They may have missed out on promotion to League One this season but Queen’s Park are on the right road, thanks to ex-player and former driving instructor David McCallum.
The Glasgow outfit finished comfortable in second place and were seeking promotion through the playoffs. They battled past a valiant Arbroath side but succumbed to relegation-threatened Stenhousemuir who narrowly seen them off two-one on aggregate in the final.
In recent times, the club has recently gained mainstream media coverage due to the heights that former players have reached. Andrew Robertson is one of these players. It was back in November that the full-back scored against England in front of more than 49 thousand attendees at Celtic Park. Two years previous from that day, he had just finished performing for just north of 400. Recovering after playing 90 minutes for the Spiders in the fourth tier of Scottish Football, a one-all draw was the result with Montrose at Links Park.
Many know about Robertson, but it is the name of David McCallum, the Head of Youth Development at the club who supporters should be aware of. Along with his staff, they helped develop the left-back into the player we see today. Nowadays you will see the 21-year-old plying his trade for last year’s FA Cup finalists, Hull City in the Premier League.
The meteoric rise may have come as a shock to some, but not to David, who has held his position at the club since 2010. In his time in the south of Glasgow, he has also seen Aiden Connolly, Blair Spittal and Lawrence Shankland to name a few “cherry picked,” as David put it and move into Scotland’s’ top flight. Something he reluctantly accepts, saying:
“The objective is to produce football players for our first team and hopefully they do go beyond.”
It is no fluke that Premiership clubs were enquiring about some of their players at the time, considering youth is the ethos that the Hampden Park outfit is built on. David has philosophies that he teaches the players in their formative years. One of them being that they have to look at life after football because it is a short career, even if you do make it. One of his part-time jobs was as a driving instructor. He said:
“Once I went part time. I knew it was time to find out what to do next.”
Going back to the start of his career, the Bellshill born coach was a promising player when he signed on at the local side, Motherwell. Fir Park was just two miles down the road from his alma mater, Braidhurst High School. However, his most rewarding days were at then Division Two side, Partick Thistle. There he won back-to-back titles as well as being voted the supporters’ Young Player of the Season in his debut outing, a promising start to anybody’s career.
However, nine knee surgeries followed a couple of cruciate ligament injuries in 2001, whilst at the Jags. This was the beginning of the end to his playing days, which eventually came a few years later. Where the choice to retire was simple as playing on would have likely crippled him.
He was at Queen’s Park when he retired and has stayed with the club in different capacities, including assistant first-team coach when the Spiders won promotion to the third tier in 2007. In that season, they also knocked out Premiership side, Aberdeen in the League Cup.
Not only is he the Head of Youth Development full-time, but he is also assistant to former Well teammate, Stephan Craigan in the Northern Ireland U19s setup. Implementing his philosophies in an effort to progress their latest group of teenagers into footballers ready for the first team.
Back in Scotland, one of the many reasons the team develops as they do was because of the Leonardo Da Vinci Programme. The project was funded by the European Parliament and undertaken by the SFA. The reason this initiative was so important was footballers ranging from the age of 16 to 20 get to experience a new culture in a different country. Gaining experience by playing against other teams in their age group from around Europe and giving them a gateway to a career into the game.
On one of their visits across to Spain, they got to witness Schalke who at the time boasted former Real Madrid forward, Raúl and striker partner Klaas-Jan Huntelaar amongst their roster train. As well as former player, Aidan McGeady, and his Spartak Moscow side. He took time out to talk to talk to the youngsters and give them some advice on how to improve.
The most vital part of the trip for progression as a footballer is the amount of training the players get, stating:
“We can get a lot done in a short period of time. Over there we might get 30 training sessions in a two-week period. Whereas here, it might take two and a half months to get that done. That in itself makes it worthwhile for our organisation.”
Robertson, Shankland and Spittal all experienced this rare opportunity and Robertson has talked about how important it was getting that feel of being a full-time footballer whilst out there. The ability to build up a rapport with fellow players on the pitch as well as off it and knowing the demands of constant football was influential in helping him further his career.
However, it is not just about the footballing element. It is also about self-improvement and education.
“They bring their schoolwork with them and there is the time assigned to them to get that work done. The players help each other out, which is good for the bonding aspect of football. It is good to see these guys are willing to help each other through areas that are not necessary football.”
In the most recent journey back in January, the players got to experience the Mestalla which houses Valencia. There they got to soak up part of the culture and see a different style of play from one they would see at home by an array of talented performers. That ability was honed by promising Scottish coach, Ian Cathro, who is assistant to the Champions League outfit.
One hurdle that is always hard to overcome is the language barrier. However, the club takes steps to guarantee that the players pick up some Spanish to help learn about the country. Studying before they depart for the fortnight excursion.
“We have started language lessons already, we bring in a tutor to deliver those. The lessons are not just about the language, it is about the country and it is specific to the area we are going to be in.”
Another caveat is the team learn from playing against other academy sides, being taught how to approach different styles and eat properly in order to maximise energy output. Many players graduate to the first-team on the return from the excursion one example this season being 18-year-old right-back, Shaun Rooney. The defender won League Two Team of the Year plaudits for his superb displays and is touted to have the ability to rise through the divisions.
A shining example of the Glorious Hoops having faith in the cliché that is if you are good enough, you are old enough. This belief has helped the club into the position they are under the management of Gus MacPherson.
With him holding the highest accredited coaching badge in Football, the UEFA Pro Licence. He has every chance of progressing his own abilities as a coach on a similar trajectory to that of one of his graduates.
You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.