Written by Colin Byiers
Goalkeeper Marc McCallum has spent the last 3 and a half seasons at his hometown club Forfar, where he has firmly established himself as “The Loons” number 1 choice. Ironically for Marc, a loan spell at the beginning of his career while at Dundee United almost put him off signing for Forfar permanently.
I recently spoke with Marc recently, and I started by asking him about his early days as a youth player at Aberdeen and Dundee United.
You started your youth career at Aberdeen then Dundee United, who were your coaches at those two clubs and what was the education like?
Chic McLelland, who sadly passed away recently, was head of youth development at Aberdeen, but I was in the age group below the likes of Fraser Fyvie, Peter Pawlett and Clark Robertson, all those lads who came through the Aberdeen youth academy. Aberdeen at the time had two centres: one in Aberdeen and one in Glasgow. So, I was stuck in the middle of the two which meant there was a lot of travelling to Aberdeen and places for games.
I was there for 2 years and decided to move to Dundee United because of the travelling issues. My dad would be coming home, not even getting his tea, then had to take me up to Aberdeen for training. Forfar to Aberdeen isn’t far but the funny thing is my father worked in Aberdeen, so he was travelling up to Aberdeen to work, to travel home, to then travel back up again to eventually travel home again. It was hard, so we decided when I was 13 to move to Dundee United and what an academy that is!
I worked with a goalkeeping coach called Russell Brown and I worked my way through the various age groups and when you see some of the players that came through that academy, who went on to have terrific careers it was an academy that was full of exciting talent. When you work with players like that, it makes you want to work hard and work your way through the youth system and eventually into the first team. The structure there was perfectly set up for that and that’s why it’s one of the best youth academies out there.
At Dundee United you signed your first professional contract, what was that like?
Craig Levein (Dundee United manager at the time) came to watch us play a game against Hearts. I kind of knew that there was going to be a contract offer at 16, but Hearts were also interested in me, so Craig pretty much offered me a contract there and then to stop Hearts coming in for me. For the first team manager to offer me a deal, not just the youth coach, was something special and I remember my father saying the same thing. We had a meeting with Craig and Steve Campbell (youth director), and they put a plan in place for me. Signing that first contract was pretty exciting and to have the plan in place meant I felt I was going to do something in the game.
After you signed your contract, you had loan spells at Forfar and Peterhead. Where they part of your development plan?
Before the first loan spell, I had Premier League clubs in England interested in me, but agents start to get involved and at such a young age I think it is better to make your own mind up. Looking back, I don’t know if I made the right decision at that age. When clubs were interested, I didn’t push the boat out and try something different at a young age, but Dundee United were fantastic with me, didn’t put me under any pressure. So, the plan was to get me first team football in the January of that season. I played 6 months in the youth team then joined Forfar in January 2012 on loan.
I look back now, and I shouldn’t have gone to my hometown team! I don’t think it was the right move at the time, because when you look at the terraces, all I could see was my dad’s friends, people from school. Everything was highlighted! I remember the first home game was against Cowdenbeath, and I knew it was a mistake. The abuse I was getting from people I knew made me think “What is going on here?” I should have gone to a team where nobody knew me. It was a difficult experience, but I started off well. The first 4 or 5 games was fine but then I dipped in form and had a tough game at Cliftonhill against Albion Rovers. Dick Campbell went through me like a tonne of bricks and dropped for the next game on the Tuesday night! It was a difficult time for me.
When I joined Peterhead at the start of the following season (2012/13) I was cup tied for the opening Challenge Cup and League Cup ties, so I had to watch as Jarve (Paul Jarvie) played in the two cup ties and played well. We had Rangers in the first league game of the season at home on SKY and even though I was telling everyone about it I knew I wasn’t going to get picked. It wasn’t until Jim McInally picked the team and said I wasn’t playing that I started to feel annoyed, because you’re on the bench and watching the game. It’s a game you’d love to have been involved in.
After that I eventually played against Montrose, a game where I still get stick from Scott McLaughlin about my two assists! I was buzzing after the game because it went really well and I had a run I the team after that, but it got to a point when Jarve was struggling with work commitments and Peterhead were going to need a new keeper. After the game against Rangers at Ibrox, Jim said to me that he was signing Graeme Smith and that I would be going back to Dundee United. Graeme is a fantastic keeper, so it was understandable why Jim wanted to sign him, but I wish that loan had worked out better because there is some fantastic people up there and even now I’m still made to feel very welcome.
After another loan spell, this time at Berwick Rangers, you eventually made your debut for Dundee United. When were you told you would be playing?
Before that game we played Inverness on the Saturday, Craig Hinchcliffe came up to the back of the bus and said I might need to play on the Tuesday. Rado(Radoslaw Cierzniak) had a slight problem with his thigh and with the Scottish Cup Final coming up they were being cautious. I was told after training on Monday I was playing!
If there is one game you’d want to have as your first game it would be a derby game against Aberdeen, on the TV, under the lights at Tannadice! I was disappointed the way the game went, it wasn’t a reflection of me as a goalkeeper one bit, but I feel one game wasn’t enough to judge me. But I thought I would get another chance. I came back after preseason, because that season was finished, and had the best preseason I ever had, everything was going well then all of a sudden they signed another goalkeeper. At 19 I was told I was 3rd choice, but they were trying to sort a season loan out for me, but this was 5 days before the start of the season.
I had to wait until September before I joined Arbroath. I’d went and played 20 plus games then returned to United to see what the next plan was. With just one year left on my contract I said I needed to play so I went to Livingston in the Championship for another loan spell, but 2 days after joining, their goalkeeping coach left, and they didn’t get another one in for 4 months. My loan finished in January and I went back to United, but Mixu Paatelainen, who was now in charge, told me there was no plans for me anymore so I was released and re-joined Livingston for the rest of the season.
After Livingston’s relegation, you found yourself in England with Plymouth Argyle.
I have no idea how I ended up down there! Plymouth were looking for a keeper and I was offered a trail. Craig Brewster and Derek Adams were there at the time and I heard good things about them, so went down to the trail. It’s a massive club and I had no idea how big they actually were. After the trail, I was offered the contract, and against my partner’s goodwill I signed the contract.
The long distance was hard, but I dug it out for a year being away from my family. If it wasn’t for the group of lads that were there at the time, I would have really struggled. I can’t speak highly enough of the lads that were there. It felt like you were part of a family because everyone was relocating to Plymouth from across the UK. We ended up getting promoted to League One, and when you think about it, we were only 2 leagues away from the Premiership!
Although I didn’t play much, I was offered a new deal as Derek wanted to keep the core of the squad for the new season. I couldn’t believe it. After discussing it with my partner, where I nearly re-signed, I decided I couldn’t leave my family for another year. But because I left it so late, the Scottish season had already started and nobody at the time needed a keeper. It was a tough decision not to go back to Plymouth, but when I look back on it now it was the best decision I ever made.
Following the year at Plymouth Argyle, you returned home to join Forfar, this time on a permanent basis.
It was a big decision to go back and sign for Forfar because I was going part-time. I was offered a chance to go back to Dundee United, but I decided to gamble and go with Forfar. It was the best decision I had made. I had to go get a job as we only trained twice a week, so I ended up delivering parcels for Amazon!
After the first season where we finished 8th, we recruited really well in the summer. Jim Weir put together a really good squad and on paper I thought we’ve got a really good team here. We didn’t start well. At one point we were bottom after 9 games, but we kept working on what we were good at. The run we went on, we ended up equalling the club’s home record of wins in a row for the first time since the war and the incredible run led us to finish 2nd.
We pushed Raith Rovers right to the wire, but it just wasn’t meant to be. It was a horrible way for the season to end because I felt we were the second-best team in the league that year and I really fancied our chances of getting promoted that season. Station Park was a fortress from about November on wards and nobody could beat us apart from Raith in the play-off games. After that, (the next season), some of the guys left to join clubs at a higher level, which is understandable, so we were depleted a little bit, but I felt we added good players.
We started well, got out of our Betfred Cup group but it just didn’t happen. The car crash that involved Jim and Barry Sellars was horrific and we didn’t see them for about 6 weeks. After that Jim ended up leaving and it was tough because we were 2nd bottom at the time you end just trying to stay in the division.
At 28 years old, you have recently signed a long-term deal with Forfar, how do you see your career going now?
I made a really easy decision to sign the new contract as it’s a fantastic club I’m at, full of good people that look after you. Now I see myself as a part-time player. I’m a fire protection engineer during the day and I love doing it and I have a great routine.
Playing every Saturday is a major factor in enjoying things, so when the contract talks came about, I spoke to my partner as I was at a crossroads because this was it. If I signed a long-term contract, that would be me being a part-time player for the rest of my playing days. It also gives me a bit of security knowing where I’ll be until 2024. It’s a fantastic place to be, it’s a community football club. I look on the terrace and I know everyone either through my family, my dad or through the football club. It was such an easy decision to make, I can’t thank the club enough for doing it.
I work with the best goalkeeping coach in the lower divisions in my opinion, Wayne Henderson, it’s a pleasure working with him. He’s been there for a long time now and we have an understanding of how each other works and I hope he’ll be there for a lot longer too. It’s important for a goalkeeper to have a good relationship with his goalkeeping coach, so when you’ve got a good one you don’t want to change it. Playing for your hometown club, the team I watched as a kid, is great. I used to watch my assistant manager Barry Sellars play at Station Park, so it’s a bit surreal. All the guys I watched play are now coaching you – it’s laughable! (laughs). It reflects well on the club that they have a local boy playing for them and I’m really happy to be there.