A YOUTH football boss is hoping to win his long-running campaign to boot out the controversial trade in child footballers.
Willie Smith is demanding an end to the ‘transfer market for children’ used by Scottish clubs as they buy and sell young talent.
The 64-year-old Erskine man teamed up with former Renfrewshire MSP Trish Godman two years ago to produce a petition which was then presented to the Scottish Parliament.
Since then, Ms Godman has retired from politics but the motion has now been accepted by the Petitions Committee and will be studied in greater detail next month.
Mr Smith, who has been involved in youth football for more than 40 years and is the founder and chairman of Hillwood Boys Club, told the Paisley Daily Express: “I am delighted that the Petitions Committee have chosen to take our document forward.
“Hopefully, we are now starting to see the fruits of a campaign I started with fellow coach Scott Robertson two years ago and which Ms Godman was only too pleased to get involved in.
“We started the ball rolling in a bid to raise awareness of how young footballers were being treated by professional football clubs.
“Youth teams are folding because they are being plundered by senior outfits. It’s just not on.”
He added: “The Holyrood committee have asked the Scottish Schools and Scottish Youth associations to visit the parliament to give evidence.
“They have also asked the dad of a 14-year-old player, who was prepared to challenge the legality of the contract his son was being held to after his club prevented him from playing football for nine months, to appear.”
The Scottish Football Association currently runs a Youth Initiative registration scheme which allows clubs to sign young footballers – some believed to be aged just 10 – on loyalty deals.
These documents impose restrictions on the child, including preventing them from playing for a school team or leaving to join another club until compensation is paid out.
In some cases, the documents can restrict and even end a child’s career in football due to clubs being able to demand thousands of pounds if a young player wants to move elsewhere.
In one instance, a senior club signed an entire youth team – and then released most of them the following week – just because they wanted the goalkeeper.
Mr Smith said: “That is just one example of the bully-boy tactics being used by bigger clubs.
“All these kids thought they were going onto bigger and better things but their hopes were dashed just as quickly as they had been raised.
“I also want an explanation as to why the SFA and its member clubs are signing minors on legal contracts – which involve compensation being paid between clubs – before they are 16 years old.”
The Children’s Commissioner for Scotland, Tam Baillie, has ‘signed up’ to lend his support to the campaign after raising concerns about initiatives which restrict the freedom of children.
In a report to the Petitions Committee at Holyrood, Mr Baillie stated: “I have some very real concerns about an initiative which appears to restrict the freedom of young people, which limit the opportunities for them to play with their peers and which make it prohibitively expensive for them to exercise any choice in where they might train and play.”
Mr Smith will now await the outcome of the Petitions Committee with real interest.
He said: “I’ve been involved with this matter for a couple of years now, so there’s no doubt I’m in it for the long haul.
“Being accepted by the Holyrood committee was massive for us and I hope we get the best belated Christmas present possible.”