Aberdeen Football Club has been hailed as the best in Scotland for showcasing the social benefits of the game by a leading sports figure.
A report commissioned by Uefa says participation in the country’s favourite sport at a grassroots level adds £1.25 billion to Scotland’s coffers, including a £110.4 million boost to Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.
Politicians and senior football figures were among the figures who attended a networking event at Pittodrie yesterday to discuss the study’s findings.
Speaking at the event, Joe FitzPatrick, Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing, said AFC was invited to act as a case study for the report because of its “excellent reputation”.
He added: “While the national picture is important, I know the regional dimension – covering Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, in this case – brings the fantastic work being undertaken by football into focus and puts a figure on the economic benefits our national game delivers.”
The study found 71,000 people across the north-east participate in football, contributing £110.4m.
This amounts to a direct impact of £18.9m to the region’s economy, £14.6m in social benefits, with volunteers saving £13m of this and £76.9m in healthcare savings. This includes saving the NHS £4.5m in mental health provision and savings of £1.17m on preventing around 240 cases of type 2 diabetes.
Ian Maxwell, chief executive of the SFA, said up until this point the social benefits of football have just been “anecdotal”, but said the results of the new study have been “simply staggering”.
He added: “Aberdeen is a very good example, probably our strongest example.
“It’s important that the Aberdeen model is looked at as one that can be rolled out across the country.”
Andy Gould, head of football development at the Scottish FA, added “fantastic things” have been achieved at AFC, particularly due to the people in the area who are “passionate” about using the sport to make a difference.
He said: “The guys at the community trust, the guys at the club, the Scottish FA and the clubs around this area are really living and breathing exactly what we want to see.
“It’s not a football club that is only interested about getting people to come here on a Saturday. It’s a football club that wants to go out and reach and touch and support as many people as they possibly can.
“The examples of this club can only be a good thing for others to follow and to use that model as a way forward.
“That’s why we’re here because this club in particular do it so well and we’re proud to work with the guys very closely on that.
“The club here has a huge skill set and we need to transfer that knowledge so that each of those other clubs in this area can all take a step up and the connections they have to other clubs can take a step up too.
“The whole game improves, so it’s not about one club improving and not worrying about the rest.”
The Aberdeen FC Community Trust (AFCCT), the club’s community organisation, deals with more than 200,000 people per year through 60 different projects.
A dementia-friendly programme, which earned recognition from the European Club Association, and a school of football at Northfield Academy are among the projects the trust is involved in organising.