In these tough economic times there is common agreement among clubs and fans that the way forward for football in this country is to focus on youth development. The good news is that Ayr United is one club which is already starting to reap the benefits of the work undertaken by astute and altruistic individuals with the Honest Men at heart.
The Ayr United Football Academy was formed in 2006 after many hours of discussion between likeminded people who were determined to make a difference in the area of youth development. Under the main driving force of John Dalton of the Honest Men’s Trust, who was installed as the first Chairman of the Ayr United Football Academy, people such as Ayr United Chairman Donald Cameron, David Capperauld, Professor Alan McGregor and NHS Director, Phil White, came together to contribute their considerable expertise to the initiative. Ayr United fans are exposed only to the surface information communicated to them and, perhaps partly for reasons of modesty, they are not informed about the time consuming efforts of the large number of people it takes to put together such an ambitious plan. Obtaining charitable status was problematic but with the collective efforts of the Academy Directors, complemented by Alan McGregor’s persistence with his legal contacts, success was achieved at the second attempt. Changes to the Board in the course of the Academy’s life have included the addition of health and financial management as the organisation goes from strength to strength. The current Managing Director of the Ayr United Academy, David Watson, is quick to acknowledge the excellent work carried out by the many contributors to the everyday life of the organisation. “The success that we have enjoyed to date is down to the expertise, commitment and enthusiasm of our Board and the large number of volunteers who give up their time for the cause. Like any ambitious plan, accessing funds is important. We have current service level agreements in place with the Club,SFA and South Ayrshire Council and this has contributed to our continuing development as an organisation”.
A browse through the Ayr United Football Academy brochure, produced in 2012, provides a clear picture of the multi-tiered approach adopted by the founders of the organisation. This has not just been an attempt to discover the elite talent among youth footballers in the Ayrshire catchment area. It has been a well thought out initiative aimed at addressing the needs of the community and the development of routes into senior football for youth players with potential. The two main programmes set up by the Academy are entitled ‘Football in the Community’ and ‘Talented Young Footballers’ but it’s when one drills down to the detail that the fundamental ethos of the organisation emerges. It’s perfectly natural to find brochure headlines such as ‘Supporting the Development of Talented Young Footballers’ but would you honestly expect to see ‘Creating Football Opportunities for Girls’ ? or ‘Helping to Tackle Unemployment’ ? or even ‘ Football in the Community ’ ? These titles cover objectives not only of producing the stars of tomorrow but also in addressing the needs of the community at large. They include education, employment and health and fitness. It is testament to the work of the Academy that of the £215,869 of the funds raised in the year to 31stt May 2012, £199,926 was used for restricted charitable activities. This is hard evidence of truly commendable community involvement. The Academy’s engagement with the community includes initiatives such as ‘Adults with Mental Health Issues’ and the excellent ‘Rural Programme’ which includes Ayr United regulars like Michael Moffat and Michael Donald coaching people in rural communities throughout South Ayrshire. The community ties are becoming stronger day by day.
So where does all the money come from to run such a time consuming, labour intensive operation ? Well, let’s first of all lay to rest a common misconception. Ayr United do not provide any funding for the Ayr United Football Academy and that is an extremely positive feature of the initiative. If a senior football club has an Academy as part of its financial structure, the success of the community and youth development set up could well be compromised, resulting in it becoming the first casualty in a any belt-tightening exercise during tough economic times. One of the priorities, therefore, in the planning process for the new organisation was ensuring a financially sustainable and independent model. Nevertheless, an enhanced reputation and a steady flow of talent from an established Academy model with
sustained success for Ayr United were envisaged as a road to success.
The altruistic nature of the Ayr United Football Academy is indeed heartening but the level of commitment to providing a platform for young footballers with potential should not be underestimated. In the seven years of the Academy, from humble beginnings and one solitary team to start the ball rolling, the venture can now boast of almost 300 first team appearances by youngsters graduating from the Ayr United Football Academy. When one considers that this type of organisation takes some years to become fully established, the future looks very promising for the Academy and the young people who participate in the programmes. Ayr United Football Club Head of Youth, David White, leads a dedicated band of people whose commitment and application cannot be praised highly enough. As part of a volunteer force of around 80 people, David’s team boasts 8 Sessional Workers and 40 unpaid Pro-Youth Coaches who constantly develop their education in coaching by taking courses subsidised by the Academy. Ayr United manager Mark Roberts is wholly supportive of the work of the Academy and he has shown that he will give youth a chance with the inclusion of talented players like Robbie Crawford, Mark Shankland and Aaron Wylie in the first team squad. This is testament, not only to the opportunities being provided by the club, but to the contribution being made by the Academy to the future success of Ayr United.
The work of the Ayr United Football Academy is far from over, as David Watson explained
“We have made great strides forward in a relatively short space of time and although we are well respected in Scottish football circles, we have aspirations for our pro-youth teams to perform at the very highest level, whilst developing further our commitment to the community we serve. This objective will test the dedication and the enthusiasm of everyone in our organisation but we are confident that we are on the right path to create a bright future for the Ayr United Football Academy and in making a positive contribution the Ayr United Football Club.
1st June, 2013