Half-a-century on and Denis Law’s star shows no sign of fading as his influence over grassroots in the Granite City shows.
IT’S nearly 50 years since Denis Law was in his pomp, but, as Aberdeen’s greatest footballer, the former winner of FIFA’s Ballon d’Or remains as committed to helping his native city as ever.
Many former stars gradually turn into cantankerous curmudgeons, forever complaining things aren’t as good as they used to be, but Law, even at 75, still has traces of the same blithe boy who didn’t receive his first pair of boots until he was 16, but who subsequently developed into one of his country’s true nonpareils.
If you take the trouble to venture to the north east, you’ll soon discover that there isn’t just a Denis Law Legacy Trust, but also a thriving Streetsport initiative, which now reaches out to nine different areas of Aberdeen and nurtures and nourishes as many as 7,000 youngsters within their own communities. This project hasn’t merely helped kids from underprivileged backgrounds increase their self-esteem – although that would be a noble enough achievement in itself – but it has created partnerships between Robert Gordon University and a string of different organisations throughout the Granite City.
In many ways, it is exactly the template which has to be grasped by other sporting organisations elsewhere in modern Scotland, because it doesn’t just help the youths who might otherwise stray into anti-social behaviour, but also inspires the myriad volunteers who are integral to the scheme’s success.
This is one of the most positive aspects of the whole Streetsport credo: the mantra that nobody involved in the programme is any more or less important than anybody else. For the last 20 years, there have been too many instances where the efforts of volunteers have been taken for granted by clubs, both at local and national level.
It’s a complacent attitude which has understandably led to many stalwarts gradually, inexorably, walking away with a sense of disillusionment. And there is not an infinite supply of these individuals, prepared to work away tirelessly behind the scenes for the sheer love of the organisations they are helping.
Streetsport recognises this and has just been awarded ACVO’s prestigious “Volunteer Friendly Award”, the first sports-related venture of this kind in Scotland to receive the honour. There is something life-affirming about the fashion in which the concept has come to fruition during the last decade and much of that has been a consequence of the principles adopted by everybody from Law himself to the RGU officials at the heart of the enterprise and the can-do philosophy of the volunteers, who have benefited from the Streetsport commitment to “no barriers”.
One of these willing workers, Jeanna Gordon, embodies the many positive qualities of the initiative. As she said: “Streetsport has allowed me to increase my confidence and experience in coaching and has also enabled me to work with many young people from diverse backgrounds.
“I get a real sense of reward, knowing that I am putting something back into the communities of Aberdeen and I have also received some great opportunities, including being able to participate with Judy Murray in her tennis programmes.”
This is another flourishing chapter in the history of Streetsport. Although it has been most closely linked with football, through its connection with Denis Law, the organisers have established links in several other pursuits and brought on board such redoubtable customers as Andy Murray’s indefatigable mother, Olympic snowboarder, Ben Kilner, and Scottish international football luminary, Rachel Corsie. The common ingredient is a realisation that any youngster can be wooed by sport if they are offered free access to it in the first place.
And while that might not be cheap, it has to be worth encouraging if it produces the kind of results Streetsport has .
Certainly, that rationale is entirely sound, according to Streetsport Development Officer, Mark Williams, who has immersed himself in the project from his base at Garthdee.
As he told me yesterday: “The support from the Denis Law Legacy Trust and RGU has without doubt given me the freedom to expand and grow the Streetsport programme to what it is today, their belief and enthusiasm is inspirational and the trustees’ ideas and commitment are transformational towards helping young people in Aberdeen.
“The ever-expanding team of volunteers with Streetsport are really what makes it tick, because their hard work 50 weeks of the year in rain or wind or snow shows that the results we get are dependant on their ‘never-say-never’ attitude and, without them, Streetsport would not be where it is today.”
There is no sign of anybody resting on their laurels or patting themselves on the back within the ranks of these solid citizens. Law will come back to his roots in November, for a special charity dinner, and one suspects he will keep proclaiming the same virtues as he did while becoming a football icon.
“I couldn’t wear glasses to play in a proper match, so I developed a unique system for coping with the problem,” he once told me. “I learned to play football with one eye closed. When the moment came to go on the pitch and the glasses had to come off, I used to close my right eye and keep it shut for the whole of the game. I went on doing it for years.”
And, of course, it didn’t hinder Law in the slightest. Now, the same level of improvisation with regards to vision are evident in Streetsport.