A visit by the Sports Minister to Denmark underlined how far Scotland lags behind Europe. David Henderson reports
Borge Bach Andersen, finance director of Aalborg FC, is a happy man. The club's star player, 20-year-old left-winger Jesper Gronkjaer, is likely to be snapped up by the Dutch side Ajax, easing any financial worries for the small club. Gronkjaer is also wanted by Manchester United, Barcelona and a string of others.
It is doubtful if any rising Scottish player could capture the imagination of a top European club in the same way. Something is happening in Danish football.
Aalborg hit the headlines two years ago when they competed in the Champions' League. "We got four points, Rangers got one in their section," Mr Bach Andersen cheerily points out. The club then transferred striker Eric Bo Andersen to Rangers.
Transferring top players is routine for a small Danish club from a town with 160,000 people. The Copenhagen sides tend to dominate with their larger crowds and financial base. Entering the Champions' League was a major achievement. A league match against Aarhus two weeks ago underlined the Aalborg approach. Nine of the 11 starting players were reared in the club's structure, including the talented Gronkjaer. Not one Scottish club could match that record.
Aalborg have only 15 professional players, although it is hoped to raise that to 20. In a structure that is unknown in Scotland, the club is a mix of the amateur and the professional, allowing primary-age children to belong to the same club as their fathers and their professional icons. Some 700 players of all ages and standards train and play regularly. They pay the club a membership fee and are licensed from an early age, a system favoured by Andy Roxburgh, the former Scottish national coach.
No player at any level is allowed to switch clubs freely and they cannot play for another club unless their licence is transferred. Boys only play for one club and the number of games is restricted. Aalborg, as the professional club in the North Jutland area, naturally pulls in talented young players from a wide area but it believes in mass participation, top coaching at all levels and sound development of young players. It does not sign any boy under 16.
The club, like others, is given grants of around Pounds 45 for youth members. The same incentive to recruit applies to all sports clubs. Aalborg council runs the city centre ground and owns the training base outside town. The club pays for the buildings at the professional and amateur training centre but the myriad of pitches come free.
Aalborg is typical of other top Danish clubs and its pyramid structure is the key to success, according to Jesper Frigast Larsen of the National Olympic Committee and Team Denmark, the elite body to promote high-performance levels in all sports. "They have the framework, the coaches, the doctors and so on, and they know each young player at the age of 15. They have been able to build a framework that ensures if you have got a talent, you have the facilities to develop to your full potential," he says.
At community level in Aalborg, the pattern of a club framework, coaching, football for all and social activities is repeated. The Freja club has 500 members, of whom 350 play in 27 sections and additionally there is a Grand Old Boys side, all over the age of 47. For about Pounds 80 a year, boys and girls train twice a week after school and play competitively.
Morten Ubbesen, the coaching convener, says: "We try to avoid having telephone teams, where the coach rings you up to play and you have no social contact with a club. Freja is about a sense of belonging. The social side is just as important." The club owns its changing rooms, bar and cafe, which members built, and employs a groundsman-helper but the council owns the pitches and cuts the grass.
Sports fact file
* Half the adult population regularly take part in sport and a third play at a competitive level in clubs. A third take part in clubs on a recreational basis and a third take part outside clubs.
* Swimming, gymnastics and movement, jogging, badminton and football are the top sports. In clubs, the order is football, badminton and gymnastics. Men and women participate in equal numbers and in recent years the number of middle-aged people and elderly joining in sport has risen significantly.
* Around 85 per cent of young people are members of sports clubs, with many members of several.
* There are 1,000 badminton clubs with 400,000 members, 10 per cent of the population. A further 350,000 are members of gymnastics clubs.
* Around 50,000 volunteers take coaching courses every year. A subsidy of about Pounds 75 is available.
* On average, 71 per cent of club funding comes from members, 24 per cent from public grants and 5 per cent from sponsors.
* Subsidies to national sporting organisations have doubled since a lottery was introduced with 63 per cent of proceeds going to sport.
* More than half the total income for sport comes from local taxes.