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Full Time

Footballers' Lives with Steven Douglas: I cried when I left Linfield but football has given me special memories

By Graham Luney

In the latest of our popular series, Coleraine's Steven Douglas discusses the tough moment he discovered his time at Windsor Park was over, his newborn baby, Irish Cup joy and whether he'll play on aged 40.

Q. Where did your career begin?

A. I played football at Ballee Primary School, which has since been knocked down. I got into a district team and we played a few games in Preston. I then went to Cullybackey Blues until the age of 16 before moving onto Linfield. The Blues were a good wee team but, while a lot of my friends went to Ballymena, I ended up at Linfield, but I missed an end-of-season trip and threw my head up a bit. I played for Carniny Rangers in the Saturday Morning League, then Paul Malone, who was Larne manager, made a move for me. I was offered £100 a week and said, 'What, where do I sign?' Kenny Shiels at Ballymena United tried to sign me but Portadown manager Ronnie McFall then convinced me to join them.

Q. Do you have regrets in your career?

A. There's a lot I regret from not trying hard enough or not taking it seriously enough. I work in scaffolding and also became a young father at 19 when Chandler was born. Football was my let-the-hair-down time but I didn't take it seriously. I remember Bryan McLoughlin, David Jeffrey's assistant at Linfield, pulled me aside and said, 'Behave, stop your mucking about', but I was someone who could joke around and then be ready when it was time to get serious. But I don't look back and ponder things because I've had a great career and wouldn't change it for anything. I was at Linfield during good times and, while many players came and went, I somehow had the character and ability to stay there for 10 years. That's a great achievement at a club like Linfield.

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Good times: Steven hails his Premiership win at Linfield

Q. Was David Jeffrey a big influence on you?

A. Definitely, David and Bryan McLoughlin. In those 10 years I probably spent more time with Davy than with my own family. I was up there three nights a week and every Saturday. It was a big part of my life and football was central to it. I learned it was a business and job and if you wanted to win things you needed to work hard.

Q. What were the hardest moments of your career?

A. It's not always easy when you're not playing. At Linfield it was very competitive and one bad game could see you out of the team for months. For the clean sweep season, Jim Ervin came in for me and that was me out. It was hard being out of the team. The better times were my first league winner's medal with Portadown. The Setanta Cup win with Linfield in 2005 was special too. It was a top-class competition and a huge performance by us to beat Shelbourne in the final. They were full-timers but we had the last laugh.

Q. Are you saddened to see Portadown lose their top-flight status?

A. Some of that was self-inflicted but the league needs teams like Portadown. They were a big club with great teams, and because I started my career there I have an affection for them. Ronnie McFall gave me a kick where it hurts to make me realise what the game was about.

Q. Coleraine gave you a new lease of life but was it hard to leave Linfield?

A. I will never forget the day I was told I was leaving, I was gutted. I saw it coming as we had a few bad years. They were looking to freshen up the squad but it's still a major disappointment. To say goodbye after 10 years was not nice and I did cry on my way home. I met the kitman Gary Eccles outside the ground and broke down in front of him. He gave me a hug and insisted I would get another club. I went home and that was the end of my Linfield career. But I never felt I had a point to prove to anyone. Oran Kearney, the Coleraine manager, believed I could do a job for him and he knew me as well as anyone.

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Steven Douglas with his newborn baby and the Irish Cup.

Q. You are still playing at the age of 40. Did you feel like quitting any time?

A. Not really. Glenn Ferguson was at Ballymena United when I left Linfield and that club always appealed to me but the timing wasn't right. When Oran came in for me I didn't hesitate and I still feel good today. I don't train - their training is mental and I couldn't keep up with the young lads! But Oran has always known I'm ready when he needs me.

Q. Are you surprised by the improvement we have witnessed at Coleraine?

A. I've always felt Oran was going to be a manager. He learned a lot from Big Davy and no doubt his father-in-law Kenny (Shiels) keeps him right. I could see the potential in the young players like Brad Lyons and Lyndon Kane, all they needed was game time. Coleraine can get better and better, especially if Oran can keep his squad together. I think Brad Lyons is the best midfielder in the league and he's still very young.

Q. You own a pub now, is that something you always wanted to do?

A. Yes, I own a scaffolding company but I wanted to try the pub/restaurant business. It's called The Afton in Ahoghill. I'm from Ayrshire and a river that runs through my area is called The Afton. It's hard work, harder than I thought it would be! My wife Paula looks after the catering side and myself and my son Chandler help out downstairs. Paula is the manager of Antrim Health Centre and also a singer with the band Mojo. It's a busy house. Our newborn Charlie has arrived and I'm also a father to Chandler and Calum, while Paula also has a son Kevin and daughter Catlin. For myself and Paula, the football and the singing are hobbies you get paid to do, so it's all great.

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Steven Douglas with former Linfield team-mates Mark Picking and William Murphy outside his pub the Afton in Ahoghill.

Q. How did you meet Paula?

A. Through friends. I was going to a wedding and friends said they could fix me up on a blind date. I said, 'I'm not sure about that, but get the photos and I'll look at them!' I saw the picture and I thought, 'Get it sorted, count me in!' We got married last year in New York and I missed an Irish Cup game. Football came first in my life for a long time but you sacrifice a lot and sometimes you prioritise your family. We were heading to New York on holiday and just thought, 'Let's get married'. We told our families a few weeks before we went and we had a bash in Galgorm when we returned home. It was something different and it was brilliant without all the hassle of planning. You are in and out of City Hall, paper signed and away you go.

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Steven Douglas and family celebrate his wedding to wife Paula.

Q. Have your mum and dad always been supportive?

A. Jeanette and Jimmy just live around the corner from us. They didn't come to watch me earlier in my career because they didn't want to make me nervous. Now I have children I can appreciate all the help my dad gave me, taking me everywhere.

Q. Are your children into sport?

A. Chandler plays football for PSNI, Calum is at Ballymena and my stepson Kevin is at North End. They enjoy it and the facilities are great. I love watching them but missed out on a lot of Chandler's games because I was still playing.

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Happy families: (clockwise from top left) Chandler, Paula, Steven, baby Charlie, Catlin, Calum and Kevin

Q. Have you been through tough times in your life?

A. I've lost a granny and granda years ago but I can't think of other difficult times. The kids are healthy and that's what matters.

Q. You were born in Ayrshire. How did you come to live in Northern Ireland?

A. I was four or five when I moved over. My dad is from Broughshane and he met my mum in a flute band. My mum wanted to come over here so they set up home.

Q. Is William Murphy one of your biggest friends through football?

A. Yes, he was the best man at my wedding party. I don't have a brother but he would be as close as that to me. To be fair, I got great support from everyone but myself and Winkie are similar characters, up to a little banter and we knew when to press Big Davy's buttons and when not to press them. I go on holiday with him and his wife Irene and we look out for each other.

Q. A few players have shared amusing stories about you. Can you give us one?

A. We were a big family at Linfield and sometimes Davy would get emotional and the tears would come. Myself and Winkie would wait until he finished to burst out laughing, just to break the ice. You need to change the atmosphere sometimes. It was all about respect with Davy - respect him and he always looked after you. One time, Damien Curran's wife had arranged a surprise 30th birthday party and the lads knew about it. After a game, Davy said in the dressing room, 'Anyone who's going to Damien Curran's surprise birthday party tonight, no drink'. Damien was sitting there thinking he must have got mixed up with Alan Blayney's birthday which was the week earlier. I was dreading his wife learning the secret was out and the boys kept it quiet. She would have been absolutely raging! That was one of Davy's special moments.

Q. Did anything exciting happen to you last weekend?

A. With our new son Charlie arriving on Friday morning at Antrim Hospital and Coleraine winning the Irish Cup on Saturday, it was a perfect weekend. I didn't party so much as I had to pick up Paula from the hospital on Sunday morning but the squad are going to Spain next week so that will be good fun. We stopped for a bite to eat in Antrim after the game so I brought the trophy into the hospital, after emptying the beer from it of course! It was nice to get a photo of the wee man with the trophy and what a way to finish the season, we deserved to win something. After last year's Irish Cup final, Paula said she had a feeling we would win it this season and she booked the time off. She was right! Then the baby was due on May 8 but the timing was perfect. I didn't expect to play. Big Gareth (McConaghie) and Stevie (O'Donnell) have been outstanding. Stephen has been the signing of the season.

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Double delight: Steven Douglas and wife Paula in hospital with baby Charlie and the Irish Cup

Q. What does your future hold, are you hanging up the boots?

A. It's up to the manager but my involvement with the pub makes sure I'm kept busy. I can't be lying around doing nothing. You never know, if Oran wants me around the squad I can play on for another year. It's not always easy to accept when you aren't playing a lot but I'm here as long as the club needs me. I might do coaching badges later in the year. If Oran doesn't need me anymore that's probably me finished. I'll say thanks for everything and after the Cup win, I'll leave on a high.

Snapshot

Date of birth: September 27, 1977

Place of birth: Ayrshire

Previous clubs: Portadown, Linfield

Coleraine record: three goals in 143 appearances

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