Ross Meechan: I take a lot of pride in having played every minute for Forfar

Photograph courtesy of Forfar Athletic Football Club

Written by Colin Byiers

Ross Meechan might not be a familiar name to supporters of teams in the Premiership or Championship in Scotland, but he is an established name in League One and besides one season with Stenhousemuir in League Two, the 26-year-old has spent all his senior career playing in League One.

His reputation as a solid and dependable defender, whether as a right-back or centre half, is growing and shot at full time football with a Championship side wouldn’t be a surprise to me; he is that good.

Ross spoke with me about his career so far and his hopes for the future.

Ross, you started your youth career with St Mirren and then Partick Thistle.

When I left school, I signed full time with St Mirren, and I was there for 2 years under Danny Lennon. We played 19’s then it changed to 20’s, so we played a Friday night league. It was competitive the 19’s, everyone took it serious. We had a good squad, and I think the first season we finished 4th in the league and got the semi-final of the Scottish Cup. In my second year, it changed to 20’s and 5 or 6 first team players could play as well, but I was still playing every week. That pre-season I was with the first team and I thought I had a chance, but to break into a first team as a young boy, you need a lot of luck as well. I think boys get more chances now because there is not as much money in the game just now, whereas, when I was at St Mirren, we had a first team squad of about 22 players and players on big wages like Gary Teale, Steven Thompson and David van Zanten, a lot of top top players. Now, clubs carry 17 or 18 first team players and fill the rest with young boys. I never really got the chance to break in as such.

After my 2 years at St Mirren, Danny Lennon and Tommy Craig were good with me and said a lot of good things about me, but I just felt it was time to go somewhere else and I went to (Partick) Thistle. That had a lot to do with David Longwell, who was head of youth at St Mirren at the time, putting in a good word for me. I played 20’s there and made the bench a few times for the first team, but again, never broke in. At Thistle, it was different because they were always fighting to stay up so the pressure was always on the manager, so to throw on a young boy would be difficult. After my year there, I decided, as I was 19, I needed to go somewhere and play every week.

You ended up at Stenhousemuir, playing under Scott Booth.

Scott Paterson, the assistant at Thistle, he passed my name on to Scott Booth who was Stenny manager at the time. In the first 6 months, I would say I struggled. I was starting most weeks, but I was getting a bit off of the fans, and then you go home and read things on the internet saying things like I wasn’t good enough etc. It is a big jump from 20’s to proper first team football. I was playing against men and I never felt like I was fully developed at 19/20 years of age, so it was tough.

Scott took a lot of criticism, because what he was trying to do was right, but he didn’t have the right personnel and probably had too big a squad also to do it. That big of a squad, it’s hard to keep everybody happy. Scott was, unfortunately sacked, then Bomber, (Brown Ferguson), was appointed the new manager. When he came in, I felt as though he improved me and helped me mature into a man. Towards the end of that season, he trusted me, and I ended up playing in different positions, and ended up as a holding midfielder just in front if the back four. I felt as though I learned more by playing in these different positions and pick up on more things. We managed to stay up through the play-offs, which was a relief.

Having stayed up, did you want to stay?

Bomber gave me a vote of confidence and said he wanted me to be is right back next season, so I signed for another year.

We stayed up, which was the objective for Stenny, just stay in the league. We did that. I was then given a 2-year deal with the club. However, the following season was harder, and we got relegated. I had been playing at centre back, and I used to argue with Bomber every week at training about it and he said I was playing so well at centre back he had to keep my there.

Were you tempted to leave following the club’s relegation?

I had a couple of sniffs about me and there were a few people watching me. The problem was I had another year on my deal, which would mean clubs would need to pay a fee. It’s a gamble for even a Championship side to pay money for somebody, especially for a young player like me. It would have been a gamble for me too at such a young age.

The club managed to bounce back up straight away. Was that important that they did that?

Yes, I think so. Bomber regrouped and got rid of a lot of players and kept just 4. As a squad, it’s the best squad I have ever been involved with. The changing room was brilliant. Everyone got on and we all had a laugh and a joke. We all looked forward to training. Brown did a great job that year. Montrose were flying that season and ended up winning the league and Peterhead finished second, and they weren’t far away either. I played right back of that season and scored 2 goals, which is the most I’ve ever scored in a season! We got to the play-off’s and beat Queens Park in the semi-final then played Peterhead in the final. We won 2-0 at home when Mick Dunlop scored 2 goals late on, which gave us a health lead. Harry Paton, who’s doing good things with Ross County just now, was really good that season and probably helped us get into the play-offs, but he missed a chance early in the second leg and you think maybe the luck is turning against you. They scored with 15 minutes to go and now you are thinking “here we go”. We managed to hold on and get the promotion. I would say that was my biggest highlight in my career so far. The bus back from Peterhead was something else!!

For me personally, I think I had a really good season and I improved as a character and as a person, and probably felt like more of a man than I had done before. That team was very experienced, and I felt like I got a lot of help and advice from these players. 

You decided to move on despite the promotion. What were the reasons for this?

I felt it was maybe time for a change, a bit of freshness. I felt I was getting a bit too comfortable. Jim Weir spoke with me after the promotion win about signing for Forfar and I was sold on his plans and ambitions. I made the decision to sign with them. To be honest, I think that was one of the hardest things I have done in football, going in and seeing Bomber and telling him that I was leaving. I never ate all day! The club gave me the chance to break into the professional game and gave me my debut. I played over 150 games for them, I felt a close connection with the fans and Bomber did a lot for me and we got on really well and we still have a good relationship to this day. To tell him I was leaving and passing on a new deal hard. I felt gutted.

I travelled up to Forfar on the Thursday and signed a 2-year deal that night. I haven’t looked back since.

It looked like the right decision as in your first season there, you finished in 2nd place.

Jim had said I needed to work hard to earn my place in the team and he felt he had one of the best right backs in Jamie Bain, so he saw me more as a centre half. But we ended up playing together as he (Bain) played right mid and I was right back, and we built up a good relationship because we supported each other. I ended up playing ever game that season. I think we were unlucky not to get promoted that season. The group we had that year and the quality we had in every position, everything just seemed to click. It was one of the strongest squads in the league that year. We played Raith Rovers in the semi final and we got beat 2-1 at Starks Park. We then got them back at home and we went 1-0 up when John Baird scored, and I felt as though we could go on a win the tie. Their goal is something that still haunts me to this day. Kevin Nisbet is running through but he’s quite wide and (Michael) Travis dived in a gave away a penalty and got sent off. Looking back now, he probably doesn’t need to make the tackle because it’s a difficult angle for Nisbet and with Marc McCallum in goal as well it would have very difficult for him to score. They score the penalty and we’re a man down, and from there it was an up-hillbattle. We did have a wee flurry towards the end but to be honest we faded out.

All the boys in that squad can look at them selves and say they did everything they could. The budget that Jim had, we were a mid-table team, but he got the best out of his players. It was emotional after the Raith game because we wanted to do it for Jim and get into the final against Queen of the South and knowing how difficult a place Station Park was that year to come to, we might have had enough to get promoted.

How difficult was last season and this season been for you and the club?

We actually started off quite well last season, but we ended up sitting second bottom and hadn’t won in 6 I think, but under Jim and the players we had, I reckoned we would get 3 or 4 wins together and be back up there challenging. Unfortunately, Jim got into a really bad car crash and ended up taking a back seat because of his condition. We wanted to win the next game for him, and we did. Stuart Malcolm came in and I had played at Stenny with Malc’s. He phoned me just before he got the job asking about the players and stuff. He had some good ideas, brought in some loan players which helped us and I felt we were doing well until the season was stopped because of Covid. Although we were 2ndbottom, I always felt we could get up to 7th or 8th. Covidstopped it. It was a real hard time for everybody. Everybody lives for the football on a Saturday and training in the week. There were cutbacks, like every club, so Malc’s had a rebuilding job to do with the squad, and I have never seen a club so unlucky with injuries in a season. I really feel for Stuart and his coaching staff because it just seems to be one thing after another with these injuries. Players end up playing out of position and I’ve ended up playing centre half most of the season. I’m26 now and the squad is pretty young, so I’ve tried to be a leader this season and try and be somebody that they can rely on every week. We’ve got a good bunch of boys and I just wonder if we had a main starting eleven,things would have been very different for us this season and I think we’d be up there challenging for the play-offs.

It’s been a strange season with no fans. I’ve missed the fans, not just the home fans but the away fans giving you that wee bit of abuse! I miss that because it gives you a bit more motivation.

You recently signed a 2-and-a-half-year contract with Forfar. What’s the plans for the future after that?

“Station Park, Forfar” by yellow book is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I feel like I’ve had a decent career in the lower leagues, and I’ve played every single minute in the league for Forfar since I joined, and that speaks volumes. I take a lot of pride in that. All the managers have trusted me. I’ve gained a lot of experience, and I still feel I’ve got a lot of years in me. I’m not going to get carried away, a team in the Premier League isn’t going to come in for me. I might get a sniff at the Championship. With everything that is going on, there isn’t loads of money in the game just now, so you need to look to the future as well regarding money, jobs etc. I’m looking forward to the next 2 years at Forfar, the club has been brilliant with me. It’s a club that is going the right way, everybody wants the club to do well, from the kit man, (Tino), who has been brilliant with me, all the way up to the board. Over the next year or two, I’m going to look into doing my badges and look to get into management or coaching. Hopefully, that keeps me in the game. It’ll be down to luck, but I hope I can break into that at some point. I’ve still got a good few years left in me yet. Gary Irvine is still playing at 35, so I’ve got another 10 years anyway! I also want to get to 500 games, which would be a great achievement. I’m just over 250 just now, but it’s a wee personal goal that keeps me focused.

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