The feeling a football fan gets when they wake up to the news that their favourite player is leaving can only compared to the emotion felt when you get dumped after two weeks in high school. The news that Ross County captain Richard Brittain hurt. Like, really hurt. Way more than when Ian Maxwell or Gary Miller made the same trip down the A9 to Perth.
There was an element of surprise, too. Are St Johnstone really a step up? At the same time, his decision to leave having led the club to a completely unpredicted top six ﬁnish represents something all County fans have to get used to. Financial sense will see
many players signed to one year deals. The best players will be picked up in the January window on bigger wages, and Derek Adams will have to ﬁnd another player to pick up from the scrapheap to replace them.
It is, to be fair to Adams, something he has proved particularly adroit at doing. The case of Brittain is slightly unusual in that he has been a ﬁrst pick since he signed. Adams’ M.O, as it were, can be demonstrated better by the likes of Stuart “Steve” Kettlewell, a player who even after four years still has his name spelled wrongly by the Press Association.
Kettlewell was on the outskirts of the team when he ﬁrst signed, released by Clyde and brought in to provide back up in central midﬁeld. Along with Paul Lawson, he wasn’t really a ﬁrst pick in the run to the Scottish Cup ﬁnal. Yet, in the season that have followed, Kettlewell has increasingly grown into a fulcrum of the Ross County midﬁeld. Fans have warmed to him, not because he’s a veteran, but because his performances have improved. Adams has made him a better player.
It is, I suspect, something Richard Brittain would agree with. He’s a better player now than he was ﬁve years ago, physically, technically and mentally. Derek Adams at times seems a little too sensible, a little too immune from ego-boosting on Twitter or, indeed, this very website, but he certainly knows a thing about player development. There’s a lot of Adams in Brittain, it seems from the outside. Unquestionably a team player, versatile enough to play comfortably in several positions, the Ross County number 10 stays away from the tabloids, doesn’t get involved in punch ups in Inverness’s numerous hostelries, and generally seems a little too sensible to be a Scottish footballer.
A highly regarded Dundee United player, in his own way, was responsible for Ross County securing a top six ﬁnish – Stuart Armstrong was sent off for the most moronic, blatant dive you are ever likely to see. It left his team holding out for twenty minutes with ten me, in a game they had to win. I don’t know if Dundee United’s captain is a vocal character, but I can guarantee Richard Brittain would have torn Armstrong a new one if the young midﬁelder played in Dingwall.
Last week, Ross County’s Inverness Staggies supporters’ branch gave Richard Brittain the player of the year award. Quite why they held the award just before the split has not been properly explained, but that is besides the point. The point is, this was not a lifetime achievement sympathy vote (Derek Adams himself got one of those, the fans’ own gesture to ensure he would remain at the club). A case could be made for Iain Vigurs, another player who has taken on responsibility since signing as an ostensible back up player. Vigurs is the top scorer, from midﬁeld, and by quite a margin is the club’s most technically gifted player. Greek Adonis Evangelis Oikonomou is arguably the best left back not currently playing for Celtic, and Scott Boyd – a player signed by Dick Campbell during his brieﬂy short tenure – has had arguably his most consistent season playing in the top ﬂight. But Brittain won by a landslide.
Richard Brittain has been the best player in a team playing above and beyond the call of duty. Perhaps they haven’t. Perhaps rather we’re just beginning to see what these Ross County players are capable of. Our captain is leaving us. Just typing that hurts more than it should do for a man of my age.
But really, the test of a player’s achievements at a club is the standing in which he is held after he leaves. Richard Brittain, I can guarantee it, will not receive a Ross Tokely reception. Brittain’s legacy? Two promotions, captaining the “invincibles” to a runaway title, taking a ﬁrst division club to the Scottish Cup Final (a game broadcast live on Libyan television, incidentally) and a top six ﬁnish. Yes, it hurts. But perhaps Brittain’s greatest achievement is that he’s leaving behind a squad in which somebody will step up and replace him, and improve on him. He wouldn’t have it any other way. This is, in it’s own way, a tribute to that entire squad of invincibles. But Richard Brittain is our captain till the end of the season, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.