In the first of a new series here on NE98 – ‘Remember him?’ – We take a look back at the career of Derek Riordan, the Scottish international striker whose former clubs include Celtic, Hibernian and just about half of the rest of Scotland.
Now 36, with over 200 appearances and 113 goals to his name, Riordan is looked at by many as one of Scottish footballs wasted talents – he certainly had plenty of good moments, but the overall opinion is that he could have had plenty more.
Born in Edinburgh, Riordan went on to play for seven clubs in Scotland, two in England and even had a spell in China throughout his journeyman career. Drama was never far away from Riordan and unfortunately that is maybe what the striker will be remembered for most.
Signing for Hibernian as a youngster, Riordan would make his debut for the club in 2001 – in an Edinburgh derby no less. During his development for the Easter Road club Riordan was handed a loan to the Scottish Second Division – now League One – with Cowdenbeath his destination. Riordan only made four appearances but included within that was a hat-trick in a 7-5 win against Brechin City – a hectic game that was more or less reflected by the rest of Riordan’s career.
It was the following season he’d become a bit more of a regular at Easter Road. In the 03-04 season the striker would notch 15 league goals, the most of anyone in the Hibs team that season. Riordan would be the squad’s top goal scorer the next two years running and achieved that accolade five times in eight seasons. He quite clearly became a very vital part of the Hibernian team.
Obviously this brought about interest in the striker, which was only increased in the summer of 2005 after Riordan rejected a new deal – resulting in the striker being transfer listed. Over the next two transfer windows Hibs were determined to get some cash out of the sale of Riordan, but initially appeared unwilling to sell to another Scottish club. Rangers had a reporter £400,000 bid rejected, while Cardiff City, Lokomotiv Moscow and Kaiserslautern all had bids accepted, although Riordan rejected those offers – he was apparently unwilling to move abroad and many speculated he was holding out to sign for Celtic.
Then Hibernian manager Tony Mowbray was desperate to keep hold of the young striker.
“I’d love for him to sign a new deal here. Personally, I think it would be best for him and this football club.” Time would tell that Mowbray was probably right about this, but hindsight is a beautiful thing.
A year after initially being transfer listed Riordan was eventually sold – To Celtic, the club he was apparently holding out for. Hibs stood to lose out on a decent chunk of money, they apparently shook hands on an offer just under half the value of the bid they’d rejected from the other half of the Old Firm a year earlier.
The low value offer was accepted in part due to Riordan’s contract running down – bizarrely it was due to expire in October, unlike most contracts that expire at the end of a season. Riordan would have joined Celtic the following January for free, so this was Celtic’s only solution to get him in early.
The move to Celtic Park would turn out to be less than what Riordan had likely hoped for. Just 24 appearances over a two year period, Riordan never appeared to be a first choice under manager Gordon Strachan and just five goals in those 24 appearances didn’t exactly force his gaffer into giving him a better chance.
Riordan ended up training with the reserves towards the end of his spell at Celtic Park due to comments he made in the press regarding how he wanted first team football and felt he’d only get it by outlasting Gordon Strachan at the club.
Riordan told the Scotsman:
“I only get chucked on if we need a goal so he must think I can get him a goal but he obviously doesn’t want to do it unless he really has to because he doesn’t want me to prove him wrong.”
“He knows I would score quite a lot if he played me as much as he has played the other strikers.”
Riordan mentioned how he felt Strachan told him everything he wanted to hear “But you know by his actions that he’s talking rubbish.”
“It is frustrating. I was left out of the squad and was training with the reserves.”
“I’ve virtually chucked it at Celtic, what’s the point when I’m not getting a chance.”
With talk like that, it was only a matter of time and despite links to several clubs, a return to Hibs seemed most likely. An initial loan bid was made by Riordan’s former team but eventually they had to pay a reported £400,000 to bring Riordan back to Edinburgh in the summer of 2008.
The return to Hibs started well, in the 08-09 season he was the clubs top goal scorer once again with 12 goals. That wasn’t the only notable detail about that particular season – Riordan played with the number 01 as his favoured number ten was taken by Colin Nish.
Riordan’s second season back at his original club started as well as the previous one left off. His good run of form led to a recall to the Scotland squad, a player of the month award and his 100th goal in senior football – a free kick against Kilmarnock. Supporters would be forgiven to have assumed that Riordan, in his mid-twenties, could have gone on to reach 200, unfortunately he wouldn’t get very close.
At the time Riordan was often played out wide by manager John Hughes. Hughes had spoken glowingly of the striker and even called from him to be recalled by Scotland manager Craig Levein.
“Derek has ambition to get back into the Scotland squad.”
“I said to him he needs to do the business for Hibs, in terms of work ethic, getting on the ball, passing and scoring” “He did that on Saturday, he worked very hard.”
Despite Riordan being very often present in the Hibs side in the 10/11 season his goal tally did fall from 18 the previous campaign to 11, not an awful return but still probably not quite what he’d have hoped for. It certainly wasn’t a season to remember for Hibs either as they finished tenth, 13 points outside the top six and 26 points behind rivals Hearts.
Riordan was again the subject of speculation approaching the summer of 2011. It had been reported by the Daily Express in April that Riordan would depart Easter road following the expiry of his contract.
The Express said:
“Riordan – one of the club’s top earners – was offered a new deal but was asked to take a significant wage cut.”
This is where the journeyman period of Riordan’s career would begin with the striker moving to China, signing a two year deal with Shaanxi Chanba. Unfortunately for Riordan, he wasn’t a trend setter in being the first Scottish player in the Chinese Super League, Maurice Ross had beaten him to it a year earlier – although, no Scot has made the move since.
The transfer wasn’t exactly a dream for Riordan, he only made 9 appearances, scoring once and saw his contract mutually terminated in November 2011 after public criticism from his manager. There was clearly plenty to dislike about life in China, but according to Riordan in his interview with Si Ferry, the food was a massive issue.
“I was starving for a start, the food was horrific.”
“Absolutely scandalous food, my first thing I ordered was chicken fried rice. It was like a big plate of a chicken and a [separate] big plate of rice. The chicken was literally running about, it was disgusting.”
The striker would go on to make just 39 appearances for seven separate clubs for the next six seasons.
First of all he’d sign for St Johnstone – then managed by Steve Lomas – in the January of 2012, despite rumoured interest from Turkish and Italian clubs. Riordan would only play four times over the remainder of the 11/12 season, completing 90 minutes just once. He was released at the conclusion of the season.
Rumours once again circulated about the striker potentially going on trial in La Liga although that never seemed to amount to much, with a spell later in the summer spent training with Milton Keynes Dons, and then links to Ross County.
However, it would be Mark McGee’s League Two Bristol Rovers who would secure Riordan’s signature for a three month deal. Despite appearing 12 times, the Scotsman did not score and was released to allow him to find a new club in January 2013.
Riordan however did not play a single minute of competitive football in 2013 and it was 2014 until he signed another deal, signing until the end of the season with Alloa Athletic in the Championship. An ankle injury disrupted Riordan’s stay with Alloa, he played just twice and did not win a deal for the 14/15 season.
Riordan was a trialist for Brechin City at the tail end of 2014 but turned down a deal afterwards.
Then Brechin City boss Ray McKinnon was quoted as saying:
“Derek came here and trained with us, as well as playing in a couple of games. He was offered the chance to stay for longer but has opted not to accept it.”
Instead Riordan would go on trial with East Fife in early 2015 and after scoring the winning goal against Annan Athletic, he was offered a deal until the end of the season. Riordan would net another two times, as well as notching three assists along with his goal in a 5-3 win over Elgin City. He once again however, left the club at the end of the campaign.
After training briefly with Hibs, although Hibs manager Alan Stubbs had stated this was simply a good will gesture, Riordan began another spell in England, signing with League Two York City in the January of 2016. Despite having rediscovered somewhat of a goal scoring form with East Fife, Riordan could not find the net in just three appearances with York. He spent the majority of this spell under former Dundee United boss Jackie McNamara as an unused substitute.
As seemed to become a trend, Riordan spent the second half of 2016 without a club but would sign for newly promoted League Two side Edinburgh City in February of 2017. This would be Riordan’s last club in the professional ranks.
The stint back in Edinburgh was certainly more of a fitting way to leave the professional game, as the striker scored three times in seven appearances for City. Riordan’s last game in professional football was a 3-2 loss to Berwick Rangers, with his final goal coming in the game before that, with a winning strike against Stirling Albion.
Riordan still takes to the field for Edinburgh based amateur side St Bernard’s, who he joined in April 2018.
As will be a regular occurrence in these articles, there are plenty of instances of controversy across Riordan’s career.
Firstly Riordan had a bit of a rocky relationship on and off the pitch with Hearts rival Rudi Skacel. Riordan put his feelings for Skacel pretty bluntly in his interview with Si Ferry.
Riordan said: “To be honest I hated Skacel, actually hated him, just horrible.”
Riordan had been forced to apologies in 2005 after a video emerged in which the player was singing along with Hibs fans about Skacel. Riordan was singing about the Hearts player being a “Fuckin refugee”.
Continuing his fierce rivalry with Skacel, Riordan was sent off in 2010 in just his second match as captain. The sending off came in the dying minutes of a 2-0 loss in the Edinburgh derby.
Riordan was arrested in 2012 – while at St Johnstone – for an alleged assault.
The daily mail reported at the time:
“Riordan was arrested at the HMV picture house venue in Edinburgh’s Lothian Road in the early hours of Monday morning.”
“It has been reported the 29 year old became involved in a confrontation with a bouncer.”
This was despite a previous ban from all Edinburgh nightclubs for the former Hibs player.
In 2014 Riordan was fined for assaulting a man that had apparently bumped into him in an Edinburgh pub.
In 2015 before signing for Edinburgh City, Riordan had claimed he was the victim of a whispering campaign that was preventing clubs attempting to sign him.
He said on social media at the time:
“I don’t get it to be honest. Something strange has happened to me. You don’t just turn crap overnight.”
“Somebody has put something out there about me which isn’t right and I have suffered and struggled to get a club ever since.”
Despite these incidents and a perceived reputation, Riordan has insisted he doesn’t have a bad attitude.
“Off the field stuff has followed me around in my career. The life ban from all the Edinburgh nightclubs was just ridiculous.”
“There are worse people out there than me.”
“Most football people will tell you that I’m naturally quiet and I’m a good laugh and a decent lad.”
Style of play
Riordan’s pace and skill was, especially in his early days, a real asset to Hibs and could at time results in more game time as he could play both centrally and out wide.
Watching back Riordan’s goals shows how the strikers tendency to shoot early and often from unexpected angles and distances could catch goalkeepers out. This also helped him score more than his fair share of volleys and half volleys.
Riordan, as most good strikers are, was likely to pop up with a tap in or close range header. Although this may not have happened quite as often as it did for some other more predatory strikers. This ability to score from different angles and not relay on tap –ins certainly gives Riordan a more entertaining highlight reel.
Riordan was also seen as a bit of a free-kick specialist and again was an asset especially to Hibs from dead-ball situations.
The video below will give a good view of Riordan’s style of play and how he managed to rack up such an impressive rate of scoring, especially at Easter Road.
That’s the first ‘Remember Him? Career Retrospective’ wrapped up. You can anticipate the next edition coming in a fortnight, focusing on another player, here’s a few clues of who we will be focusing on…
- He’s over six foot tall.
- He currently manages a side in Scottish football, below the Premiership
- He has played for two separate Scottish clubs
Get in touch via @NE98FT on twitter to let us know who you want featured in this series next. Next week’s NE98 feature article will cover