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Football wannabes hit the streets

Playing football in the street is how some of the legends of the game learned the skills that took the breath away. More traffic and less tolerance make it harder for kids these days than it was for Baxter, Dalglish and Strachan.

But the football-playing youth of Aberdeen are out on the streets again, not just with the permission but with the express encouragement of the local police.

Streetfootball uses a portable sports pitch that can be erected on any surface. The idea came from Columbia, where it is known as "Football for Peace", via Germany. Arbroath was the location of the first project in Scotland, says Neil Brown, sports programmes manager at Robert Gordon University. But others have since sprung up around the north-east.

"In Aberdeen, we've been managing a project for three years, with a full-time, salaried development officer and volunteers mainly from the university. The project has just been extended for 18 months using new funding (pound;25,000) from Talisman Energy."

The aim of Streetfootball is to take sport out to young people and promote healthy alternatives to alcohol, drugs and anti-social behaviour. Statistics in Aberdeen show how well it achieves this aim, says Mr Brown. "In the last year, almost 2,000 people aged five to 18 have taken part in a dozen locations. We can get 45 to 50 kids a night in some areas."

The mobile pitch is set up in one location for eight to 10 weeks, with staff on hand to organise activities and provide training. According to the university's evaluations, Grampian Police have reported a 66 per cent reduction in calls about youth misbehaviour at some locations.

As well as buying a second pitch and recruiting an assistant to the development officer, the project is now talking about exit strategies. "We want to partner with people, so that when we leave a location they can provide other things for kids to do," says Mr Brown.

It is also looking at sports beyond football, such as hockey and basketball, to help engage more boys and, it is hoped, girls.

Beyond the statistics, the enthusiasm of the participants testifies to the project's success, he says. They even turn up when it's snowing."

www.streetfootball.net.

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