Kilmarnock Football Club's latest signing is a deaf 14-year-old on work experience. Raymond Ross reports on a lad's dream come true
It's every schoolboy's dream to meet his favourite football player, never mind get the chance to work alongside him. For 14-year-old Mark Glover, his work experience at Scottish Premier League club Kilmarnock FC is certainly a dream come true. Every Tuesday morning he rubs shoulders with - and gets the chance to polish the boots of - his great hero, Scottish internationalist Ally McCoist. And tomorrow he will be the club's mascot when they play Dundee at home.
It's a dream come true in more ways than one, because Mark is profoundly deaf. If it's difficult enough to find work experience placements for mainstream pupils, then it's often doubly so for pupils with special needs.
"Full marks to him. The wee fella's brilliant," says Ally McCoist. "The most important thing for me is that he's enjoying his time here, and if he can do everything as well as he does my boots, then he'll do great."
Mark has also done well in Kilmarnock manager Bobby Williamson's eyes. "Mark gets a big kick out of working here. For us it's great to have youngsters about the place. We're a family club and we like to involve the public," he says.
But Mark's involvement is not only a tribute to his own resolve and to the dedication of the Hearing Impairment Unit at Grange Academy, Kilmarnock, where he is a fourth year pupil. It's also thanks to the pioneering work being done by Kilmarnock FC's community coach Eric Young.
Mark's work placement came about through Young's promotion of a football development programme involving pupils from all over East Ayrshire. Mark took part in coaching sessions for hearing impaired and special needs pupils organised by Young.
"Mark was very enthusiastic during the coaching sessions and when the school approached us for a work placement, we saw no reason why he shouldn't be offered the chance. We have at least two work experience pupils here every week.
"Mark and I cope fine. We've developed a sign language of our own, though Mark has given me a proper signing book and I'm trying to learn a bit," says Young.
Mark spends his working morning helping to clean the boots and the changing rooms, acting as a ball boy during first team training and helping in the office with clerical duties. When I arrive at Rugby Park, he is busy stuffing envelopes with letters to the officially designated "KGB", the Kilmarnock Girls' and Boys' club for young supporters.
"I like the work and I like meeting people," he says. "And I like it that they try to sign for me. My biggest problem is that I can't use the phone, and meetings can be a bit difficult too, but I think I'm coping. I'd have liked to be a footballer but I can't because I'm deaf. But I suppose I could be a referee and blow the whistle on others!" His biggest thrill was his first meeting with "Super Ally", about which he wrote an essay that is pinned up alongside related writings - and a Kilmarnock FC jersey - in the Hearing Impairment Unit back at school.
"Mark has become interested in history through this experience," says senior teacher Anne Barnaby, who works in the unit that supports eight deaf pupils, from S1 to S6, at Grange Academy. Enthusiasm for his team has led him to learn about the club's history and the history of football in general. "He is now reading and writing with a purpose. He has certainly come on a step and is completing a special project on Kilmarnock FC."
"Mixing with adults who are not teachers is important in extending Mark's range of social situations as well as learning about life in the workplace,'' says the school's assistant headteacher Christine McGuire. "It enhances his perception of himself in the adult hearing world. There's a place for him in that world and he must grow in independence to claim it."
Mark's ambition is to be employed at Rugby Park. "I'd love to work here, maybe as a groundsman or as somebody helping to look after the place. Football isn't just a Saturday thing. It's a business, it's hard work and it's about people. Yes, I'd love to work here and also to make lots of money."
After an initial six-week placement, Mark's performance was judged good enough by the club to have his contract extended for the whole session. "Mark has given a good impression of himself," says Bobby Williamson.
The club was founded in the 19th century by Kilmarnock schoolboys with the motto "Confidemus" (We trust). You can't help but feel that the founders would approve of this latest "signing".