Winning on a level playing field20 March 2019
Many dates resonate with connoisseurs of the beautiful game in Scotland; 1867, the formation of Scotland's first football club; 1928, the Wembley Wizards beating England 5-1; 1972, Scotland playing its first women’s international.
For followers of Scottish student football 3 April 2019 could have a similar, if perhaps more niche, significance.
That’s the date when a college team will meet a university team for the first time ever in the 98 year history of the Queen’s Park Shield.
Originally contested by teams from Scotland’s four ancient universities, the Queen’s Park Shield remains one of the most prestigious trophies in student sport.
The competition for it, however, is now open to every university and college in Scotland.
The significance of this year’s final is that it marks an important step in a bid by Scottish Student Sport (SSS) to create greater equality of sporting opportunity between colleges and universities.
The Scottish Funding Council (SFC), which funds the work of Scottish Student Sport, wants to make the very most of the benefits student sports has to individuals, institutions and to further and higher education in Scotland.
To support this ambition, last year SFC announced a new four-year investment in Scottish Student Sport of £465,000.
The benefits of student participation in sport run much deeper than you would think.
They include helping to prevent students from dropping out of courses, improving mental health, promoting diversity and contributing to better success rates.
There are currently around 600 student sports clubs in Scotland involving over 35,000 student members. A further 50,000 plus students are members of gyms or other leisure facilities.
Scottish Student Sport is encouraging the sharing of amenities so that more college and university students are doing sport together.
Through its Winning Students programme SFC also enables elite athletes to carry on their studies at college or university while they train to compete at the highest level in their chosen sport.
The programme, which has been running for over a decade provides scholarships of up to £6,000 a year. Prior to Winning Students some aspiring athletes had to fund their path to a sporting career by signing on the dole.
That essentially deprived them of the benefits of education and the knowledge and skills to fall back on later in life.
Feedback from recipients also shows that the winning students’ scholarship influenced their decision to study in Scotland instead of moving abroad.
At whatever level of sporting ability these investments are made, they are making a difference to the lives of young people and will continue to do so by providing skills, interests and friendships for life.
Meanwhile, back on the football park, next month’s final is an Edinburgh derby between the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh College. Whatever the result, student sport will be the winner.
The match is to be played at Spartans FC in north Edinburgh with a 3pm kick-off and will be preceded by the Women’s Cup Final between the universities of Edinburgh and Stirling (12.30 k/o). All supporters are welcome and admission is free.
Originally published as an Associate feature at Holyrood.com.