HAILING from Stirling, Greg Stewart does not have to travel far for a reminder of the journey he has taken to earn the SPFL player of the month accolade for January that he lifted yesterday.
Until the summer, the 24-year-old rose at 6am each morning to put in a demanding shift at the sprawling Grangemouth Refinery a few miles further down the Forth, a job he carried out whilst still harbouring hopes of one day making it as a full-time footballer. It was an ambition he feared may have passed him by after he was told, aged just 16, that he was not being kept on by Hearts because he was too small.
The Dundee striker admits that knock-back remains an inspiration and, after Paul Hartley took a chance on the 5ft 10in forward being able to make the step up to this season’s top-flight after four years with Cowdenbeath, Stewart is glad to be proving his doubters wrong.
Scooping the player of the month award after netting five times in seven appearances, he commented: “This time last season I was working at Grangemouth oil refinery, getting up at six in the morning for work and then going to training on Tuesday and Thursday nights. My job was full-time, Monday to Friday, and I worked on the high-pressure water jetting. You have to have a thick skin to work in there but I enjoyed it.
“I used to get picked up in the works van at half six, have my breakfast at work, do the job, have lunch, go back out, get back home for four and in for half an hour for a bite to eat and a wash before training.
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“I also have a wee girl Summer, so I was getting some grief about never being in the house. It was hectic but I worked with a good bunch of boys there and they are delighted for me. My best mate Craig Perry worked there so obviously I keep in touch with him. I remember going in to see my boss in the summer to say I was going full-time at Dundee and he told me that he would always be here in case it all goes wrong. Seriously, they are all hoping I can keep getting goals and making progress.
“I always dreamed I would make it in football and I managed to score a few goals last season. Dundee took a chance on me, signed me on the pre-contract and that was my big break. I have grabbed the opportunity.”
Stewart’s current success contrasts with the devastating news he was delivered as a raw teenager hoping to make his way in the game he loved. Rejection from Hearts threatened to rob the promising player of his enthusiasm but a spell playing for amateur side Syngenta rekindled his passion for football and Cowdenbeath proved the perfect stepping stone.
Stewart, nursing a back injury and suspended for Saturday’s encounter with Partick Thistle, added: “When I was at Hearts it was the year the boys were going on to full-time contract and (youth coach) John Murray just said to me ‘I’m not wanting to keep you, you’re too small’. That set me back a wee bit. I lost interest in the game. I did nothing - and then I went back to playing amateur and started enjoying playing again. Luckily enough I got picked up to go to Cowdenbeath.
“To me, it’s a poor excuse if you’re too small. I don’t think there’s such a thing. If you’re a good footballer you’re a good footballer.”