NO sooner had one Hutchison Vale old boy, Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor, announced his retirement from international football this season had another of their alumni, Hibernian striker Marc McNulty, been called up by Scotland.

McNulty has been back in the national squad again this week and is hoping to feature at some stage, as he did in the Euro 2020 qualifiers against both Kazakhstan and San Marino in March, in the Group I games with Cyprus tonight and Belgium on Tuesday.

Having two former players win full representatives honours would be a great honour for any youth organisation and everyone involved was certainly pleased. But for the renowned Edinburgh institution it was nothing new. They have been responsible for a veritable production line of exceptional talent since their formation way back in 1940.

Their very first intake included George Farm and Tommy Younger. Since then, Gary and Steven Caldwell, John Collins, Jason Cummings, Leigh Griffiths, Kenny Miller, Ian Murray, Gary Naysmith, Garry O’Connor, Derek Riordan, Michael Stewart and Danny Wilson have all gone on to don the dark blue of their country.

Alfred Finnbogason, the Icelandic striker who netted the first goal for his country in the World Cup finals last summer, also spent a couple of years in their colours when he lived in Scotland as a child.

At the last count, no fewer than 35 internationalists had emerged from “Hutchie”. Many, many more have carved out good careers for themselves as professionals and a fair few have gone on into coaching and management with noteworthy results.

At a time when there is a dearth of quality home-grown players breaking through into the first teams at our leading professional clubs despite the vast sums of money ploughed into youth development on an annual basis, they continue to buck a concerning trend.

With a set-up that comprises just shy of 500 aspiring footballers of both sexes at a variety of age groups, no fewer than 70 leaders and around 50 coaches, all unpaid, it is perhaps inevitable they will have their success stories. Nevertheless, there are surely lessons to be learned from how they operate. So what exactly is their secret formula?

Tam Smith, the former policeman and care worker who has been coaching at Hutchie since 1986 and has served as the club leader since 1989, is adamant there is nothing especially innovative or scientific about what they do.

Any parent who has despaired at hearing some Pep Guardiola wannabee screaming at kids having a kickabout on a public park on a Sunday morning - and there are, alas, plenty of them - would be pleasantly surprised if they went along to a Hutchie Vale game.

“All we do here is guide the talent,” said Smith over a cup of tea in a portacabin in the Saughton Enclosure where Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale, the East of Scotland League club they are associated with, play their home games.

“We don’t homogenise the players. We’re not into sat nav coaching or commentator coaching from the sidelines here. It is difficult because as a coach you are always striving for perfection. Sometimes it becomes the be all and end all to win games. But we soon change that philosophy with them if we can.

“We like the kids to make the decisions, stand and fall by their decisions and consequently learn from their decisions. Through time, you find they increasingly make good decisions on the football pitch.

“If the ball gets kicked high for some reason we stop the game and tell them to keep the ball down on the ground. It is just stuff like that, simple rules really. Tuck your shirt in. Get together when you score goals. They add up.

“There is also the X Factor – the personality of the child. Don’t kill it. Don’t say: ‘Every time you get the ball I want you to do this’. You are suppressing a massive part of the player. I think you should be encouraging them by letting them play the game the way they see it. Over time, as they make mistakes, they will learn.”

Having had colourful characters like Cummings, Griffiths, McGregor, McNulty, O’Connor and Riordan come through their ranks it is fair to say Hutchie have succeeded on that front. Smith is unsure if children who are involved in the much-maligned pro-youth system are given the freedom to develop in the same way.

“It seems mega serious,” he said. “It’s almost as if they’re playing for Hibs. I’ve had players go to pro clubs. When we have come up against them I sense they are different. It’s like they have been programmed. Like I say, sat nav coaching.

“They live under the pressure that the next game could be their last game. Clubs can’t guarantee they will still be there when they’re 16. We can. They can relax, play, make friendships. Sometimes I wonder if kids in pro-youth grow up knowing what team spirit is.”

Many people have tried to determine why Scottish football has been in a state of decline for so many years and attempted to arrest the slide in standards. But for Smith the reason is glaringly obvious and the solution equally straightforward.

“Teachers, who in my opinion are the best people to take school football, were stopped from receiving money for extra-curricular activities in the 1970s,” he said. “That started the downfall. Everything began falling by the wayside.

“If there was investment, if it really was our national game, we would find governments and national bodies putting money into the schools. That is the only place you can actually guarantee that every kid is going to get access to sport, through the schools.

“I believe football is an industrial sport that comes from working class areas. Think of Dave Mackay and Graeme Souness. They were two of the hardest guys in Scottish football and they both came from Saughton. But football has changed. It has now become more middle class. These guys from poorer areas, it is very rare that they can last at a sport because of the money needed.”

Smith insists that is not an issue at Hutchie. Their modus operandi is, surprisingly for a club that has been churned out so many brilliant players, not really to create the stars of tomorrow. It is just to give youngsters the opportunity to play football. If a boy or a girl is unable to afford the fees exceptions are made.

"Although I’m proud of all the players who have done well, I am proud of all the players who have been here,” said Smith. “It doesn’t matter what they do, if they go on to be a joiner or whatever.

“We are in it for the social reasons at Hutchie Vale, not just in it for football reasons. The poor areas are a lot poorer now so the need for sport is even greater. I don’t think it’s there. There is a lack of investment in these areas. It is almost criminal. I have loved giving something that wasn’t there to the kids.

“We have to look at ourselves and try to facilitate the next generation. I think we are making an appalling job of it as adults, because there aren’t enough of us politicised about it to do anything about it.

“We all just sit there as servile as you like because we have got enough money for this, we have got enough money for that. We need to take a hard look at the world and see the world we are leaving for our children. It is a damned mess.”

Smith is outspoken about the poor quality of facilities in the capital as well as the lack of them, of the influence of the old school tie in the running of the city, of the loss of traditional football pitches to developers, of the intransigence of the local council, of the curmudgeonly attitude that exists towards Hutchie in certain quarters.

The almighty Twitter stooshie that erupted this week - with accusations of bullying and financial impropriety flying around cyberspace - underlines the difficulties they and every other youth football club face in this social media age. Police are now involved in the unfortunate matter.

But it is heartening and not a little humbling listening to Smith. It gives you great hope for the future to realise that dedicated and sensible people are working away in the grass roots of our game. If those in positions of power at both Hampden and Holyrood spent a little time in his company they would maybe, like every kid to have ever kicked a ball for Hutchison Vale, learn something.