From the Western Isles to Wick and from Shetland to Stornoway, teams from across the Scottish Highlands and Islands are preparing for a feast of football as UEFA Grassroots Week 2014 comes to an end.
Nine Under 13 teams from a geographic area spanning over 400 miles, will come together this weekend for the sixth annual Highlands & Islands Football Festival.
Kicking off on Friday evening, the Highland Football Academy will play host to Ross County, Clachnacuddin, Strathspey Thistle, Orkney Isles, Alness United, Elgin City, Caithness United, Shetland Isles and Western Isles. The matches will take place at the state of the art facilities of the HFA, which sits in the shadow of County’s Global Energy Stadium in the picturesque Dingwall setting.
The action gets underway on Friday evening, with Ross County kicking off against the Western Isles, Caithness Utd taking on Shetland and Alness United entertaining Strathspey Thistle. This is followed by six more rounds of games, with a packed schedule on Saturday before the event finally comes to an end on Sunday morning.
An exciting array of different teams, will take to the field, many of whom will be playing outside of their region for the first time. Professional clubs Ross County and Elgin City need no introduction. Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles have developed select team squads, with players covering the length and breadth of their respective islands. The other four Highland based sides are all part of the Scottish FA Quality Mark programme. Caithness United and Strathspey Thistle hold the Standard Award; Alness United are in possession of the Development Award; whereas Clachnacuddin FC with Merkinch FA have worked their way up to Community Award level.
Scottish FA and High Life Highland football development officer, Peter Budge, said: “It is a fantastic opportunity for young players to play against teams they will have never faced before. No scores are kept and the emphasis is placed on giving every team plenty of game time. Players get the chance to test themselves against strong opposition and develop their game in a competitive but pressure-free environment.”
With Ross County and Inverness Caledonian Thistle firmly established in Scotland’s top tier and Gary Mackay-Steven being capped for the Scotland national team, football in the Highlands and Islands is going from strength to strength. It all starts at the grassroots and who knows, perhaps an international star of the future will steal the show in Dingwall this weekend.
UEFA celebrated Grassroots Day 2014 on Wednesday 21 May. Find out more about the activity going on all over Europe throughout the week here...