You are currently playing for Annan Athletic in Scotland. How are you enjoying your time at Annan Athletic and how would you describe the club?
My time at Annan Athletic has been good so far. I signed for the club in January 2020 having left Forfar Athletic where I had initially signed a two year contract at the club. I had signed under Jim Weir who is someone I have known before and is a good manager and Jim left his post around November time and we had a new manager come in called Stuart Malcolm and it just transpired in the January 2020 that Stuart was very honest with me in the fact that he was looking to bring in younger blood and fresher boys with a little bit more legs and energy in the middle of the pitch.
He had players like myself Gary Irvine, Scotty Robinson who were slightly older than the rest of the group and he could not guarantee that I was going to play every week and the type of player that I am every club that I have been at I have been a first team regular and I like to play week in and week out and Darren Barr who was the number two at Annan Athletic at the time is a friend of mine and we played together at Dumbarton FC for a couple of years and we have a really good friendship away from football and Darren was aware of my situation and he spoke to the manager of Annan Athletic Peter Murphy and then the club had made me a good offer to take over my contract for the next year and a half and the deal suited and I took up a new challenge. I had a loan spell at Annan Athletic in 2011 and I knew the club and the location and Annan Athletic is a good family and well run club and they have good people in charge.
I am one of the older heads in the dressing room and we have a lot of young players who are starting out in the game and coming through full time football and hopefully with my experience I can pass it on and help the younger players. Peter Murphy has been great and I have played most weeks other from when I was injured and suffered from COVID as well but it has been good at Annan Athletic so far.
You played two spells for Alloa Athletic. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?
I have great highlights, memories and times at Alloa Athletic and some of the most enjoyable times of my career were spent at the club and I have very fond memories and I made some great friends who will be friends for life at that football club. Dressing rooms can be great places when things are going well and fortunately my time at Alloa Athletic was really successful.
I played there for three seasons in two different spells and we won the league and I got a winners medal which I will cherish and the following season we gained promotion through the play-offs to get promoted to the Scottish Championship and we managed to stay up in the division as a part time club and I believe at the time it was probably the strongest the Scottish Championship has ever been with clubs like Hearts, Hibernian FC, Rangers FC and Dundee United so there were some really big clubs in the league and it was really competitive and as a part time club we managed to survive and stay in the league.
We finished above full time clubs and the likes of Livingston FC and Raith Rovers and they were great times and I have nothing but good memories from my time at Alloa Athletic. I loved my time there.
You played one season for Stranraer FC. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any special memories or highlights?
My time at Stranraer FC was great and they are another great family club and they are really well run and they have great people in charge. The Chairman and committee were great and they were a strong family unit and they looked after the boys and I had a great season. It was a shame that I was only there for one season because I really enjoyed my time and met some boys that I am still best mates with to this day. People like Frank McKeown and Chris Aikin, Stephen Bell, Stevie Aikin was the manager and Stevie Farrell was his assistant manager who I went on to work with further down my career at Dumbarton FC and they are guys who I have a lot of respect for and who I have a great relationship with to this day.
I have some great memories at Stranraer and we had some great times. Playing the likes of Dunfermline Athletic and Rangers FC when they were coming through the leagues and playing them four times and we actually gained a point against them at Ibrox Stadium on Boxing Day and Jamie Longworth scored a 90th minute equalizer which was a brilliant day which topped off a great Christmas that year because I am a big Celtic FC fan so to go and play at Ibrox Stadium was memorable for me.
I have been fortunate to play there a number of times throughout my career and that particular game with Stranraer FC really stands out and we actually managed to finish third that year behind Rangers FC and Dunfermline Athletic who were both giants in League One at the time and full time clubs and at the start of that season Stranraer FC were tipped by all the pundits and newspapers to get relegated and that was a tool that the manager used a lot during team talks for as a club and a group of boys to go and prove people wrong and we did.
Although, we got beat in the play-offs that year and it ended on a sour note at East End Park and Dunfermline Athletic beat us in the play-offs but it was great times and I had a great season winning three player of the year awards that season, supporters play of the year, player of the year and the players player of the year which was obviously a great achievement for myself and I cherish those times in a season that I will not forget.
You have accrued a lot of experience at different levels in Scotland. Could you say who are among the best players you have played alongside so far in your career?
Yes, I have been fortunate to play with my good players so far in my career. The best player individually would be during my time at St Mirren when I played with a player called Gary Brady who St Mirren fans will remember well and Gaz was a tremendous player who had unbelievable ability and he just used to coast through games and even in training Gary Brady was the most laid back guy in the world but he was the best player in training everyday.
I remember that I was only a young boy starting out in the game when I was at St Mirren and I progressed through my YTS and into the first team under Gus McPherson and Andy Millen for a few years and they were also great times and it gave me a great grounding in football and I believe that Gary Brady was a special player and he will probably tell you himself if him would have had a little bit better attitude he could have played at any level he wanted and he was that good with natural ability. He was just so comfortable on the ball and he was a great player. Graeme Holmes at Alloa Athletic was also a top player and a great professional.
Stephen Simmons who played for Hearts of Midlothian and Dunfermline Athletic over the years was also an absolutely brilliant player. Neil Jancyk at Brechin City who had incredible ability and he was left footed and he was so comfortable on the ball. Strikers like Rory McAllister who would score many goals. Darren Barr at Dumbarton FC and Gary Flemming also had great ability as did Willy Gibson too. I have played with many top players of the years who I have learned a lot from and I enjoyed playing alongside them.
I can imagine with your versatility playing in defence and midfield that you played against many good opponents through the years. Could you say which opponents have stood out for you in terms of talent and ability?
Yes, I remember making my debut for St Mirren as a young 17 year old kid at the Old Love Street with is a place that I have great memories of and the atmosphere around the place and being a young professional who aspired to want to play in the first team and my first team debut was against Gretna and I played against Kyle Naughton who is currently at Swansea City and what a player he was!
I played left back that game and he played right back but he was probably more an attacking full back and I have followed his career closely and he was on loan from Sheffield United and then Tottenham Hotspur paid at 10 million pound fee for him and Kyle Walker and they both left Sheffield United at the same time and it just shows you how highly thought of he was and how good a player he was and he had great ability and I just remember chasing his shadow for my debut he was so quick, direct and agile and he has gone on to have a top career playing in the Premier League in England and he is a player that always stands out.
I remember playing against Paul McGowan who was at Celtic FC and he is currently at Dundee United and he is another player with incredible ability and his footballing ability was second to none. I have been fortunate to play against many great players over the years.
Finally Mark. Could you say who are the coaches and managers who have meant a lot to you and played a key role in your development as a professional footballer?
When I started out in the game Gus McPherson and Andy Millen were the manager and coaches at St Mirren when I was there and they made a massive impression on me as well as Davie Longwell who is a top coach and he taught me a lot as a young apprentice before I went into the first time environment with Andy and Gus.
Andy Millen is one of the best coaches I have ever worked under and Gus McPherson was the manager and he deserved a special mention as well because they taught me so much about the game and I had a great grounding and I was fortunate to learn off some top professionals and even guys in the dressing room like Mark Reiley Kevin McGowen and Hugh Murray senior professionals that had great careers who were able to pass on their knowledge and wisdom and Mark Reiley in particular took a great interest in myself and his nickname Mavis and he took the reserves one season I was there and he was great. He had a great attitude and work ethic where even to this day I have a lot of respect for him.
As my career has progressed I have worked under coaches such as Stevie Farrell who is a great coach and Ian Durant who was at Rangers FC for over 30 years and his coaching was very simple, it was not weird and wonderful tactics he was a very basic coach but he was good at what he done and good at how he delivered sessions and his interactions and relationships with players. He had great charisma and patta he was great.
Paul Hartley and Barry Smith at Alloa Athletic were both great and I have had numerous coaches and managers over the years who have made a great impression on me and I learned a lot from them. I am at the stage of my career at the age of my career where I am not getting any younger so coaching is an avenue that I am probably going to look at myself due to my experience I have in the game at full time starting out and part time level as well.
I am actually going to be doing my UEFA C license shortly and I am hope to get involved in some kind of coaching capacity and that is a probably a conversation that I am going to have with my own club Annan Athletic and in the coming years try to become a coach myself because I feel I have a lot to offer the game with my experience, attitude and my professionalism in football and I think I would be good at helping people along the way and try to develop young players.