It’ll be a season of many new experiences for Andy Ryan this term – but the former Hamilton Accies striker is looking forward to what life part-time with Stirling Albion brings him.
After spells at full-time level with Airdrieonians, Dunfermline and Accies, Ryan has chosen that this summer is the one to end his 10-year association with a professional career in football. He’s opting to get himself set up away from the park whilst aiming to get back scoring with the Binos in League Two.
In the midst of a pandemic and football without fans under new protocols, it’s a strange and uncertain time for those in the game. Ryan says he had to get something outside of football in the wake of all that’s gone on this year.
“Part of it was trying to get something else behind me other than football,” Ryan told NTOF. “I’ve been full-time since I was 15 and I’m now 25.
“That’s 10 years and I’ve not really got anything else, all I’ve got is football. I had a wee think about it and the shutdown period that we have had, I thought this was the right period to try and get another experience behind me of working and going part-time.
“I work in the Amazon warehouse so it suits me. You’re pretty active and on the go all day. It’s not sitting about behind a desk or whatever.”
There was time for reflection on his start in football with Hamilton. Famed for giving many football players a platform for their professional careers, Ryan too was able to use that springboard to showcase his ability.
Going professional as a schoolboy was certainly a jump, but he’d been at Hamilton since he was 10, Ryan knew the standards he had to meet. It was current Academy Director George Cairns who brought the then-left-back into the club he would start his working life with. The striker reckons it’s senior experience that draws players to Hamilton, reserving special praise for former managers Billy Reid and now Preston North End boss Alex Neil.
“It was good for me,” said Ryan of former club Accies. “I had been at the club from the age of 10 so I pretty much knew everybody. I actually started out as a ball boy at the first-team games when I was a kid so I was always in that first-team environment. I went full-time at 15 with players like Simon Mensing, Derek Lyle, Martin Canning, Alex Neil, players that had been and done it. They were good with the young boys.
“I think first-team football attracts a lot of young players to the club. The youth system are embedded to play the same formation as the first-team play so if you are lucky enough to take that step into the first-team, you’re familiar with the system. You are playing the same formations as you did in the youth ranks, they try and keep everything going in the one direction.
“George Cairns took me there. I was playing left-back for my boys club believe it or not and his age group needed a left midfielder. He asked if I would be willing to do that and of course I was. I don’t know how I ended up front! I think it was just one game I scored a few goals and I took it from there. It seemed natural.
“I think I was 16 when I made my debut under Billy Reid. I got on great with him as I was a Jack the Lad-type character in the changing room and he really liked that. I was lucky enough to have a manager like Billy Reid who was willing to give me a chance and I’ll always be thankful for it.
“Alex Neil was brilliant. I could not speak highly enough of him as a manager and a player. As a manager he was unbelievable.”
Current manager Brian Rice has often spoken about how Hamilton work. It’s not just all efforts concentrated on the first-team, everyone focuses on different areas at the club.
That includes doing more than just your bit at senior level, Rice taking it upon himself sometimes to watch and take sessions with young kids coming into the academy whenever possible. It is like a family in all aspects, something which has clearly been ingrained into the club’s DNA.
“Billy Reid used to come and watch the younger ones and kept an eye on what they are doing,” said Ryan. “You’d have your game on a Sunday and you would look for your dad or whoever was there watching you. If you spot the first-team manager it just gives you that extra lift and you try that bit harder because you want to impress.
“Even when you were going to the first-team, Alex Neil was going to all the youth team games and he used to take and play in some of them.
“I think that’s great and I think that should be more of a trend in the game that first-team management should go and watch all the kids play. It makes them feel that bit more important.”
Having fun again
Looking ahead to his own season, Ryan’s excited about enjoying his football again. After a fruitful stint at Airdrie won him a move to Dunfermline, he spent a few seasons with the East End Park side, scoring eight times in 45 appearances.
He ended up on loan with Airdrie in the second half of last season, opting for Stirling Albion ahead of this campaign as his Pars deal expired.
He’s looking forward to getting that consistent goalscoring feeling again as he hopes for a successful Accies season too: “The main thing for me is getting back enjoying the game. It’s the reason you wanted to play in the first place at a professional level. I just want to get that back and enjoy myself again.
“I think the season I had at Airdrie, that’s why I had such a good season, I was enjoying myself every Saturday. It was just coming naturally and that’s one of the things I need to get back to and hopefully I’ll score some goals.
“Everyone writes Accies off every year. There are parts where you say ‘They are in trouble here’ and then they pull out a string of unexpected results from nowhere, results they shouldn’t be getting. They always seem to stay up so I think it will be a battle for them again but will manage to stay up in the end.”