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sport news Walter Smith wants Scotland to inspire youngsters to play

He describes it as a timebomb. It was certainly a prediction that came true with devastating effect, laying waste to a generation of Scottish hopes of qualifying for major tournaments.

'I was working with the Scottish youth team in 1982 and Andy Roxburgh [national coach] showed me this report he had written,' says Walter Smith, then a coach with Dundee United and Scotland.

'He had told me he was concerned about the drop-off in numbers playing football.

Walter Smith has a plan to revive Scottish football and get the country back into tournaments

Walter Smith has a plan to revive Scottish football and get the country back into tournaments

'I argued with him. I told him United had a more than decent youth policy with good young players.

'He simply told me: 'There is a fall in numbers and it is going to affect all levels.' He was warning me of the timebomb.'

He adds with a rueful smile: 'There is no arguing now over who was right.'

Smith, who went on to manage Rangers, Everton and Scotland, watches football with a keen eye in retirement. He is refreshingly candid about the problems and how they can be addressed. He does so in the knowledge that the 1982 Scotland youth squad won that tournament in Finland, beating Czechoslovakia in the final.

'I know people will say that they are listening to the roars of a dinosaur,' he says. But his plans to revive football have a simple core element. 'We must get more kids playing more sport,' he says.

'We are a nation that has to be convinced we are not good and that there are reasons for it. The main reason for the decline in our football is that we do not have the band of great players we had.'

The problem is obvious but Smith believes the prescribed cure has become not only complicated but divisive.

'There is a division. Plans are drawn up and they didn't suit some people. So it's immediately compromised, even stopped. Effectively, that is what has happened in Scotland. We are all united on what is wrong but we can't decide on a way forward.'

Smith believes the prescribed cure has become not only complicated but divisive

Smith believes the prescribed cure has become not only complicated but divisive

Smith believes the answer lies in schools. 'The only place where you can capture kids,' he says.

'I am seeing this with my grandkids. It is not just football. It is sport overall. Have you noticed the rise of Scandinavian golfers? They have bad weather but they produce elite golfers. There is no place in the world per square foot that has as many golf courses as Scotland yet it is the Scandinavians who are coming through.'

Smith, 69, believes the debate should be widened from a narrow focus on success at the top level. 'The basic question is: what are we doing about sport and education? What is our ability to provide sport in school?'

He points out that a school near his home in Helensburgh has extended hours so pupils can play sport before and after classes. 'Why can't this be brought to other areas?' he asks.

Smith, like almost every boy of his generation, played football before, after and during school. 'Sometimes you have to go back to the future,' he says. 'Kids need playing time. We got it by accident because our circumstances were that there were no computer games or phones or whatever. There has to be a structure for the modern generation.'

He played with and managed Scottish players who routinely qualified for major international finals and played in European finals for their clubs.

'How did all that come about? Simply because everyone played football all the time. It did not make me a great footballer but it made me a better footballer.

'Is somebody telling me we can't have another Kenny Dalglish in Glasgow? Another Denis Law in Aberdeen? Another Graeme Souness in Edinburgh? Do we really believe we cannot recreate that?

'The kids are there but we are not doing enough to bring them out. It is not all about the elite players. It is about increasing the numbers. If you do that you will get decent players, good players and very good

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