Scottish Football needs vocal people in the game. For too long we have celebrated our domestic game without an overhaul of our blueprint to question our consistent failure on football’s main stage through both the national team and our clubs playing in europe.
In terms of coaches and managers we are too quick to judge anyone coming in from a different background, anyone challenging the accepted norms or anyone we don’t quite see as rational. Despite varied success levels and with the hindsight of the narrative now cemented in the history books, managers such as Ronny Deila and Ian Cathro were never given a fighting chance by their early critics. Cathro, now Assistant Manager at Wolves under Nino Espirito Santo wasn’t from the old guard of Scottish Football and he didn’t retire after 10+ years playing in the Scottish Premier League, so certain pundits said no from the start. What Cathro does poses however is a strong reputation in football circles as one of the most forward thinking and intelligent young coaches in the game.
It’s rare that a young player in our game tests himself both personally and professionally overseas before returning, so we’ve yet to write the track record for anyone bringing fresh ideas back to the game…. Full back Ziggy Gordon however recently re signed for Hamilton Academical after a spell in Poland and he is ready to take his game to the next level in order to help them achieve their goals this season. Ziggy isn’t just a football player he’s a football man with an interest and a love for the game which he’s had from day 1…
“There was never a second choice or any doubt over what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a football player and that was it. I don’t want to use the word luck because there’s a terrible stigma attached to luck in football. I was very fortunate and I had very fortunate circumstances. I had parents that were happy to let me play every day and drive all over so I had that opportunity. I never had to go wanting for trivial things like football boots due to their financial help. It took a lot of hard work and determination but that would have been worth nothing without their support and that upbringing”
Ziggy came through a youth system with Hamilton Accies famed for producing top talent on a consistent basis. (James McArthur, James McCarthy, Paul Hartley, Brian Easton etc) A system that many fail to understand for a club constantly punching above their weight…..
“Quite simply they don’t have a choice. To their credit, their only livestock is bringing through young talented players. They don’t have the facilities or financial backing to get established players in the door. They nurture the players to make them good enough to play at this level. Hamilton Accies are an anomaly and an outlier to Scottish Football, they are unique to every club in the top division perhaps even in the country. I think young players and specifically the parents of young players are starting to look at Hamilton as an option of where to learn your trade as opposed to the big guns of Celtic and Rangers”
After making his day in 2011 he went on to play 162 games which included being named their player of the year for the 2012-13 season before being selected in the 2013-14 Championship PFA Scotland Team of The Year. In 2016 though he moved to league rivals Partick Thistle in a move that raised a few eyebrows.
“Football is never simple. We like to judge players on what we would do as a supporter in their shoes or by what we read in the paper. I left Hamilton to join a team in England but unfortunately for me and for the manager of the club he was sacked. I had put all my eggs in one basket and invested in that transfer and as it fell through, pre season began to drag on.
Partick Thistle along with a few other Premier League teams came calling and I was very thankful. I felt that my time at Hamilton had passed after a few things happened during the season which I wasn’t happy about. Being a football player you need to back yourself. I felt that after everything I had achieved at Hamilton and having had an offer from a good team in England, my time at Thistle would always be short. That’s not always the way it works however. At Thistle we never managed to get a consistent run going so the team was always changing. I made sure if a club came in for me in January my contract wouldn’t be too difficult to get around”
A club did come calling in January in the form of Polish giants Jagiellonia Bialystack and for Ziggy the opportunity was too good to turn down.
“People seem to think that my mum being half polish had some bearing on a team in Poland coming in for me but that’s not true. The fact is Jagiellonia Bialystack were interested while I was at Hamilton. I knew they were a big club but I didn’t realise just how big they were until I arrived. In Poland it’s about winning no matter what it takes. When I first arrived the manager showed a lot of trust in me and i played a lot of games at the highest level i had ever played at.
When I first arrived there I was doing interviews and i found it troubling that people had such a high opinion on the difference in the leagues when they had never experienced the Polish game. For me it’s like comparing Coca Cola and Irn Bru when you’ve never tasted Coca Cola. You don’t have the right to an opinion if your opinion isn’t weighted towards both ends of the argument”
It can’t be easy for a young man moving to a massive club in a country famous for its supporters culture and intensity. How obvious was the noise from the stands and how did places like Lech Poznan or Legia Warsaw compare to Parkhead and Ibrox?
“It’s a different kind of atmosphere in Poland. It’s more volatile in a good sense of the word. With no disrespect to Scotland you can have 200 fans at a Polish game and they’ll make more noise than the biggest stadiums at home. Scottish supporters sing in unity and in a non aggressive manner. In Poland not everyone will sing but they sing throughout the entire game. Their songs are so visible that you can’t ignore them. A stadium full of supporters singing becomes background noise but I had goosebumps playing in Poland. During some games I was genuinely scared, knowing that I was part of 22 people on a pitch that every person in the stadium wanted to be. It was completely humbling.
It is a way of life for Polish supporters. I couldn’t go out on the street without being noticed or people talking to me. Again it was humbling for me coming from clubs such as Hamilton and Thistle who are relatively small in stature. It was what I can only imagine Celtic and Rangers players go through in Scotland”
On a personal level how is it relocating to a new country so different to the one you’ve grown up in and how did the footballing culture affect your progression?
“Honestly, it’s extremely difficult. I had been living in a bubble for 23 years. I was comfortable where I was, I knew everyone in my life and I spoke the language. I didn’t have any barriers where I was so it took the move to Poland to make me realise what kind of person i was. What i’ve learned is that I’m very resilient but there would have been no way of measuring that without the move to Poland. I was in a country I didn’t know surrounded by a language I knew nothing of. On a personal level it was invaluable.
My biggest piece of advice is that is not for everyone. You should always push yourself out of your comfort zone but I dont always recommend that in the sense of moving to a new country. I’m an ambitious open minded person and even I struggled. You can’t talk to your money regardless of where you go and you can be left with just yourself and your own thoughts.
There was so many points where I considered coming back but I had to remember the fortunate situation I was in, a situation so many people would given anything to be in.
When i’ve had bad games in Scotland I have a network of people behind me for support. In Poland I had no one but myself and that was the hardest thing”
Having experienced both leagues, is there an arrogance to the Scottish game and is there anything both leagues can learn from each other?
“I’m very patriotic and sometimes the things I say are wrongly perceived. I do believe however that the only way we can grow as a footballing nation is to stay open minded, try things and not be scared to make mistakes. As a nation we are so invested in football. There are so many countries of similar sizes for example Uruguay, Belgium and Iceland doing well on the world stage so we need to do something. I could go on and on about things we could learn from the Polish league as well as things the Polish league can learn from us.
When I left scotland I thought the Scottish League was very strong. When I arrived in Poland I personally thought the Polish League was stronger. From the bottom to the top in my experience of Scottish Football I think our culture and outlook on training is outdated where as the Polish game is modern and forward thinking with european tournaments and european games in mind. Perhaps it’s because were so invested in the history of our football that we are blinded by the fact football has moved on and we need to move with it”
During his time in Poland Ziggy played with Jagiellonia Bialystack before a move to another massively backed club Pogon Siedlce.
“With massive clubs comes ruthlessness that you wouldn’t see in smaller clubs. In Poland it’s about winning no matter what it takes. When I first arrived the manager showed a lot of trust in me and I played a lot of games at the highest level I had ever played at. Unfortunately the manager left and a new manager came in who didn’t speak a word of english. The new manager didn’t know me, the kind of player I was or my past and brought in his own players. With such a massive club comes massive financial backing and that gave him the ability to do so. I wasn’t playing but I had signed a new 3 year contract but I was willing to leave that contract to play first team football. Financially it wasn’t a good decision but I hope that after a long and fruitful career I can look back at that decision as a pivotal moment that gave me the opportunity to truly progress”
Now after overcoming all his obstacles in Poland, Ziggy is back with his childhood club Hamilton and he doesn’t care if anyone views it as his “comfort zone”. In his view, he has returned a better player both on and off the pitch and he is ready to take everything he has learned and use it to help Hamilton achieve their goals this season.
“I would have liked to have stayed in Poland but circumstances dictated otherwise. Now that I’m back my full focus is on helping Hamilton Accies. I owe them everything I have in football. Without them I may never have got my chance and I’ll do everything I can to help them achieve their goals this season.
Martin Canning was absolutely vital to me coming back. I was fortunate to speak to other managers in the league and some of the offers were very persuasive. For me though, value comes in all shapes and sizes and it isn’t always determined by money. Martin has trust in me and I trust in his values and beliefs. I know him inside and out professionally and he’s not just a good sportsman but a good human being. The players will do all they can for him because of that”
By Scott Bentley (Facebook/Instagram @thescottblog Twitter @scottbentley_16)