Belfast Telegraph

Ivan Sproule lives life in his own way

By Stuart McKinley

Describing Ivan Sproule as a unique character doesn't even begin to do him justice.

Linfield's latest signing has always done things his own way. Delve into his life story and get an understanding of the person and it's impossible to knock the decisions that he's made.

The latest, calling time on his full-time career with six months of his contract at Ross County left to come home to Castlederg may seem crazy to some. Football fans in Scotland are still trying to find out what happened to prompt Sproule to walk away.

The answer is simple; Sproule is as down to earth a footballer as you'll find, family comes first to him, it always will and Linfield are now the beneficiaries of that.

"I always intended to come home. My wife is from Castlederg too and family is very important to both of us," said Sproule.

"I'm not afraid to make big decisions and if anyone looks at my career they can see that.

"I left Hibernian when everything was going really well. We'd just won the Scottish Cup, I was a favourite with the fans, but I wanted to test myself in England and I had four years playing in the Championship.

"I had to try it and I've always trusted my gut feeling.

"Even when I left Hibs for the second time at the start of this year people raised their eyebrows, but I did well at Ross County, scored a few goals and we only just missed out on European football.

"I was still playing in the Scottish Premier League, but there comes a time when you have make decisions with family in mind.

"I have three young boys now and being away from home there wasn't much help for us. When the third one came along, if I was away it was putting a lot of pressure on my wife.

"I've had nine years in England and Scotland, had a great time, but it was just the right time to come home."

Raised eyebrows are nothing new to Sproule. His previous spell in the Irish League was pretty unspectacular. He'd played for Omagh Town and when they went out of business he joined Institute.

At the age of 23 Hibernian gave him a surprise shot at the big time and after a six-month settling in period one Saturday afternoon in August 2005 – or more specifically 30 minutes of football on that Saturday afternoon – changed everything.

"I remember walking down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and taking a call from David Jeffrey who wanted to take me to Linfield," said Sproule.

"At that time I wasn't playing and I was finding it tough.

"Although Tony Mowbray had tried to talk me round I'd more or less made my mind up that I was going home.

"That was on a Thursday afternoon, on the Saturday I scored a hat-trick at Ibrox.

"I met with Tony Mowbray on the Monday, he told me that I was going nowhere and that my career was never going to be the same again."

Mowbray was 100 per cent right and the change cam very quickly.

Within a few days Sproule had been called into the Northern Ireland squad for the first time and a week later he made his debut in the famous 1-0 win over England at WIndsor Park.

"I was a wee bit awestruck at the start. David Healy, Damien Johnson, Keith Gillespie were all there, guys that I had looked up to and had been cheering from the stands shortly before that.

"I had to pinch myself, but the next thing I new I was on the pitch and running down the wing with Ashley Cole up against me.

"I had a chance to go to Ukraine when Dnipro came in with £1m for me, but I didn't think it was right for myself and my wife at the time and happiness is important.

"When I look back on my career I have been to Wembley, played at Hampden a few times, scored on my first start for Northern Ireland and I am delighted to have done all of that.

"I've gone far with the ability that I have and I have no regrets. I pushed my body to the limits and beyond.

"I didn't move into full-time football until I was 23 and it's gone in a flash, but if you have the determination, the desire and are willing to work hard and push yourself you can go far."

To fully understand how much Sproule appreciated the good days you have to know about the bad times that he's been through.

"I lost my brother and my father in the space of a year and I've had a lot of personal tragedy," he explained.

"My wife and I had a stillborn daughter as well and although I have had to face difficult circumstances it has made me the person that I am.

"I know some players that if they aren't getting eight or nine out of 10 every week they are gutted, but everything I've been through has given me a different perspective on life.

"When my father died my mother picked up the mantle and she ran me and my brothers all over the place to play football and worked hard to earn the money to buy us what we needed.

"She's been a major influence on me and the family in general."

Just before his big day at Ibrox Sproule also took another family decision that was highly unusual for a professional footballer. There was another big day in Castlederg and he missed a Hibs match in order to come home for his sister's wedding.

"I don't think Tony Mowbray was too happy with me, but I had an important job to do standing in for my father and giving my sister away," he said.

"It didn't matter to me that I was missing a match – I'd have missed a cup final if I'd had to. It was that important to me."

The immediate future for the 32-year-old is with Linfield after he signed an 18-month contract this week.

Long term plans are still up in the air, but it may be a case of going back in time.

"Some people think that every professional footballer has the life of Wayne Rooney or Cristiano Ronaldo, but it's not like that.

"I couldn't just walk away from football and retire and not many people can sit in a warm studio dressed in a suit and get paid to talk, but that doesn't phase me.

"I was an engineer until I was 23 and if anyone sees me in a boiler suit again it's just me getting on with my life."

And if that happens it'll just be Ivan Sproule doing things his own way – just as he's always done.

Belfast Telegraph

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