Football has “become middle class” and is pricing some young people out of the game, according to former Scotland international Andy McLaren.
The ex-Dundee United and Kilmarnock player, who now uses football to help young people from some of the most deprived parts of Glasgow, is concerned that the game is now “out of reach” for many youngsters across Scotland.
“It’s an absolute disgrace that kids are being priced out of football in this country,” McLaren told the BBC. “It’s meant to be our national sport. It’s meant to be all-inclusive and at the moment it’s not.
“People keep telling me that football’s not expensive and it’s not out of reach, but I see it every night. Football has become middle class. We’re not getting into the right areas to get to our talent pool.”
In 2009, McLaren co-founded A&M Scotland – a charity that delivers programmes of diversionary activity to young people from areas of high social deprivation.
They use weekly, structured, positive activities – including football, dance and music – to improve physical and mental health, confidence, self-esteem and personal responsibility in a bid to improve the life chances of those involved.
Football has been one of A&M’s core programmes since the outset – they run free coaching sessions across Glasgow six nights a week, along with a competitive Friday night league – but, having seen an escalation in the cost of playing elsewhere, McLaren is concerned that future stars might be lost to the game.
“Kenny Dalglish and Frank McAvenie came from this exact area and it would be a shame to think we may be missing out on the next Kenny Dalglish or Frank McAvenie because some kid couldn’t afford the ten pounds a week it costs to go and play football.
“Pitch hire and venue hire, the prices are extortionate. For young kids like that, maybe two or three are in from the one family, so the mum’s being asked for £20 or £30 a week. It becomes out of the question.”
A Scottish Cup winner with Dundee United in 1994, McLaren struggled with alcohol and drug addiction and was banned from football for a positive drugs test whilst playing for Reading in 2000.
Using the experience to help turn his life around, he went on to play professionally for another eight years – including earning his single Scotland cap in a friendly versus Poland in April 2001 – before deciding to work with young people in a bid to help stop them make the same mistakes he had made.
“I was one of these kids growing up and football was a lifesaver to me. I dread to think where I’d be without it.
“These are fertile breeding grounds but cost has become a massive barrier to that. If we were charging two or three quid you wouldn’t see even half the numbers that we have here tonight. For me that says a lot.
“Kids do want to play football but price is obviously an issue. For me personally I don’t think we’re doing enough.”
You can find out more about the work of A&M Scotland at aandm.org.uk.
Do you think football has become a middle class game? Are you concerned that a future football star – in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK and Ireland – could be priced out of the game? Have your say in our comments section below.