Written by Colin Byiers
Aaron Dunsmore has become a mainstay in the East Fife line-up since he joined from Hibernian in 2017 and has notched up over 130 appearances for the Fifers in that time.
The 24 year spoke with me recently about playing for his boyhood team, working under Neil Lennon and his desire to stay as a part-time player.
Firstly Aaron, can you tell me how your journey as a footballer started and any players you looked up to.
I was always into football. My dad is probably my biggest influence, and I remember at 4- or 5-year-oldgoing to a place in Musselburgh called Pinkie Playing Fields most weeks. He was a football coach for Musselburgh Windsor and that’s how I remember starting to kick a football. He’s been with me ever step of the way since; helping me, guiding me, pushing me on to where I am today. If it wasn’t for him then I would be at the level I am at the moment.
When he took me down to Musselburgh, he’d say things like, “if you get 10 keepie-uppies, I’ll give you a fiver.”, he’d never give me it if I did it, but it was just his way to get me to kick a ball about.
I used to love watching John Terry when I was younger. I just loved the way he would defend. I tried to be like him and be as aggressive as he was. I did love that Chelsea team with Mourinho as manager. As a Hibs fan, Ian Murray, Rob Jones, because they were centre half’s.
How did you end up at Hibs?
The boys club I played for was pretty good, and at the end of the season, half the team went to Hibs and the other half went to Hearts. I chose Hearts purely on the academy side of things and I was there from the age of 11 to about 17, then I was left go. A month later I went to Hibs on trial and started going while I was still at school. I was there for about a year-and-a-half and got offered a contract and went full-time.
Were you a defender in those days?
When I was younger, I typically would be a central midfielder to about the age of 8 or 9, and it wasn’t until I went to Hearts, I became a centre half until I was 16/17. I got away with it because you didn’t need to be that big or strong at that age, but I was really quick. It wasn’tuntil about 6 months before I went full-time, I started playing right back. I played a few games and it really suited me because I was quick and I wasn’t the biggest built, so I think they seen me more of a right back.
Who were some of the players that were with you at Hearts and Hibs?
Jordan McGhee, who’s at Dundee now. We’ve actually got the same birthday and our families are still quite close. We were at Hearts for a few years. Scott Martin. He’s at Hamilton now, he was in my Hibs team. Jason Cummings was the year above at Hearts and Hibs. I think there are 3 or 4 that are still playing top 4 divisions and the rest are scattered through the lower leagues and junior football. My youth teams didn’t have many stars. We weren’t like the Celtic or Rangers teams that had 3 or 4. We’d have 1 maybe 2 that you knew would stick around the higher levels of Scottish football. At that age, it’s the best Edinburgh based or maybe Livingston based players that go to Hibs or Hearts, but it is a big area. Anyone from these areas, they’d have the first pick of the players. Both have great academies. Obviously, I’ve experienced both and it’s no surprise just how they are producing players, with the coaches they have and the facilities they have.
When you became full-time at Hibs, where you ever close to making it to the first team?
I was on the bench a lot when I was with the first team. My second year full-time Hibs were relegated, and I remember thinking that it could be a good thing for me. I thought I would have a better chance. Once we went back after the summer, Hibs had a clear out, but I was still on the bench something like 15 to 20 times that season and never got a first appearance. I was on the bench for the Scottish Cup semi-final, on the bench against Rangers 3 or 4 times. I was on the bench for the Edinburgh derbies. I was on the bench a lot! I seem to remember one of the games I was in the squad but didn’t make the bench and the right back got injured. That was the luck I had. Hibs were very reliant on going up as quickly as possible and relied on experienced players.
Alan Stubbs was the manager at the time, and he was very intimidating, so he wasn’t a man I would ask why I wasn’t getting a game. My mindset back then was, I was on the bench for Hibs at 19 and I thought that was good. I was doing well with the 20’s. I never thought about asking why I wasn’t playing, but I probably should have asked what can I do to get me closer to playing. Looking back, that’s probably what I should have done. At the time I was just happy to be there, you know, sit on the bench at Ibrox away.
You went on loan to Edinburgh City while they were still in the Lowland League and a second spell after the won promotion to the League 2.
In the November, I knew I needed to go out on loan, and my agent at the time offered me Stranraer, but I thought, “that’s good, but they are 3 hours away.” I wasn’t going there. In the January, we sat down with the head of youth and he gave me a list of the teams that are wanting me, and Edinburgh City were the best, even though they were in the Lowland League at the time. I didn’t know much about them, but I knew they were top of the Lowland League and they were wanting to get promoted through the pyramid system, and that was my aim when I went there. I remember speaking to the manager Gary Jardine, sat in his car, got his iPad out and showed me the formation, saying, “this is how we are going to play.” I looked at it and was thinking, “that can’t be right”. It was a 3-6-1! He said to me he wanted me to play right-wing back, or right of the 6, I was like, “aye fair enough!”. We then went through the play-off’s, beating Cove Rangers and East Stirlingshire to get promoted.
When I went back to Hibs, I knew I wasn’t going to get into the first team, I knew I wasn’t good enough. I could have left then, try and get another full-time team, but Gary asked if I wanted to come back. I said yes, because I was happy there and did well. I knew how they played, and it suited my game. After the first 9 games I think it was, we didn’t win a game. I remember going home after one of the games and telling my dad we could go a whole season and not pick up any points. We weren’t playing badly, but we were so offensive, it’s a big step up, we found it hard. We beat Montrose away 2-0 for our first win and then went on a run of about 12 games unbeaten and eventually ended up staying safe with about 2 or 3 games left to play. It ended up being a really good season and especially with the budget Edinburgh had.
For me, it was good experience. I would say to anyone playing in the youth leagues, play a maximum of 2 years because you need to be playing men’s football. It’s very false in a sense when you play in the youth league and play 30-35 games against 15 year old’s, but in the seniors, you are playing the same amount of games but against seasoned pro’s who have been there, done that and played at the highest level. That was my first season playing in men’s football, and you learn every week. You know, you go to away games and the pitches are rubbish, the weather is awful, and you are playing against part-time players turning up in their work vans! It’s an eye opener. Ryan Porteous went on loan the same season when he was 17 and handled it really well, and it set him up well to be where he is at now. If you are a young player at a club like Celtic, Rangers, Hibs or Hearts, go play in League 2 or even the Lowland league for 6 months or a year, because you will learn more from that than just training everyday or playing development leagues.
At what point where you told that your time was up at Hibs?
It was probably about January when I was on loan at Edinburgh City, and I had 6 months left on my contract. To be honest, I could have told 18 months earlier I wasn’t going to make it. I fell of it a bit. I wasn’t doing well for the 20’s and my form was really poor. In my head I was away. I remember coming back after a 20’s game and I played badly, and I said to my mum and dad I didn’t think I could continue doing it. I was that stressed about it. Because I was playing so badly, I went from being on the (first team) bench to struggling in the 20’s. My mum told my uncle this and he met Garry Parker (Hibs assistant manager), in a pub about a year later and he told Garry the same story. Shortly after, Neil Lennon came up to me and went “YOU! Come and speak to me.” This was about 4 or 5 months before I was let go. He pulled me into the changing room, and I was scared thinking I had done something wrong. He asked me the question, “what’s this I’m hearing you want to quit?”. I just said it was a year ago and it was just me giving myself a kick up the backside. He said, “Never quit. You might not be good enough for Hibs, but you’ll be good enough for some other team. Just remember that.” I always try and take that with me and have that mindset of never giving up. It was good of him to say that to me, even though he knew I wasn’t good enough to be at Hibs.
The last day I left Hibs, my heart sank to be honest. I’dbeen there everyday for the last 4-and-a-have years and it was my last day. It was the last time I was going to be there. I knew I wasn’t good enough, so I just had to get on with it.
You joined East Fife shortly after your release from Hibs and have now been there for 4 years. How much have you enjoyed you time there so far?
Personally, I think I’ve done really well. The first couple of seasons I was at right back and done really well. It was probably a good thing I was let go from Hibs, because my confidence came back when I started playing for East Fife. My first game was in the League Cup against Dunfermline and I was thinking even though it was a Fife derby, I didn’t think there was going to be many people at the game, but there is one stand at East Fife, and half was filled with East Fife and the other half was filled with Dunfermline fans and it created a bit of an atmosphere. I thought this was bigger than I was expecting it to be! My confidence kept growing and I ended up with 13 or 14 assists that season. The second season was the same, I just kept pushing on, but there was a game towards the end of the season where the right midfielder got ill on the Thursday and I ended up playing right and I’ve been there ever since. I’d prefer to play right back or right wing back, but to be honest, I’m just happy to play anywhere on that right hand side.
As a team we have typically finished mid-table for the last 4 years, but we’ve targeted the play-offs each year and we haven’t done that. With East Fife’s budget, they are probably happy to stay in the league to be honest.
You have chipped in with some goals. Do you remember your first one?
It was away to Albion Rovers. I remember turning up to the game and going into the changing room and I thought I had turned up in my Gran’s house! It was unreal with all the old carpet and wallpaper! I went out to the pitch and I thought that some of the pitches were bad, but this one was the worst. The goal was a good one. The left centre half play a long diagonal and I took a touch and hit it and it went in. It was a horrible pitch but a really good goal!
As I’ve been playing right midfield, I think I need to add more goals to my game to be honest. I was getting a lot of assists in my first couple of seasons which was good for a full back, but I’m very attacking so I need to get more goals.
You are approaching 25, what does the future hold for you?
I have another year at East Fife, so I’ll try and be the best I can be every week. I love playing for East Fife, it’sa great club, a great community club, they treat you well. I’d like to play as high as I can, so if I can get to the Championship then fair enough. I have no aspirations to go back to full-time, as I’ve got a steady job and that’s important. I’d rather stay part-time for the rest of my career, so when I am done playing, I have that career in the back of me that I can turn to. Once I’m in my 30’s I think I’ll start getting my coaching badges and try to get into coaching or managing once I finish playing.