins hands with the Scottish Mine Restoration Trust to promote the grassroots game in both of the communities where the Shankly name is still idolised.
This week a charity bike ride leaves from Glenbuck for Merseyside, on the 20th anniversary of a charity walk made by a Liverpool fan in the opposite direction. After a ceremony at the Anfield Gates, attended by former Liverpool greats and family, the ride will make the return trip to coincide with a match between two select XIs from Liverpool and Ayrshire.
Former Clyde player and coach Robert Gillan runs the Glenbuck Football Academy at nearby Douglas, where the match will be played. He has strived over the years to maintain awareness of the spirit of Glenbuck, and to instil some of this in the next generation.
Sunday’s event sees Shankly’s old village team, the Glenbuck Cherry Pickers return to action for the first time in over 80 years. Gillan hopes they can become a name once again in Ayrshire grassroots football, even to restore and play on the side’s original Burnside Park pitch, where so many great footballers learned their trade.
Glenbuck was once a small, thriving industrial village, but had a unique trait for churning out talented footballers. There was Shankly himself, but also over 50 professional footballers down the years, including nine full Scotland internationals. For a village which barely ever registered much more than 1000 people it was an astonishing and unique ratio of talent to population.
“There’s been nowhere else in the world with that talent pool”, Gillan says, “Glenbuck was just a wee village. You’d need a quarter of a million people in London for 40 years to recreate that average. We had a conveyer belt for players here. There was something we were doing right.”
What they were doing comes straight from the mines where so many future footballers once worked. Gillan points to the one ethos which gave Shankly his entire world view, and which is central to his vision for the Glenbuck Academy.
“Shankly believed that you win and lose as a team, that the collective will to succeed is stronger than individuals. You never give up. It’s what drove his great sides, and it’s what created great players from Glenbuck.
“Those are great ideas to get over to the young people of today, whether they carry on to be successful footballers or not.”, he says.
“There’s so many avenues you can go down now in football. If you don’t make it as a footballer you can still go into coaching, scouting or physio. Young people can learn about diet and fitness. We want the kids to learn about football, but also become better people.”
Glenbuck still receives an annual swathe of pilgrims from Merseyside, with a plaque to Shankly there unveiled by Ron Yeats paid for by Liverpool supporters. Plans are now proposed for a visitors’ centre close by, along with a range of community developments. Gillan hopes his football academy can take centre stage in the project.
“It’s an exciting time, but we are aware of the funding challenges. We hope to do something worthy of Glenbuck’s memory and this weekend will be a great way to continue that.”, Gillan says.
“To benefit from the funds raised means so much and the money will have a tremendous impact on the youngsters at the academy.”