Project Fear

Date: 28th September 2020

The latest blog by SFSA writer Donald Stewart:

There are many styles of projects and names attached that have been suggested over the years as panacea that shall salve all ill. Clearly the one for those of us who have any kind of relationship to youth football that springs to mind is Project Brave. That was the one shining hope in a gloomy lack of success at international level, offered up as better than a working party and more resourced than a Hollywood film. We were going to be brave and more than that we were to be given… hope.

As I pass many outdoor five a side venues resplendent with people trying to pack in as much passing, dribbling and exercise as they can before another lockdown looms, the project that worries me most is the one that has crept up on me by being directly in front of me. It is a project likely to spread fear because the 42 we have now may not be that same number at the end of this season.

Cost cutting is on its way.

It’s not about someone relieving a highly experienced coach at Dundee because he might be overly expensive or the son of an English footballing legend resigning to save their lower league employer his wage but the usual round of cost cutting which is again in place which might just see that brave new dawn become a dark edifice of emptiness.

The fact is that elite football or mass participation sport, are two concepts that may be both untrackable and untraceable soon.

When Ayr United Football Academy was set up, we did so to protect the future of football within our area as the norm in smaller clubs when finance was tight was to cut the youth programme. It was costly and expensive and unless you were flogging a kid or two a year to a Premier League club it was not worthwhile.

Just contemplate that for a second. The future of our game depended upon selling the children of our community to help a local club survive.

Forget the selling of the shirt to a gambling company, morally we were trying to escape from the margins of world football through a universally accepted system that was out dated and outmoded and into a 21stCentury that would allow us to develop, plan, create and bear the fruits of the labour of hundreds if not thousands of enthusiasts all over the country who gave up their time and head space to develop new players for our clubs. The biproduct was then to be seen in our national game; a brave new dawn.

As we saw ever increasing foreign imports dominate the headlines and the pride of having a Colombian international or Swedish legend as part of the team we did but hope that one day we could field a team of world beaters without an Anglo; like in the good old days.

I have however, as the virus develops a more virulent strain, a tingling sensation that is thoroughly unpleasant.

I am fearful for my own club. I am fearful of the other clubs in and around the lower leagues. Will Clyde survive? Will fan owned clubs, weather the storm? Do we need to mothball clubs and wake them up in August next year? Can the leagues see a point where they give member clubs a year off competing to allow them to prepare for a return when we have an antidote to the pandemic?

Will we just have to watch club, after club, after club go to the wall over furlough ending, the cost of testing or the way in which the lack of fan revenue cannot be replaced with no real product to help? Playing games is one thing – paying for them to happen is another and I wonder if the wonder of coming out the tunnel at Central Park has the same appeal as playing at Tynecastle without fans? Time shall tell…

What happens if it does not? What gets cut first is actually irrelevant. Academies cannot thrive without a connection to the infrastructure of club football. There needs to be a graduation and if the academy structure around a specific club is lost because that specific club is lost, then where shall we get our weekly fix of football and what project shall be formed?

Don’t get me wrong, watching the bill o’ fare that comes from La Liga or the English Premiership is fine enough but the fact is that my heart beats for the black and white, and though Wycombe Wanderers v Swansea City does appeal for a while, it shall not appeal forever. That is my own Project Fear – that I end up having less of an investment in the game because the club I love has been lost to us all by a virus.

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