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It’s not every Christmas you get a chance to meet one of the brightest stars in Scottish Football

24/12/19

An Interview with Ryan Christie

So here I was 48 years young and doing my first sports interview. Orion Group have a long association with promoting the development of youth football. We provide close support to Clachnacuddin with Kitts and transport and funding for youth coaches. We have links and sponsorships with Aberdeen, Ross County and a once close association with Caley Thistle. It’s no accident Orion Group noticed Ryan Christie’s talents some time ago as his father Charlie is a very well-known and respected figure in Inverness.

Now 23 years old, Ryan has burst onto the Scottish scene as a new force in his first season after recovering from an almost career ending injury. It’s only the turn of the year and Ryan has amassed 18 goals. He has an energy that drives Celtic’s midfield going forward. Christie is the one making the plays and also bursting into the box of opponents. He is also Celtic’s dead ball expert with free kicks and corners that also bear fruit for his teammates. He is the one you see Edourde and Frimpong looking for.

We asked Ryan by email if he would be open to say a few words for Orion Group. He had only just competed in a League Cup final the previous week and would have flown back into Glasgow that same morning I sent my email. I had a reply within 30 minutes. “Sure, no problem, drop by on Monday”….classy.

I was nervous but I knew he was a nice guy so wasn’t overly worried. Maybe he would go easy on this newbie reporter.

I arrived bang on time to his apartment. Rang the bell, he just said come on in….Phew….good job so all going well so far.

I made my way slowly up the coiling staircase muttering to myself, “These stairs would certainly keep you fit”…shouldn’t have had those Vietnamese spring rolls for lunch then.

Ryan appeared with a flash on the stairs above me. Straight away you notice the friendly smile. He was, bounding down a flight of stairs so that he could escort me in to his spacious apartment. He ran down the stairs only to run straight back up. He groans to me “I’ve got a slight knock but it’s nothing bad.” I knew he wasn’t telling any fibs there, He just jumped up and down several stairs like a gazelle. The guy oozes energy.

So like all newbies, I completely blew the opener…….any reporter’s starter for ten should always be an easy/casual icebreaker that gets the other guy talking.  Right? Here was me going straight for the killer injury question, making him recall one of the most painful and worrying periods of his life.

Q: So Ryan you recently made a remarkable recovery from a career threatening facial injury?,

Were there some really difficult mental and physical challenges you had to deal with on the path to fitness....bet there were some tough days along the way?...... and has it all changed you as a player or a person?

I sensed this was a hard time for Ryan as he touched his face when he spoke to where his eye socket, cheekbone and jaw were smashed during a truly sickening head collision during a Scottish cup game in 2018. I’d just made the smile disappear and it had been replaced with a sense of seriousness as he recounted his tale. – this was bad journalism!

Ryan took it in his stride and didn’t flinch. He spoke coolly and calmly.

RC: Well I’ve had a few injuries so far in my career with mostly leg issues, so the face injury was something new and obviously much more serious. At the beginning I knew this was a different kind of problem and the football was more or less put to the side. I knew I needed to concentrate on getting my health back. I really struggled for the first part of it. Feeling sick and nauseous and I couldn’t remember a 3 day period before and after the incident. I have no recollection of the day of the game whatsoever. Immediately after the injury I went back up to Inverness for my family to look after me for a few weeks. Simple things like watching TV would give me a headache. Sleeping most of the day. I recall my granny visiting me and even playing cards with her was frustrating as I couldn’t see the cards properly. As the weeks go buy I started to miss playing football and wanted to get back into it. It was getting close to the end of the season with cup finals and trophy days that I just had to be a bystander. Looking back on it, the injury probably came at quite a good time as it allowed me to get more or less a full pre-season to completely recover. I have no problem heading the ball now though so that’s a relief. I know Garry Mackay Steven well and we are good friends. He had a similar head injury and he talks of the fact that it took him at least 6 weeks to feel like himself. It’s not until you have had a serious concussion that you appreciate what it’s like so it was good to have Gary there to swap stories. As a person I’m still me. As a player my dad tells me I now shy out of bouncing balls at height, but I think he’s just trying to wind me up.

At this moment Ryan gently rubs his face in the exact place where his injury occurred that led to several metal plates being inserted into his face. There were no visible scars to be seen. Those surgeons had done wonders. His grin is back and I’m easing into the interview.

Q: Dealing with the immense pressure of breaking into top teams and having the determination, self-confidence and persistence to succeed?

RC: You just have to keep believing in yourself and that someone will eventually give you a shot. Hard work pays off in the end and with it comes opportunity.

I knew I had to work my socks of in order to get back into the squad. The guy who bought me was gone from the club and a new manager I had never worked with came in. I had to prove my worth and I knew it. Thankfully it worked out well and I’m now getting a regular run in the team so it’s good to be able to build up some momentum and keep my performances improving.

You need to be a strong character and talk up for yourself. At a football club like Celtic you get to work alongside some pretty strong characters and you need to give as good as you get. The pressure to perform is always there. At a club like Celtic if you are the forward moving midfielder, your job is to constantly make things happen

Q: Can you share any of your secrets for relaxing and dealing with nerves ahead of important fixtures?

RC: I’m generally OK with the nerves the night before. However I do get the butterflies in the stomach 5 minutes before we take to the pitch. Walking onto the pitch and hearing the huge roar from a massive crowd is exhilarating and by that time I just want it to get going. Once the first whistle blows all it takes is a first touch, pass or tackle, that’s it I’m locked in and in the zone. The crowd then becomes a blur as your every thought is about the game and getting and keeping the ball.

Q: Who has helped you the most along the way? – Family, friends, fans, former coaches?

RC: My girlfriend has been a huge help to me. My father was obviously a huge influence as I developed through the game and his coaching has been fabulous. My dad was always striving for more from me and I also think he was sterner with me than all the other players, but then I had my mum to counter balance who was always very understanding and gave me the gentle pick-ups that a son needs. So it was a good combination.

Come to think of it Yogi Hughes was also a big influence to me during my time in Inverness. I remember trying to break into the team at a young age. John Hughes would put me in with the big guys and they would kick lumps out of me. He never gave me a foul for any of them and I hated him for it at the time. I look back now and realise that it was his test to see if I could deal with being kicked and he wanted to see how I reacted. I kept a cool head and next thing I was in the starting 11.

The staff and management at Celtic really look after you. The doctors and surgeons I had access to were the best in the business and I’m extremely fortunate to have had them.

With the grin returned, Ryan exclaimed’ I know I am fortunate enough to have one of the best jobs in the world and I’m thankful for that every day. I think footballers these days can get a bad rap with all the glamour and fame however my girlfriend’s family occasionally come down to Glasgow from the Highlands and I take them to Parkhead for the match. They are astonished about how normal and humble people are here behind the scenes and not at all what they had expected.

 

Q: Was it a disadvantage not being in the central belt earlier in his career or did his upbringing in the North give him a particular outlook in life?

RC: Yes definitely I recall having a lot of sporty friends when I was younger and all of us played for teams. It’s what we did and it was the norm. I think growing up in Inverness also helped a lot as football was the one thing that was easy and accessible for everyone to do. I think the lack of other distractions that you may get a in a bigger city helped me stick with football. I think there are such a lot of other things now for kids to do and might be why some young guys stop playing.

Q: Orion group are going to shine a light on dementia and supporting those who are suffering from dementia.  Thought in light of your own injury you would have some insights on this? It’s an interesting topic just now particularly in football, are clubs doing in terms of supporting current or past players?

RC: True - it’s an obvious concern and you wonder about the long term effects of repeatedly heading a lump of leather and what it does over time. I’m also aware more emphasis is being placed on keeping the ball on the ground when training youngsters. Perhaps heading a football can be introduced over a certain age. At some stage it needs to come in as its definitely an art that is developed and your best doing this when you are young.

In Scotland, we could do with more keeping the ball on the ground (Ryan winking as he talks). At the end of the day heading a football is fundamental to our game and we are kind of compensated for taking the risks we do to be paid well for a game we love.

 

Q. Do you have to really try hard to maintain a very strict regime of keeping diet, exercise, rest etc?

RC: My girlfriend eats very healthily and enjoys cooking so that definitely makes things easy for me. Again at Celtic we get all the professional nutritional advice and we are also very well looked after in terms of healthy meals and snacks at our training site. Like everything it becomes a habit and something that more or less takes care of itself.

RC: The sleeping takes care of itself and I’m a firm believer in taking the odd nap after a gruelling training session and everyone around me understands I need to get my sleep and recharge properly before games. I find if I keep and live healthily it has a direct impact on my mood so always surround yourself with positive people around you. Again growing up in Inverness was good for me in this respect.

As time marched on it was time to let Ryan get on with his day, so with a quick photo of Ryan and his trademark smile in front of the tree the interview drew to a close.

As I left his apartment Ryan quipped, those stairs should be a bit easier on the way down mate………with a final grin he was gone.

My first interview with a football star was over, and as I walked back to the car I couldn’t help think that Ryan Christie wasn’t just Scottish footballs ‘man of the moment’. He is also a thoroughly nice guy who surrounds himself with supportive people around him. I felt proud to have met him. Some young people seem to get life a whole lot earlier than others and Ryan is one of these special people who constantly works hard, seizes opportunities, surrounds himself with positive people and takes on a burden of responsibility that gives him a real sense of achievement in his life. Well done Ryan Orion Group are proud of you.

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