A DECADE OF DEDICATION

Date: 10/09/12. FALKIRK. Falkirk Stadium. Tom Elliot from community department - recently ran half marathon in aid of Falkirk football foundation and has been ten years at the club.
Date: 10/09/12. FALKIRK. Falkirk Stadium. Tom Elliot from community department - recently ran half marathon in aid of Falkirk football foundation and has been ten years at the club.

u HIS footballing influence was derived in Partick and Philadelphia - and appropriately enough - Tom Elliot’s own influence has spread right across the Falkirk district.

A bit of a cheesy introduction perhaps, but it is factual nonetheless, after ten years with Falkirk’s award-winning community department added to a few prior with Stenhousemuir.

Over that time, Elliot will have coached a number of children approaching five-figures, and among them, have been current Falkirk starlet, Craig Sibbald plus future stars he’s sure are just beginning to hit their teenage years.

“Working with the young guys - like Craig - and seeing them come in as shy and quiet then grow up and become confident and take their football opportunities is the best bit of the job,” insists Elliot, who played with Partick Thistle and Philadelphia Flames in his own playing career.

The American approach had an influence on the 46-year-old, where they “were big on youth development and training and coaching” in Pennsylvannia and New Jersey where Elliot operated.

“The Americans loved the Scottish passion and enthusiasm for football so it was a really good time for me out there and I learned a lot.

“Their high schools are like our universities in terms of facilities, and that’s something Scotland is having to catch up on.”

His switch back was to the more nostalgic of Scottish football facilities though.

Elliot arrived at Falkirk from Stenhousemuir when the club was still at Brockville, tasked by Ian McCall and George Craig with revamping the club’s role in the community in coaching players of tomorrow.

He’s done that, with the Falkirk in the Community programme morphing into the charitable Falkirk Community Football Foundation and now catering for the stadium’s learning centre and the footballing education of more than 3000 children in a decade since 2002.

“My main job is to educate boys and girls to the game - I’m still doing that, and my role within the club hasn’t changed. But as things have grown, I’ve been more involved in the delivery itself, and managing the department, which started with just me and now has five full-time staff members and 75 volunteers.”

Out in schools or at the club during school holidays running camps and elite performance schools showing what life’s like as a professional all fall under Elliot’s coaching mantle, as does the provision.

To fund the equipment, Tom has just completed the Great Scottish run half marathon in two hours 45 minutes, running alongside FFCF staff William Hoggan (who ran it in a commendable 1.34), Jason Bolam, Sean Witt and Richard Fox to mark the tenth anniversary of the community programme and raise some cash. There’s also a legends match planned for November including John Hartson, Andy Goram and Crunchie Kevion McAllister, plus a dinner dance the same month.

Elliot pays homage to each chairman he’s worked with at Stenhousemuir and the Bairns and first-team manager - “all have been really supportive of what we’ve tried to do - Yogi, Ian McCall, Owen Coyle, Eddie May and now Steven,” he adds.

“My time with Stenhousemuir was brilliant and I’m pleased to see there’s a legacy of youth development continuing with Jamie Swinney, David Reod and Martin McNairney there.

“But I still love it coming in to work at Falkirk each morning. In ten years it has never changed from being a terrific place to work, as good as it was on the first day.”

He also mentions Alex Totten as a “great support and help” and former managing director George Craig who left the club last year.

His parting words insisted that “the best signing the club ever made while I was involved was Tom Elliot” and the community department, and youth football reputation is now Falkirk’s bread and butter. That’s not gone unnoticed either.

“I’ve had offers from other clubs to become Academy director and they’re huge challenges – but I feel this is the club where we can make a difference and this is the place where we are delivering change in youth football and we can keep delivering it,” says Elliot.

“But we’re a far cry from what we were ten years ago - with a chief executive, a charitable foundation and a learning centre.

“The aim long-term is to have 25 percent of all Academy players from the community programme but we have developed other football pathways for players to follow to ensure they stay within the game. We’re on the way to achieving that – it won’t be another five years or so until we see that

By then though, the 10,000th child will no doubt have benefitted from one of the programmes Elliot’s had a hand in, and as the Scottish football emphasis swings onto youth, there seems to be many more anniversaries to come.