It started by picking six numbers and eventually changed their lives forever. But now two Scottish lottery winners are trying to help change the lives of hundreds but investing some of their winnings into the national game. Chris and Colin Weir won just over £161million in the Euro Millions lottery two years ago and are now sinking close to £750,000 of that into grassroots football at Scottish Premiership side, Patrick Thistle which will help fund a much needed youth academy. As the lesser known cousin of Glasgow giants Rangers and Celtic, money has never been in abundance for the Firhill side but now with the Weir’s cash they can hope of constructing something of similar stature of that of their Glasgow rivals. The Thistle Weir Youth Academy will be run by the Glasgow club’s former striker and manager, Gerry Britton, who was already head of youth development.
The academy will be based out of the club’s Firhill Stadium in Glasgow’s Maryhill with the aim to create a professional pathway to football for 120 elite players, while offering the chance to play football to up to 1000 boys and girls. It comes at a time when significant investment in the Scottish game, particularly in youth development is needed. SFA Performance director Mark Wotte has already drawn up plans for the country’s first national sports academy which after several months of consideration has passed the first hurdle only to be blocked by where the Academy should be built. Arguments over the suitability of Dundee or Stirling over the more likely Glasgow or Edinburgh options continue but an announcement is due shortly. In the meantime Patrick Thistle will progress with the setup of their own Academy, aimed at complementing the existing youth setup they have which comprises of six teams of 20 boys each training three nights per week. The new Academy will initially play host to 400-500 boys and girls, from the age of five upwards, and will focus its efforts on a mantra of football for fitness and fun first, with the best kids then moving up into the elite teams. The new setup should provide Patrick with a consistent stream of new talent and eventually revenue, as youth players are sold to the larger teams across Europe.
As fans of Patrick Thistle, the investment by the Weir’s was an easy decision and one they felt made sense given Patrick’s ambitions around involving the entire community. Speaking at the announcement, Colin Weir spoke of his delight at the plans that Patrick had developed:
“Having seen the club’s determination to get this project off the ground, we decided that, as we were in a position to offer financial assistance, we wanted to help them achieve their dream. What impressed us was that it wouldn’t just be for elite players but would also encourage local youngsters into football for the sheer enjoyment and fun of it”
This isn’t the first time that the Weirs have ploughed money into football. Earlier this year, they pledged a similar amount of money to their local team, Largs Thistle to allow them to lay a brand new all weather pitch at their home ground of Barrfields. For a club playing in the Scottish Junior Football West Super League Premier Division and hosting crowds of less than 100 people per home game, Largs Thistle were never likely to have been able to afford the new pitch had the Weirs not come along. Having had to postpone games last season due to weather conditions, the investment in a new surface that can withstand the elements came as a welcome gift. Opened early last month by club president Margaret Brown with the Weir’s in attendance, the new pitch not only gives Largs an even playing field to compete for trophies on but give local kids a much needed place to hone their skills. With the financial help of couple’s like the Weir’s and with key initiatives and ideas such as that of Partick Thistle, the future of football in Scotland is starting to look rosier. The proof however will be in the end results and if Scotland can produce the talent that catapults them to their first major international tournament since France 1998.