ROWAN Vine looks uncomfortable. The St Johnstone newcomer knows the number of clubs on his CV paints a picture and it’s not one he likes. “I never wanted to be someone who was considered a journeyman and who had loads of clubs,” he says, shifting in his seat.
A fidget by nature, it gets worse when certain topics are raised. His reputation and the way the past four years have helped colour that are definite triggers. Honest and proud, Vine knows that people look at statistics and make snap judgments. In his career, he has signed for 12 clubs and there have been a few others where he has featured as a trialist. Yet he made fewer than 30 starts in the three and a half years prior to joining the Perth side this summer. On paper those facts don’t look great. But there is more to his story. Much more. Which is why he is so relieved that Saints manager Steve Lomas is not one for lazy assumptions. And it is why he is so determined to prove himself in the Scottish Premier League.
“A lot of my clubs have been loan spells.” In fact, there have been nine throughout his career. “And when I was at Portsmouth, I’m proud of the fact that at 19 I went out on loan and played 45 games for Brentford and then did similar for the next two seasons because I think that’s the best thing to do and that’s how you make a name for yourself.”
Vine’s reputation was solid at that stage. Clubs had him watched and, within a couple of years, Luton, Birmingham City and QPR had shelled out a total of more than £4 million in transfer fees for him.
“It was a spiral of success and progression and I moved to Luton and then to Birmingham and everything was going fine. I was 24 and we got up to the Premier league and then it was stop-start for probably the first time in my career. It was because my face didn’t fit as well as I had hoped and, at Birmingham, I struggled to be in the squad for the Premier League. I signed for QPR, on loan initially, and then, having done well, I signed a four-year contract and thought I was going to kick on again.”
The Londoner was 25, settled close to his family and edging towards what should have been his peak years. Injury temporarily curtailed matters before the financial unrest, various takeovers and a succession of managerial switches and personality clashes derailed them. “The injury was unlucky but I ended up having four nightmare years on the back of that. It wasn’t really anything to do with football. It’s been well documented what QPR have been through, different owners, different managers. I was right in the mix. I’m quite opinionated but I was injured at the time. If I had been fit and the first or second name on the teamsheet each week, I probably could have said what I wanted because I could back myself up on the pitch. But, when you are sitting on the treatment table, it’s not as easy to say something because it’s not taken as well as you meant it.
“I now want to play every game that I can but I know people will question that because my reputation over the past four years is that I haven’t played many games. People could look at those stats and just assume I’m not fit or there’s something wrong with me but the truth is I got injured in training from my own team-mate and I was out for 16 months. I think I have had one small injury since then and the fact I haven’t played much since then has been down to everything that’s gone on at QPR, not being allowed to train, not being allowed to play reserve games. That makes it hard to get out on loan and then do your best when you do. I am now trying to get myself back to a level. I’ve just turned 30 but, over the next three or four years, I don’t think it’s in doubt that I will play every game that I can.”
Vine believes he still has plenty of time to change any negative opinions formed about him. That was one reason he wanted to leave England but remain in the UK. He could have tried life abroad but he says he has unfinished business on these shores. “I look at stuff that has been said by people or media close to QPR or in the national press when they have tried to put a spin on things, and I’m embarrassed to see my name even associated with that kind of reputation. But I played over 200/250 games by the time I was 25 and before I was injured and, before everything at QPR, I did have a good reputation. I had never been in the final year of my contract, each time I had already been given an extension or the club sold me to a better club because I was doing well and I was proud of that. But all it takes is for scouts to see one bad game.
“In England you pretty much know that, if one manager has something to say about you, within two or three days every single manager in the league will know that. People seem too willing to take other people’s word but I have never, ever thought I was finished. People can write you off and that’s part of it, people have opinions and everyone wants their say but you can use that as added motivation. A couple of times I have been dealt a rough hand but I have always maintained that, if I could get the opportunity to get back to a certain level of fitness and match sharpness, then I could still show what I could do. I’m getting there but I know I’m still not back to the level I have been in the past.”
Life in Perth is suiting him, although his red card yesterday against Ross County was a setback. Nevertheless, he is settling into the dressing room. “I do speak my mind but I try to be positive. I don’t want to come into a club and be the loudest person in the changing room because I think that’s disrespectful to the guys who were already here. But, in every changing room I have ever been in, I have been a big part of the squad and I can affect things positively.”
Vine’s first goal for Saints, in their victory over Celtic, has helped him and the club find their feet as they look towards this week’s League Cup tie against Queen’s Park. Football excites him again and, after a few years without the carrot of competitive football at the end of each week, he now can’t wait for every matchday. “It’s a gift to be able to play football week in, week out,” he says.