Seasiders score for culture

John Cairney

Bill Shankly, legendary hero of Liverpool Football Club, typified the traditional macho image of Ayrshire junior football - tough and uncompromising as the communities the players emerged from.

But that portrayal took a knock last week when primary and secondary pupils merged sport with culture in an artistic celebration of "the beautiful game" and its part in North Ayrshire life. "Fitba", for once, became art.

A joint venture between a school sports co-ordinator and local authority cultural co-ordinator helped 150 pupils put on a show of dance, music and film at Auchenharvie Academy in Stevenston.

Louise Higgins, one of the authority's four cultural co-ordinators, said "The Fitba Project" was a celebration of the passion, talent and commitment of the people of Saltcoats and Stevenston who are and were involved in junior football. "The project aims to capture the spirit of the area and utilise the creative energy of the young people," she said.

The project centres on the achievement of Saltcoats Victoria (aka "the Seasiders") in winning the Scottish Junior Cup in 1924. The dances performed by pupils from four primary schools were animated, good-natured and entertaining. With no red cards being shown, it was a far cry from the fearsome reputation of the junior game in Ayrshire where spectators were as likely as players to resort to aggression in defence of their territorial honour.

Eighty-eight pupils from Glencairn, Ardeer, and Mayfield primaries and James Reid School combined their Ronaldo stepovers and Zidane shimmies with Ayrshire gallusness to replicate a training session, a match and the drama on the terracing.

The drama of the past was captured for posterity by eight pupils from Auchenharvie Academy who produced a film based on the Seasiders' cup success. They used archive newsreel footage, interviews with supporters of the club, shots of the dance rehearsals and a soundtrack written by pupils of Caledonia and Haycocks primaries in conjunction with a professional musician.

Two of the young film-makers valued their contacts with the older generation of supporters and a more recent generation of players. Michelle Montgomery, aged 14, was intrigued by how much the junior game meant to local people in the past and how it has changed over the years.

Learning that Bobby Lennox, the Celtic and Scotland star of the 1960s and 1970s, came from Stevenston made her think about other famous people who had started off their careers in her home town.

James Bennett, 15, was equally impressed. "The older supporters convinced me that the junior games of the past could be as dramatic as the current Rangers and Celtic matches and it was interesting to learn that when Gordon Smith, the football pundit and ex-Rangers player, was 16 years old, he would play in a professional game on a Saturday and be back at his desk at Auchenharvie on the Monday morning."

The joint cultural approach was praised by Louise Higgins and Jean McCracken, sports co-ordinator at Auchenharvie.

"It has the advantage that the two agencies can go to a school at the same time, making it easier for the school, primary or secondary, to fit the sessions into the school day," Ms Higgins said.

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John Cairney

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