It’s easy sometimes to lose faith in football. It can fill sports pages with mega-money transfer deals and make millionaires of players and agents. A global game of superstars and fast cars. That’s football, right? Well.....not necessarily.
Bo’ness on a bitterly cold Tuesday night and a football coach called Kevin is preparing for his weekly session with the kids as part of a partnership with Bo’ness United Community Football Club.
After lugging all the cones, pitch markers, balls, mini-goals etc from the cars to the pitches, Kevin and the other coaches meticulously set them out in preparation for the night ahead.
Dundee keeper Scott Bain is almost unrecognizable in a beanie hat and wrapped up against the elements as he troops off to start his first goalie coaching session with the budding shot-stoppers on the grass pitch next to the astroturf, where Kevin and his brother-in-law ‘Geordie’ (aka Kevin McDonald – the former Hibs midfielder who made his mark at Airdrie and Berwick Rangers) are ready to start 2-to-2 training with youngsters Jeff and Rudi.
Watching the boys beside me are Jeff’s mum, Lucy Murray, and Moya O’Donovan, Rudi’s mum.
“Jeff just loves this, it’s great,” says Lucy. “Kevin is brilliant with them and you can see how much they enjoy it.”
Moya smiles and adds: “Rudi is football daft and Kevin makes the coaching fun and has a real connection with them.”
After almost an hour, the two boys walk off the pitch grinning from ear to ear –“That was amazing!” as they get wrapped up and head home with two proud mums beside them, walking past the older boys heading to the pitch for their under-15s session starting in five minutes.
It’s another night well under way with the Kevin Thomson Academy, set up last year by the former Hibs, Rangers and Middlesbrough midfielder. A likeable guy who could point to two Scottish League titles, two League Cups, a Scottish Cup, a UEFA Cup Final, Scotland caps and respected by fans of every club he played for as a reason to enjoy his ‘retirement’ from a game that dealt so many injury blows.
As a player, the boy from the Borders never shirked a challenge. Leaving his beloved Hibs to join Rangers in January 2007, returning boss Walter Smith wanted him as the midfield metronome he could build a team around.
And so it proved as silverware and success soon followed.
A move to Middlesbrough in 2010 was cut short by injury three years later and following spells with Hibs, Dundee and finally Hibs again, he was forced to call time on his playing career.
Many would be bitter and fall out of love with football.
But his love of game has never waned.
Sure, since he started the academy he has been lauded as a refreshing change to the Stewart and Sutton Punch and Judy punditry on BT Sport and his star is rising in that particular field.
But, at this moment, his time is invaluable to the kids he coaches.
Bo’ness United CFC chairman Peter Hay tells me: “You know, Kevin doesn’t have to do all this, but he wants to. He is a natural coach and the club are delighted with how things are going.
“The feedback we have had has been great. As you can see, he’s hands-on, first here and last to leave and it’s great for the young players to see that as an example.”
Another football academy bearing the name of a famous ex-pro could be seen as good PR and a guest slot at prize-giving night to ‘show face’ would tick the boxes.
But for the man whose name now appears on the Bo’ness United CFC girls’ jerseys, that’s the furthest thing from his mind. “I didn’t want to create just another academy and a brand as such,” says Thomson.
“I wanted to be very much hands on and pass on my knowledge to the kids on the training pitch.
“It’s about giving my time and putting in the hours and hopefully creating a unique environment and coaching sessions for youngsters of all ages and abilities.”
Thomson the footballer to Thomson the coach seemed a natural transition to many observers – a keen student of the game, he would eventually take on a teaching role somewhere down the line.
But setting up your own academy? Coaching six days a week?
“At the moment, I have Geordie and my mate Ryan (McGurk) who are helping me out with coaching on alternate days, and they understand exactly what we are trying to achieve.
“It could be an easy option to see it as a business venture and expand rapidly, but who benefits from that?
“It sounds a lot to take on, I know, but I want it to be this way at this moment in time.
“I want to get the foundations in place, build the academy properly and take it from there.”
Getting the foundations right is what the Kevin Thomson Academy is all about. Get the basics right and the rest will follow. Spending time showing eager youngsters how to control the ball with one foot, shift it to the other in the blink of an eye then pass it with precision might not be ‘tekkers’ and on showboating clips any time soon.
But a 15-minute video seeing Kevin and Geordie interact, explain, encourage and get the best from players would be an eye-opener for any aspiring footballers...and coaches.
“Long-term, it might be a case of employing more coaches and expanding. But I wouldn’t do that just for the sake of it. It would have to be people who understand what the academy is all about, the reasons why I started it and of a similar mindset to myself and the coaches just now.
“At the moment, it’s about growing something that can last and make a difference.”
And that’s the ethos of the Kevin Thomson Academy – building for the future. Or as Bo’ness United CFC chairman Peter puts it: “Kevin was a class act as a player – he’s exactly the same as a coach.”