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Thurso Football Academy nominated for SFA community award

By Alan Hendry

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Thurso Football Academy's head of coaching Alyn Gunn. Picture: Peter Jolly / Northpix
Thurso Football Academy's head of coaching Alyn Gunn. Picture: Peter Jolly / Northpix

A grassroots football coaching organisation in Thurso has been nominated for an SFA community award for helping to keep local youngsters fit and active during the coronavirus crisis.

Thurso Football Academy supplied 25 children with a free football, water bottle and “Tiny Tacklers” booklet full of football-themed games that can be played in the garden with parents.

More than 100 other youngsters who registered were given a digital version of the booklet, designed by head of coaching Alyn Gunn. It cleverly uses superheroes and cartoon characters to capture the imagination of children and keep them engaged in the training drills.

Now the academy has been nominated in the McDonald’s/Sunday Mail Grassroots Awards, in association with the Scottish Football Association.

Alyn and fellow coach Richie Campbell specialise in coaching the age group four to six years, although their camps are aimed at children from four up to 15. Over the past year or so these have been attended by more than 250 youngsters.

Champions League winners Ronald de Boer and Pedro Mendes – both former Rangers players – are among the star names who have endorsed the work of Thurso Football Academy. Words of support have also come from ex-Scotland boss Alex McLeish, Celtic coach John Kennedy, Rangers coach Michael Beale and former Old Firm players Nacho Novo and Didier Agathe, among others.

“I'm delighted that the academy has been nominated for our work,” Alyn said. “It's a great personal accolade to have ex-pros such as Ronald de Boer comment positively on what I've produced, considering what he has done in the game.

“The amount of supportive messages I've received has been crazy. Locally there have been hundreds of people getting in touch, and ex-Rangers goalie Andy Goram and former national team manager Alex McLeish each dropped me a message as well, so it has been extremely humbling.

“I'm a great believer in storytelling football, as with the ages we work with it's important to try and catch the imagination of a child. Whether that means using superheroes, cartoon characters or films in the drills, so be it – you've got to make it as enjoyable and entertaining as possible for the kids as you want them to come back and participate in football."

Alyn says he and Richie are grateful to sponsors Robbie Fraser, Scott Youngson and Willie Lipka. They are also keen to acknowledge the support given by Baillie Wind Farm Community Benefit Fund, Dounreay Communities Fund and the Park Hotel, Thurso.

“Our sponsors have been with us from the beginning, in 2013. Without their help we wouldn't be able to do what we're doing – so big thanks go to them all and it's to the benefit of the community,” Alyn said.

Nominations for the award closed today (Monday). Among those Thurso Football Academy will be up against in the voting are professional clubs from the SFA's north region.

Last month the academy announced it was making plans for the internationally renowned Coerver Coaching to run a children's camp in Thurso. It is hoped the camp can incorporate a coach education session for representatives of all clubs in Caithness.

Alyn explained that it will go ahead when circumstances allow.

During the lockdown period, he and Richie have been studying coaching techniques and taking part in webinars provided by Rangers and the SFA as well as Coerver Coaching.

An online auction of Rangers items raised £830, and the academy gave half the proceeds to Thurso Community Development Trust to help with its Covid-19 community response.

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