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Do you have what it takes to be host family for Aberdeen FC’s youth academy starlets?

The Dons are appealing for homes for youth players. We investigated what it entails - including speaking to the Cheynes, who look after Fletcher Boyd.

A host family for a Aberdeen FC youth players
Fletcher Boyd, is one of three players who live with Simon and Clare Cheyne, who are a host family for the Dons, with their daughter Mia. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

A new season brings an influx of players at Aberdeen, and the annual challenge of finding safe and nurturing homes for Dons’ youth academy starlets is under way.

The club’s safeguarding officer, Richard Taylor, is the man charged with the task of helping find a home from home the full-time players at the club, aged 16 to 18, who require it.

Given the players train at Cormack Park, location is a factor – but so, too, is finding them a family environment when away from the club.

As Taylor explains, the goodwill from Dons fans to lend a helping hand is never in doubt, but this doesn’t mean his job is straightforward.

He said: “In football there used to be the landladies – someone like Alex McLeish back in the day would stay there, have their mince and tatties, then go to training.

“Traditionally, it has been done by word of mouth.

“It can be anything from someone’s granny has a couple of spare rooms available, to being inundated by people with young families in a two-bedroomed flat willing to make a spare room which, really, they don’t have.

“It’s a great gesture (from those families) – but one made because they are such big fans of the club and want to help.

“But times have moved on and the player’s wellbeing has become a big thing, especially for all the boys under the age of 18, as they are still classed as children.”

What does the role of host family for an Aberdeen FC youth player entail?

Aberdeen U18s celebrate lifting the league trophy. Image: Shutterstock.

It seems offers to house Aberdeen youngsters are not slow in coming, but finding the right environment both in terms of location and support, which fits the club and the players’ needs, is more challenging.

The Dons are looking for people willing to not only open their homes to teenagers, but also invest in them, and by extension, their families.

One couple, Rob and Moira Fearn, have worked with Aberdeen for more than 20 years, but as the Reds’ youth academy expands, the need for more families is increasing.

Taylor said: “The players at the club between 16 and 18 are effectively young me, but they need to be afforded as much courtesy as a child would get.

“We give them more leeway than an under-16 player, but what we’re trying to find are families who can provide a moral compass, be aware of their diet, and when to chit-chat with the players and keep me up to date if I need to get involved.

“It’s not an easy role to fulfil, and asking a family to invest in another person is a big ask.

“What we need is a satellite version of being at home.

“We encourage the families to set the rules and be someone who the players can go to speak to.

“Having that conduit, the fact someone can phone and have a conversation with the host family about how their boy is doing, is important.

“It can be things I don’t even know about it, but that’s all part of what we encourage.

“There are loads of people who can keep an eye on these lads.

“If you are under 18, you are a child and we need to remember that.

“We’ve got to make sure the lads are not mollycoddled, but they need to be supported.”

Meet the Cheyne family

Simon and Clare Cheyne, who have served as a host family for young Aberdeen players with daughter Mia and Vincent the dog. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson.

One family who answered Aberdeen’s call are Clare and Simon Cheyne, who had used their home as a bed and breakfast business near to Cormack Park.

A link which had started with previous guests Rob Wicks, the Dons former commercial director, and ex-goalkeeper coach Craig Samson, has evolved into a long-term commitment with some of the young players.

The Cheynes, along with their daughter Mia, have had several players stay with them since adopting the role of host family, and can count Fletcher Boyd, Fraser Mackie and Joseph Teasdale from the academy as their current guests.

Aberdeen's Fletcher Boyd celebrates with Graeme Shinnie after scoring to make it 5-1 against Livingston. Image: SNS
Young Don Fletcher Boyd stays with a host family. Image: SNS.

Simon said: “We had a bed and breakfast business in 2017 which we built from start. We couldn’t really find anywhere suitable, so we decided to build one from scratch.

“The B&B was really good, really successful, but it was 24/7.

“Clare was up at 5.30am cooking breakfast then waiting until 10pm for people to arrive, so it was a big job.

“We had heard from Rob that the club was looking for host families and then we saw the advert.

“Clare likes to look after folk, so the idea was something which we decided to look into.”

‘I treat them like they are my kids, I can’t help it’

Former Dons Liam Harvey and Chris Kondolo also passed through the Cheyne family home during their time at Cormack Park.

For Clare, the role of stand-in guardian is one she has embraced.

She said: “I was planning on selling this house because I didn’t want to live in a house this size if it wasn’t being used as a business, so the arrangement has worked out well for Aberdeen and for me.

“It still feels like we run a bed and breakfast, but it’s a lot easier.

“I used to nurse, so it’s a bit like everything I’ve done in my life.

“I don’t like the fact they don’t always want to be with me, but I do go and annoy them when I get the chance.

“One of our first players was Chris – he isn’t with the club now, but we still keep in touch and I want him to do well and remember me as the lady he stayed with. You become invested in someone when they live in your home.

“I treat them like they are my kids, I can’t help it.

“I’m fun and easy to approach, but Simon is the sensible one. I spoil them, he doesn’t.

“They have the both of best worlds here.”

Dons hoping families can help prepare youngsters for adulthood

Richard Taylor, safeguarding officer at Aberdeen FC. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson.

For Taylor, being able to call upon a family capable of providing shelter for three players at once has been a blessing.

But it is more than a roof over their heads which the Cheyne family provide.

The safeguarding officer said: “We’re not in a position to remunerate Clare and Simon for the investment they make in these players.

“As a host parent, you get out what you put into it and there needs to be an acceptance and understanding of their needs.

“Some need an arm around the shoulder, while others want to be left alone. It depends on how comfortable they are.

“But all we do is give them as many options to share something whether it is by speaking to me or a host family.

“That’s all we can do, give them a safe environment and encourage them to tell us how they feel.

“The only thing we can do is put in as many checks and balances and not be bystanders, and it extends beyond the club.

“I remember one of my early chats with Clare, and I asked if she would make sure they are eating right and looking after themselves, and asked her if she would do their laundry.

“She looked straight at me, and said: ‘I can show them how to do their laundry.’

“We don’t want someone coming out of living with a host family into their own place and totally floundering.

“I don’t expect Clare and Simon to prepare their food, but if they can show them how to do it themselves that’s great.”

  • If you believe you can be a host family for the Dons, contact Richard Taylor via email at: or by telephone on 01224 650489.