Goodwill tours score with dads
Scotland will be represented at a major international footballing event next summer. It's not quite the World Cup finals in South Africa, but a group of primary school teachers hoping to fly the Saltire in Austria.
The Edinburgh Primary Schools Football Club is planning to revive its annual goodwill tour, which was abandoned briefly when Ryanair ditched one of its flight routes. It is a chance to make friends with schools abroad, while restoring Scotland's tumbling international reputation on the pitch.
In October 2004, a Gylemuir Primary link enabled the team to play in Milan. That led Italian teachers, parents and pupils to make a return trip the following June, which included a tournament pitting the teachers against dads' teams from Milan and Edinburgh at Dunfermline Athletic's East End Park.
The following two October holidays took the staff team to Oslo and Prague, but the most memorable game was during the 2007 trip to Latvia and Estonia. Staff and parents from a school in the Estonian city of Parnu combined to form the opposition.
"It was a truly memorable day," recalls Willie French, headteacher at Parsons Green Primary. "The headteacher organised a brass band made up of parents, staff and local people. This was followed by a group of the school's female teachers dancing a variety of Estonian folk dances on the pitch.
"They had organised a commentator who announced each player, then there was the moving experience of standing in line to the two national anthems. We exchanged pennants, T-shirts and our traditional `See you, Jimmy' hats before the match."
The Scots repaid the hospitality by thumping their hosts 5-1. But the next day, the visiting group - also made up of wives and partners, several of them teachers - taught Scottish country dances during PE classes. Others, dressed in kilts, visited classrooms to talk about Scotland and take questions.
The tours were kickstarted with support from the European Commission's Comenius programme, which aims to "develop knowledge and understanding among young people and educational staff of the diversity of European cultures, languages and values".
Since then, the football has also built bridges back home. Staff now invite local dads to play against teachers in an attempt to build relationships with families that might otherwise be hard to reach. There had been plenty of initiatives to coax mums into the school, such as fashion shows, but dads had traditionally been nonplussed by many school events. "It does tend to be mums who are much more involved in the work of the school," Mr French says.
Tapping into the national obsession with football has been a big success, in Mr French's eyes. A few games have been enough to build bonds with dads who might never have come through the school doors.