Oriam: One year into the future of Scottish football

Oriam: One year into the future of Scottish football

By Stefan Bienkowski

There’s a training complex to the south west of Edinburgh that looks like something thought up by the mind of Charlie Brooker. Among the trees and leafy campus of Heriot-Watt University hides a building that bubbles out from among the foliage like some futuristic carnation, built for a higher purpose among the backdrop of an apocalyptic world. Its mystery is only matched, and undoubtedly bettered, by the simple majesty of its design.


Once you enter through the subtle glass entrance things only get weirder. Although the inner architecture may not match what’s on offer outside, the content of the building more than makes up for it with an impressive who’s who of elite Scottish sport.


Take a wrong turn and you may find yourself confronted by a changing room crammed full of the Scotland national rugby team; walk on to the indoor pitch and you might find Malky Mackay sitting in the stands, studiously debating a point on his phone; wander through to the administrative offices and you might find yourself holding the door open for a cheery Gregor Townsend; step outside to the artificial pitches and you might stumble upon a Hearts training regime and the unamused expression of Craig Levein.


What’s more, you could find yourself in the complex’s cafeteria, sipping on a cappuccino while the best sports minds north of the border bicker among themselves. Here the sight of Harry Cochrane scooping Kellogg’s in to his mouth while studying last week’s match feedback alongside Stuart Hogg going to town on a tuna baguette is just a normal part of life.



If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m of course talking about the Oriam complex: Scotland’s sports performance centre and what very much looks like the future of elite sport in our country.


Fulfilling a need in Scottish football


Following off the back of a scathing McLeish report, which detailed a “crisis on our hands in terms of facilities and infrastructure,” Oriam was greenlit by the Scottish government in 2012 with a £25 million budget, along with partnerships with Edinburgh City Council, SportScotland and Herriot-Watt University bringing the total to £33 million.


From there, they were tasked with sourcing the very best architecture, sports science and modern practices across a range of sports, throughout the UK and wider world and bringing them all to Scotland. So that’s exactly what they did.


“The McLeish report was the catalyst” notes Ross Campbell, executive director of Oriam. “It was about having a performance home for Scottish football. But it has really evolved since then. Which can only be a good thing.”


Indeed, while Scotland’s top rugby and football squads have an indoor or outdoor synthetic pitch to pick from when the weather looks rough or seven grass pitches for the warmer months, there are also eight squad courts, four sports halls and two exercise studios for athletes from other sports. And that’s without even mentioning the gym, hydrotherapy pool or medical suite.



While football may have been the main catalyst behind Oriam’s conception and the drive behind it becoming a reality, the facility now buzzes with athletes of all shapes and sizes like some gladiatorial utopia. And where critics may suggest that too many sports or distractions may lead to Oriam taking their eye off of football, Campbell is convinced that the cross pollination of coaching and training techniques across sports can only drive Scottish football in to the future.  


“We’ve got a number of partnerships with core sports; basketball, netball, Scottish squash,” says Campbell. “It was about bringing all these national sports together to create a performance home. An environment that allows them to share good practice, good knowledge and have that really focused training facility.


“Creating that learning environment is ultimately one of the key things that will judge the success of Oriam. And from what I’ve seen in the first year, the future is bright. Football liaising with rugby, rugby with the institute, the institute (of Sport) speaking to Hearts: that shared learning can only be a good thing for the future of our sports in Scotland.”


Putting theory into practice


Scottish rugby have undoubtedly taken to Oriam far quicker than their footballing counterparts. Townsend’s squad managed to squeeze no less than 20 percent extra training time out of their sessions at the centre during their 2015/16 Six Nations campaign compared to what they would have been limited to in a traditional, outdoor setting. Yet the Scottish FA aren’t far behind.



Hesitation to move on from Hampden’s cherished comfort zone in Glasgow and the Mar Hall Hotel – particularly under Gordon Strachan’s stewardship – has quickly melted away and following the unveiling of the on-campus hotel and using Oriam ahead of the last friendly international in Aberdeen, the Scottish FA have set up shop in Oriam and plan to use it as their base going forward.


“The intention has always been for the Scottish FA to come after their recent World Cup campaign,” notes Campbell. “That’s when the hotel would be open and it gives them that permanent, performance environment. We look forward to developing that partnership.”


Considering the abject nature of performances and the peculiar reluctance to consider long-term thinking that seems to loom over Scottish football, Oriam not only offers state-of-the-art facilities but also a clean break from the status quo. This pocket of excellent buried away on the outskirts of Scotland’s capital is the antithesis of the rough and rugged stereotypes that continue to defy our game and within the context of athletic coaching and training that can only be a good thing.


“Although it’s over a year old, we’re still in the early days of what Oriam can really offer,” suggests Campbell, with a hint of the optimism that seems to be stitched in to every facet of the centre. Let’s hope, for Scottish football’s sake, that he’s right.


View more pictures of Oriam, Scotland’s sports performance centre, here.

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