By Colin Byiers
“…I’m glad I made the decision to go to Clyde, and always will be.” NE98 Writer has been speaking to Clyde goalie David Mitchell.
David Mitchell, who has now been at Clyde for 2 seasons, is someone I have admired for a number of years and believe to be one of the top goalkeepers in the Scottish Lower Leagues. I was fortunate enough to have been able to speak with the former Stranraer, Dundee and Falkirk stopper about his career and what it’s like to be a modern-day goalkeeper.
So, David, I’m always curious as to how someone ends up as a goalkeeper. Tell me how you got into it.
To be honest, it used to be just me and my dad, and he shoved me in goal and started leathering shots at me! When I was in primary school, one of the boy’s dads came to the door looking for a goalie for their boy’s club and I was what they were looking for. It started from there and I just went with it. I only played a couple of times out field when I was at my boy’s club. I think I’m quite fast, so I usually played on the wing and if I played in the middle of the park, I’d just get lost. I was ok with straight lines! One of my boy’s club managers told me I should play out field, but I don’t know if that was a compliment or an insult!
As you got older, did you have a goalkeeping idol?
Peter Schmeichel was my big favourite. As the Kilmarnock goalkeeper at the time Dragoje Lekovic, I loved him, because my dad used to take to watch Kilmarnock. I really like those two, but Schmeichel was my hero. I had a video tape of his and I used to watch it before every game to get some inspiration!
After all your school football, you end up at Ayr United, and although you don’t make any appearances for the club, what was your education like and how did that set you up going forward?
I was with the youth team for about a year, then I got a professional contract. I spent half a season on the bench, and it was the year that we got promoted. It was a good experience for me, and some good players that I still keep in touch with. It was a really good squad to be fair. I got lucky, because I never really played a lot of youth football and at 19 Ayr offered me a contract. Some of the boys played a lot more than I did and didn’t get one. It was quite a shock to be fair, being in and around a first team changing room. Young lads get a taste of the changing room environment and get the banter, but the banter isn’t as harsh on the young lads. I never really got to experience that when I was growing up, so when I joined the first team, I was getting that, and I struggled with that. I saw it as being part of the game and got on with it. The training side of things I was fine with, I always felt I held my own.
When you went out on loan to Stranraer, was that something that was discussed as part of your development?
It wasn’t discussed, I was just told I was going on loan to Stranraer, which was what I needed. At the time, I wasn’t happy, because I didn’t see it as a way of learning. I thought they were trying to get rid of me, but that wasn’t the case, and I was just making things up in my head. When Ayr got promoted to the 1st division, I was never going to play, and at that age, you need to play games, so it was what I needed. I was massive for me that first season at Stranraer. I had done really well. I cleaned up on all the awards. There was a lot of money troubles going on at the club, so the squad wasn’t great, so it was set up that I was going to be busy every game. Personally, it’s up there with one of the most important seasons of my career.
Having spent a season there on loan, did that make it easier for you to go there on a permanent basis?
It did. The manager at the time was Keith Knox and the assistant was Stephen Aitken and I really liked both of them. Got on well with them. Everyone at the club was so welcoming, so many great people that I’m still good friends with. I had spoken with Brian Reid about going back to Ayr and saying that I should be playing, but to be honest, looking back now, I wasn’t ready to be a number one at Ayr. It’s a massive club, but I just needed to play games. It’s nothing against Ayr United or Brian Reid, it’s just something I had to do, make sure I was playing every week, and that was something that Stranraer had promised I could do.
You had a good couple of seasons with Stranraer, which resulted in promotion through the demise of Rangers Football Club in 2012. Firstly, about the loss in the playoffs, how disappointing was that lose?
It was pretty gutting, as we put a lot into that season, and we ran Alloa close. The playoffs were heart breaking. We won the first leg against Albion Rovers 2-0 and cruising, and then within 5 minutes it was 2 each at Cliftonhill. It then comes down to penalties, which is the luck of the draw. The penalty that they had to win it was probably the luckiest penalty I’ve ever seen in my life! I couldn’t get near any of the penalties, and the one that I was told I wouldn’t get anywhere near it, I got my hand to it and pushed it onto the bar. It’s then bounced on the line, and the line at Cliftonhill sits on a wee hill itself, actually bounced back into the net rather than bouncing on the line at out. I’ll never forget that game, because I still don’t know how we never won. We battered them.
As you were preparing for life in division 3 for another year, at what point did you get the call to say you would actually be playing in division 2?
We were playing a pre-season game and it was just so random. Obviously, we were happy to be playing in a higher league, but the manager had built a team to go and challenge for the 3rd division, and I think the jump between the two leagues in pretty big and it ended up being a hard season that one. We finished 8th and every game was torture. Every game we played everything would go wrong for us. We had no luck, and every game was a slog. That was the toughest season of my career. Albion Rovers finished bottom that year and you kind of felt after the playoffs that it was a case of putting something right, but at the same time, it’s not nice to see anyone get relegated.
You would then play Rangers 4 times the following season after their promotion, and even got a draw at Ibrox.
It was a great day that one and the family were all there as well. It was something anyone expected, because Rangers were going for a record of wins, and they were favourites to beat us comfortably. We had done well, and I may sound biased, but I think we should have won that game, and the penalty they go that game was ridiculous! I still don’t know why it was a penalty. Nobody asked for it, nobody claimed for it. It was just given. We played some good football that day and it wasn’t like we stole a point, which made it even better.
That was a good season overall, as you finished 3rd. What was the difference from the year before?
Stephen Aitken and become manager and brought in Stevie Farrell and they worked really well together. The players they brought in were more suited to that level. We were still favourites to get relegated because we didn’t have a big budget, but we finished 3rd, which was an incredible achievement given that Rangers were in the league and Dunfermline were there too.
We went one better the next season finishing 2nd behind Morton, but we should have won the league that season. Morton finished strong towards the end of the season, and we just lacked goals in the end. To have won that league, it would have been massive. Again, we were tipped to be relegated that season, believe it or not, and we ended up finishing well above Dunfermline, one of the full-time teams, and to run Morton so close, was something to be proud of. It’s something I always think about, “what if we won that league”, which I think we did deserve to do. We lost Martin Grehan, and the year before, he worked well with Jamie Longworth, and I think had he stayed at the club that strength and depth would have got us over the line. There were games that season where we really should have won the games, like Stenhousemuir, we just couldn’t beat them that season. That ultimately cost us.
At this stage, you got an offer to join Dundee, which was too good an opportunity to turn down.
I had never been full-time, and it was all I wanted to do, and at 25, I was thinking it maybe wasn’t going to happen. I never gave up on it and I had a tunnel vision, that was where I wanted to be. Paul Hartley and Bobby Geddes had a part to play in getting me to the club and I am always grateful for that. Stephen Aitken had ended up going to Dumbarton, and I was speaking to him quite a lot and he was trying to take me to Dumbarton, but to be fair to him, he phoned me and said that I should go full-time and give it a go. That was brilliant of him to do, and something I always appreciated. It was a dream come true to go there. Scott Bain was there and had a really good season, and had just signed a new contract, and there was even talk of him getting into the Scotland squad, so I was under no illusions that I was going there to be nothing another than the number 2. It was up to me to battle him and put pressure on him. Even though I knew what I was going into, it was too good to turn down, and a player moving from League 1 to the Premiership is pretty unheard of.
You spend 2 years at Dundee, then 2 at Falkirk, where you play a combined 18 times in those 4 years. Do you look back at those 4 years with a sense of disappointment?
The full-time experience brought me on loads, I learned so much from it and it made me a better goalkeeper. At the same time though, I would say I have regrets, it’s more frustration thinking I could have and should have done more. Certain things happened during those 4 years I couldn’t control. I worked hard and I’m disappointed that I didn’t play more, especially in the Premier League. Going to Falkirk, obviously, I couldn’t control the injury I got. I was disappointed when I left Falkirk. The people there were amazing, and the fans were always good with me. When we got relegated, I wanted to put things right following my injury because the things they did for me during that time were unbelievable. They worked so hard to get me back playing, I wanted to repay that. Unfortunately, Ray McKinnon wanted to do his own thing and I couldn’t control it. I’ve never felt the way I did, the day I found out I was leaving Falkirk.
You end up at Clyde. How did that come about?
I didn’t get many offers, my agent was working hard, but you’d end up with the usual, “how’s his knee?”. I ended up going to meet the Clyde manager and was sold straight away and I knew that that is where I wanted to be. Danny Lennon is a great guy and I love his ambition and where he wants to go. It was a pretty easy decision to make after meeting the manager.
I never took in for granted that I was going to play every week, but I needed to show that I could, and my injury wasn’t going to stop me from playing. It was an opportunity to go and play and prove to people that they were wrong. I’m glad I made the decision to go to Clyde, and I will always be.
Having joined Clyde, you then come up against both Falkirk and Stranraer in the same season. What’s it like playing against your former sides?
I’ve said it before, but I hate playing against Stranraer, just because it’s so strange. That’s where I started and that’s the club that made me who I am. If it wasn’t for Stranraer, I wouldn’t have my kids either, so it’s added pressure. Playing against Falkirk, I strange because I’ve still got good friends their and it’s another club that I am forever grateful to. It’s not nice playing against your former clubs.
One stat I would like to mention, is the fact you have been involved in two 8-0 defeats. How do you explain that?
I can’t! I’ve tried to erase them from the memory, but I do remember after both of them, coming home, and going straight up the stairs and lying down in a dark room, just to try and forget about it! I remember the Livingston game more than the Morton game, because Livi’s squad was unbelievable at the time. I don’t think we had the ball that game. They’d start with at the goalkeeper and pass it and pass it and pass it and before you knew it, they’d scored. It’s one of those things that happens, but for it to happen twice is pretty unlucky. The Livi defeat was the first game if the season when we got promoted after Rangers demotion, and I knew it was going to be a long season after that!
Back onto Clyde, how well is the preparation going for the new season and how well do you think you will do?
I have ambitions to play at the highest level I can, but before that, I want to win something with Clyde. To be at the top end of the table would be good for me, but obviously, things happen during the season, and it doesn’t work out that easily. I’m looking forward to playing with the new signings and they are signings I think we needed. We needed experience and we’ve definitely got that with Morgaro Gomis coming in as well as Conrad Balatoni. It’s a decent mixture with boys that have already played at this level that are still at a good age, and when you’ve got Goodie, (David Goodwillie), you’ve always got a chance. Ally Love, who is someone that goes unnoticed for what he does at the club but is a pure winner. I’m feeling good about next season, I’m looking forward to it and hopefully it won’t be as stressful as last season. If you look at all the leagues, League 1 is probably the toughest. I mean, who do you pick to win the league? Obviously, I want Clyde to be up there and not be like what happened last year. I think if we concentrate on ourselves and not worry about the other teams, that’s the best way to go about it. It’s going to be hard. Teams will have bigger budgets than us again, but that’s the nature of the game.
Are you looking forward to the prospect of fans being back in the stadiums again?
I can’t wait! We’ve missed them, especially the Clyde fans, they are so good for us. Even last season, when they were never in the stands, the supports club, the Glasgow branch, sent a couple of letters before the bigger games and that gave us a bit more motivation. They are always there for us and even last season when we weren’t good enough to be honest, the never once went against us. I can’t wait to get them back, even going to away grounds and getting the stick from the away fans, I’m looking forward to that as well! I like going to places where you get a good bit of banter with the fans, it’s part of the game.
Finally, I’d like to get your thoughts on modern day goalkeeping. What do think a modern goalkeeper should be?
It’s all about having the ball at the feet. I like the way goalkeeping is going at the minute. I really like Ederson at Man City. It’s unbelievable how good that boy is with the ball at his feet, but still does the other aspect of it by making big saves, stopping shots and coming for crosses. There’s more appreciation towards goalkeeping, even though there are still idiots on social media who think they can comment on it, even though they’ve never played in goals. It’s going the way it should be and at the end f the day, its an extra man you can play with. You can see, boys are more comfortable giving to goalkeepers these days, not like before, when they’d rather kick it out for a throw in.
Any keepers in Scotland that you like watching?
I like watching all the goalies. Alan McGregor last season was phenomenal. Craig Gordon as well, two guys I’ve looked up to. I’m a big fan of Robbie Mutch at Falkirk, and I’m still mates with him, so will always be a fan of his. I think the standard of goalkeeping in League 1 last year great. Stuart McKenzie at Cove Rangers was impressive. Josh Rae at Peterhead done great. Max Currie and Marc McCallum are another two who always perform well. I don’t want to miss anyone out because I’m a big believer in the Goalkeepers Union and I have a lot of time for all the goalkeepers in our leagues.