The Road Less Travelled

Quiz question: can you name any player in the world who has played for both Queens Park, in the lower leagues of Scotland, and Konyaspor, in the Turkish Super Lig? No? Really? Well, that is because there is only one player to manage this feat. The answer is young Scottish left-back Barry Douglas. Why is this career trajectory so unusual? There are two reasons to that question. Firstly, Queens Park is an amateur football club, therefore to sign for any professional team is impressive itself. Secondly, and most importantly, few British players, and in particular, even fewer Scottish players, forge a career anywhere outside the United Kingdom. The career of Barry Douglas is an unusual one. He hasn’t signed for a traditional “big club”, nor has he signed for a bunch of completely unknown part-timers abroad. Instead, he has developed into a player who has signed for a couple of obscure teams on the continent, both of whom have partaken in European competition during his stint there. He is doing his part to prove that an exciting career can be built around deviating from the norm and plying one’s trade outwith the UK.

Queens Park are an unusual little club, they are unusual because they are an amateur club playing in a professional league. They attribute this to their Latin motto, “Ludere Causa Ludendi”, which translates into “to play for the sake of playing”. Basically, this means that Queens Park players do not get paid. Instead, they get benefits, such as playing home games at Scotland’s national stadium, Hampden Park. Despite playing at Hampden, their crowds don’t quite reflect the 51,000 capacity, with Queens Park drawing in an average of 750 fans. However, the main purpose is to merely provide the players with a platform to display themselves.

Barry Douglas was one of the many Queens Park graduates to take the step up to the higher leagues in Scotland. Douglas impressed for the Glasgow amateur side from an early age, with the teenager amassing over 60 appearances in his two seasons there. Despite suffering a relegation to the lowest professional division in Scotland, he managed to shine for Queens Park, nicknamed the spiders, and earned adoration from the clubs small but passionate fan base on account of his impressive goal tally, 10 goals in 65 games. Many of these goals were scored from direct free kicks, a good trait to possess for an up and coming talent.

The problem for a team like Queens Park operating as an amateur club, and consequently, not paying a penny in wages to their players, is that they struggle to retain any really talented players. As is the way, money and the allure of top flight football proved too much to resist, and at the age of just 20, Barry Douglas signed for Dundee United, tasked with jockeying with fan favourite Paul Dixon for the starting left back position. To make matters harder, this was a Dundee United side with raised expectations, they were the Scottish Cup holders, they were firmly establishing themselves as the best of the rest (the coveted term for the team finishing behind Celtic and Rangers, pre the Ibrox side’s liquidation in 2012). The player was technically capable and certainly did not lack confidence. A mixture of good form and a string of injuries to Paul Dixon saw Barry Douglas play over 20 games in his first season, notching two goals to add to the mix.

His second season was less impressive. He managed only 10 appearances in the league, and, in a League Cup tie against Falkirk, played potentially the worst 120 minutes (yes, such was his bad luck that the game went to extra time) I have ever seen a professional player play. Caught out of position far too often, every pass going astray, facing the indignity of being penalised for a false throw in. It

was just an all round nightmare, everything that could go wrong went wrong. Finally, the final whistle blew, it was 2-2 after 120 minutes and the game went to penalties. Douglas, to his credit, was not one to give up easily, stepped up, saw his penalty saved. A bad end to a bad night. He was hounded by fans, and that obviously affected him. He never quite showed the same promise that he once had.

If the 2011/12 season had seen the young man fall below par, the 2012/13 season was a sheer triumph. Boosted by the knowledge that he wasn’t battling for a starting spot, with the departure of Paul Dixon to Huddersfield Town, Douglas grasped the opportunity to be the Terrors number one left-back and held on to that position tightly. After the indignity of that awful Falkirk cup game a year before, it was a Dundee derby which saw the Arabs forgive and forget, after a herculean performance against their bitter rivals. This spurred an excellent season for Douglas, who was both a steady influence at the back, as well as a wonderful crosser of the ball going forward.

What happened next in the career of Barry Douglas certainly wasn’t usual. Usually, if you’re a talented, sought after Scottish player of any position, there are two main career paths.

Option A: Join Celtic (or pre-2012, Rangers). This is the most common option for players, as Celtic and Rangers of old were both keen to ensure their dominance. In some cases, the Old Firm would sign players from smaller top flight teams to make themselves stronger. An example of this would be Rangers signing Kris Boyd, a natural goal scorer, who would add something to their team. In other cases, such as Celtic signing Nadir Ciftci from Dundee United, the player was signed more to weaken the side that the player is signed from, rather than any real need for the player.

Option B: Move to England, almost always the lower divisions. Occasionally a Scot moves down south to a Premiership club, for example, Craig Gordon signing for Sunderland in 2007. More often than not, however, Scottish players sign for teams in the Championship or below, with the aspiration of gaining promotion to the EPL or standing out enough to get a bigger move. There are a number of success stories. Today, most of the Scottish national team play in the lower leagues of England, but for some players, this just doesn’t have the appeal.

Barry Douglas, or “Basher” as was his nickname at Dundee United, neglected both the mainstream options. With his contract running down, and an impressive couple years of experience, the 23-year-old decided to do what few Scottish players had done before, and tried to forge a career in mainland Europe. Bashers European adventure didn’t quite see him sign for the giants of Juventus, Bayern Munich or Barcelona, but instead saw him join Polish outfit Lech Poznan.

Douglas’ decision to break the mould and move to Poland was certainly unusual, but it was a gamble which has paid off for him, eventually… Concerning, the fullback picked up an injury on his very first day of training, putting him out of action for three months. Following that thigh strain, he managed to play a few games, before an ankle injuries picked up in a title clash against Legia Warsaw saw him ruled out for a further five months. At this stage, there must have been doubts in the player’s mind as to whether he had made the right career move, yet just one year later, his decision would be vindicated.

The 2014/15 season saw Mr. Douglas return a fitter, stronger player, and force himself into the first team. He played 33 games in all competition, including a European fixture against Stjarnan, of

Iceland. He saw his team claim their first league title in five seasons, and was a part of the team that triumphed in the Polish SuperCup. All the heartache and anguish he would have suffered in his injury-hit first season were just a distant memory as he became a silver kisser not once, but twice. Sure, he could have gone to Celtic and won a couple trophies, but to really step out your comfort zone and go to a team that want success, but certainly, don’t demand it, must make the taste of victory so much sweeter.

After the ecstasy of his second season, his third one was a bitter disappointment. On a personal note, he played well. Furthermore, he played several Europa League games, against FC Basel, Fiorentina, and Portuguese side Belenenses. Lech Poznan were having a torrid time in the league, however, and the fans, who supported the team so passionately through the good times, were extremely vocal and volatile in their criticism. In January of 2016, Barry Douglas became the transfer target of another team, this time even further from his hometown of Pollok, near Glasgow.

The bid came from the Turkish Super Lig. Despite a successful spell in Poznan, it wasn’t quite the powerhouse of Galatasaray or Fenerbahce that launched a bid for the Scot, but rather the relatively unknown entity of Konyaspor. Konya is a deeply religious city from the Asian region of Turkey. Konya is not literally a million miles from Pollok, but figuratively…

However, this was not the first time that Basher had joined an unknown entity, in fact, he had become quite adept at adapting. Even his switch from Queens Park to Dundee United would have been a culture shock, going from amateur to full time. But then going to a new country in Poland, with a new language was a big step up. But this was Barry’s biggest challenge yet. This was a new club, a new country, and a new culture. And to raise the stakes that little bit higher… his first game was Galatasaray away. This really was a go big or go home scenario, and Barry Douglas certainly wasn’t in any mind to go home.

It was apparent that Douglas was more than happy to be in the Turkish league, stating in an interview soon after joining that as soon as he arrived in the nation, fans were there to greet him at the airport. He also mentioned having to pinch himself when he realised that he’d be playing against real life superstars, such as Wesley Sneijder, Robin Van Persie and Samuel Eto’o – a stark difference to that atrocious cup game against Falkirk years previously, where he was playing against glamorous names such as Darren Dods, Jay Fulton and Farid El Alagui.

Despite the intimidation of a tough away trip to Gala, Douglas helped his side grind out a 0-0, helping him earn a spot in team of the week. Douglas is yet to find his scoring boots after a just over a year in Turkey, but that isn’t utterly dreadful for a defender! He helped his team reach 3rd in the league, securing a Europa League space.

Admittedly, this was an abysmal European campaign for the Turkish team, as they amassed only one point from their games, although in fairness to them, they were dealt a tough group, featuring Shakhtar Donetsk, Gent, and Braga. Despite the poor results, it was a good experience for a team evidently on the rise, and certainly, will do Barry Douglas no harm rubbing shoulders with some of the better teams in Europe.

Their poor Europa League form was matched with a poor start to the league, with Konyaspor sitting in 8th place at the time of writing. After a good few years of grafting in some of the more obscure

leagues in Europe, Douglas will be hoping that his team improves. Another European campaign would certainly do his reputation no harm, however languishing in mid-table obscurity may see him struggle to take a step up.

So that is the career path of Barry Douglas, and that in itself shows a lot of the character that the man possesses, but what is he like as a person? A good looking guy, bleach-blonde hair and, in the early days of his career, an “interesting” array of social media pages. From a quick glance, it may be easy to write him off as a typical modern day footballer. Part of the Nando’s generation. One of “the lads”. This would be what any lazy journalist would describe him as, in reality, he is much more than that.

It is apparent to all that have followed his career that he is brave, hard working and eager to test himself to a different standard than most Scottish players. But off the pitch, he is a genuinely decent family man. In the summer of 2016, Barry married his longtime girlfriend, Debbie, whom he regularly post pictures of and messages about of his Instagram and Twitter pages. Furthermore, he often posts about his “wee genius” of a grandmother, with whom he evidently has a strong bond. He truly is a family man and a gentleman.

One of the biggest displays of Barry’s good nature came in 2012, in his Dundee United day. His uncle was sadly diagnosed with cancer. The player was devastated by the news but chose to use this as an opportunity to help, stating that if the public donated over £2000 he would shave his head in support of the Marie Curie cancer charity. The appeal raised over £3000 and Douglas, who evidently put a lot of time into gelling every hair on his head into place, took the clippers to his head and shaved every lock off.

Barry Douglas, it would seem, is a good player on the pitch and a great guy off it. So often we see players from all over the world flock to the United Kingdom to play football, from Paul Pogba signing for Manchester United down to Mathias Pogba signing for lowly Partick Thistle. While there are still a large number of Scottish players playing for Scottish teams, there are a great many foreigners playing in the Scottish leagues. Personally, I believe this is a good thing, however, it does pose the question of why more Scottish players don’t go abroad. Yes, it can be intimidating learning a new language, but it is not an impossible task, and footballers certainly have spare time in abundance. Barry Douglas has shown that it is possible, and fruitful, even.

If Douglas played a different position, he would surely be in contention for a Scotland call-up. He has certainly built up a great deal of experience in his career, playing European football for Dundee United, Lech Poznan, and Konyaspor. Unfortunately for him, left back is a highly competitive position in the Scotland set up, with Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney and Stephen Kingsley all vying for a starting role. Rather than rewarding our players for challenging themselves in a different environment, our national set up instead excludes them, as flying out to Turkey to view the progress of Douglas is evidently too costly, compared to scouting Robertson, Tierney and Kingsley in Hull, Glasgow and Swansea. I’m not saying Douglas is the best left back in Scotland, nor that he deserves a start, but merely that he deserves more of a look in than he currently gets. Surely there is more accreditation in playing in a top division in Europe than there is in the English Championship?

If you take nothing else from this article, you can at least now answer the original question: name a player to play for Queens Park and Konyaspor. Just as Barry Douglas is the only player to fit into this question, I am probably the only person bizarre enough to ask that question! Regardless, the real aim of this was to show that for talented Scottish players at middling to good Scottish Premiership teams, looking for the next step in their careers, there is an option C. There is a world beyond the Old Firm or the lower leagues of England. There is a great big world out there, with many weird and wonderful football teams. You can play Europa League without joining Celtic, you can play against World Cup stars without joining an English team in the hope of earning promotion or a glamour FA Cup draw. Barry Douglas took the bold step of taking the road less travelled, and appears to have enjoyed every step along the way.