Kids, Colts & Character Building

Part one of Tam’s blog   –  Click here for Tam’s site      Picture by Kenny Ramsay Click here for site

Kids, Colts & Character Building

May 1, 1999. It seems a long time ago, eh? A weak, skinny 18 year old boy, from Balornock in the north of Glasgow ran onto the park at Stranraer with 20 minutes to go to make his debut for Hibs. The league had been won at a canter by 33 points. My performances in a good Hibs youth/reserve team had earned this chance.

Was I ready? Absolutely nowhere near it. Stranraer was a taster and a chance to blood a few young kids, nothing more. The problem I had was I could not handle people shouting and screaming at me in training. At my own age group in training with my pals and guys my own age it was no problem but when I stepped up to train with the first team? Different story entirely.

I crumbled and hid when Yogi Hughes screamed at me when I didn’t track a runner in five-a-side. When Alex McLeish caned me for missing a chance my heart sank or if I didn’t make the right run for Russell Latapy to slip me in and he gave me the death stare! I was mentally weak and soft and Big Eck clocked it. How could he rely on me to show for a ball on a Saturday in front of 10,000 baying punters when I would hide in a training game with no-one watching?
So I went to League 2 East Fife the following season – a well-trodden path he sent all the young players ‘with a chance’ on. Sink or swim. ‘If you can’t handle it in front of 500 people I can’t trust you in front of 50,000 at Ibrox or Parkhead, so you’re out the door’. Harsh but fair. Many couldn’t handle that but fortunately for me I went, got my head down and learned more in those few months in League 2 than I could have in 10 years of reserve or youth football. Playing up front with big Steve McCormick or Barry Moffat. Good experienced pros who talked me through the game and when a veteran centre-back gave me a ‘dull yin’ and took a liberty they would go and sort them out.

I have no doubt if I did not go and test myself in front of a real crowd with real men kicking lumps out me for the £50 beer money bonus on a Saturday night I would have been out the door quickly at Hibs. I came back from that loan spell and straight away made my full debut at the lions’ den – Hearts at Tynecastle. The thought of that when I was hiding from Yogi et al just a few months previous would have had me throwing a sickie! But now? I WAS ready. I swam that day.

You see reserve/youth football with nothing at stake in front of a handful of people. It puts you in a bubble.
One scream from a supporter of ‘you’re s***e McManus’ will quickly burst that. I did hear that on the odd occasion… It is even worse now with the U20 league – kids playing against kids, boys at clubs at Pro Youth since they have been six or seven and learning very little about the character and thick skin you need to develop to make a career out the game.

That soft underbelly and lack of character will be exposed when the bubble is pricked and they get released, then what? More than likely fall out the game as these boys predominately don’t want to take one step back to take two forward as everything has been handed on a silver plate – kit, boots, transport, pitches. They are sickened. Lost to the game. This is coming from a guy who has been freed more times than Tommy Sheridan!! (Sorry Tommy)

This is why I feel very strongly about the creation of Colts/U23 teams into our senior league. For me It MUST happen. Okay, it is 10-15 years too late but at least we are making steps to rectify it. Germany/Spain/Portugal have had this for years and years, blooding all the promising young players in a competitive environment against grizzled old veterans in front of real crowds (not just friends, family & agents). If these clubs don’t bring these boys back after a year or two to play for the first team they have 50-100 appearances at senior level, have learned the game, developed that mentality and armour and are ready to play at a good level elsewhere.

I’m certain if you ask Tommy McIntyre or John Kennedy at Celtic they will tell you they have learned more about the young players in the Irn Bru Cup games both in winning and getting a thumping against Livingston, than they have in a full season when they win and dominate the ball most weeks in the U20 league. Celtic and Rangers have already stated they would be be keen to put Colts teams in I hope Hearts,Hibs,Aberdeen etc follow suit.
I am certain every single manager in the Premiership and a few in the Championship would echo these sentiments we absolutely need EVERYONE on board.

Whether it be three leagues of sixteen or an additional league added to current setup i.e League 3 we need to let these Colt teams in.

Over to you Neil………

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