Hard work pays off as Livingston win title
He may not have played the game at professional level but Cambuslang man Ross Ballantyne certainly has an incredible wealth of coaching knowledge between the sticks.
The 35-year-old gave up football at 16 to pursue a job outside the game as his skills prevented him from making it to the top tier of the sport in Scotland.
And since getting back into it and gaining his UEFA A and B coaching badges, Ross has caught the eye of top professional clubs along with running his very own goalkeeping academy.
He is the first team goalie coach at League One champions Livingston and also a leading academy trainer at Hearts in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
So how does Ross cope with developing the best keepers at these clubs, while also training his clients at the Savehands Goalkeeping Academy?
“It’s quite full on,” he said. “I am at Livingston three to four times a week and I’m up at the Hearts’ academy as well.
“On a Friday I coach some of my clients and I’m at the academy a few days as well. It’s not so bad now the new roads on the motorways have opened but before that it could take me up to an hour to get places.
“I didn’t really play at a good level. I gave up football to focus on my work when I was 16 and got back in at 24 and decided to do my badges in 2007.
“Now I’ve been in the pro game for five years and I’ve worked with some great people.
“I’ve been quite lucky with the players and managers that I’ve worked with and coaches and boards have taken a chance on me because it’s easy to just go out and get a guy in who has played the game or knows somebody.”
Ross has learned from some of the best in the Scottish game including former Airdrie, Hearts and Rangers star Sandy Clark and ex-St Mirren and Celtic player Billy Stark. He also worked under Cambuslang man Darren Young at Albion Rovers during the three best seasons in the club’s history.
Relegated Livingston then came calling last summer and Ross felt it was too big an opportunity to turn down.
His contacts in the game even saw The Lions nab Rangers kid Liam Kelly on-loan, and he has been a sensation at the Toni Macaroni Arena this season.
“I coached under Darren Young for three years and decided to leave when the Livi offer came up last year. It was just too good to knock back especially from going from a club like Albion.
“With no disrespect, there’s only so much you can do with them, as Darren’s found out.
“It’s great [for Livingston to win the league]. It’s been a long, hard, enjoyable season and it’s always good to get a reward at the end of it.
“Liam has been outstanding since he came in on loan. Once I got the job at Livingston his name was put forward to the manager and we wanted to bring him in.
“I was lucky to use my contacts to manage to get the deal over the line dead quick.
“It’s good for him at 21 to be playing over 40 games in a season. Not many kids do that, especially in goals.”
When asked if Livingston could make it back to the top tier of Scottish football, Ross admitted: “That would be good but we would be just happy finishing as high up the league as possible. We are not under any illusions, it’s going to be difficult.”
Ross, originally from Baillieston, has stayed in Cambuslang’s Woodland Crescent for over nine years. And he is enjoying running his own academy at the nearby Toryglen Regional Football Centre where he will hold an open day for keepers free of charge.
At Savehands GK on June 7, they will give goalkeepers of all standards a unique opportunity to come and train like the professionals and improve their skills.
“My academy has been running for just over eight years,” Ross said. “We have decided to have an open day and kids coming in, who have never been in the academy, will get to see what we do.
“We’ve been running the academy for eight years now but it’s the first time we’ve done this. It’s the biggest [goalkeeping] academy in Scotland and we also do the summer camps.
“The big thing for me was to bring something back to the grass roots.
“We’ve got a couple of pros coming down for a question-andanswer session so it should be a great evening.”
To register for the open day at Toryglen Regional Football Centre, 6pm start, visit www.savehandsgk. co.uk.
League One winners Ross Ballantyne with keepers Gary Maley and Liam Kelly (right)