Queen’s Park head coach Gus McPherson quietly overhauled the squad that had delivered Scotland’s oldest club’s worst ever league season during the summer – and when he did so he brought in an unlikely “Quiet Man” to help.
McPherson recruited 13 new players with only one, David MacGregor, coming from the senior ranks, and his new line-up will be tested against Rangers in a Scottish League Cup first round tie tomorrow night.
One of the 12 new players that came in from the junior and amateur ranks is the softly-spoken Bryan Wharton who got himself into shape for a move to the senior ranks by taking up Muay Thai boxing.
Not only did Wharton practise the combat sport before he joined the Spiders, he has a record of seven wins from eight bouts that McPherson would be proud of.
However, the 24-year-old was keen to play down any thoughts that the aggression he requires for kick boxing goes anywhere else in life with him.
Wharton explained: “People hear about me doing Muay Thai and think that I must be a really outgoing person and that it helps in a contact sport like football, but that is not the case. The fitness definitely helps your strength and balance but not much else.
“Anyway, away from sport I am actually a really quiet person who does not go out much. I don’t drink alcohol and I am big into my fitness. I like a tackle but I am not an aggressive player.
“In any case, the senior game is all about passing the ball, and an over-physical approach will get you nowhere.”
Becoming an expert in the “art of eight limbs” – which allows the use of fists, elbows, knees and shins – is not something that Wharton set out to do, as he explained: “I never wanted to be a fighter, and only went along to the classes to help my fitness.
“However, when you train with the guys you get sucked in more and more and before I had realised it, I was fully involved.
“My first fight was in Dumfries and there have been a few in Paisley as well, and I am pleased with my record.”
There will, however, be no clash between football and Muay Thai at the moment, with Wharton saying: “If I had more time I would do it seriously and have a few more fights. However, working as an account manager for a fuel card company and training for football means that it has taken a back seat.
“There is a chance that you can get injured, and having worked hard to get to a senior level I do not want to miss out. I can go back to it at some stage, but football is the priority just now.”
There was no Muay Thai when Wharton was on Celtic’s books for three years from the age of 12, and he only got into it when he progressed to Thorniewood Juniors after playing for their amateur side.
Wharton said: “After Thorniewood I joined Shotts Bon Accord, and when I was there I won a Scottish Junior Cup medal against Auchinleck Talbot.
“I came on as a sub in that game which was a bit like Queen’s Park’s game with Rangers, as we were playing big favourites. That was my best experience in football until I joined Queen’s in the summer.”
Despite their amateur status and bottom placed finish last season, Wharton was desperate to sign as he explained: “When I spoke to the gaffer I was keen to come here like a lot of the new players were. We were all attracted by the history of the club, the facilities it has at its new pavilion beside Hampden and the chance to prove yourself at a senior level.
“When I joined I had hoped that I would experience at least one big game – and with the Rangers game coming so quickly I am looking to be involved in more than one now.”
Wharton made his debut on Saturday when he came off the bench in the 2-0 defeat by Arbroath, and he hopes to have done enough to get a role against Ally McCoist’s side.
The defender said: “I have had to be patient to get a chance but I cannot complain as David Macgregor and Tony Quinn are really experienced players.
“Playing against Rangers is great for all the players that came in during the summer and we recognise that not everyone gets the chance to be involved in a cup tie like this in their career. We are getting that chance a month into our Queen’s Park careers and we know that we have to be at our best.
“Being up against Kris Boyd is something I could only have imagined a few months ago. Queen’s had a difficult season last year and they have recruited a squad determined to prove a point both individually and collectively.”
Wharton finished by saying: “The Scottish Junior Cup final was the biggest game so far of my footballing career, but this one will top it.”