Hibernian midfielder Lewis Stevenson hailed the Bank of Scotland Midnight League as a “great way for young people to spend their Friday and Saturday nights”.
The Scottish FA’s flagship diversionary five-a-side football programme for 12 to 16-year-olds enters its tenth year in 2013.
The league is run nationwide by Scottish FA coaches within all 32 local authorities to over 3,000 young people at 100 different venues.
Stevenson, 24, attended his local Midnight League venue at Kirkcaldy High School when he was a teenager.
“It was great fun,” he said. “Me and my mates were always looking for something to do at the weekends so it gave us a good way to enjoy the weekend nights.
“There was some good football being played too and I’m sure it helped me to develop as a player.”
The man who oversees its successful operation is Scottish FA football development manager Donald Gillies.
“It’s fantastic to have this programme enter its tenth year,” he said.
“It’s been so successful because it has a simple format – turn up and play.
“Our coaches only supervise the football. Street football no longer exists. We have more traffic on the roads and many more distractions to divert young peoples’ attention away from playing.
“The Bank of Scotland Midnight League programme provides a safe environment for players of all abilities to enjoy the game on Friday and Saturday nights.
“The credit should go to our football development officers who co-ordinate on the ground with local partners to make sure the league operates well.”
The league has expanded its programme to include end of season finals at various SPL grounds and a player of the year event.
Research by Stirling University found the league had a positive impact on the local communities it was hosted in.
Instances of anti-social behaviour have dropped by as much as 30% in some local authority areas.
Donald said: “We have to thank the local authority Community Safety Partnerships who provide us with the local knowledge of areas we are working in.”
Asked if the league would continue for another decade, Donald said: “This league focusses on a key age-group.
“12 to 16-year-olds are more likely to drop out of football than any other age category. The Bank of Scotland Midnight League provides the inspiration to keep playing and enjoying the game.
“There will always be a place for the league.”
Are you aged between 12 and 16? Want to play free five-a-side football?
Wherever you are in the country there’s a Bank of Scotland Midnight League programme running near you. To find out more visit the SFA website.