FOOT­BALL

Hard work pays off as Liv­ingston win ti­tle

Rutherglen Reformer - - Football - Mur­ray Spooner

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)

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