RANGERS Director Paul Murray was in Galashiels last night to promote a new coaching initiative between the Ibrox club and Gala Fairydean Rovers.
Yesterday also saw Rangers youth coaches David McCallum and Gordon Craig deliver a practical session and presentation for Gala’s coaches, with the tie-up designed to be mutually beneficial for both parties.
In return for the coach education Rangers provide Gala, the Borders side will identify potentially talented players in that area, both at Gala and other clubs, and effectively act as a scout for the Light Blues, while the two teams will also take the opportunity to play friendly matches where appropriate.
It’s a partnership which greatly excites Murray, and he explained: “Gala’s Chairman approached me back in the summer with this idea, and it really came from Gala wanting to forge a relationship with us. During the last six months, we’ve got to know the club a bit better and I’ve been to the club to watch a game and Craig Mulholland [Rangers Head of Academy] came down with some of the coaching staff.
“We’ve had some of their staff up to Auchenhowie too for them to see our coaching methods and to try and transfer best practice.
“So there are two aspects to it. Firstly, there is a community element, and it’s really important that a club like Rangers works with the grassroots level of Scottish Football to try and improve the game.
“Obviously, Gala Fairydean are in the Lowland League but they have a lot of community projects and it’s a good thing for Rangers to support that and try and improve the number of players playing at grassroots level and also improve the quality of those players.
“The second thing, as has been widely publicised, is that we need to rebuild the football infrastructure within the club, both in terms of youth development and identifying players for the future.
“So a big part of it is to extend our scouting networks, and living in the Borders myself, it’s traditionally been a rugby part of the world but there are more and more people playing football, and Gala are a really progressive club with a progressive chairman and they are trying to encourage kids in the Borders to play football.
“If we can use this relationship to identify young talent, then it’s beneficial for us, and for them in the sense that you would hope the tie-up with Rangers would mean a lot of young, talented kids would be attracted to try and join Gala.”
As Murray discussed, the Borders is known as one of the only areas of Scotland where rugby is traditionally more popular than football, but that’s not to say there aren’t fans of the sport with the spherical ball.
Indeed, Murray has been greatly impressed with the work being done at Gala, and he sees an opportunity for Rangers to have a presence in an area where they didn’t have one before, and also to bring the club to an area where there is a significant fanbase.
He added: “Like anything in life things change, and I guess one of the reasons why it was a rugby stronghold in the past was that there weren’t many opportunities to play football – there weren’t really any facilities and there wasn’t really any clubs.
“Despite the fact it’s a big rugby part of the world, there is a big football support-base there too. I know personally from talking to the Rangers supporters down in the Borders, they follow the club home and away, so having the opportunity to see the club play in the Borders is good for the fans we have down there and it extends the name of Rangers and it helps Gala which is a good thing in the community, so all-round, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
“I think what Gala Fairydean have done is to try and build a football pathway within their own club to try and bring young players through from age 10 into the first team they have in the Lowland League.
“They’ve done that, and by us supporting them and having that relationship, we can identify young talent, and that obviously forms part of our overall scouting programme, and it means we have some people on the ground in the Borders where there are 100,000 people living in that area.
“You need to look at everything on a case by case basis, and obviously one of the reasons we have entered into the agreement with Gala is that we didn’t really have any representation in the Borders and we saw this as a unique way to get our scouting network extended down there.
“I suppose if you look at other parts of the country, we’re maybe a bit better represented in the West of Scotland and Central Scotland and some of the big population areas. So we’d look at everything on a case by case basis, but I think the Borders because of its location and the fact we didn’t have a presence down there is a mutually beneficial arrangement.”
All-in all, the relationship is part of a wider strategy to create a market-leading football club, and Murray continued: “I think you can see that we spent a lot of time identifying the first team manager and his staff. We brought in Mark Warburton who has done a great job so far, and obviously, you can see his philosophy is to give young players a chance, and you can see in the first team as he’s brought in Academy players not only from Rangers but from other Academies too.
“We’ve supported Mark by bringing in Frank McParland to try and identify talent and to try and build the scouting network. These things always take time, but there is no doubt he is doing a fantastic job with his team. We need to support that team, and hopefully this initiative will help Craig identify new players to bring through the Academy system at Auchenhowie.
“We’re trying to build a modern football club, and at the end of the day, the most important thing in any club is the players, and the more you can do to identify raw talent is obviously a good thing.
“You then need to look after that talent and coach it properly, but first and foremost you have to identify the talent, and let’s be honest, we haven’t really done that in the last few years for various reasons, but the current board and management team are really determined to do that and that’s partly why we’ve done this arrangement with Gala.”