He’s had a hectic few months that he couldn’t have anticipated beforehand – but former Kilmarnock defender and Scotland international Stuart Findlay says it was impossible to turn down a life-changing move to America.
The centre-back left Killie in February this year after 144 appearances over a few Rugby Park spells, joining MLS side Philadelphia Union. Initially joining Kilmarnock on loan from Celtic in 2015, Findlay would go on to become an integral part of Steve Clarke’s Ayrshire men who secured European football and a third place finish.
A chance to move to America with Philadelphia Union cropped up, the MLS side winning the Supporters’ Shield for the best regular season record of any team in the league last year and now play in the Concacaf Champions League. It was something the former Celtic and Killie man couldn’t say no to as he and his partner were offered the chance to build a new life in America.
He told NTOF: “Where I am now compared to where I was just a couple of months ago is incredible. If you had told me this was going to happen I would have laughed at you. For one, I didn’t think I would fancy something like this, and two, I didn’t think I would get the opportunity.
“This isn’t something everyone gets. Once Philadelphia Union got in touch and spoke to me, you realised how much MLS has improved and it was an opportunity I knew I couldn’t turn down. It was hard to leave Kilmarnock, I’ve been there a long time and the club means a lot to me.
“I had been there that long though that I think it was the right time for me to take the next step in my footballing journey. Anybody who knows me knows how much Kilmarnock means to me and I was happy to stay there for as long as possible.
“But that is before something like this comes up and all of a sudden you have this exciting opportunity in front of you. There can’t be many people who have been in my situation that have turned down the chance to come to a team playing in international competitions. They won the best MLS team over the full season last year.
“It’s a good side and a team that can improve me as a player and as a person. It’s an exciting opportunity for me and my fiancé to come over here and make a new life from it. Personally and professionally, it ticked all the correct boxes.”
While happy to be embarking on his new journey, few could have predicted the impact a young defender from the Celtic youth academy would go on to have at Kilmarnock. But it was a fruitful time for both, Findlay playing some of his best football in Killie colours on loan from both Celtic and Newcastle United, then continued his form when he joined permanently in 2018.
It’s why he was glad to leave on good terms – although it was one met with logistical problems amid Covid-19 restrictions: “The reaction I got from fans on social media blew me away a little bit. I don’t think there were any negative comments at all on the full scenario and that meant a hell of a lot to me.
“The club means a lot to me and it’s somewhere that further down the line I would like to go back to as it feels like it’s the place where I belong. Covid has been a bit of a nightmare for me. I got stuck in Poland for the best part of 11 days trying to sort my Visa.
“It was hard to keep your fitness up and it’s hard as you didn’t know when you were going to get out the country. But I got the clearance, got myself over here, and It was always going to take me a few weeks to get myself up to speed. But we are allowed 50% of the stadium filled with fans, which is really nice.
“I never thought about something like this or expected it to happen. You always wonder how people get moves like this. But it was never going to be easy to leave Kilmarnock. I’m glad that I am leaving for something so exciting and it isn’t ending on a sour note, which sometimes happens. It was sad to leave but I was happy with how it ended.”
His old manager Clarke could be on the phone this summer too. Scotland head to Euro 2020 in June for the nation’s first major tournament since 1998, Clarke handing Findlay his debut in 2019. Some might say he’s out of sight and out of mind in America but Findlay doesn’t buy the notion.
He believes his form has to improve in Philadelphia – and if it does – he’ll be waiting by the phone: “Steve Clarke has a squad of players that he is using. All I can do is get playing in Philadelphia. My main aim just now is getting to the level I want to be here and show them what I am all about here.
“They are the ones who have shown a lot of faith in me. The manager knows what I can do, he has worked with me long enough. He knows if I’m playing at my best he can rely upon me. If I do really well, you never know what can happen, but I have to do really well for Philadelphia.
“I have been fit for Kilmarnock over the last 12 months and I wasn’t able to get into any of the squads. The harsh reality is that I haven’t been at the level I should be at to get there. But I think coming here, playing against on average a higher calibre of player, you can bring yourself on. If that doesn’t get me in the Scotland squad, there’s nothing I can do.
“I’m here now and I’m happy to be here. There is a pathway there. If I put my name in the reckoning, I leave it up to the manager. If anything international comes up, it would be the biggest honour of my life to go to a major tournament with my country. It would be for anyone and I am still aiming for that.”
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