Obituary: Chris Mitchell, footballer

Born: 21 July, 1988 in Stirling. Died: 6 May, 2016 in Stirling, aged 27.

Chris Mitchell. Picture: SNS
Chris Mitchell. Picture: SNS

Chris Mitchell was a Scottish under 21 international footballer who played for several clubs including Falkirk, Bradford City, Queen of the South and Clyde. He also represented Scotland at schoolboy international level and was considered a highly accomplished hard working full back/midfielder, adept at defensive duties and delivering pinpoint crosses.

As well as winning the 2nd Division title and Challenge Cup with Queen of the South,a memorable moment in his career was scoring the winning goal for Falkirk in a friendly against Ajax during the Dutch side’s pre-season tour in July 2007. Chris’ 86th minute shot clinched a 2-1 win for the Bairns. Afterwards he modestly commented, “The goal was lucky but it’s not every day you score the winner against Ajax. I’m delighted for the whole team.”

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Chris was introduced to the game at an early age. Brought up in Causewayhead near Stirling, his father Philip was a keen amateur player with St.Modans F.P.’s. Together they kicked a ball about at home before Philip started taking him to his games where occasionally Chris made brief substitute appearances. He played for his primary school team,Bridge of Allan and for Larbert based North Broomage Colts. Senior clubs were noting his talent and he spent time with Rangers and St Johnstone.

While playing for his secondary school, Dunblane High, he was capped for the schoolboy international side. He played in all three matches in the Victory Shield tournament against Wales,Northern Ireland and England, the latter game at Hampden where a draw resulted in both countries sharing the trophy.

After a spell in the Livingston youth set up he was released in 2006. Eddie May then in charge of the Falkirk Academy signed him and a year later he scored that famous goal against Ajax. Loaned out initially to Montrose, he made his first team Premier League debut aged 19 in December 2007 in an away win against Motherwell and another four first team appearances that season.

Under the shrewd guidance of Falkirk manager John Hughes with whom he enjoyed an excellent relationship, Chris progressed to make his international debut for the under 21s in a friendly against Norway in May 2008. In the next year and a half a further six caps followed, against Albania home and away, Northern Ireland, Azerbaijan in Baku,Belarus and Austria. Teammates in these games included future internationals Leigh Griffiths, Barry Bannan, David Goodwillie, Robert Snodgrass.

In 2011 after 50 games for Falkirk, he was transferred along with teammate Mark Stewart to Bradford City then in the English 2nd Division but that was not a particularly productive move. Shortly after his arrival manager Peter Jackson left and was replaced by Phil Parkinson who wanted to put his own stamp on the team. As a result opportunities were scarce and after one season and 17 games for the Bantams,he signed for Queen of the South under manager Allan Johnston, with whom he enjoyed a good rapport.

Arguably the three seasons he spent at Palmerston were the best of his career despite injury problems towards the end. He made the best possible start with a ninth-minute goal on his debut in a win against Alloa in August 2012. Although Queens had just been relegated to the 3rd tier they recovered to win the title with Chris making a major contribution in 33 league games.

They secured a ‘double’ by also winning the Challenge Cup against Partick Thistle, then a division higher. After extra time they were locked at 1-1 before the ‘Doonhamers’ won on penalties 6-5, Chris keeping his cool to score the penultimate one. By now he had become a fans’ favourite and collected Player of the Year awards. He was also selected by the PFA for the ‘Division Team of the Year.’

Chris’ and Queens’ good form continued into the next season when they finished fourth in the second tier earning themselves a play-off place. Unfortunately in his final season he had back injury problems requiring surgery and as a result appearances were restricted.

After 85 games for Queens, at the start of season 2015-16 he signed for Clyde as a part timer while considering employment outside football. As a result of securing a full time job in sales and marketing requiring a lot of travel, he retired from football at the end of January this year having played 16 times for Clyde. Their manager Barry Ferguson, John Hughes and many former teammates paid him warm tribute commending his excellent personal qualities.

At his funeral more than £2,000 was collected and donated to Stirling City All Stars FC, a disabled players club whom Chris had assisted. A memorial foundation in his name has been set up by Falkirk, Bradford, Queens and Clyde to assist players making the transition from football.

He is survived by parents Philip and Brenda, sister Sarah and partner Louise.

JACK DAVIDSON