By Jamie Spreng
Footballers adapting to part time football in Scotland is always an interesting topic. Some pursue the dream of full-time, top flight football and when they finally accept it’s not meant to be, they retire. Like many though, their acceptance takes them down another path. A journey that leads to full time employment, with the added hurdle of fitting in football.
For Michael Andrews, goalkeeper at Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic, and former Scotland U21 international, he is one of many keepers who has seen it all. Tried to make the grade at top level, before falling to the realisation there has to be another way.
He grew up in Haddington, with his 2 brothers and 1 sister. Like so many young kids across the world, pushing him to pursue his dream was his dad, John.
Whilst it was all fun and games having a kick about in the back garden, Michael’s Dad eventually encouraged him to take his football seriously. Through the father of his good friend Paul Watson (currently of Dunfermline) Michael joined Haddington Star, a boy’s club in East Lothian. Run by Dave Watson and Gary Peckham, he initially played outfield for the B team. Michael moved in goals for the A team and never looked back.
As the dedication to take football seriously grew, Michael joined Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale (formerly named Hutchison Vale). A well-known club which has produced some of Scotland’s most promising talent. Leigh Griffiths, Allan McGregor and Darren Fletcher to name a few.
After featuring in many games, Michael was picked up at youth level for Falkirk FC. Plying his trade amongst some big names in the game included Kasper Schmeichel, Tim Krul and Robert Olejnik. A loan spell soon followed to East Stirlingshire where he would gain valuable experience. He told us:
“It was a great club for me to get some experience and with it being my 1st year professional I really enjoyed my time there. They treated me very well and was a great dressing room. Jim McInally was a very good manager to work under. We didn’t have the best of seasons but was still a good starting point for me”.
Michael’s time at Falkirk came to an end but having impressed for East Stirlingshire added with experience at Falkirk, he knew something else would come up and would soon be playing again.
Trials at Inverness and Queen of the South never amounted to a contract but an intriguing offer from Montrose meant he was soon back playing.
“I still had ambitions of full-time football so at the time I chose not to focus on getting a full-time job. Montrose gave me that opportunity to get back playing. I trained twice a week with them, but the goalkeeping coach at Falkirk was happy for me to still come in do some extra sessions. I worked with Michael McGovern who is a great guy and really gave me the time of day for some tips”.
After Montrose, Michael moved to Brechin City, still harbouring ambitions of full-time football but with the strength of squad and a chance at promotion, he took the gamble and prepared for life in League One.
“Again, it was another great club to be at. I made my debut in front of the cameras in the Ramsdens Cup against Rangers. It was a brilliant atmosphere. We didn’t start the season well though, and Jim (Jim Weir) ended up leaving. So, I’d joined a club where the manager had fought to get me, but had now gone. I was a bit unsure of what would happen next”
Ray MacKinnon joined soon after and the club began to climb the table.
“After Ray came in, we really picked up momentum. We went on an 11-game unbeaten run mid-season and it set us up for a playoff push, which we ultimately achieved. We had a great bunch of players but Andy Jackson and Alan Trouten that season were just unplayable at times!”
A play off semi-final defeat to Alloa (4-3) meant the season ended in disappointment but the bad news wouldn’t end there. A change in contract negotiations with players meant Michael was again forced to find himself a new club.
During a short spell at East Fife, Michael started to accept full time football was not going to happen. But whilst his work life was ever-changing, his personal life was also about to too. He found out he was going to be a dad for this 1st time with his now wife, Natalie. This wonderful news also meant though he would soon have to begin balancing football with a full-time job.
“After Jack was born, I had to adapt to both training sessions and being a dad. It was tough, coming home late at night from training, going to bed then being up again during the night. Lots of footballers have to deal with it just like I did, but was definitely tough with the time it took travelling to and from Fife.”
After losing his no.1 spot, Michael decided to move onto Berwick Rangers. Dropping down from League One to League Two wasn’t ideal but it gave him a chance to play more games and the travelling would be less from where he lived in Prestonpans.
“I made my debut against Annan and after the game, our manager Ian Little was sacked. I found myself losing another manager not long after I joined. I couldn’t believe it!”
Colin Cameron was appointed player manager and whilst there was an upturn in results, Berwick finished 5 points outside the playoffs.
At this time, Michael had entered the world of full-time employment, working as an Advertising Sales Executive for Johnston Press Ltd (now JPIMedia) selling print and digital advertising space for various titles. The transition into an office environment was a whole new world!
“It took a bit of time for me to adjust to office hours. 9 – 5:30 is not something I’d ever known. I was always used to the dressing room patter, where you’d have a bunch of guys having a laugh and a joke. I would have very close-knit relationships in some clubs. But in an office, it’s different people you are working with. Also, I had much less downtime than before. I’d be up for work, then after finishing, be straight home for tea then out to training a few nights a week. It took me about 6 months to a year to really get used to it all.”
Berwick suffered many postponements that season so with the added pressure of having to ask for time off work for some midweek games, it really was a very new experience.
“There were a few times I had to ask for time off work which to their credit, my work were very accommodating. But I had just joined the business and was already asking for time off. It was a bit uncomfortable. If I’d had a bad day at work, I didn’t really have time to get past that. I was into training and then home. Plus, with a 6-month-old baby, I needed to make sure I helped out around the house with Natalie.”
Another season of consolidation in League Two followed for Berwick and by the end of the season, Michael found himself on the move again, this time back up the leagues but across the Forth to Fife, to work under Colin Nish at Cowdenbeath.
“I had a chance to stay at Berwick but there were budget cuts and it was a chance to move up a league.”
It was not a fond memory, his time at Cowdenbeath. A sudden change in playing circumstances within the squad forced Michael to weigh up his options and take the decision to leave a month into his contract.
After mulling over a few offers, an intriguing proposition came in the form of Bonnyrigg Rose. With ambitions of titles, it was clearly a club going places. Dropping down to junior level was never the plan for Michael but the club were progressive and it was something he wanted to be a part of.
Training and home games were closer to home too. During the winter months, due to some pitches lacking floodlights, kick offs were moved to 1PM meaning getting home earlier to spend time with the family. And with the junior setup being regionalised, there was less travelling involved for midweek and weekend games.
“I did have a bit of a reality check when I made my debut. I was delighted to join and get back to regular football. Wherever I played I always sorted out a free ticket for my dad, who would come to every game, home or away. Usually if we were away, I knew someone from within our opponents I could sort out a complimentary ticket from. But my debut was away at Scone Thistle just outside Perth and I didn’t know anyone. I only found out that “comps” aren’t really the done thing in Junior football and my dad had to pay for the 1st time ever. He was just as surprised as I was but he quickly got used to it.”
Whilst there was definitely a noticeable change in setups in the junior league, Michael did notice some similarities to the professional game.
“Bonnyrigg always had a really good support home and away, so when you looked at the crowd numbers compared to some of the stadiums I’d played in at League One and Two level, there wasn’t too much of a difference. Plus, the standard of football, I’d say was pretty equal too so whilst I had dropped down a league, actually it felt like the standard maintained itself.”
Michael would achieve great success with his new team. League titles in 2 out of the 3 seasons, multiple regional cup successes and a very strong Scottish Cup run which included a 1-0 replay victory away at Championship strugglers Dumbarton, culminating in a glamour tie against Hibernian, which would be switched from New Dundas Park to Tynecastle.
And not forgetting the fascinating pyramid playoff battle between Bonnyrigg, Broxburn Athletic and Penicuik Athletic. The winners of the round robin would reach the Lowland League. In their final tie away at Broxburn, Bonnyrigg found themselves 2-0 down, only to come back from the dead. Snatching a 94th minute winner from Lewis Turner to win 3-2 and ultimately win the East of Scotland League and reach the Lowland League, sparking wild celebrations in the crowd.
“That was a crazy game. Our keeper had been sent off and I had to come on after 30 minutes. I’ve never been involved in celebrations like that, was a very proud moment for me and my family.”
Entering the next season, Michael found himself up against stiff competition in new signing Mark Weir. In Bonnyrigg’s maiden season in the Lowland, he would find it hard to shift him from the no.1 spot but enjoyed the challenge, more so than he had done at any other club.
“I was chasing a no.1 spot at a club I really enjoyed being at. I’d been part of the journey to get promotion and I wasn’t wanting to give that up easily. Mark and I get on great and we are coached by one of the best goalkeeping coaches I’ve worked under in Michael Burgess. Whilst no goalkeeper enjoys being on the bench, I was happy still to fight as I loved the club and the setup we have.”
Fulfilling Bonnyrigg’s dream of reaching the Lowland League was not just the reason Michael signed, he believes his club can match the ambition of teams like Cove Rangers and Edinburgh City.
“You look at teams like Edinburgh City, they challenged for the league not long after promotion, Cove are flying high in League One too. We believe Bonnyrigg can compete at that level and it’s a journey I want to continue!”
Despite Michael enjoying great success at Bonnyrigg and gaining valuable experience with other clubs, part time footballers still have a life outside of football where they have to provide for their families. And some go that step further and become involved in coaching, setting themselves up for the future. They can’t bear to walk away from the game they love.
Michael followed that logic and started his own youth goalkeeping coaching business, something he had considered for a while.
“I always had it in my mind that I wanted to get involved in some form of goalkeeping coaching. I had a lot of experience and felt I could give something back. I started working on my coaching badges. My son Jack had joined Longniddry Villa, a local community club near where we live and their coach asked if I wanted to help out on a Saturday. It was then I realised I felt like I could do this more often.”
No sooner had Michael started, he would have to put plans on hold. The country entered lockdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic. And whilst this was frustrating, as fate would have it, it gave him more time to work on building his business. There were some reservations from his family initially about setting up a business in a pandemic. Notwithstanding, Michael had just become a father for the 2nd time to his daughter Faith. After some careful reassurances, he pressed on with his idea. Zoom sessions with the SFA began and Michael was soon a qualified coach.
After a few chats with former teammates and coaches, Michael Andrews Goalkeeping Ltd began. With a bit of social media help from Natalie, they began getting the name out there any way they could. Offering group and 1-2-1 sessions for young children, whilst having to abide by the government guidelines with social distancing and capping group numbers, it became a very rewarding experience as the weeks went by.
“We had all been put in this lockdown and no one knew what to do with themselves. Parents were desperate to see their kids still get the exercise they needed and before I knew it, I had a lot of interest from all age groups. I think also it helped with both the kids and my mental health. Football had stopped for me due to the Governments pause on all professional sport, so all I had was my job at JPIMedia, I needed something else to drive me.”
By July, Michael was running a Summer camp with 12 kids with a variety of boys and girls at different ages.
A change in the restrictions later in the year meant Michael was forced to only do 1-2-1 sessions which hampered the business’ progress but as the country sees light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine rollout, he hopes the company can grow.
“The praise I get from parents really pushes me to make this a success. It’s a great feeling hearing mums or dads delighted their child is getting exercise but also with a potential to turn this goalkeeping into something more perhaps. The business has grown steadily but once we come out of lockdown and the restrictions change, I hope to offer more holiday camps. They are great fun but also very rewarding to see the child’s progression at the end.”
And whilst it’s a lot of hard work, Michael offers some advice for anyone else looking to start their own coaching journey.
“I would say you have to put in a lot of effort to get to where you want to be. But if you have that drive, it becomes very rewarding and enjoyable. I’m very lucky I have a job that I can go into and immediately enjoy myself. That’s what everyone wants out of life at the end of the day!”
You can find out more information on Michael Andrews Goalkeeping Ltd in the social media channels below:
Facebook – Michael Andrews Goalkeeping LTD
Instagram – michaelandrewsgk
Twitter – @mandrewsgk