Footballers' Lives with Chris Ramsey: I regret not pushing harder at Manchester City but moving to Larne has saved my career
In the latest edition of our popular series, Larne ace Chris Ramsey discusses his time across the water with Manchester City, how his spell at Cliftonville was hit by bad luck and his response to cynicism aimed at Inver Park
Q: How did your career start?
A: I first started playing Gaelic with my brothers at the age of four. I played Gaelic at Under-8 level and didn't start playing football until the Under-10 age group.
O'Donovan Rossa was my Gaelic team on the Shaw's Road before joining friends playing for Holy Trinity in Turf Lodge. My sister played camogie and I actually played at Croke Park for Antrim Schools against Dublin.
I'm the youngest of five and got roughed about in the garden. The Gaelic certainly toughened me up. I was playing centre-back for Holy Trinity and scored plenty of goals for them.
Fortunately I got into the Manchester United School of Excellence with Tony and Eddie Coulter. They advised me to go to Lisburn Youth at Under-12 level and I stayed there for a few years, attracting attention from cross-channel clubs.
Q: Did you enjoy your time at Manchester City?
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A: I was there for three years. Vincent Kompany had just signed in the year I was leaving and he gave me one of his shirts, wishing me well for the future. My brother has that No.33 shirt now. He was a beast of a man!
I was close to the kitman and before I left I was able to get Craig Bellamy's shorts and Martin Petrov's top among the first-team gear. I signed a two-year apprenticeship and a year's professional contract.
At that time the Academy was separate from the first-team training base. It was tough going but, looking back, it was the best time of my career, getting full-time training and pushing for first-team recognition.
With the reserves it was a lot less intense. Suddenly you had more free time and I struggled with that. I wish I had been more committed to the training. I could have worked more on the things I needed to work on and it was just a lack of maturity which you get through experience.
I was 18 and going along with the crowd. I'm 29 now and thinking I could have worked harder in the gym. I'm now focused on being as fit and strong as I can at Larne.
Q: Looking at how strong and professional City are now, do you feel it's tougher for Irish lads to make an impact?
A: I think a lot of players going over are establishing themselves in the lower leagues, guys like Gavin Whyte and Stuart Dallas, even Mark Sykes and Liam Boyce.
You could be one of the best players in Northern Ireland at the age of 16 but when you go to an English club you could be playing with the best young players from all over the world.
I think playing men's football in the Irish League is good preparation for a professional career.
Q: What happened to you after City?
A: I had a few trials and the biggest disappointment was at Grimsby. I was there for a few weeks, playing in different positions, and I thought I had done well but a deal didn't come. It was a big blow and I felt I wouldn't make it as a footballer.
I came home and had to take advice from my family. I had an offer from a club in Singapore but I had already been away from home for a few years and I wasn't ready to travel that far away. I ended up signing for Ballymena United.
Q: Do you have any regrets regarding that pursuit of your professional dream?
A: I think I cared too much about what people thought. I don't mind criticism from coaches or managers but I was worried what my team-mates would think if I did extra work. I know now I shouldn't have cared. What's wrong with trying to better yourself?
Sven-Goran Eriksson was the manager and, strangely, no-one did extra work in the reserves. Everything was laid-back, not many players pushed themselves. There was never a double session and City were a very different team then. I'm sure things are rather different under Pep Guardiola.
Football is a team game, and I consider myself a team player, but you've got to be selfish too and demand more from yourself.
Q: How did you feel returning home?
A: Back then I didn't have a great impression of Irish League football and when I came back I felt, after being at City, that I could breeze through the league, but that was never going to happen.
I was tall and skinny and when you're playing centre-back in the Irish League you need a physical presence.
Roy Walker was the manager and I was flying. Jim Grattan, who I knew from the Northern Ireland youth set-up, was his assistant.
Q: And was your time with United short?
A: About nine months in total. I met up with the Northern Ireland Irish League Under-23 Select team and Ronnie McFall was boss. He called me in and invited me to Portadown. But I had made a commitment to United until the end of the season.
Ronnie's response was to drop me from the squad after turning him down! That shows you how ruthless he was. Ronnie did sign me eventually when Portadown were in a transitional period and looking to build.
I was 20 and stayed with the Ports for six years. I did enjoy my time there, I had a great relationship with the fans, but I felt the teams never really fulfilled their potential.
We had Kevin Braniff, Wesley Boyle, Neil McCafferty, Shane McCabe, Keith O'Hara and David Miskelly, players that should have won more.
We got to the League Cup final and lost it. In the Irish Cup final against Glentoran, Michael Gault is tripped up, nothing is given and we lose the game. It was sad to see the Ports relegated and I would love to see them back in the Premiership.
Q: How did the move to Cliftonville come about?
A: Cliftonville had been interested in me when Tommy Breslin was manager. I was very saddened to learn of Tommy's passing. I only played under him for one game but had spoken to him many times.
Tommy was brilliant, he made you feel like a million dollars. I used to watch Cliftonville games with my godfather Paul McLaughlin before they won the league.
I enjoyed playing for Ronnie and have a lot of respect for him, he was great to be around but he didn't want me to leave.
Gerard Lyttle got in touch and he's a real football man who wanted the Reds to play a certain way. Stephen Baxter had asked me to go to Crusaders but once Cliftonville showed an interest my mind was made up.
It was an honour to pull on the Cliftonville jersey but it was a frustrating time. I had got married to Aine in June 2016 and missed some of pre-season.
Caoimhin Bonner was sent off against Larnaca after 12 minutes and that was my debut. We hardly touched the ball and then a hamstring injury kept me out for a while.
I had bad luck with injuries and looking back I just wish my time there had been better as it was a club I wanted to win trophies with. Barry Gray came in and I just didn't feel like I fitted in with his plans.
Q: You moved onto Larne, how did that feel?
A: I was a bit sceptical as I didn't know much about the owner Kenny Bruce and I was dropping down to the Championship but when I met Kenny, manager Tiernan Lynch and Gareth Clements, the chairman, I knew the club was going to be successful.
Kenny is a driven character and I didn't know at the time how successful he was. He makes you want to do well for him, as does Tiernan. The meeting with those guys saved my career because I wasn't sure where I was going at that point. But I don't think I could have walked away from football, it was always a privilege to play the game. The full-time training helps you physically.
Q: How do you respond to the cynicism surrounding the investment at Larne?
A: What people say doesn't bother me. Players like myself, Ciaran Caldwell and Marty Donnelly weren't playing at Cliftonville when we joined Larne.
People will say I signed for the money but players want to win things and we are in a position to do that at Larne.
Jeff Hughes is a winner and when you sign players like him and Mark Randall then you see a team that can only improve. We hope to compete with the top Premiership sides now.
Q: What family backing have you had?
A: My parents John and Deirdre gave up their time and drove me around the country to go to training. I'm the youngest of five and my sisters and brothers always support me. If I have a bad game my dad will check on me.
That support unit is important when times are hard. Aine is my main support. She has given up a lot to help me go full-time. She works in childcare but gave that up so I can play full-time.
It's special when Aine and the kids, my daughter Fiadh (5) and son Culann, who is two next month, share the good times at Larne. Having the kids as mascots was special.
I wasn't around as much as I wanted to be when Fiadh was born but I now get more quality time with them both. I'd love Culann to go into football but we will see how interested he is. Fiadh is playing for an Under-6 team.
Q: Do you regard this season as being one of the toughest in your career?
A: I don't really see it that way. I've played in the Premiership for eight or nine years. It's nothing new to me. It's a challenge and the players appreciate the support we have received from the fans.
We are looking to cater for even more fans and play football the right way. Winning the Championship with Larne was my first league winner's medal and it was my best moment in football.
It was the best group of players I have played with. There's a tight bond within the group. You have massive characters but no egos. It's the most enjoyable time I've had in football and it was special to win the league.
Date of birth: May 24, 1990
Place of birth: Belfast
Previous clubs: Manchester City, Ballymena United, Portadown, Cliftonville