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The selfless coach endorsed by Rangers and Celtic heroes

Ronald de Boer weaved that wand of a right peg on pitches across Europe from the Nou Camp to Ibrox.

His influence extending to the back gardens of Thurso, the most northerly town in mainland Britain, is a more surprising setting.

And yet the Dutchman is one in a long line of stellar names to have endorsed the work of local coach Alyn Gunn.

Covid-19 may have wreaked havoc in how coaching is delivered. But as the McDonald’s/Sunday Mail Grassroots Awards, in association with the SFA, have shown, it was never going to stop those who deliver it.

As far as Gunn is concerned, not even a collapsed lung could stop him using football to put a smile on faces.

With schools shut and pitches untrodden these past few months, his Thurso Football Academy sought to stop wee ones from three upwards being left idle too.

Footballs and water bottles were issued free of charge to 25 youngsters along with a training drills booklet that uses superheroes to turn them into potential superstars.

The remaining 104 kids whose parents entered them into last month’s draw were still able to get a digital copy of Gunn’s Tiny Tacklers booklet for free.

De Boer and fellow former Rangers midfielder Pedro Mendes are among those to send on messages of support for what’s inside – Yogi Hughes, Alex McLeish, Ibrox coach Michael Beale and Celtic No.2 John Kennedy as well.

Gunn, who started coaching at 14, said: “It shows firstly we are on the right track with what we are trying to give to the children. And secondly, I see it as a pat on the back. When somebody like Ronald de Boer or Alex McLeish says, ‘Aye, you’ve done well’, that is a massive thing from a personal level.

“Theo ten Caat, who used to play for Aberdeen, got in touch with us as well. It is things you don’t expect to happen to a guy from Thurso.

“But the bigger picture is we’re putting it toward trying to get kids to participate in football and that is the end idea here.

“I’m a great believer in doing story-telling football whether that be the Avengers or Spiderman – Peppa Pig if you have to. I do things differently to try to catch the imagination of a young child. And if you catch them at a young age, hopefully that will progress into future international footballers.

“We started up the academy in 2013. Now predominately what we do is we’ll go into schools and coach ages from nursery right through to primary three.

“Then in the summer months and in the holidays we will run camps for five to 15-year-olds with various either professional teams such as Rangers or we will bring up Simon Donnelly, Charlie Miller, Nacho Novo.

“Over the last year or so we’ve had over 250 children attend our camps in Thurso, which is fantastic for the area.”

Rangers Soccer Schools headed north last November. Gunn said: “We had an eight-year-old they thought stood out and they invited him down to their training centre. Now this guy is
travelling every second week to Glasgow to train for three or four sessions.

“It shows the area has got talent. We’ve had players such as Gary Mackay-Steven come from Thurso, Shane Sutherland – who plays with Inverness Caley now – is from the Caithness area.

“We have potential up here – it is about getting it in the spotlight.”

Help from locals Robbie Fraser, Scotty Youngson and Willie Lipka with sponsorship, plus Baillie Wind Farm Community Benefit Fund with a grant for the recent equipment giveaway, has kept Gunn going on top of his day job at Dounreay nuclear plant.

But the 35-year-old’s drive is all the more impressive after having to step away from coaching for most of a year following a health scare in 2016.

Gunn, father to Keira, 12, and Connor, 10, said: “It wasn’t a great time. To come away from coaching, it’s been my life – to lose that would be hellish.

“You’ve got a kid with a smile on their face and that is a reward there.

“The even bigger reward is they are getting noticed by clubs and wouldn’t get that opportunity if we didn’t do what we’re doing.”

Source: Daily Record 13.07.2020