Thistle continue to grow on their road to success down a dual carriageway

THE road to glory has become a dual carriageway to success at Partick Thistle.

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Partick Thistle Community Trust Director Barry McLelland takes a training session at the Firhill complex    Picture: Colin Mearns
Partick Thistle Community Trust Director Barry McLelland takes a training session at the Firhill complex Picture: Colin Mearns

The glare may be on the Jags' battle for Premiership survival but the club are making significant strides at grass roots level, inspiring the next generation of Glaswegians, possible supporters and maybe even Firhill stars.

The Thistle Weir Academy, run by Jags legend Gerry Britton, has come a long way in a short space of time.

And the club are growing their footprint in their local patch as well, giving kids a chance to improve not only their football skills but helping them develop academically and socially with the object of realising the ultimate dream.

"The community teams run parallel with the pro-youth teams," Thistle Community Trust Director Barry McLelland told SportTimes.

"You might have a kid that is technically competent but hasn't developed physically yet so they sit in the community team but still progress and then move across.

"The perfect example is Dennis Bergkamp at Ajax. He was technically excellent but never had the physical attributes to be playing at the top Ajax youth teams but then, obviously, he moved back across.

"We are creating a model which allows players to stay with us right through.

"People are starting to get aware of what we are doing and we have been complimented by other clubs on the style of play, our coaching methods and what we are achieving.

"It has been very rewarding and, one day, I would hope we would see 50-60% of the kids from the community teams going into the Academy."

An open day in December saw around 200 kids attend sessions put on by Thistle.

Only a handful of the children the Jags welcome through the door will ever run out the Firhill tunnel but there is a greater good arising from the hours being put in.

McLelland said: "The aim of those teams is to engage with kids and engage social skills, technical skills, citizenship and health and well-being.

"We hope that, if they don't become footballers, we have created positive citizens and stay within the Thistle family.

"We are also looking at coach development and creating a pathway for them that leads into the Academy.

"There is always a development and progression to help you achieve if you want it."

In previous years, the work being undertaken by McLelland and Britton would have been at threat in the event that Alan Archibald's side lose their top flight spot this term.

That is no longer the case, however, with all aspects of the club looking to grow as Thistle attempt to build solid foundations for years to come.

"It does help that we are in the top league and the boss and players deserve credit for what they have done," McLelland said. "We are looking more at development in the community teams but we are replicating the first team style.

"Parents have asked what will happen if we do get relegated, which, touch wood, won't happen.

"Things will continue to progress year-on-year and I am certain that we will attract more players as we grow and enhance our reputation.

"It is a 5-7 year plan and the infrastructure we have is as good as anybody now."

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