Matthew Crail’s passion for football is evident, with the teenager relishing being part of a team atmosphere and setting his sights on reaching the top of the sport.
Representing Penicuik Midlothian All-Stars, 13-year-old Crail was playing at the Bank of Scotland Midnight League South East Regional Final at Falkirk Stadium, with Falkirk midfielder Mark Kerr watching the action unfold.
The Bank of Scotland Midnight League is a national network of diversionary five-a-side football activities, targeting 12-16-year-old boys and girls across the country.
Run in partnership with the Scottish FA, the Midnight Leagues, is supported by the Scottish Government’s CashBack for Communities programme and local authorities.
And for youngster Crail, a pupil at Penicuik High School, the occasion of playing at a prestigious stadium is one step towards his dream of playing professionally.
“I’ve been enjoying myself a lot – I’m getting to spend more time with my friends and that’s one of the main reasons I love football,” said the teenager, who operates at right-back or centre-back.’’
Despite his team finishing runners-up, Matthew said: “My favourite part was when our team was able to score a goal. We had a great feeling of our team getting back into the game, and to try and get more goals.
“I’ve been playing for about seven years, I initially started doing swimming, that was my first sport, and my dad just mentioned I should try football – he used to do it and my grandfather did too. It runs in the family.
“So I gave it a shot and I enjoyed it, so I quit swimming and started football!
“It’s a great experience to play on the same pitch as professionals. I hoping to make it as a professional one day. Hopefully for Hearts!”
Played across three categories - junior (12-13 year-old boys), senior (14-16 year-old boys) and a girls section – more than 200 young footballers from across the south-east of Scotland took to the pitch at the Falkirk Stadium.
Ambassador Kerr was on hand to present medals and trophies to participants, and was thoroughly impressed with the number of talented youngsters on show
“The kids loved it – it was quite competitive as usual!” said the 35-year-old, who also had spells at Dundee United and Aberdeen.
“I think it’s great seeing kids who don’t get as many opportunities. It’s difficult for families who have got three or four kids, so experiences like this is brilliant for them.
“Some of the players have got cracking technique. Last year there were a few great young players and it was the same this time. There were some brilliant passages of play on show!
“Some kids who I spoke to were quite shy, but then you see them among their groups, they’re full of life and mingling with other teams as well, so it was rewarding to see that.’’
*Bank of Scotland Midnight League is a free community football programme delivered by local authorities, aimed at boys and girls aged 12-16. Visit: www.scottishfa.co.uk/midnightleague