Monday 28 May 2018, 13:10

Scots going for gold at Oriam

  • Oriam is Scotland’s new national performance centre

  • Scots men aiming to end a run of ten successive qualifying failures

  • FIFA Forward Development Programme has helped fund the project

In the language of Scots Gaelic, it translates loosely as ‘I am gold’. And it is not merely in its name that Oriam, Scotland’s gleaming new national sports performance centre, represents an ambitious statement of intent.

No-one in this football-obsessed nation needs reminding that they have not been represented at a FIFA World Cup™, or any other major men’s tournament, for two decades. In the reports and think-tanks commissioned in the wake of these qualifying failures, the issue of suitable facilities – or the lack thereof – has continually been stressed.

“Rightly so,” Malky Mackay, the Scottish Football Association (SFA) Performance Director, told “Facilities have always been an issue in Scotland and it's so important because the right facilities are fundamental to player development. The problem is that when you’ve not been to a World Cup or European Championship in 20 years, you miss out on the kind of revenue other associations generate from those tournaments.”

Therefore, while inspired by England’s St George’s Park football centre, the SFA knew that a Scottish equivalent – bankrolled by, and belonging entirely to, the association – was out of the question. Oriam, a state-of-the-art facility funded in partnership with the Scottish government, Heriot-Watt University, various national sports bodies and Edinburgh City Council, represented a pragmatic and mutually beneficial solution. FIFA also lent a helping hand late last year with a FIFA Forward grant of USD 750,000 that underpinned key improvements, including pitch-side seating for spectators and performance analysis infrastructure.

“That was a big boost,” said Neil Campion, the SFA’s Funding Manager. "When I started looking back in 2015, there were limited sources of FIFA funding we could apply for. FIFA Forward has changed that and opened up opportunities for every association to apply for funding that previously would have been more difficult to access."

Oriam Factfile

Cost: £33 million Facilities include: Full-size outdoor & indoor football pitches, strength and conditioning suite, rehab and medical suite, hydrotherapy suite Use: The Scottish FA used Oriam 731 times in 2017 alone

“It’s absolutely amazing to have access to a facility like this, and we’re indebted to everyone who’s helped make it happen,” said Shelley Kerr, coach of Scotland’s national women’s team. “Without the support we’ve had from various quarters, it clearly wouldn’t have been possible.

“It has given everyone such a lift. In the women’s team, we have players at Manchester City, Arsenal and big clubs abroad, and they are used to the very best. So it’s important that coming to play for their national team isn’t a step down. And I know that the players love arriving to such fantastic facilities, with everything there to make you better.”

Improving the nation's footballers, and its teams’ fortunes, is of course the ultimate aim. And while facilities such as Oriam will not cure all of Scottish football’s ills, there is already evidence to suggest that the centre can make a tangible difference. Scottish Rugby, whose national team are well established there, reported that their 2017 training programme increased by 20 per cent due to having access to Oriam, and its indoor facility in particular. That this was followed by the team’s first Calcutta Cup win in a decade is, they believe, no coincidence.

In football, Iceland represent the prime example of the impact facilities can make. Mackay, who led Cardiff City to promotion to the English Premier League with the help of two Icelandic internationals – including the World Cup hopefuls’ current captain, Aron Gunnarsson – knows that better than most. “Iceland invested in ten of these indoor halls and the difference it made to the players’ technique - being able to train all year round, in any conditions - was huge,” he said.

“We’d love to have ten Oriams across Scotland but this represents an important start and is definitely the most impressive facility of its kind in the country. We’re now really making the most of it too. It was used over 700 times by the SFA last year and we’ve had the men’s and women’s A squads here. Our youth teams have also been training and playing here - in fact, our U-19 women held their elite UEFA qualifiers in the indoor arena as it meets UEFA standards. Plus a lot of our coaching and refereeing courses are now at Oriam as well.”

Oriam trivia

The roof at Oriam is inspired by Roberto Carlos’ famous free-kick against France in 1997. Its height matches the distance the Brazil legend was from goal, while its curvature reflects the trajectory the ball took.

Malky Mackay coaches Scotland's men's national team at the Oriam national sports performance centre.

While operating as interim national coach last November, Mackay saw first-hand the benefit Oriam’s indoor facility will bring, as he was able to carefully walk the team through set-piece routines, sheltered from the winter weather. Kerr has enjoyed similarly positive experiences.

“In top-level sport, everyone is looking for the marginal gains,” said the Scotland coach, who - like Mackay - is a former international player. “The amount of training, and the quality of training, you can do can be massive in that respect. More and more now with the women’s team, we’re looking to do a lot of tactical work before we travel to away games, for example, and having this facility means that we can do that regardless of what the weather is like. And we all know we’re not often blessed with great weather in Scotland!”

With her side sandwiched in between Switzerland and Poland in a tight FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifying group, Kerr knows that a single nugget of information from one of those training sessions could end up being the difference between the Scots making it to France or watching from home. And while the men’s team, and a nation of envious supporters, will follow the upcoming World Cup from their sofas, the hope is that Oriam’s golden touch will help bring about the end of this long and painful exile.