In late February, YFS received an email from Alex Lacy - former Vale of Leven player and current FC Argyle coach. He was setting up a new Academy for his former club, and wanted to get the news out there. When we sent our reporter Alistair Fenton along, we didn't just get a press release - instead, we got a passionate story about the boys Alex coaches, and how bright he thinks their future can be.
During a chat initiated by YFS, I asked Alex Lacy if the SFA’s recent directive on gradual increase of heading practice from age 6-16 in training will have any effect on the development plans of his 2006 team (“not a bad thing, we don’t header it much anyway at those ages”). It offered him the opportunity to passionately open the doors behind the development of this squad.
Like many so-called ‘deprived’ areas in Scotland, this area of Dunbartonshire is recognising the value of such initiatives to help promote inclusivity, community regeneration and individual development, and Alex and his team of four coaches and others have enthusiastically grabbed this opportunity to help achieve these common goals through football.
The recipe for success? Although Vale of Leven’s most ‘capped’ player - 517 appearances over 20 years - when Alex’s initial kick-about with his 8-year-old grandson grew arm and legs the team he formed with Gary Mullen was under the auspices of FC Argyle.
Although one might expect a local rivalry between the neighbouring Alexandria teams, the result was quite on the contrary. The Argyle team’s swap over to Vale seemed the natural fit at that age group to achieve one of many broader goals.
This has allowed to help develop a structured Pathway/Youth Academy system through the ages, with the goal on this occasion being the community-minded wider inclusion to all.
The various boys age groups are covered, but the aim is to extend this further - to include girls, disability, walking football options for all ages and other such related inclusive activities.
Instead of slobbing on the couch, taking on Ronaldo or Messi on their games consoles, the idea is to also channel kids’ natural energies towards all the other social, community and personal benefits initially through football.
Their next venture is a classic example of the broad-reaching ambitious plans for Vale football and community development. A huge amount of effort has gone in to arranging a tour to Torrevieja near Alicante in Spain on 20-24 April, with the full squad, now about 42 in number includes 20 players.
Areas of development covered in such initiatives often go largely unnoticed, but consider these - players, personal fitness, engaging friends and acquaintances in ‘getting out there’ - all of which lead to excellent team-building and team-working skills.
It helps coaches too, to build upon improving their technical skills, but also furthering their team-leading and general man-management skills. Parents, too – through no fault of their own - who are often at a loss as to how to re-integrate into group involvement, can build confidence in such environments, which is key to their own and others personal development.
So, from little acorns grows a huge oak of a community, integrating with each other, carrying out to a wider audience with a football hook, all from kicking a ball about with an eight-year-old five years ago. Vale of Leven are heading to success for sure.
For more information on the new Vale of Leven Academy and how you can get involved, contact Alex Lacy on 07807866743.