I couldn’t afford to stay a pro
CRAIG McKEOWN once hoped full-time football would be his ticket to fame and fortune.
Now he’s building a promising new career off the pitch after realising he could no longer AFFORD to play the game he loves for a living.
Eyebrows were raised when McKeown took up a job as a sales executive in the Aberdeen oil industry and joined Highland League part-timers Formartine United after being released by Dundee last summer.
A virtual ever-present as the Dark Blues finished second in Division One before being promoted due to Rangers’ demise, the defender had looked a stick-on to land a move to another top-end SFL club at the very least.
But the truth is that plummeting wages and nine-month contract offers meant it no longer made financial SENSE for him to play full-time in Scotland’s cash-strapped lower leagues.
That’s why the 28-year-old reckons every young player who dreams of finding footballing fame and fortune should have a plan B.
McKeown — who will face East Stirling in the Ramsdens Cup today — admitted: “It was a hard decision for me, but the right one.
“There were options when I left Dundee but to be honest it was at the stage where for £300 or £400 a week it didn’t make sense any more.
“Don’t get me wrong, that’s fantastic if you are still living with your parents but it’s different if you have bills and mortgages to pay.
“You are being offered nine-month contracts and at the end of that you are back in the same position again, wondering if you will get a deal for the following season.
“You’ve also got to think of what you do when the body gives up and you need to look at earning a living away from the game.
“I think you just have to look at some of the other players who are dropping out of full-time football in Scotland.
“It’s not a case of people not being good enough, it’s just that finances dictate and the money just isn’t there in the Scottish game now.
“It’s changed completely. I can remember maybe six years ago trying to break into the Dunfermline team as a young player and they were paying some of the boys three or four grand a week.
“There must have been a squad of 30 or 40 guys — even the youth team had squad numbers up to 45! But those days are past now, the money has gone.
“Obviously, everyone hopes they’ll get that life-changing move one day but the way I see it is that the first six or seven years of your career are like being on trial.
“If you are over 24 and not playing for one of the bigger SPL clubs then that life-changing move is unlikely to happen — and if it doesn’t, what do you do when the football stops?
“That’s the way I was looking at it and when the opportunity came along to start a new career in Aberdeen I took it.
“I’m back living in my home village of Tarves at the moment and I work for a company called JD Neuhaus as a sales executive, selling air hoists for on- and off-shore use and it’s going really well.
“Don’t get me wrong, I miss full-time football. I miss the boys, I miss being down in Glasgow, where I’d been staying, and I miss the banter.
“But the positive is that I’ve got myself a career now. I enjoy it, I’m completely involved in it and if I do well enough then in five, six or seven years I could maybe be looking at being in a senior management position.
“So it’s been going well and obviously I can still play football part-time with Formartine, which I’ve enjoyed.”
McKeown was a key man for Steve Paterson’s Formartine side as last season’s Highland League title battle went to a nerve-jangling final-day showdown with Cove Rangers.
United went into the game a point ahead — but suffered heartache as Cove beat them 2-0 to nick the crown.
McKeown is determined to put that misery behind him this term.
Ad he reckons a cup win for Formartine — in the tournament as the highest-placed Highland League club with a valid SFA licence — against Shire today would be a great place for to start.
He said: “What happened last season was hard to take but it’s up to us to put it behind us.
“It’s a good chance to test ourselves against a side in the Scottish League and while some will look at it as a good draw for us, I’m sure East Stirling will be thinking the same.
“They’ll be looking at it as being a winnable match and a chance to go through — and so will we.
“We’ve got a lot of good young players here and it will be good experience for them to be involved in a game like this.
“We’ve got plenty of players who are capable of playing at a higher level and they’ll be hoping to show what they can do in cup games like this.
“But East Stirling have players who should be playing at a higher level too and I’m looking forward to playing against them because it should be a good tussle.”