Marc Laird on battling Brazilians at Man City & competing with Cove
For Marc Laird, life could have been very different.
The 34-year-old is currently part of the Edinburgh City side seeking promotion from Scotland's League Two. But as a youngster, Laird was held in high regard by some of the UK's top sides, and a career in the English Premier League was well within his grasp.
Born in Edinburgh, he played for talent factory Hutchison Vale - the same boys' club to bring through the likes of former Scotland internationals Darren Fletcher and Kenny Miller - and was scouted by Rangers before opting to join Manchester City.
"It was just before my 15th birthday, so that was obviously quite a big change," he says. "I'd gone from being at home every day with my parents to being looked after by a different family."
Flying high on Saturday, shot down on Monday
Laird settled in the north west of England and worked his way up through City's academy. Despite one significant injury, he looked likely to finally get his big break under Stuart Pearce in 2007, after spending a lot of time with the first-team squad.
"I'd had a hernia operation, which set me back, but I'd just signed a new contract and had played all the pre-season games with the first team," he recalls.
"Stuart Pearce said to me 'next year is going to be a really big year for you - I've got high hopes', on the last day of the season against Tottenham. That was on the Saturday. He was sacked on the Monday morning. That wasn't ideal..."
It was at this point that everything changed for Laird. He was no longer playing under a manager who wanted him involved with the first-team squad. And he was no longer playing for a team who had to give young players a chance.
Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra took charge of the club in July 2007 and Sven Goran-Eriksson was appointed as manager.
"Sven was different," Laird says. "Straight away he bought Elano and Giovanni - Brazilian internationals. He also brought in Gelson Fernandes - who was a really promising young player at the time. I thought, if he's spending over £4m on a guy in the same position as me, a similar age, then it's probably time to go."
Eight clubs in eight years
Though Laird would have a turbulent time over the course of the next eight years, his most treasured time in England came immediately after leaving City.
Kenny Jackett, then City's reserve manager, had been given his managerial baptism at Millwall and he promised to take the young Scot with him.
"He was true to his word and signed me in the January after I'd been on loan at Port Vale," he says. "It was probably my most enjoyable time. I was regularly involved against huge teams like Leeds and West Ham - a lot of big games. Getting promoted through the play-off final was unbelievable."
In 2011, Laird started his merry-go-round of clubs, mostly based in the south of England, though his aim was always to move back up north to be closer to his young family. He was loaned to Brentford, then up to Walsall in the West Midlands, then back down for a two-year spell at Leyton Orient.
Another loan followed to Southend United, who then signed him permanently. He finally moved back to the north west with Tranmere Rovers for a season, before moving almost as far south as he could possibly get without leaving the country as Yeovil Town snapped him up.
For the most part, Laird enjoyed his football at those clubs, particularly in the early stages of his career, and he didn't mind travelling in order to juggle home and work life. But there came a point where it was getting harder and harder for him to leave his family behind, especially when he was no longer relishing getting back to work.
"I used to go back to Manchester on a weekend to see my partner because she worked up there," he said. "My aim was to always try to get back up but it seemed like every club I went to was in London.
"I was told I'd be offered a new contract at the end of the season by Yeovil but we couldn't agree terms - that was hard. You're not earning the big money at Premier League clubs like friends, you're out of contract, you've got a young family and you've got to try to support them. That was the most unenjoyable time."
'We've nothing to fear from Cove'
The adventure Laird started as a 14-year-old had come to an end. He returned to Scotland and, wanting to stay fit in the hope of a team coming in for him, he trained with local side Edinburgh City.
"They were struggling in the division after being promoted," he said. "I decided to play some games to try and get noticed - I played the first four or five and got League Two player of the month.
"There was a bit of interest in me but the club had been amazing. I just felt like I was happy for the first time in a long time. I felt I owed them something back."
Laird's still at the club three years later. James McDonagh's side came close to promotion last season but were knocked out of the play-offs by eventual winners Clyde.
This year, they are locked in a battle with Cove Rangers, who they play next week. Despite being six points off Paul Hartley's table-toppers, Laird believes they are still capable of automatic promotion.
"We've got nothing to fear," he said. "We've got as good a squad - if not better - than Cove's.
"It's very tight, nothing's won and nothing's lost yet. If Cove were to win every game, you'd have to hold your hands up and say they deserve it, because they've been the best team.
"But we'll keep fighting and working hard as a team and hopefully as the season progresses we're only going to improve."