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ICTFC in the Community

IF BP did frequent driver miles, Craig Masterton and his team would have free trips coming out of their ears.

A team of five hard-working individuals are charged with delivering the Caley Thistle message to youngsters across the Highlands, teaching football from Lybster to Lochaber.

Masterton, the club’s head of community, is the leader of the group and oversees all its projects, ranging from teaching basic football skills to primary school children to giving those 60 and over a chance to keep active.

He estimates that, over the past year, he has covered 4700 miles including 16 overnight visits. That does not take into account birthday parties and soccer schools sessions.

“I’d say it’s at least a 50-hour week,” said Masterton. “Some of the other guys have dual roles with youth coaching as well, so they’re doing work at the weekend on top of that.”

The team, which also includes Donnie Forbes, Arthur Jack, Brian MacDonald and Alan Mckenzie, have just finished delivering their Hotshots School Holiday Programme, giving those aged three to 14 the chance to hone their skills and visiting Thurso, Nairn, Drumnadrochit and Milton of Leys.

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Targeting some of the most remote areas in the Highlands, schools in Kinlochewe, Tongue and Durness have received Healthy Hearts coaching from the Caley Thistle coaching staff and despite being far away from the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium, the value of Inverness is still felt.

“The rural schools are very grateful that you’re not overlooking them,” Masterton said. “They’re very happy to have Caley Thistle coming in.

“It’s something a bit different for them and we always try to get round as many as we can.”

The sessions, funded by grants from shirt sponsors Subway, Healthy Heart Scotland and Heart Research UK, sees children pair up and exercise to music, taking their heart rate 10 to 20 times a session and recording it in a log book.

Younger children have to rely on parents to fill in their logs for them, particularly when detailing their diet, but the P6 and P7 children find it gives them some independence, according to Masterton.

They try to get round at least three schools a day during a three-week batch of sessions in a particular area, so will visit those schools at the same time every day for the length of the programme.

For a team of just five, covering a geographical area the size of Belgium to deliver football coaching to a wide range of people is some feat.

“We’ve only recently become five in the last week,” said Masterton. “It was always just the three of us.

“One of the boys came through the Community Jobs Scotland programme and managed to get a full-time position at the end of that, so it helps us expand.”

Trying to cover vast swathes of land with a small team is, as would be expected, very time-consuming.

But Masterton has been involved with community coaching now for nine years, so he is used to the commitments involved with the job.

He came to Caley Thistle following his HNC in sports coaching from Inverness College, initially carrying out work voluntarily. 

Around the time, Inverness launched the Team ICT concept and took Masterton on full-time.

He admits that he has no preference over which area he is dispatched to and relishes teaching just the same.

“When you’re working in Inverness you get to see the same kids and you get to know them,” Masterton said. “But it’s nice to go out and about and meet new faces.

“We used to have a wee competition when (former scout) Steve Marsella was here to see if we had covered more miles than him. He was always keeping track of how far he’d gone.”

As you would expect, you do not cover that many miles and that many lessons without an experience or two.

“When we went to the schools in Lybster and Dunbeath, the majority turned up with no shoes on because they thought they were just doing PE,” said Masterton. “I just thought ‘well, that’s a bit different!’

“At the end of the session we did a cool down, where the children lie down and listen to music to get their heart rate lowered. We put on a One Direction song and full-scale fisticuffs broke out, because some kids loved the song and some hated it. It’s not something you see every week.”

One of the biggest skills needed in the team is to be adaptive. Different surroundings, different skill levels and different demographics mean the demands of the job alter constantly.

Still Game, the project targeted at those over 60 wanting to improve their lifestyle, hopes to come back this year, while the heralded Football Fans in Training programme, which the SPFL rated as the best in the top flight last year, is to be relaunched.

The community team also hope to continue offering the Music Box project, where free music lessons are given to those between 10 and 16 at the stadium.

“Everything changes from year to year,” said Masterton. “Working with over 60s is very enjoyable because you get so much out of working with the older population.

“Football Fans in Training targets less active people wanting a lifestyle change. It’s not so much a get-fit class, but we look at long-term strategies for keeping healthy, understanding the benefits of exercise and the dangers of things like alcohol and smoking.”

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Masterton (27), a former Charleston Academy pupil who still lives in the area, is a life-long Caley Thistle fan and used to be a season-ticket holder with the club. He still remembers going to games growing up at the old ground at Telford Street.

A love of football is important in a job like Masterton’s, but understanding how people operate is arguably more important.

“You have to be able to interact with a different customer base,” he said. “For instance, you need to have a good understanding of what children are interested in.

“If you tell them to dribble to a certain place, they’re not going to know what to do. But if you tell them to pretend to be Buzz Lightyear, stick their arms out and run with it, they’ll understand.

“You need to have many different hats. You’ll be teaching the more complex skills to the older groups, then you’ll be taking kids’ birthday parties at their house or in the park.

“But football is just a great way of getting in to the community.”

Article by Jamie Durent of the Inverness Courier