There’s nothing football fans love more than a local lad breaking through the youth ranks to make the first-team. The players enjoy that extra backing from passionate supporters who are glad to see one of their own pull on the club’s jersey and it almost instantly makes them a fans’ favourite.
At St. Johnstone, Stevie May is the most recent local success story to come from the youth system and with Head of Youth Development Alistair Stevenson and his coaches putting together a strong bunch of youngsters looking to make the grade at McDiarmid Park, things look bright for fans hoping to see the next generation of talent from the area breakthrough.
And they might not have to wait long for their next star. Former Perth High School pupil and lifelong Saints fan, Liam Gordon, has found himself in and around the first-team more and more, and the talented young defender has impressed each time he’s pulled on the St. Johnstone blue. Like many Perthshire boys, he owes his first steps in football to the coaching sessions of a local legend.
“Atholl Henderson’s Saturday coaching sessions was where it all started for me,” Liam told me, “I’d be up at the AstroTurf at McDiarmid Park playing with all my friends and I loved it.” Atholl Henderson’s Saturday coaching sessions was where it all started for me.
After developing a love for the game, it was another Perth footballing institution that gave Liam his first taster of playing in a team. The late Ken Drummond’s Letham Football Club was the perfect place for the towering centre-back to bring his game on to another level.
“When I was about 8-years-old I joined Letham Whites and that was my first proper team, playing alongside my best mates. It was a great environment up at Seven Acres and I was there for three or four years and really enjoyed myself.
“It was my friend’s dad who ran the team and when he left, a lot of us decided to move on to Bridge of Earn which was where things really got going for me.”
Bridge of Earn, which would then become St. John’s, was where Liam would find himself playing for the next couple of years and with the team finding success in the local boys’ club leagues and getting to cup finals, it was the perfect place to continue his footballing education.
Inevitably though, when local sides start to do well and have talented players then the professional sides will start to come calling and after two successful seasons, scouts from bigger clubs started to monitor the defender’s progress.
“It was a midweek cup-final and I had Dundee and St. Johnstone both watching me. At the time, Dundee seemed keener and after that match Saints had said they’d keep tabs on me and watch me again.
“I missed the next match through injury and at that point it looked like the ship had sailed for going to Saints but Dundee wanted me so I ended up signing there. Those were my first steps into pro-youth football and it was a whole new level for me in terms of training and facilities and I really enjoyed making that step up.”
His stay at Dundee was short as financial problems blighted the Tayside club. Liam’s coaches moved on to Fife – joining Raith Rovers and one of their first acts at Stark’s Park as youth team coaches was to bring their prized defender with them.
Joining at under 14s level, Liam quickly proved himself to be one of the brightest prospects in the Kirkcaldy club’s set-up and after a few years he left school to sign his first professional contract.
Just weeks after signing though, the youngster had caught the eye of bigger fish and Edinburgh giants Hearts were looking to snap him up and bring him to Gorgie. Having watched plenty of Transfer Deadline Days on Sky Sports News with Jim White, Liam was about to be involved in one for himself as the Tynecastle club came in at the eleventh hour with an offer that Raith couldn’t refuse.
“It was a crazy day,” he recalled, “I’d only just signed full-time and had been training and playing well at the start of the season.
“As we got towards the end of the transfer window, Hearts came in out of nowhere and started to show an interest in me. The clubs started speaking and to be honest I was quite unsure about whether it would be the right move – I questioned whether I’d get the same first-team opportunities at Hearts as I would at Raith. It was that much of a rush to get the deal done that Grant Murray actually drove me himself from Stark’s Park over to Tynecastle so I could sign on time!
“You can’t turn a club like Hearts down though – they’re massive. In the end it was a no-brainer and they came in with a bid on deadline day, it was all a bit crazy!
“I remember finishing training in Kirkcaldy on the Friday and the manager turned round and said we’ve accepted a bid, are you happy to go? Grant Murray was the boss at the time and to be fair he was first-class with me. He took on a father figure role and told me it would be a great opportunity for me to develop further.
“It was that much of a rush to get the deal done that he actually drove me himself from Stark’s Park over to Tynecastle so I could sign on time! I can’t thank him enough for that he was brilliant. The next day I was in at Riccarton meeting my new teammates – it all happened so fast.”
He joined the club the season after they had just won the Scottish Cup and was rubbing shoulders with big names in Scottish football such as Marius Zaliukas, Ryan Stevenson and Rudi Skacel. Under the tutelage of Hearts youth coach Darren Murray – who has helped to bring through some of the best young players at Tynecastle in recent years – Liam improved his game and felt he learnt a lot during his time in Edinburgh.
Injuries set him back slightly and a decision to go out on-loan to Arbroath was something that gave Liam a hunger to get more first-team football. Under Allan Moore, who Liam was quick to praise, he turned out for the Red Lichties in almost every game of his loan spell including their Scottish Cup defeat at Easter Road against Hibs.
When he returned from his spell at Gayfield, his time at Hearts was coming to an end and as soon as he’d heard of interest from his hometown club, he was eager to make the switch and return to Perth.
“When I was younger I used to go and watch Saints with my grandad and my dad, and then I was a bit older I’d go to games with my pals. So it was absolutely great to sign for them. Some of the boys that are playing now were playing back then when I was watching on as a fan, so it’s quite strange to now call them teammates!
“You can see what the club means to the local community so to be able to say I now play for Saints is brilliant.”
Liam has spent time on-loan at both Peterhead and Elgin during his Saints career, and he particularly enjoyed his time with the latter playing under former St. Johnstone captain, Jim Weir.
“Jim was brilliant with me up at Elgin and he gave me some excellent advice and pointers to improve my game. Considering he was such a legend here, it was great to be able to pick his brains and learn from him.
“I suppose the only downside of both my spells at Elgin and Peterhead was all of the travelling which was quite difficult! It was great to be playing first-team football and it made me even more determined when I came back from the loans.”
Having gained vital playing experience in the lower leagues, Saints boss Tommy Wright showed faith in his young defender by giving him his debut at the end of last season against, of all teams, Hearts.
With his dad in the crowd to watch him, Liam put in a solid display against his former club and was delighted to have made his first-team debut playing against some of his old friends from the youth sides at Hearts.
“To play for the first time for the team you’ve supported your whole life is pretty special. I was really proud that day and for it to be against Hearts at Tynecastle it just made the whole occasion that little bit sweeter.
“I was up against some of my old pals from when I was at Hearts so it was nice to see them again and to test myself against them at first-team level. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole day. To play for the first time for the team you’ve supported your whole life is pretty special. I was really proud that day and for it to be against Hearts at Tynecastle it just made the whole occasion that little bit sweeter.
“It was only my dad that came through to watch me that day. I’d found out on the Friday before the match that I was going to be starting and he told me just to get out there and do my thing. He never gets over excited and tries to play things down – I think that’s just to try and help me to stay calm.
“I wasn’t nervous though – I don’t tend to get nervous before matches. I just wanted to go out there and show the gaffer and the fans what I can do and I think I did alright that day.”
This season could be the year that the 21-year-old makes his breakthrough and in recent weeks he’s forced himself into the reckoning for a place in Tommy Wright’s starting eleven, something that the Northern Irishman had said he hoped Liam would do this season.
Following an impressive performance at Murrayfield against Hearts last week, in which the battling defender picked up a nasty head knock and a shoulder injury, he missed the midweek clash with Ross County but hopes he can get himself back into contention and give his manager a selection headache for the rest of the season.
“The gaffer was saying to me towards the end of last season when I came back from Peterhead that he wanted me to get more involved in the first-team this season. That was great to hear and I just hope I can continue to impress him by training hard and staying fit – I want to try and give him something to think about.
“The game at Murrayfield was great and it was a good experience for me. It’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t come away from the match with something because I think we deserved too. We defender well for the majority of the game and it was nice to hear the manager give me some positive feedback after the match.
“Sadly I picked up a shoulder injury in the match which ruled me out of Tuesday’s game against Ross County but that’s football and these things happen. I just want to keep training hard and hopefully I can force myself back into the team again.”
Things are definitely looking good for the Perth-born defender and if he can continue impressing his manager with his performances he could very well be the next big local success story to come out of the club.
The fans will certainly be hoping so and with club legend Steven Anderson on the wrong side of thirty, the veteran centre-back could possibly help to bring Liam Gordon’s game on by passing on his knowledge and experience, hopefully moulding him into the player that he clearly has the potential to be.
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Chrystal Matthan is the 24 year old netball player from Perth who was recently selected for the Scottish Thistles Long Squad!
February 27th Thursday 2020
Foundation trustee Charlie Gallagher recently handed over a £2000 cheque to Academy head of youth development Alistair Stevenson.
January 31st Friday 2020