Belfast Telegraph

Footballers' Lives with Chris Scannell: I was offered more money to leave Cliftonville but I remained loyal and that came from my family

 

By Graham Luney

In the latest of our popular series, former Reds star Chris Scannell discusses his 16-year Solitude career, playing alongside and against brother Ronan, his dental practice and family life.

Q. You're one of football's few one senior club men in that Cliftonville were your team for 16 years. Why the loyalty?

A. I joined the year after the 1998 title win and left the year we won the league in 2014. I think it just came from my dad Gerry. My attitude was if you sign a contract you stick to it. You don't demand more money.

If it's offered you accept it but I'm a great believer in honouring contracts. You hear about players signing pre-contracts with other teams and that never sat comfortably with me. I always went to my dad for advice and he played for Cliftonville, Larne, Distillery and Sligo Rovers.

He always said to me, 'You take what you're given and don't ask for more'. I hear about big wages in the Irish League and I'm thinking I could have had the mortgage paid off. I never played for the money and I was lucky enough to have a good career.

I was never in a rush to leave Cliftonville even though I was offered more money elsewhere. Myself and then Portadown manager Ronnie McFall used to meet in the Europa Hotel every year and I was offered more money than Cliftonville could pay me.

Perhaps the travelling put me off but I enjoyed my football with the Reds. I grew up with the boys and could see Cliftonville moving in the right direction.

Q. So did you ever think about leaving Solitude?

A. The one time I did was when I came back from Scotland and was on my way back from an injury. I wasn't ready to sign a contract and then Ballymena United boss Tommy Wright called me and offered more money.

I was worried about letting him down if I was injured but Cliftonville had paid for my operations and although they offered me a deal which was less than United's, I simply wanted to be respected and valued rather than chase the money.

I was treated well at Cliftonville, the supporters were great with me and hopefully I earned respect. When it came to talking to supporters or signing autographs I made an effort, knowing I'm in a privileged position.

Sometimes players don't realise how much of a positive influence they can be on the young fans. It's important to speak to them and thank them for their support, it can make their day.

I'll always remember outside my dental practice on the Antrim Road, a bus pulled up and on it was a kid who used to play for Cliftonville who had a mop of curly blonde hair. I saw him in training and on the bus he was wearing his school uniform.

I waved up to him and he waved back. A few weeks later one of his parents said to me, 'He couldn't believe you knew who he was'. That sort of thing makes a difference. Hopefully the kid plays for Cliftonville some day.

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Get in: Chris Scannell scores for Cliftonville

Q. How did the move to Cliftonville come about?

A. My junior football was with Crumlin United as I was in my early primary school years when we moved there. My dad was the manager and we played three to Under-12 level when I joined Celtic Boys in Belfast.

I was there for three years before returning to Crumlin United. The late Artie McFarland was the Cliftonville reserve team manager and he had my brother Ronan with the Under-18 team.

He encouraged Ronan to bring me in and I went down in pre-season the year they won the league. The club had big personalities like Tim McCann, Jody Tolan, Marty Tabb and Mickey Donnelly. When I turned up for a friendly no one spoke to me. I was shy, we lost in the League Cup to Chimney Corner and I went back to Crumlin.

Artie and Marty Quinn got back in touch and from a period in the Cliftonville reserves things started to take off. Artie helped a lot of players develop into the first team like myself, Ronan, George McMullan and Barry Johnston. Perhaps he didn't get the credit for that and I was angry I couldn't make his funeral.

Q. So you were shy at the start of your time at Cliftonville?

A. I was just very young and never was the loudest player in the dressing room. When you are in there with the likes of Marty Tabb, Mickey Donnelly, Stephen Small and Gerry Flynn, you know they like to talk!

I was just trying to blend in and not upset anyone. It was quite nerve-racking.

Q. Did you take a break to go to Australia?

A. I came back from Scotland and joined the Reds when Liam Beckett was manager but I told them I had a job lined up in Australia that October. I was in good form, scoring goals but had to leave for Melbourne. I promised Cliftonville first refusal on my return and stuck to my word.

Q. How has injury impacted on your career?

A. Overall I missed about four and a half years with knee injuries and then a snapped Achilles. But 456 appearances and 153 goals is a decent record and had I been fit Mickey Donnelly would be panicking on me reaching his all-time appearance record of 611 and even Kevin McGarry's goalscoring record of 170, which Joe Gormley has now reached, would have been in my sights. Ronan scored a few as well but his were own goals!

Q. In light of the injuries, did you ever think about quitting earlier?

A. Everyone goes through the same emotions when they are injured... you ask why me and blame everyone else. You just have to focus on your rehabilitation and retain that hunger to come back.

I go back to the contracts, Cliftonville were paying me and I felt it was money for nothing because I wasn't giving anything back. I believe in loyalty and that came from my family.

Q. Were you and Ronan destined to go into football because of that family influence?

A. One hundred per cent, it's a big football family. My uncles played for Glenavon and Middlesbrough. There were no computer games in those days.

Myself, Ronan and another older brother Kevin and all our cousins were into our football and playing in the snow. My uncle Sean was the Strollers manager as well as being up at Larne.

Q. What was it like playing with Ronan?

A. It was good but weird when he went to Ards and I had to play against him. We knew each other's games and he was technically a far better player.

I worked hard to create goals. I think I'm a happier person… his nickname was Victor Meldrew, easily annoyed before laughing at himself.

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Chris (right) and Ronan Scannell celebrate winning the league title with Cliftonville in 2013.

Q. Was it nice to go out on a high after Cliftonville won the league title in 2014?

A. It was bittersweet, nice for the club but I was injured much of the season. You don't feel you have contributed, or deserve a medal. You also know when the time is right to leave and let others take the club forward.

A better moment for me personally was winning the Ulster Footballer of the Year in 2009. We won the Country Antrim Shield but fell away in the league and lost the Irish Cup final to Crusaders. Again, it was bittersweet as you want trophies.

How can a club get to so many Irish Cup finals and not win them? Someone has kicked a black cat somewhere. That's a big disappointment and regret for me because you want to have those special memories of winning finals and all the reunions that go with it. I haven't watched that game, what's the point?

I can't tell you what myself and Ronan call the Irish Cup but it begins with an 'F'. It broke our hearts. In terms of retirement I was injured and not featuring much. Winning Ulster Footballer of the Year was a huge honour but would I swap it for an Irish Cup winner's medal? Of course. Marty Quinn's still dining out on his 1979 victory!

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Chris Scannell won the league title with Cliftonville before retiring in 2014.

Q. Who has been the best player you have played with and toughest opponent?

A. Sean Friars and Fra Murphy were brilliant and Ronan too. Ronan played at left-back and he's right footed. In his last season he played right-back where he was finally more comfortable.

Mark Holland was a hard worker, what a player, he could score goals and defend. Rory Donnelly and Joe Gormley were brilliant but Liam Boyce is by far the most technically gifted player I've played with.

Vision, strength, he has it all and he can play at a higher level than Burton. The tricks he did on the training pitch were phenomenal… I'd break my ankle!

Opponent-wise, Philip Major at Portadown, Glenn Dunlop at Crusaders, big John Devine at Glentoran and former Linfield player William Murphy, tough on the pitch and a gentleman off it.

Q. The Cliftonville board this week backed manager Barry Gray. What have you made of their difficult season?

A. Five losses on the bounce over that crucial Christmas period has put pressure on. The league challenge has slipped away and unless the squad is really strengthened this month I can't see them qualifying for Europe.

The board are backing Barry and he's working very hard. The players seem happy with him but it's individual errors at the back which are costing the team. You win and lose as a team but if players keep making mistakes you have to change personnel.

I'm sure new defenders and a goalkeeper will come in. The fans certainly deserve a strong finish to the season.

Q. Did you find it hard to juggle work, family and football commitments?

A. The studying was hard because when I was at Queen's University Ronan was doing a teaching sports science degree and doing a few hours a week while I was 37 hours, nearly nine to five every day.

My work was busy but I had the night off for training. The hardest part was studying and playing. I got married when I was playing football but didn't have kids until later in my career. I've four kids now since 2012.

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Cliftonville legend and Dentist Chris Scannell pictured at his North Belfast Dental surgery. Photograph:/Cameron Hamilton -Presseye

Q. How supportive has your family been?

A. I came back from Australia to see family as Ronan and Kevin had kids and three days after coming home I met Ciara, now my wife, at a Christmas party in the Ramada Hotel. I had to cancel my return flight.

We had both gone to Our Lady and St Pat's school but we didn't know each other. We got married in 2011 and had Erin, who has just turned six. Odhrán has turned four this month, Aidan will be three in March and Meabh is eight months.

It's hectic but brilliant and it's great to see their wee personalities developing. The boys are showing an interest in football but I won't push them. If the boys give me any abuse I'll show them a few records of my career.

I've been reared right by my parents, Maire and Gerry. I've a younger sister Aoife and we have all been very close. My mum could never watch us, she was too nervous. When you become a parent yourself you appreciate the support. Now I'm running to ballet and gymnastics. Mum drove us around quite a bit. Ciara was cute enough to leave me alone after a bad result.

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Milestone: Chris Scannell with mum Maire, brother Kevin, dad Gerry, Ronan and sister Aoife at his dad’s 70th in December

Q. How has your business evolved?

A. Fortwilliam Dental Practice will be open seven years in March. Myself and business partner Christine run it and it's going from strength to strength. There's no need to advertise, we are kept busy.

Q. I believe rumours of your retirement are greatly exaggerated?

A. I'm with Crewe United and it's great. It's relaxed. It's a family club and frowned upon if you don't have a beer after the match. Ronan is there too.

Q. Tells us an amusing story from your career.

A. The funniest and strangest thing I've seen in a dressing room was at Solitude just after training when I saw Ryan Catney shaving Liam Boyce's back. I walked in, we looked at each other and I just turned around and walked out. I think I knew at that point it was time to retire!

That's modern footballers for you. Another time at an awards dinner at the Ramada Hotel we got the lemon sorbet after the soup and Marty Donnelly said to me, 'Why are we getting the ice cream before our dinner?'

Snapshot

Date of birth: September 7, 1977

Place of birth: Belfast

Cliftonville record: 153 goals in 456 appearances

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