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A gong for the Goalie

Les Donaldson has not counted the hours he has given to schools football, but others have noticed and now the Queen is recognising his efforts. Roddy Mackenzie talks to him

Les "the goalie" Donaldson has always kept the best of company. He played in the same Scottish Schoolboys Under-15 team as Kenny Dalglish back in 1966. Now, he is to rub shoulders with royalty.

Mr Donaldson, a former pupil at Graeme High School in Falkirk, who has spent his entire teaching career at Larbert High in Stirling, expects a letter soon to confirm an appointment with the Queen to become an MBE for services to education and schools' football.

The appointment in the New Year's Honours List came as a shock to the "wee man from Whitecross in Linlithgow" who is a principal teacher of guidance. He has seen schools' football change dramatically over the years.

"I played with the under-15 team in 1966, in the same team as Kenny Dalglish and Tommy Craig. In those days, there were only under-15 and under-18 schools' teams at international level and I remember that season well," Mr Donaldson recalls.

"We drew 3-3 with Wales in Wrexham, then went to Belfast and beat Northern Ireland 4-3 before we drew 1-1 with England at Ibrox.

"I had a good game at Ibrox and my name was all over the newspapers. Everton invited me down for a trial but took one look at my size and never gave me a chance."

Mr Donaldson has been inextricably linked with Linlithgow Rose Juniors football club for many years, signing with them in 1967 and then, after hanging up his gloves, working at committee level before graduating to president of the club.

Since he graduated to coaching, numerous schoolboys have been influenced by Mr Donaldson and gone on to make a name for themselves in the professional game.

One of his best memories was as assistant coach to Bill Harrower at Wembley in 1980 when a Scotland Under-15 side that included Paul McStay, John Robertson and Ally Dick beat England 5-4 in front of 90,000 fans and live television cameras.

Mr Donaldson was manager of the Scottish Schoolboys Under-15 team from 1984-89 and has been honorary assistant general secretary of the Scottish Schools' Football Association since 1984. He now oversees international selection and coaching for the SSFA.

"I think the major change I have seen over my years involved with schools'

international football is that the set-up has become much more sophisticated," Mr Donaldson says.

"Nothing is left to chance and the boys who travel on trips are well looked after.

"We look at the football and education side of it as, first and foremost, we are teachers. But the boys stay in good quality hotels and we expect them to have good manners and dress smartly.

"We prepare the boys thoroughly and teach them good dietary habits. We have taken advice on this from the Commonwealth Games Council for Scotland.

"We have built up a great relationship with Premier League clubs as they see we look after players, who may also be training with them.

"The professional clubs see that we are qualified coaches and the boys are getting well looked after in that sense."

The international programme, is extensive compared to the days when Mr Donaldson started out and there were only games against England, Wales and Northern Ireland at schoolboy level. There are now regular trips abroad for under-14 to under-18 teams and there is a schoolgirls' international programme.

One thing that has not changed over the years, which the SSFA has to deal with, is the large number of players who fail to make the grade after shining at schoolboy level.

"Some players think that when they are selected for an international squad they have made it," says Mr Donaldson, "but really they are just at the beginning of their football career and are still learning.

"Some boys find it difficult being a substitute in an international team as they are the star player at their school. We have to explain to them that it is a 16-player squad and everyone has a part to play.

"Society has changed over the years and there are more distractions for youngsters, but I don't think the enthusiasm for football has diminished. We always tell boys - and now girls - that this may be the only chance they get to wear an international shirt and play for their country, so to make the most of it.

"We still find there is a lot of passion and pride involved in playing for Scotland at this level. I always tell the players that as long as they can look at themselves in the mirror and say they have done the best they can, then that's all we can do.

"If players work hard at their game, then the skill will come through as a matter of course."

Mr Donaldson's own enthusiasm has never diminished. "I think when my enthusiasm goes, it will be time to call it quits. But I still love it as much as I ever did.

"Getting the MBE is a fantastic honour and everyone at the school has been very supportive. But I've never counted the hours I've put in as I just love being involved and get so much out of it for myself."

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