The Thistle Weir Youth Academy has now been up and running since 2013, coinciding with Partick Thistle’s rise to the top flight of Scottish football. The Firhill side had run four youth teams but felt a new approach was required, the Weir Youth Academy was founded with the aim of bringing on local youngsters and providing them with a pathway into the SPFL. The Youth Academy now has sides from five’s up to 17 years of age and has now been able to expand into women’s football, Youth Football Scotland spoke to head of youth development Gerry Britton..
Gerry explained what he felt the Weir Youth Academy brought to Partick Thistle “A proper environment to develop young players. “We can now offer professional coaching, good facilities, support services like sports science, physiotherapy, health and wellbeing education. “Players at our Academy now have a fantastic opportunity to work to reach their potential. “We can offer them great support from five through to seventeen years, that gives them all the assistance they need to try to forge a career for themselves in the professional game.”
The Head of Youth Development had this advice for all aspiring stars of the future “Practice, practice, practice. “You can never spend enough time trying to improve yourself as a player. “If you are not willing to put the hours in on the training ground or down the park with your friends, you’ll never reach your full potential. All the best players not only have talent but they also possess a great work ethic and a desire to constantly improve. Even guys like Ronaldo and Messi are constantly working to trying to add to their game. “Football is a wonderful career and well worth the effort in for.”
Since taking up his role at the Youth Academy, Gerry has seen great strides taken. "The funding received from Colin and Christine Weir has revitalised youth development at the club. “Without it we would not have been able to achieve four star status within the Club Academy structure, which means we can now play within the top tier of Academy games programmes for the next three seasons. This allows our players to compete against the best youth players in the country which can only assist our players in their long term development. Without Colin and Christine we would have struggled to retain our two star status such are the financial constraints faced by the majority of Academies throughout the country."
On the progress of recent academy graduates into the development squad. "They are progressing well," Britton said. "James Penrice was one who signed on this year. He has featured regularly for the under-20s and has made the first team squad on occasion. Andy McCarthy had been injured unfortunately but it is hoped he will soon be back to full fitness. Mark Lamont has also featured regularly for the under-20s. Neil has been frustrated at being kept out of the under-20’s team by the form of another Academy graduate Kevin Nisbet, who has also regularly made the first-team squad and the manager has high hopes for him after a successful period on loan to East Stirlingshire last season. All these players have benefitted from being given the opportunity to progress to full time football and are adjusting both physically and mentally to the professional environment."
The Academy have recently become the recipients of a community award from the Scottish Football Partnership with the aim of increasing women’s football at the club.
"This is a fantastic boost for our attempts to grow the game both in terms of female participation and in the adult participation bracket. We have set up a Dad’s and daughters session on a Saturday at twelve noon at Springburn Park, where both girls between five and 15 and adult males, can take part in separate coaching sessions working with fully qualified Academy coaches," Britton said.
"We hope to increase engagement with both these groups both with the game and with the club. The girls who have been involved have also been given the wonderful opportunity to play at the half time interval in Thursday’s women’s international against Norway at Firhill, which I am sure will prove inspirational to all involved."
The club has seen a rise in female participation and hopes to eventually compete in SWFL competitions "We have seen a steady increase in numbers over the weeks but we are still hoping to attract more players as we move towards the new season in 2016. The chance to add another tier to our football pathway is exciting for all at the Club and I am sure the players involved will feel the benefit of engaging with our programme and our club long term," Britton said.
And what of the future of the women’s game at Partick Thistle “From 2016 the women’s team, currently administered by our Community Trust, will come under the auspices of the Academy which is another exciting development for us. We will work to ensure that both pathways are run in a professional manner in order to give both genders the opportunity of maximising their potential and taking their football career as far as they can. Of course Glasgow City are a fantastic example of development and one we would only be able to replicate after many, many years of hard work and investment. But you have to aspire to be the best if you are to achieve success in any realm," Britton said.
"It really is an exciting time to be associated with our Academy and our club and initiatives like the SFP Community award are crucial if we are to create development opportunities for those that engage with us."