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Chamber and committees

Public Petitions Committee

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Agenda: Decision on Taking Business in Private, New Petition, Current Petition, New Petition, Current Petition, New Petition, Current Petitions


Current Petition

Youth Football (PE1319)

The Convener

The first current petition that we will deal with is PE1319, by William Smith and Scott Robertson, which is on improving youth football in Scotland. Members have a note by the clerk and the submissions.

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests—I am a trustee of Inverness Caledonian Thistle Football Club. In addition, I have received information from Iain Gray and Johann Lamont, who have an interest in the petition. A number of members have a particular interest in the football side of the petition, but I think that, in sum, the petition is about the effective employment of young people. William Smith and Scott Robertson have done a lot of good work on the issue.

Before we consider our next steps in dealing with the petition, I invite members’ views on the options for action.

I declare that one of my staff—or, rather, my contracted staff—is a youth academy coach for Hibernian FC.

The Convener

Thank you for that.

Does anyone want to suggest some possible ways forward on the petition?

Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, Tam Baillie, has done a lot of work on the issue and has asked to be kept informed of the petition’s progress. I think that he gave evidence to the committee on the petition in the previous session of Parliament.

Members will know that Scottish football has been reorganised. The chief executive of the Scottish Professional Football League, which is one of the key organisations in Scottish football, is Neil Doncaster, who I understand is now also a board member of the Association of European Professional Football Leagues, which plays an important role.

I think that we should invite some of the key players in Scottish football and the children’s commissioner to speak to us about the petition, which goes much wider than football and raises issues to do with the European convention on human rights, employment and fair movement of trade. The other side of the coin is that we all understand that it is vital to develop and build up facilities for youth football and that the clubs that invest in that need to get some return. We must look at both sides. I suggest that we invite some of the key players to come along to the committee. It has been suggested that we should ask Malcolm MacGregor, who is a well-known advocate who has done a lot of work on sport, to attend. It is up to committee members to decide whether they feel that that is an appropriate response. I have quite strong views on that, but I appreciate that members might have different views.

Chic Brodie

I agree. This is a true story. I was talking to someone who is a scout for one of our clubs and for a club down south. The sums of money that are being paid for 12-year-olds and even 10-year-olds—they are not paid directly, of course—are absolutely unacceptable, especially given the way that Scottish football is going despite its reorganisation. According to this morning’s headlines, there is a collision waiting to happen on the funding of Scottish football. I do not see why there should not be an appropriate mechanism for encouraging children to play football that does not treat 12-year-olds as if they are professional footballers.

I agree that we should get some meaningful advice on the way forward from those who are involved. I certainly think that those who administer Scottish football should be invited along to give information.

The Convener

Thank you for that.

I omitted to mention that it has been suggested that we should invite Andrew McKinlay, who wrote back to us, who is the director of governance and regulation at the Scottish Football Association, as he has a lot of experience in this area.

John Wilson

Convener, I seek clarification of your proposal to hold an evidence-taking session. The committee heard from a number of witnesses in January 2011. In our briefing, we are advised that a paper has been produced that will be put to the SPFL board in January 2014, so perhaps we should hold off until that paper has been presented to the board. At that point, we could invite a number of people to discuss the implications of the paper, which—given the recent history of the SPFL in getting clubs’ agreement on particular issues—may or may not be finally agreed.

I am concerned about some of the sums of money that are changing hands. As Mr Brodie said, it is not the young people themselves—who, in many respects, are still children—who are being reimbursed. Their parents are being paid to tie or indenture them to a club. When we discussed the petition previously, we discovered that some young people are losing out on a football career because they cannot play for a school team or a local youth team, as the club will not let them do that.

We should wait until after January 2014 to find out what suggestions the SPFL makes before we invite the individuals whom the convener named to a round-table discussion on the future of youth football in Scotland and how the clubs are restricting the ability of young players to play football.

The Convener

That is a sensible point. It is important that we take on board the timescale involved and the fact that the paper will go to the Scottish Premier League and the SFA in January 2014. I am perfectly happy to wait until that paper is discussed before we have a round-table event.


Chic Brodie

One of the recommendations in our paper is that we invite a head of youth from a club other than an old firm club. I do not know why the old firm clubs would be excluded, as they have a significant impact in the corridors of power of Scottish football because of, for example, their financial clout.

We have just talked about openness and transparency. It would therefore be slightly disingenuous not to look at the issues raised in the SPL’s letter from earlier this year, which states:

“You seem to be advocating a system whereby clubs would be free to register young players without the payment of any training contribution.”

I want to understand what that training contribution is for. Given the sums of money that I have heard of, it must be some training.

The Convener

The suggestion to involve a head of youth from a professional club that is not one of the old firm came from the petitioner. I understand why that recommendation was made, but I am totally relaxed about involving the old firm as well as other teams. It is a matter for the committee to decide.

Anne McTaggart

At this stage, I disclose that I am totally uninterested in football. However, I am extremely keen to listen to clubs and receive more information about their practices.

As John Wilson mentioned, it would be a much better idea to wait until after January 2014, when we will have received the report, before we hold a round table. We need to have and benefit from that round-table experience in which knowledge and practice can be shared. We must be educated on the matter before we make any decision on the petition.

Angus MacDonald

I agree with John Wilson’s suggestion to have a round-table discussion. I am sure that there are a number of viewpoints, and the more people that we can get in to discuss the issue, the better. John Wilson’s other suggestion that we wait until early next year before doing that is a good one.

Are members content to go ahead on the basis of the timescale that has been suggested by John Wilson and to involve the various individuals who have been suggested?

Members indicated agreement.

John Wilson

Chic Brodie mentioned the old firm. They appeared before the committee in January 2011 and we received criticism from other clubs that we had concentrated on the old firm. I am aware that Hibs, Heart of Midlothian FC and other league teams have very active youth programmes. For example, Falkirk FC has a programme for those aged four and upwards—it may even be for those who are younger. We should try to widen out the discussion. I therefore suggest that, given that Hearts apparently has an active youth development wing, we should bring that club and one or two other clubs before us, too. Although the old firm have a great deal of influence, it would be useful to find out what is happening and what restrictions may be in place elsewhere. I have heard that some young people who initially sign for a major club find it more difficult, at a later stage, to sign for other clubs that want to participate in their development. I suggest that we involve Hearts or Hibs, and possibly Falkirk, to find out how their youth development programmes fit in with the overall issue that the petition deals with.

Chic Brodie

The rationale for not excluding one of the old firm is that the spectrum of finance and the financial gap are huge in Scottish football. It would be interesting to involve Hibs and Hearts, although how relatively well-off or not they are depends on which newspaper you read. We need to look at the finance gap. In the round-table discussion, which I agree that we should have, we will probably find that those at the more lucrative end have a totally different development policy and set totally different expectations for children, both for boys and, increasingly, for girls—not perhaps from Inverness Caley, but from teams that are not in the premier league.

We have Falkirk FC on our list.

Thank you. The committee’s view is clear. We will go ahead and get that actioned as soon as the January meeting takes place.