To say that Livingston should of won the 2nd Division this season is like saying that Cheryl Cole is good-looking. It is so obvious that the minute you say it, the people listening switch off instantly. However, it would have been easy for The Livi Lions to do exactly that last season, and it would have been even easier for them to switch off this year, now that the hurt of being relegated two Divisions in the 2009/10 season has started to fade. Gary Bollan’s men continue to go from strength to strength as they brush teams aside in their return to Division 1 next season and possibly the Scottish Premier League further down the line.
Livingston have never been a popular club amongst the supporters of Scottish football. There origins stem from a take over of Meadowbank Thistle in 1995 and whither they have had money or not, various owners have bank rolled the club, something which has resulted in the club entering administration twice. There is some positive reading in the history of the club however. Progression from the 3rd Division to the SPL over a 4 year period, and then finishing 3rd in there first season there, resulted in qualifying for the UEFA cup and who could forget their League Cup win over Hibernian in 2004 thanks to goals from Derek Lilley and Jamie McAlister. The club can also boast about their youth set-up being one of the most productive within Scotland in recent years. Robert Snodgrass, Graham Dorrans, James McPake and Andrew Halliday have all come through the ranks and completed moves to big clubs south of the border and two have subsequently gained International honours (Snodgrass & Dorrans) with Scotland. There is also hope that the talent conveyor belt does not stop there as Paul Watson and Kyle Jacobs continue to be linked with various clubs this season and Marc McNulty scoring for fun at under 19 level and looking like a real talent.
However, despite having established names at the club such as Ex Aberdeen & Dundee United Striker Robbie Winters, Ex Dundee United & St.Mirren Goalkeeper Tony Bullock and Ex Gretna & Falkirk goal getter Kenny Deuchar, there is one name that the Livi faithful are talking about at this moment in time, and that is the league’s top goal scorer Iain Russell. Russell started his career at Rangers, but like many youngsters, he failed to make the break through from the youth ranks and left the club after three years. His next stop was Motherwell, but after only 4 games he was sent out on loan to 2nd Division Dumbarton. This was when things started to look up for the Dumfries born youngster. 4 goals in 11 starts during his first season at the club ensured Russell was signed on a permanent deal; he repaid them by netting a further 50 times in 3 seasons. His goal scoring form alerted Michael O’Neill who took him to Brechin City in 2006.
After scoring 21 goals in his first season and 4 goals in 4 games in his second, Russell was soon becoming well-known to fans and management staff in the lower leagues as his pace and in the box awareness caused continual problems to opposition defences. This goal scoring form resulted in then Morton Manager Jim McInally spending £40,000 to take him to Cappielow in 2007.
“After a successful spell at Dumbarton and then Brechin, my career at Morton started in similar fashion under Jim McInally. I was playing well and enjoying my football, however when Jim left the club and the Davie Irons and Derek Collins management team came in, I could not find any consistency in my game and struggled to adapt to the style of football they were looking to play” Russell explained.
This led to him going on loan to Stirling Albion and then onto Alloa Athletic during the course of last season. This is something which could have led to two 2nd Division Promotion medals; however Alloa failed to win the Play Offs so this fete was not accomplished. Alloa currently sit 3rd bottom of the 2nd Division this season and Russell is as surprised as everyone to see the Clackmannanshire side struggle, “They have a fantastic group of players at the club and having worked with Alan Maitland I know they have a great manager, so although I’m surprised to see them slip down the league, I have total confidence that they can pull themselves away from trouble.”
Once his spell at Alloa ended, Russell returned to Morton with his career at a crossroads. He could move on and find himself a new club or fight it out at Morton; this was around the time that Livingston got on touch.
“I knew Gary Bollan from our days together at Brechin. He phoned me up in the summer asking if I would be interested in meeting him for a chat, and when I did he sold the club to me. My decision to sign was an easy one, I knew I needed a change and with the facilities and ambition at Livingston, it really excited me so I decided to sign. It was a bit awkward at first, walking into a dressing room where I didn’t know anyone at a personal level, but there are so many characters and great lads at the club, I settled in really quickly. Everyone was on such a high after winning the 3rd Division the season before, even though we were just about to start pre-season training”.
From this point there has been no looking back for the striker and he has gone on to forge a lethal partnership with Ex Dundee United and Aberdeen hitman Robbie Winters.
“Playing alongside Robbie this season has really brought me on, both on and off the park. He has had a great career and even now at 36 he has so much to offer the team. He is composed on the ball, which is something I have been watching
closely and trying to learn myself, and he is very unselfish, always looking to play others in rather than having a go himself, which makes him great for me to play alongside.” Russell goes on to joke “He is also my room-mate, I think he prefers this more than me though as he has taken a fortune off me at cards”.
So is this respect a one way thing or is Winters just as happy to help his strike partner out?
“Iain is a great lad to have in and around the club” Winters said. “He considers himself one of the clubs jokers and has come up with games such as toilet toss, cold toes and many more. As a player he just keeps improving. He has good movement on and off the ball and to have scored over 20 goals at this level is a fantastic achievement, not only for him but for Livingston as well”. And when The Lions kick off there 1st Division campaign “that will be his biggest test, but I hope and think he will do well. He loves training and works hard for the team and club, which sets him in good
Many people have written on message boards, newspaper articles and programme notes that Livingston do so well because A – they are a Full Time outfit playing in Part Time leagues and B – The players have a point to prove after the Scottish
Football Leagues decision to relegate them two divisions, this is something Russell does not agree with.
“The relegation thing is something which is in the past now, nobody actually mentions it within the club and everything is geared up to help the team progress, not to dwell on the past. The club have not received the recognition that we deserve over the past 2 seasons or had any credit for what has been achieved. People think the club bought promotion last season and are doing well again this year due to money, but that is not the case. The gaffer has called up and used a lot of youth team players in his time here and I would imagine that the clubs wage bill isn’t that different from the Ayr United’s of the league. There is no doubt that the Full Time status has helped however, especially with the recent mid-week games. It’s a tough schedule playing Tuesday and Saturday for a few weeks, but luckily we have coped better with this than the other teams around us. However, our key to success this season is down to the hard work of the coaching staff and the spirit in our dressing room. Everyone is friends and we all help each other out and would do anything for each other, and we take this mentality out onto the park with us.”
Talking to Russell it is obvious that he is enjoying his football at Livingston and feels at home with the club. The teams passing and attacking style of football is something he has not come across during his career, but it is certainly something he is enjoying. Having scored goals on a regular basis this season (the highlight for him being his long-range effort against Brechin which landed him a Goal of the Month nomination for February), Russell just keeps working hard to do his best for the team whilst improving his own game at the same time.
“The long term aim for this club has got to be to get back into the top flight. We have the info structure and management team to do it so we must work hard, keep plugging away and hopefully one day we will”.
With the way life is going for Iain Russell, it would come as no surprise if he was still playing a key role if this was to happen.