Fighting relegation with Shrewsbury Town in England’s lower leagues wouldn’t appeal to many footballers. For Ian Black, it is heavenly.
Having endured the worst year of his career at Rangers last season, he is grateful to be out of Ibrox and back playing regularly again.
The Edinburgh-born midfielder signed a two-year contract in Shropshire in September after spending the entire summer fighting to save his career. He believes a smear campaign helped force him out of Scottish football and he holds one mystery individual responsible.
Black’s reputation took a hit the previous season when he received a ten-game ban and £7500 fine from the Scottish Football Association for gambling on matches, including three involving his own team. He was released by Rangers in May this year when his three-year contract expired, and then went on trial at Berwick Rangers and Raith Rovers before heading to England.
Shrewsbury are embroiled in a fight against the drop from England’s League One but Black is relishing the challenge, mainly because it is night and day compared to his torture in Glasgow.
“When I joined Rangers in 2012, I had opportunities to come to the Championship down here,” he explained. “Getting the opportunity to represent Rangers, I couldn’t knock that back at the time. In hindsight, I had two good years there but my last year was probably the worst I’ve had in my whole career.
“I had tough times but I had Ally McCoist and Kenny McDowall supporting me through everything. Then it went downhill when Stuart McCall came in. I never got an opportunity to show him what I’m capable of.
“I tried. I went in and worked hard every day but I was pulled from pillar to post. I was told things and it was never followed up. I burst my balls trying to get my career back on track for the last six months. I felt I was a scapegoat for all the boys who were out of contract.
“It affected me 100 per cent. The amount of games I’d played injury-free in my career, the success I’ve had, not to find a club as quick as I was expecting in the summer was hard. You hear stories and I’d heard somebody was sticking the knife in behind my back. I’m not going to name them but you hear a few people telling you the same name and it all falls into place.
“They know who they are and I wish they were man enough to come and tell me to my face. It’s my livelihood. I went through a tough couple of months being unemployed but there was definitely somebody behind that.
“This is night and day now. It’s just a relief to be playing and having the respect of the people round about you, rather than being in the unknown. That’s what I had for my last six months at Rangers as did the other boys who were out of contract. It was always the unknown there because there was so much going on. We were like the fans, we got told nothing because of the way the club was being run.”
It’s fair to say the episode has soured Black’s appetite for Scottish football somewhat. However, there is one club he would love to represent again. The one he grew up supporting and with whom he won the Scottish Cup three years ago.
“The only club I’d come back up and play for now is Hearts,” he continued. “I’m a Hearts boy, I was successful there and they were great with me. I left on good terms. Unfortunately, the way I left was for financial reasons and because of the way the club was going. They’ve got a new owner and they’re flying now. Maybe one day I can go up there before I finish my career and pull that jersey back on.”
For the moment, there are bigger issues at hand. Shrewsbury need to secure their place in League One and Black, perhaps typically, is up for the fight. Even against some physically brutal opponents. “It is totally different to Scotland. There’s a lot more asked of you down here in terms of physical presence and competing. It’s just great to come and test yourself down here. It’s a different style of play and there are a lot bigger boys down here as well. I’m fine with it. Obviously I’ve got that reputation of looking after myself.
“If you win two or three games, you can be just outside the play-offs. We just need to find consistency and I play every game to win anyway. My aim was to come back south [he was once with Blackburn Rovers] and I’m really enjoying my football again. My other half is from Preston so it was a case of trying to get back down for her and for myself because I’d played in Scotland for a long time. When I was at Rangers, I stayed in Edinburgh and used to commute every day. When I was at Inverness, my family stayed in Edinburgh and I used to travel down. The driving has never bothered me.”
The difficult part is being away from his family until they can find a home in England. “I’ve been stuck in a hotel for nearly four months. It’s hard with the family up the road in Edinburgh. I only get to see them every second weekend and I’ve got a little one as well. The gaffer [Micky Mellon] is good giving me time off to go and see them. We’re in the process of moving them down so we’re just looking at property now. I want to play in England as long as possible.”