Fears over the future of under 21s football in Midlothian

Newtongrange Star U21s v Renfrew, Scottish Cup
Newtongrange Star U21s v Renfrew, Scottish Cup

Concern has been raised over the future of under 21s football in Midlothian.

With only five teams present in this season’s league – after one team folded – the South East Region Youth Football Association (SERYFA) admit the “alarm bells” are ringing after a “50 per cent” decline in participation rates at this level.

League officials plan to hold crunch talks with club members about what the future holds for youth football in the area.

The director of football at Newtongrange Star Academy says action needs to be taken now as the league has become uncompetitive and could fold altogether.

Work, competing interests, other commitments for players and coaches, and the popularity of the U20s Lowland League have been cited for the declining interest.

Douglas Dalgleish, secretary of SERYFA, said: “We’re very disappointed at the number of teams. More had expressed an interest to join but didn’t. It is concerning, the alarm bells are ringing.

“Players and coaches are having second thoughts or want to do different things like go to watch Hibs and Hearts on a Saturday instead of playing themselves.

“It’s the way society is, people work all different hours and thoughts on playing football have changed. Some players and coaches struggle with the commitment to train two nights a week which has no doubt had an impact.

“We’re meeting with clubs to plan and see what the future holds for us. It’s not just the association, everybody needs to come together to help solve the problem.”

David Glodek, director of football at Newtongrange Star Academy, said: “Something has to be done, someone needs to be proactive.

“It’s detrimental to youth football in this area. You have players coming through who are very good and in a few years they will have nowhere to go except juniors or professional.

“Where do they go if we are not giving them the chance to play football. At 21, they are still youths if they are not playing then they could be drinking and getting into trouble. I am gravely concerned there will be no 21s next season.”

Douglas said: “We’re trying to get the message out there. We’ve had enquiries from eight new teams for next season. We want to get ourselves back up to 12 teams but it is all hypothetical at the minute.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Youth Football Association (SYFA) said: “This is not a challenge which is unique to football. Participation in almost every sport in Scotland declines significantly at this age, due to a wide variety of factors.

“We are clearly keen to see as many young people as possible continuing to enjoy the sport, but recognize that, in society as a whole, there are increasing numbers of competing demands on young people’s time as they start work or further education. That said, we are committed to working with the leagues and individual teams to provide support in this area.”

Teams interested in joining the league should contact Douglas on 07931140724.