A Scottish University performed a sporting act in the ‘David v Goliath’ category to be crowned the British football league champions.
Unbeaten from start to finish, the University of Stirling men’s first team won the British University and Colleges Sport (BUCS) Premier North League at the first time of asking.
The Scottish students, whose side also competes on Saturdays in the East of Scotland Premier Division, defeated leading UK sport universities including Loughborough and Birmingham en route to the title.
A last-minute winner against Northumbria University sealed it for the team comprising undergraduate and postgraduate students from Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence.
“It was unbelievable,” exclaimed Craig Mason, pictured below, a former Wales Youth International striker now juggling football with his studies in Business and Sport. “Everyone was on the pitch celebrating as we knew how much it meant to the team and to the University. Ever since we were promoted into the league, we were looking forward to the challenge, but we never thought we would be the best as we were up against some teams with big reputations.
“It was a strange season as we drew a few games early on, but we just kept going and kept on playing our style of passing football. The English teams went with big, strong players, but we have some really talented players with bags of skill.”
The 20-year-old was released by his boyhood heroes Cardiff City FC in 2009 and chose to take up a football scholarship at Stirling, where he now plays alongside a number of ex-professionals including Abraham Keller, once of FC Basel and former Stirling Albion FC midfielder Liam Corr.
With two games a week on top of three training sessions and further time conditioning in the University gym, scholarship players are treated like full-time professional players.
Mason added: “I played Academy football with Cardiff against the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham. Coming to play semi-professional football was a step down, but there are players at Stirling who could cut it at a high level.
“The set-up is just like a professional club, with all our matches and training we only get one day off! If you don’t follow the rules and conduct yourself properly then you can end up on the bench or playing for one of the other four teams at the University.
“But we are a successful team and there has been scouts coming to watch our games. Some of the guys will get the chance to move back into full-time clubs and that’s great for them and for the University as it shows the scholarships work.”
The Stirling programme was developed in 2008 in partnership with Falkirk FC as a lasting legacy in memory of Craig Gowans, a talented young player who tragically died in 2005.
Promotion to the British league followed consecutive Scottish Universities Championships in 2009 and 2010, while in the semi-professional East of Scotland leagues, the same team won the 2010 First Division title, a domestic cup in October and currently sit second in the Premier Division behind Spartans.
It has been an impressive rise up the ranks for the University side, whose results have quickly been matching their ambition.
Raleigh Gowrie, Sports Performance Manager at the University of Stirling, said: "Winning this British league and winning it without losing a game is a remarkable achievement. This is a group of very talented young men who have shown extremely high levels of application, selflessness, self-discipline and sportsmanship throughout this competition. They are a credit to their coaches and a credit to the University."