“Football has become middle class” – former Scotland international McLaren

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.”

Andy McLaren (Source: A&M Scotland)

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.

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Dan Pope
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Freelance writer, editor and copywriter, specialising in football and with a passion for grassroots sport. Former editor at Club Website.

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5 Comments

  1. Steve Priest on March 29, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    From the age of 9 or 10 as soon as we got out of our school uniforms we would be over the park playing football till dark. At weekends there could be up to 40 kids playing football. It cost us nothing as someone always had a ball to hand.

  2. Steven McMahon on March 29, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s in east London we had access to parks and tbh the streets. We played every night and was lucky with teachers at school who gave up time to coach and let us use the fields / gym and play grounds to play. We didn’t pay anything.

    I have 4 children now, society today has changed regarding playing outside at parks and on the streets, access to lesiure facilities at schools is generally run by outside companies charging a fee, as teachers either don’t get time or do not have enough budget to cover costs of coaching in house.

    Unless you are lucky enough to get into an pro football academy at a young age then it is hard to progress and have free access to football.

    Putting that aside, football is our national sport and everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy it at all levels.

    Unfortunately the infrusturure for kids football leagues and coaching requires a massive overhaul. We still play in parks throughout the winter months where 15 – 20 planned games and numerous Saturday morning training sessions are called off due to bad weather and conditions.

    Why don’t we have summer leagues from March to October then winter months in doors ( futsal ) with facilities and coaches provided and paid for by the F.A and especially the premier league for all schools, giving access to everyone.

    Currently I pay £7 a session twice a week for my son to do futsal and £10 for his Sunday team training , plus yearly fee £200. Plus driving costs and kit.

    Luckily My other son does not pay as his at an academy, but this is a minority.

    Germany had a massive overhaul in 2000 after euros. Why hasn’t the U.K.? We have the talent , so let everyone be able to have access and coaching, without having to drive miles and payout.

  3. Stewart Maule on March 29, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    Andy has the greatest PR team in Scotland and quite rightly they are pushing his agenda to help him raise funds for his very worthwhile project. However everything he says is his opinion and he doesn’t offer any facts or research to back it up. The SFA run lots of free initiatives in so called deprived areas and I’d like to know what teams from what areas turn their backs on children from poorer backgrounds? I wish him the best of luck and I’ve always been impressed with what he has achieved but he says the same thing every couple of years when he needs more funding.

  4. James O'Rourke on April 3, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    Football has become a middle class game in England too. This is due to a number of factors . Firstly, some schools have been taken over by Private Finance Initiatives, so a contractor runs the schools sports and community facilities after school hours for profit. That profit prices most working class people out of sport participation, its too expensive, and some football fields have been empty for years. It’s a criminal waste of resources. Secondly, the government set up Grammar Schools to free them from local authority control. Big mistake because local councils provided for their communities by making sure the fields and school halls were open in the evenings at a nominal charge. Now the government has cut the funding for grammar schools. Our local grammar has closed the school at weekends, so the playing fields are not available for football matches, and government cuts means the hours available for access to sport (and community activities) have been cut. The plain fact is that many working class families cannot afford to send their children to a football session especially if it costs £10. That is far too expensive and we need to look again at how to fund the national game at community level.

    The better off communities have very good facilities, ironically some are still run by a local council, whereas the worse off communities are paying more for facilities due to a failure at government level to improve education by setting up posh schools. so what price for smoke and mirrors? Disenfranchised and unhappy young people without enough money to join their local community football group.
    The danger is that crime, anti social behaviour, drugs, terrible and mindless violence may fill what is a very dangerous moral vacuum , a failure to care for our young people and our impoverished housing areas.A failure to ensure that sports and community facilities are made available at an affordable costs, not let go to rack and ruin, not so poshed up that they are beyond affordable reach.

    I cannot speak for Glasgow because I live in the middle of England where amateur football is in it’s death throes in poorer communities. We see some brilliant players but the opportunities for them to be seen by talent scouts or spotters has become almost impossible. Talent cannot be nurtured up to professional level if we don’t create chances for talent to be seen at amateur level. Volunteer coaches and volunteers do a fabulous job at keeping amateur clubs going and the game is not all about talent but it is usually about opportunities and should always be fun.

    But why is football, of all games, the province of the well heeled middle class? I know a few parents that are reasonably well off, though I must say they work for it. They also work for their children and want the very best for them so £10 a week is a reasonable price. But for those who are struggling, £10 is beyond their reach, so they need help to make our football affordable . I wish Andy McLaren all the very best with his charity for football opportunities. We need more .

    • James O'Rourke on April 3, 2017 at 5:01 pm

      I meant we need to look again at how we fund community amateur football at a national level.

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