LEE Wallace will collect the first winners’ medal of his professional career next week when Rangers are presented with the Third Division trophy. But it will not stand completely alone on his mantlepiece at home.
For, while the 25-year-old has had to wait longer than he might have hoped to taste any tangible success as a player, he has already picked up a league-winning momento as a coach.
Wallace has revealed his role in Edinburgh and Lothians amateur football with Heriot Vale, an initially casual involvement which he now hopes will pave the way to his future in the game once he hangs up his boots. “I’ve been helping out with Heriot Vale for a couple of years now in my spare time,” he said. “A lot of my close mates are in the team and I’ve really enjoyed it. The team won their league last year, so I got a wee plaque for that. It’s like the old medals you used to get in boys’ club football. I’ve got it in the house and it counts as a winners medal for me.
“Two or three of my mates had played for Heriot Vale two or three years ago. I went along to watch and the manager, a guy called Ally Wilson, asked if I’d come in and help out. When I went in, about another five or six of my mates went in to the team. They play on Saturdays, so I don’t get to see many of the games. I just coach them a couple of nights a week. Having done it for two years now, I’ve recently got confirmation from Donald Park at the SFA that I can go on the B Licence coaching course this June.
“The last guy to come into the Heriot Vale team was Jordyn Sheerin. He is Arbroath manager Paul Sheerin’s cousin and he played for him when they won the Third Division in 2011. So he’s already got the medal for the division I’ve been playing in this season, yet now he’s playing for my amateur side. He’s given me a bit of stick about having a medal I didn’t! Not any more, though.”
Despite the turbulent events which have enveloped Rangers since Wallace joined them from Hearts two years ago, the Scotland international says he will savour the Third Division title celebrations as he would any other triumph. “When I first came to the club, I said I wanted to be a winner,” he added. “I know that was in the SPL, but the point was about winning. Now I’m going to get my first winners’ medal as a professional and I’ll be celebrating as if it was any other.
“I was speaking to Ian Black about it the other day, and he says that for him it will be up there with winning the Scottish Cup for Hearts last season. It’s Rangers and to win anything for this club is massive. The last medal I won as a player was with Hearts at under-14 level, so this is huge for me. I was also so proud to wear the captain’s armband sometimes this season. I don’t care if it’s the Third Division, it was for Rangers.”
Wallace, along with team-mate David Templeton, was yesterday announced as one of the nominees for the PFA Scotland Third Division Player of the Year award. One of the first Rangers players to affirm his commitment to the club last summer following their expulsion from the SPL, he insists he has no regrets about his decision to play in the bottom tier of Scottish league football.
“I’ve enjoyed it, it has been a good journey,” said Wallace. “There have been ups and downs over the season but not once have I regretted the decision to stay on. I think I have improved as a player, regardless of being in the Third Division. Being nominated for the award means a lot. It’s the first time it has happened to me and it is great to personal recognition like this. If I win it, it would mean as much as anything else in my career.”
Wallace admitted the collapse of the proposed 12-12-18 league reconstruction proposal was warmly welcomed in the Rangers dressing-room as they look forward to moving up a division next season. “We are pleased, because we always wanted to go up,” he said. “When they were talking about it being the 18, we were kind of not going anywhere. We’d have been playing the same teams again and some from the Second Division.
“Now we are moving up a division, there will be a freshness and there will be players coming in and probably going out. We will have a good pre-season in terms of getting a team that is going to be consistent throughout the season. From day one we will get the hard work done and games under our belt, as opposed to last season when we had only two closed door games because we were waiting for our licence to be issued. Now that we know we are there, we will be prepared and ready for it.
“When we hear all the (off- the-field) stuff, we discuss it very briefly for five minutes then it is down to work because we will be training or playing a game. That’s just the way we are. There are a lot of good professionals in that dressing-room and it is so important that we just stay focused and don’t let anything try to put you off – even if it is from your own club.”