Celtic, Rangers and Chelsea find first-team prospects at ex Bhoys youth star's vital Glasgow academy
Ryan Docherty is a name many Celtic fans won't remember, but as a youngster he trained alongside Aiden McGeady and Charlie Mulgrew in the academy and now takes part in vital work in the Glasgow community.
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A former Celtic youth hopeful, who had spells at Dundee United and Queen's Park, has launched a pair of new footballing initiatives to allow the young people of Glasgow to reap the benefits of football.
Ryan Docherty played in the same youth team as future Bhoys stars Aiden McGeady and Charlie Mulgrew, under the tutelage of the legendary Tommy Burns, but struggled to make it professionally. After brief spells at Dundee United and Queen's Park, the left-back decided to focus on improving the lives of young Scots through football. He is now the founder of On The Ball Academy.
While coaching during the cost-of-living crisis, Ryan witnessed the challenges facing young people in Glasgow such as poverty, lack of employment, and access to warm clothing. The former defender's academy has now launched an employability programme to provide jobs for school leavers across the North West of Glasgow and a collection initiative which has donated more than 40 bags of cold weather kit to help children in need - and will also deliver 1,000 free hours of football training over the next year.
There are also plans to build a new facility at the old Danes Drive Bowls Park in Scotstoun with the city's first all-weather nine-a-side pitch and the academy team are working on raising £650,000 to make the vision a reality.
The academy serves as a feeder club to some of Scotland’s biggest professional outfits, with 25 of its members going into the professional environment at clubs including Rangers and Celtic. Chelsea and Scotland’s Erin Cuthbert is a graduate.
Ryan, who is also a first-team coach at Pollok, said: "Our mission is to support the community and to transform lives through football. Through our dialogue with parents and teachers, it’s become clear that things are more difficult than they used to be - people are struggling, and young people can’t find jobs. Meanwhile, kids grow so quickly, so it becomes difficult to keep them in clothes that fit, especially during winter.
“When I was at school, I didn’t have a pathway into coaching; I want to change that for others. Many sacrifice their education in pursuit of a professional career and often succumb to issues relating to mental health or addiction when they don’t make the cut. We’re giving a pathway for young people to stay in the game and make positive contributions to society.
“A lot of circumstances prevent kids from making that next step. We aim to develop fantastic footballers, but most importantly, we give young people the confidence and self-belief I lacked when I was in the system.”
Ryan has earned a UEFA A License and UEFA A Elite youth licence over the years and has coached across the world to gain experience.
He said: “Croatia had the biggest impact on me. They’ve had real success — they’re recent World Cup finalists – but that has come despite serious poverty, because they focus on building enthusiasm and humility. They don’t have the best infrastructure but a desire to play and a love for football – that costs nothing.
"That perspective is central to our approach. Meanwhile, Futsal, which I introduced after a visit to Madrid, has really helped enhance the abilities of the young people at the academy.”