IN Scottish football, the phrase ‘burying the hatchet’ can just as easily mean it is being planted into someone’s back as it hints at any sort of peace and harmony breaking out. But Scottish FA chief executive Ian Maxwell is keen to start building bridges for the good of the game, and in his view, the good of the country.

On Monday, the SFA launched their ‘week of football’ initiative, a celebration of Scottish football and its impact on society over the course of seven days, bookended by the women’s and men’s Scottish Cup Finals.

As part of that week of events, Maxwell is hoping to encourage local authorities to ‘throw off the padlocks’ of their football facilities on Monday, allowing the nation’s children to take advantage of the Bank Holiday by getting outside and taking part in a game of football.

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While that may be a stand-alone request, he is hoping that by highlighting the benefits of people taking part in such physical activity, a longer-term change of approach can be achieved, opening up opportunities for more people to access the game.

The benefits to society of doing so are clear, but it would be fair to say that the seats of power at Hampden and Holyrood haven’t always quite seen eye to eye. A recent letter sent to the SFA by Inverness MSP Clare Haughey, convener of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee, complaining about the kick-off time for the Scottish Cup Final is just the latest example of the friction between the game and the government.

With Humza Yousaf - avid football fan - now in position as First Minister though, Maxwell is hoping that a new era of co-operation will be ushered in that will allow the ‘power of football’ to be harnessed for the good of the country.

“Anybody having a go at anybody in a football context isn’t helpful,” Maxwell said.

“We have a good relationship with the Scottish Government. I think that’s improving. The new FM is definitely a football fan. He was at the [Scottish Cup] semi-final and is coming to the final. 

“It’s about resetting that relationship. We’ve been speaking to them a lot recently about the power of football, about a long-term strategic partnership, about using football to be the force for good that it can be. It has an impact all across the country. 

“You would like to think we’ll get to the stage where someone will pick up the phone and go ‘can you explain that decision’ before they get everybody writing letters and moaning about it. That feels like a better way to deal with things. We need to get to that point. 

“The government relationship is a good one and one we are trying to improve and increase for the benefit of the country. 

“They want a happier healthier country. I’m obviously biased, but football can obviously help them deliver on those objectives.

“They’ll get a huge amount of bang for their buck given the community activity that we can be at the centre of.”

Maxwell isn’t just plucking that theory from the air, either. A UEFA SROI (Social Return on Investment) study has drilled down in granular detail just how much football is worth to Scottish society and the economy, and the results were eye-opening.

“Up until fairly recently it’s been anecdotal in as much as if you go and run about you are going to feel better about yourself,” he said. “Well, obviously. 

“UEFA commissioned an SROI study that we published a while ago that looked at the economic benefit of football to the country. It’s not just economic – it’s a range of benefits – to the health system, educational benefits. This was grassroots football only, and it was £1.35bn. That was the annual impact on the Scottish economy. 

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“Let’s separate health as an example, it’s always been that if you go and play football and you lose half a stone, that’s a good thing. The UEFA study now lets us put a value to that. 

“People have torn it apart and actually think the numbers are conservative. We can use that model at a local level. We did it with Spartans. Spartans’ value to Edinburgh is €6.3m a year. 

“People lose fathers and mothers all the time, but you don’t think of the impact that has on the kids and their kids and their kids. 

“But we can now quantify that and go to government and say ‘right, for every pound you put into football…what’s the saving to the health service? What’s the saving to the individual? What’s the impact on the family?’ It’s amazing when you start to get into the detail. 

“Ayr United did a pilot scheme with the Child and Healthcare directorate around after school care. They funded classes for kids to go and take part in after school football. 

“That let the parents continue to work because they didn’t have to finish so early to look after the kids. The kids got food after it so you are removing the stigma of going somewhere just to get fed. 

“They were being fed as a by-product of being at the football, so they think less about it. That’s now led to £2m worth of funding coming in through that portfolio that we are now going to go and spread round the clubs. We’re going to do that in half a dozen communities across the country and make a real impact. 

“Something like that is massive. The fact we can show evidence of that is really important. 

“It’s not just ’you must be happier and healthier’ if you are our running about. We can actually show what the value of that means.

“It’s about highlighting that. If we’d a column inch for every VAR story we had and we got the same for every ‘power of football’ story, people would have a completely different view of football in this country.”

Even still, the idealistic view of what football in Scotland could be presented by Maxwell often clashes with the real-world realism of the lack of facilities, as well as the lack of access to those that exist already.

So, how does Maxwell ensure that any pitches that would otherwise be closed having their gates flung open on Monday isn’t just a one-off?

“It’s frustrating,” he admitted.

“We’ve got a facilities problem primarily because local authorities are struggling because of the cost of living, and energy bills to keep facilities open for sport in general, not just football. 

“We’ve also seen a huge growth in the girls’ and women’s game. Everyone will know teams who now have a girls’ side attached to that.  There are lot more players who need to use the same amount of pitches. 

“We’ve not put pitches down as a country for God knows how long. There’s not been a real strategic plan round about that. 

“But there are definitely times when you drive past facilities and they’re locked and you just think ‘what is the point?’

“We know there is such a benefit to getting outside and getting active. Why are we putting barriers in people’s way?

“I get that it’s difficult and I get that the local authorities will be telling us there are valid reasons for that.

“The week of football, on the Monday we want everyone who’s got a set of keys to a padlock to throw it away for a day and let people – kids, older people, whoever it is – to go and have a kick about. 

“It’s a public holiday, parents will be looking for something for their kids to do to get them out in the fresh air. What better way to do that than get some kind of activity happening on a football pitch?

“If there is an astroturf pitch, let’s use it.”

*Ian Maxwell was speaking as the Scottish FA launched the first ever ‘Week of Football’, a series of events celebrating the power of football. More details can be found at