For­mer pro joins scheme for kids

Hamilton Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - Leona Greenan

With World Cup fever at an all-time high a new foot­ball ven­ture has kicked off in Hamil­ton.

Set up by Les­ley Robert­son, the Ju­niors Foot­ball Academy aims to help chil­dren of all fam­i­lies, in par­tic­u­lar those of low­in­come par­ents, en­joy reg­u­lar ac­cess to the beau­ti­ful game.

Founder Les­ley is fu­elled by a drive to help fam­i­lies and openly ad­mits she has made a suc­cess­ful ca­reer out of be­ing a lone par­ent after set­ting up her Fam­i­lies Like Us char­i­ta­ble or­gan­i­sa­tion.

The char­ity be­gan ini­tially to al­le­vi­ate feel­ings of iso­la­tion and lone­li­ness for all fam­i­lies. Her first Ju­niors Play area, in Larkhall, be­came a base within the com­mu­nity where peo­ple could meet and in­ter­act.

Now through con­tin­ued sup­port and fund­ing, they can of­fer a wider ser­vice within their Larkhall premises and now also from their new Camp­bell Street cafe in Hamil­ton, where the foot­ball academy will be based and pro­vide free ac­cess for young­sters of any abil­ity and any cir­cum­stances.

Les­ley ex­plained: “To be hon­est I ac­tu­ally hate foot­ball! My son Kyle loves it though, and this came about through him.

“He is eight and wanted to join a club. I started to see the costs in­volved and it was un­be­liev­able.

“I’m for­tu­nate we could af­ford for him to play with a com­mu­nity club, but I just thought there must be so many kids who are not in that po­si­tion.

“This academy how­ever, will be open to any child, no mat­ter their abil­ity or cir­cum­stance. We will help to en­sure all kids get a chance, whether their par­ents are to­gether, sin­gle, lone par­ent, low-in­come or what­ever – it’s sim­ply about pro­vid­ing a se­cure safe base for chil­dren to en­joy foot­ball.”

Les­ley’s new ven­ture has the full back­ing of Hamil­ton Ac­cies leg­end Jose Quitongo, who grew up in Africa but now lives in Ud­dingston.

For he runs his own pop­u­lar academy and knows a thing or two about over­com­ing the odds to play the sport he loves.

He said: “When I was grow­ing up in An­gola, we didn’t have things like Playsta­tions or any­thing. We didn’t need them.

“My fam­ily did okay, but no-one had much. All we had was foot­ball, foot­ball, foot­ball. It was t-shirts on the ground, if we couldn’t get a ball we’d have plas­tic bags wrapped up in wire.

“It’s funny when you see kids to­day wear­ing all the fancy coloured boots – we’d play in our bare feet. We were on the streets morn­ing, noon and night.”

Quitongo might have grown up in Africa, but it’s not such a dif­fer­ent story to Scot­land a gen­er­a­tion ago.

He’s seen how tough it can be now for fam­i­lies who sim­ply don’t have the cash to keep up.

And he added: “You see some kids wear­ing boots that cost £150, it’s crazy. I say to them, you might have £150 boots, but the boots don’t make you a player.

“It is hard for some fam­i­lies though. How can they give a child £10 or £20 a week or a month for foot­ball when they’re strug­gling to pro­vide food?

“Les­ley’s academy is about let­ting young peo­ple en­joy foot­ball, be ac­tive and in­volved. That is why schemes like this are so im­por­tant.

“It’s more im­por­tant to have as many in­volved in the game they love from all kinds of dif­fer­ent back­grounds.”

To find out more about the Ju­niors Foot­ball Academy, spon­sored by Hot Flames World Buf­fet, con­tact Ju­niors Play Cafe Hamil­ton via the Face­book or In­sta­gram pages “21st Cen­tury Girl UK”.

If we couldn’t get a ball we’d have plas­tic bags wrapped up in wire Jose Quitongo

All setjose Quitongo, Les­ley Robert­son and her son Kyle

Ac­cies leg­end Jose Quitongo in his play­ing days

Sup­porter Jose is back­ing the academy

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