SFA Chief Executive: Discussions to help island football remain on the table

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SFA Chief Executive Stewart Regan insists supporting football at grassroots level is one of the most important building blocks in the game.

But he says his hands are tied with regards to helping finance footballers in the Western Isles taking on competitive football on a regular scale.

Speaking to the Stornoway Gazette during a visit to the stunning roofed 3G pitch at Back Football and Recreation Club Regan said he sympathised with the obstacle of geography and revealed the issue has been discussed in the past.

“It is very difficult given the location of clubs playing on Lewis and Harris,” he explained.

“It is something which has been discussed on several occasions but clearly it has to start with developing players first of all and then teams which are capable of competing at the highest level.

“When that situation arises then it will be time to decide what are the options.

“Ultimately the very best players will move on to join other clubs on the mainland but when it comes to teams competing on the mainland the biggest challenge is cost – travel and accommodation – and the Scottish FA cannot be seen to be favouring one team at the expense of others.

It’s not an easy answer but one I’m sure with ongoing discussion and debate one kind of compromise can be found.”

Regular competitive sport for island sides is something both Stornoway Rugby Club and Camanachd Leodhais enjoying on a bi-weekly basis, but Regan says it is difficult to compare football to other sports.

“There isn’t specific money available for such a thing,” he continued.

“Any team from Lewis and Harris would need to be affiliated to the Scottish FA and would have to be part of the senior leagues.

“The amateur FA is responsible for 35,000 players across Scotland and it is very difficult to make their resources spread so thinly.

“But as I said before it is something which remains on the table and discussions should continue.”

His thoughts were echoed by SFA Director of Football Development Jim Fleeting who commented: “They (Scottish Rugby Union) are slightly different to us in regards we have thousands and thousands and thousands of teams compared to the rugby.

“So it is easier to invest in smaller communities and if you look at the number of football teams compared to rugby teams it is difficult. And we need to make sure we treat all teams fairly and equally.”

Regan and Fleeting were in Lewis along with Facilities manager Cameron Watt to assist Minister for Sport and Commonwealth Games Shona Robison in visiting the new artificial indoor surface at Back FC.

And Regan was adamant facilities such as the one at Back were the lifeblood of the game.

“Football is very much like an iceberg. Twenty per cent of what you can see is the national team and the professional clubs and so on.

“But the other 80 per cent goes on below the surface with grassroots football which is driven by volunteers, involves refs, coaches, players, parents all getting involved and that’s really the foundation of the top tier of the game. It all really starts at grass roots level and that needs facilities.

“And when you have inclement weather where it is difficult to persuade people to play in winter, when it gets dark early it is very difficult.

“So facilities like these are ideal and will help develop more Scottish footballers for the future.”