RYAN Christie and his club are enjoying an outstanding season which could end in cup glory and he is a worthy winner of the writers’ Young Player of the Year award
Ryan Christie and Inverness Caledonian Thistle were born seven months apart. It now feels as if they were born to be together.
In this season of firsts for the Highland club, the 20-year-old has added another in today becoming the first Inverness player to be honoured by the Scottish Football Writers’ Association. The midfielder has won the appropriately named Thistle Hotel Young Player of the Year award, a success that could be considered one more indication that he is fulfilling his destiny. With his father Charlie Christie one of the foremost figures in the footballing history of Inverness, and his grandfather also having played, to outsiders it might seem preordained that Ryan Christie would pursue his passion at the Caledonian Stadium.
The reality, though, is that there were some who were utterly dismissive of the notion. Not least Christie’s careers adviser at Millburn Academy in Inverness. “I remember when you got a class where they asked you what you wanted to do in the future,” he says. “I always used to say ‘become a footballer’ but the teacher never took me on. The answer was always ‘but realistically, what do you want to do?’ And I would still say I wanted to be a footballer because that’s all I wanted to do. Getting my grades at school was something I knew was important but doing what I do now was always my plan.”
One, it seemed, could not happen without the other, though. Christie’s dad, the club’s head of youth development, demanded that he stick in with his studies. “He told me that if I didn’t get good results then I’d be back to school for sixth year. I struggled with maths and English so had to get extra tutors for that and scraped through to get five highers in the end.
“I think he would have followed through with not letting me sign if I had failed them. He still jokes sometimes that he wishes I’d gone to uni rather than become a footballer. Even when I did sign here I was still going to school one day a week to get another higher. He wanted to make sure I got my grades and I realise it was for my own benefit.
“There are more and more young footballers making sure they get qualifications while they’re playing. Look at Stuart Armstrong, who is doing a law degree. Looking to the future is definitely something people do more.”
Those who follow their fathers into football can often wilt in the shadow cast by these forebears. Charlie Christie cast a mighty one for his son, even as he helped ensure his son grew into an intelligent and erudite adult very much in the Armstrong mould. Christie senior only needs a stint as chief bottle washer to have served the club in all possible capacities. A fixture in the midfield of Inverness Caledonian Thistle throughout its first decade in existence – having previously been with Caledonian, one of the sides merged to form the new club – he combined a playing role with running the commercial operation. Later he had a spell as manager, before taking charge of the youth set-up. In that role he adopted the tough love strategy to ensure that his boy didn’t simply fall into football for the obvious reasons.
“My dad coached me from a young age and throughout the youths I didn’t really think of the bigger picture,” says Christie junior. “I didn’t see that he was helping me, I used to think ‘this guy is always on my back’ and look for a bit of sympathy. But looking back, I know he’s improved me as a player.
“We have a football family, I suppose, with my grandad too. I never met him and would have liked to so I could have seen if he was as bad as my dad for giving me a hard time. The way football has managed to come down through the generations in our family is a bit weird – but maybe there’s more to come. My mum was always there and when I had a bad game I’d be in the kitchen with her rather than in the living room with my dad.”
When he is on the pavements of Inverness, Christie now elicits warm words from passers by following an outstanding breakthrough season. The city has been energised in a way non-residents could not imagine, he says, by John Hughes guiding the team to a third-place Premiership finish that has guaranteed Europe, and a Scottish Cup final against Falkirk in a fortnight. A first major honour appears tantalisingly close and locals enjoy telling Christie about their pride in this and about the home-town boy who has made good and can serve as an inspiration.
“I get noticed a bit more these days and it’s a bit weird because I’m not used to it,” he says. “Some players maybe don’t like it but I enjoy speaking to people. Last season I was only just in the team so it wasn’t an aspect, but in the second half of this season people have noticed me more. I think it’s a good thing.
“I am from Inverness, this is my home town and I’ve come through the ranks at the club.
“That’s a big help because I’m settled here, I still live at home so my lifestyle off the park hasn’t changed at all. The club has been working hard on bringing local boys through and it’s nice if I can be that figure that people can hopefully look at and see getting into the team. The gaffer pulls the young lads into training with us every day and there’s definitely a lot of talent there. The way the club’s going and Scottish football is going, it’s encouraging that we’re going down that road too.
“What we’ve done for the city this season has been amazing. Maybe people outside of Inverness don’t see it but everyone is looking forward to the big day out at Hampden and there has been a real buzz about buying tickets and all that stuff.
“Beating Celtic to get to a cup final and qualifying for Europe has really given a boost to Inverness. It has put the club on the map as well because we’re up here out of the way with Ross County and people don’t think about us much. But I think we’ve shown we’re a good team this season.”
With the Christie father and son combo at Inverness, beating Celtic in the Scottish Cup could be considered a rite of passage for the team’s current torchbearer of the family name. Ryan’s own ‘Super Caley go ballistic…’ moment at Hampden in last month’s controversial semi-final has provided the Scotland under-21 international with memories to pass to the next generation. Mind you, he had only just turned five when his father helped the Highlanders win at Celtic Park in March 2000 to cost John Barnes his job and transform the profile of the, then, second tier club.
“I barely remember the ‘Super Caley’ match,” confesses Ryan. “I can remember going down on the Saturday when the game was postponed with a bit of guttering coming off the Parkhead roof. And then I can’t actually remember the game itself. It is a bit weird [being almost the same age as the club], particularly when you look at the clubs you have in this league with rich histories. What we’ve been able to achieve in a short space of time has been pretty impressive and this is definitely our biggest season so far.
“My first memory of watching games would be in the First Division, probably at the time of the Celtic cup win. I’m not going to say who my favourite player was. I do remember watching Dennis Wyness, Graham Bayne and my dad saying how good they were. He always says he’d fancy them against this team, any day, which I don’t believe. It would be nice to see.”