Ryan Scott’s rapid rise reads like something lifted directly from the pages of ‘Roy of the Rovers’.
The 25 year old goalkeeper has been one of the league’s standout performers this season, but just a couple of years ago he was juggling blocking shots with life as a bricklayer, working on building sites while plying his trade in Australia’s lower divisions.
Despite a hugely successful spell in the NPL that saw Scott win plaudits and silverware, the closest he came to the A-League was an unsuccessful trial with Newcastle Jets.
That is until a phone call from Western United changed everything.
“I was trying to crack the A-League for a while and hadn’t been successful. I was playing with the Bentleigh Greens in the NPL, which is the Victorian Premier League, and then yeah, I finished my season in September and went overseas on a holiday to Europe. I got back and there was an injury with one of the goalkeepers and they gave me a call, and overnight I was in there next day and it all took off from there.”
Scott became a professional footballer overnight. A relatively late bloomer in terms of the modern game, the multi-time NPL Championship winner was 23 years old when he signed that first pro contract. He admits he sometimes thought that day might never come.
“I think I’d be lying if I said at times I didn’t think it had passed me by. I knew I had the ability and still believed that I had what it took, but sometimes it’s out of your control and it’s up to other people’s opinions that determine whether you get the nod or not. I hadn’t necessarily given up, I was obviously still performing enough at NPL level to earn a call up but yeah it just hadn’t come and I probably had a bit of luck in the end. I got the rub of the green and took my chance.”
Initially brought in on a short-term contract to replace an injured James Delianov, Scott made his debut in unusual circumstances, coming off the bench to replace a concussed Filip Kurto just nine minutes in to a fixture against Adelaide United. Western United would go on to win the game 5 – 1, and Scott was rewarded with a two-year deal soon after.
Despite clearly impressing, he was forced to settle back in to life as a back up, doing whatever he could to help the team while he waited for his second chance.
“Through the week the goalkeepers will train together, you might do a little extra training if you’re the back up, if the boys want to do some shooting and stuff. Again, that’s just the position. They talk about the goalkeepers union, you’re all together pushing whoever is playing and there’s a sort of pecking order. You have a number one and a number two, and number one plays at all costs, so you know your role and you understand what you have to do to help the team in other areas, whether that’s loading the bus, helping out with the gear, you’re just trying to be a part of it as much as you can because at the end of the day when you’re not playing, you sort of don’t really feel part of it.”
They say lightning never strikes the same place twice, but exactly one year on from that unusual debut, Scott was once again thrown in at the deep end, called off the bench to replace an injured Kurto.
“It was funny, it was the same day, 7th of March 2020 and then 7th of March again the next year, both for concussions. When you’re on the bench, I can’t lie, you don’t expect to come on… you always prepare but you’re not expecting it. But when it happens, you don’t have much time to think about it really because within a couple of minutes you’re in the action. It’s a cut throat position, so if you’re not quite ready and you miss your opportunity, you can find yourself on the outer pretty quickly.”
Many expected Kurto to retake his place as soon as he had recovered from the concussion, but this time round, Scott would grab the opportunity with both goalie-gloved hands and not let go.
While it will be a bitter pill to swallow for former A-League Goalkeeper of the Year Kurto, Scott insists the experienced goalkeeper has backed him all the way.
“He’s been fantastic. I’ve been asked by a lot of people about how he’s reacted and what our relationship is like, but he’s been fine. It’s not like he was dropped because of form or anything, and he hasn’t done anything wrong, it was just unfortunate that he went down but I’m sure he’s happy for me.
We’ve been working hard together for nearly two years now and we both push each other and watch each other develop. When I’m on the bench, I’m disappointed that I’m not playing, whether I deserve to be or not, and I’m sure he’s the same, but he’s shown no malice at all. He’s a professional and he wants what’s best for the team, whether he’s playing or I’m playing.”
Scott has picked up five wins and five clean sheets since solidifying his place as Mark Rudan’s first choice goalkeeper, and has played a key part in Western United’s breakthrough in to the top six.
Expectations were high for the club, who have assembled an experienced squad featuring the likes of all time leading goalscorer Besart Berisha and the exquisite Alessandro Diamanti, but they have endured a slow start to the season. Sitting in 9th when Scott took over goalkeeping duties, he insists the Green and Black have plenty more to give.
“We’ve been interrupted towards the start of the season with Covid and state borders shutting… we missed a couple of games and we’ve had to play catch up, so we’ve got a couple of games in hand and we’ve got a couple of boys back from injury, so hopefully, we’ll be hit our straps at the right time of year. We’ve got a busy schedule coming up, with a lot of midweek games, so this next, probably, four weeks will really determine where we’ll be looking at the end of the season. Obviously finals is the goal and from there, anything can happen.”
United face a tough test as we head in to the business end of the A-League season, with a congested fixture list that will see them take on Brisbane, Western Sydney, Perth, Sydney FC, Wellington, Melbourne Victory, Macarthur and the Mariners in the space of a month.
If they can ‘Rise Up’ to the challenge, Western United look set for back-to-back finals appearances in just their second year in the A-League.
Can they go one better than last year’s semi-final appearance? As Scott says, ‘anything is possible’.
His incredible journey from the building sites of Victoria to an A-League Grand Final would certainly be testament to that.