Junior football is changing – and Sibbald is changing Junior football

Gary Sibbald led West Calder to their best points tally since the club reformed in the 1950s. Picture Michael Gillen.
Gary Sibbald led West Calder to their best points tally since the club reformed in the 1950s. Picture Michael Gillen.

Junior football is in a significant period of transition right now but Gary Sibbald is keen on implementing his own change on the game.

The 26-year-old took charge of McBookie.com South Division outfit West Calder United a little over a year ago, and hoisted them to their best ever points tally last term.

Sibbald began his Juniors career at Dunipace, but it's in the dugout and not the pitch he has sampled most success. Picture Lisa Ferguson 2009

Sibbald began his Juniors career at Dunipace, but it's in the dugout and not the pitch he has sampled most success. Picture Lisa Ferguson 2009

How did he do it? Well when the management changed with five games to go of season 2016-17 he changed the way the team played – from how the Juniors is often perceived, and that equalled success and improvement in 2017-18.

Sibbald, who grew up in Falkirk and lives just outside the town, explained: “I’ve had a big emphasis on passing the ball. In the Juniors there’s this stereotype, rightly in some cases, or many cases, that the teams just lump it up the park – that’s not football.

“I took a more tactical approach and that has helped us to get more points, It’s more tactical rather than getting it forward first, and it’s worked well.

“We’ve changed the ethos of the club and how to play the game.

Gary Sibbald has previously worked at Tone Zone and Little Kerse in Grangemouth while studying for his coaching badges. Picture: Alistair Pryde.

Gary Sibbald has previously worked at Tone Zone and Little Kerse in Grangemouth while studying for his coaching badges. Picture: Alistair Pryde.

“I’ve just completed my A licence course – I’m waiting on the results. I took the course in my own time away from my day job with RJM Sports.

“I’ve taken many through the levels and paid them up myself. I’ve not done all these courses through the years not to utilise what I’ve learned or play football the right way.”

Another change was to the team’s training. Sibbald switched training venue to Little Kerse in Grangemouth, a lot closer to home for him and utilising the newly laid surfaces which allowed his idealist passing game to be played, and the players bought into it straight away too.

“A big part of that has been moving training from Muiriston at one side of Livingston to Little Kerse which I know well having worked there and Tone Zone in Grangemouth.

Sibbald works in Falkirk at RJM Sports. Picture Michael Gillen.

Sibbald works in Falkirk at RJM Sports. Picture Michael Gillen.

“It has opened up a lot more possibilities for us in terms of training because of the standard of facility. It’s handy for the motorway and it’s also in Grangemnouth so it has opened up a new window of availability for players, and in how we play. It’s a phenomenal facility.

“As soon as we moved there training noticably got better. But it’s not cheap. The players put their hands in their pocket and paid £100 each to train – that was a show of commitment and an investment in their own game and it’s been rewarded.

“The reason we have done so well is group of guys.

“It wasn’t a perfect season but there’s definite signs of progress and they were always trying to do the right things.

“The Juniors is is a state of flux right now so we don’t know who we’ll be playing, or where and if we’re in the promotion mix or what. We’ll have to wait and see how it pans out.

“I was thrown in the deep end and had never been involved in that side of football at all.

“But I came through it and feel I’m ready for it now, even if I’m young for a football manager. We kept the players we wanted, they bought into it and it’s been good. We finished fifth – we’re not far off.

“It’s been really good. Last season the team achieved the highest points the club has ever had. Ten points better than last year which was seen as a good year for the club. And in doing so we’ve spent no money on any new players.

“We lost our top scorer with 10 games to go but had promotion hopes until then... but all in all we’ve still made good progress.”